Ossian

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Ossian, or Oisin, a renowned bard, son of Finn MacCumhaill, was born in Ireland in the 3rd century. The locality of his birth-place, "Cluain Iochtair," has not been identified. Although his name is constantly to be met in the legends of the time, there is very little definitely known concerning him. Eugene O'Curry writes: "The first class [of Fenian poems and tales] is ascribed directly, in ancient manuscripts, to Finn Mac Cumhaill; to his sons Oisin and Fergus Finnbheoill (the eloquent); and to his kinsman Caeilte. .. The poems ascribed upon anything like respectable authority to Finn Mac Cumhaill are few indeed, amounting only to five, as far as I have been able to discover; but these are found in manuscripts of considerable antiquity... The only poems of Oisin with which I am acquainted, that can be positively traced back so far as the 12th century, are two, which are found in the Book of Leinster... One of these is valuable as a record of the great battle of Gabhra [Skreen, near Tara], which was fought A.D. [281 or] 284, and in which Oscar, the brave son of Oisin, and Cairbre Lifeachair, the Monarch of Erinn, fell by each others'hands... A perfect and very accurate copy of this poem was published in the year 1854 by.. the Ossianic Society... The second poem of Oisin, preserved in the Book of Leinster, is of much greater extent than the first." (A free metrical translation of the latter, by Dr. Anster, appeared in the University Magazine for 1852.)

O'Curry says that but one genuine piece by Fergus remains and one by Cailte MacRonain. Ossian himself fought at Gabhra, where the Fenian power was entirely broken. He is fabled after the battle to have been spirited away to Tir na Og (the land of perpetual youth), and not to have appeared again on earth until the days of St. Patrick. One of the Fenian lays (published with a translation by the Ossianic Society in 1857) — The Lamentation of Oisin after the Fenians — gives an account of his interview with the Saint, his longings for the great pagan past, his grief at the loss of his heroic Fenian companions, and his contempt for Christianity and its professors. In 1760 Dr. James Macpherson, a Scotch writer, published the first of a series of poems purporting to be translations from Ossian, which were enthusiastically received by the public. The question as to whether they were translations from ancient manuscripts, or literary forgeries, has been scarcely yet decided, but the balance of opinion is decidedly against Macpherson. Johnson denounced the poems as impostures, and in our own day O'Curry says: "In no single instance has a genuine Scottish original been found, and that none will ever be found I am very certain."

Sources

171. Ireland, History of, from the earliest period to the English Invasion: Rev. Geoffrey Keating: Translated from the Irish, and Noted by John O'Mahony. New York, 1857.

260. O'Curry, Eugene: Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History. Dublin, 1861.

261. O'Curry, Eugene: Ancient Irish Manners and Customs: Edited by W. K. Sullivan, Ph.D. 3 vols. London, 1873.

272. Ossian and the Clyde: P. Hately Waddell, LL.D. Glasgow, 1875.

272a. Ossianic Society Transactions for 1855. Dublin, 1857.

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