Ancient Privy Council

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter III. ...continued

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Nuada called a "privy council," if we may use the modern term for the ancient act, and obtained the advice of the great Daghda; of Lug, the son of Cian, son of Diancecht, the famous physician; and of Ogma Grian-Aineach (of the sun-like face). But Daghda and Lug were evidently secretaries of state for the home and war departments, and arranged these intricate affairs with perhaps more honour to their master, and more credit to the nation, than many a modern and "civilized" statesman. They summoned to their presence the heads of each department necessary for carrying on the war. Each department was therefore carefully pre-organized, in such a manner as to make success almost certain, and to obtain every possible succour and help from those engaged in the combat, or those who had suffered from it. The "smiths" were prepared to make and to mend the swords, the surgeons to heal or staunch the wounds, the bards and druids to praise or blame; and each knew his work, and what was expected from the department which he headed before the battle, for the questions put to each, and their replies, are on record.

Pardon me. You will say I have written a romance, a legend, for the benefit of my country [4]—a history of what might have been, of what should be, at least in modern warfare, and, alas! often is not. Pardon me. The copy of the tracts from which I have compiled this meagre narrative, is in existence, and in the British Museum. It was written on vellum, about the year 1460, by Gilla-Riabhach O'Clery; but there is unquestionable authority for its having existed at a much earlier period. It is quoted by Cormac Mac Cullinan in his Glossary, in illustration of the word Nes, and Cormac was King of Munster in the year of grace 885, while his Glossary was compiled to explain words which had then become obsolete. This narrative must, therefore, be of great antiquity. If we cannot accept it as a picture of the period, in the main authentic, let us give up all ancient history as a myth; if we do accept it, let us acknowledge that a people who possessed such officials had attained a high state of intellectual culture, and that their memory demands at least the homage of our respect.

The plain on which this battle was fought, retains the name of the Plain of the Towers (or Pillars) of the Fomorians, and some very curious sepulchral monuments may still be seen on the ancient field.

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[4] Country. —We find the following passages in a work purporting to be a history of Ireland, recently published: "It would be throwing away time to examine critically fables like those contained in the present and following chapter." The subjects of those chapters are the colonization of Partholan, of the Nemedians, Fomorians, Tuatha De Dananns, and Milesians, the building of the palace of Emania, the reign of Cairbré, Tuathal, and last, not least, the death of Dathi. And these are "fables"! The writer then calmly informs us that the period at which they were "invented, extended probably from the tenth to the twelfth century." Certainly, the "inventors" were men of no ordinary talent, and deserve some commendation for their inventive faculties. But on this subject we shall say more hereafter. At last the writer arrives at the "first ages of Christianity." We hoped that here at least he might have granted us a history; but he writes: "The history of early Christianity in Ireland is obscure and doubtful, precisely in proportion as it is unusually copious. If legends enter largely into the civil history of the country, they found their way tenfold into the history of the Church, because there the tendency to believe in them was much greater, as well as the inducement to invent and adopt them." The "inventors" of the pre-Christian history of Ireland, who accomplished their task "from the tenth to the twelfth century," are certainly complimented at the expense of the saints who Christianized Ireland. This writer seems to doubt the existence of St. Patrick, and has "many doubts" as to the authenticity of the life of St. Columba. We should not have noticed this work had we not reason to know that it has circulated largely amongst the middle and lower classes, who may be grievously misled by its very insidious statements. It is obviously written for the sake of making a book to sell; and the writer has the honesty to say plainly, that he merely gives the early history of Ireland, pagan and Christian, because he could not well write a history of Ireland and omit this portion of it!

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