Antiquities of Ireland (Irish Musical Instruments)

Several ancient Irish musical instruments, the chief of which were the harp and trumpet, and numerous fragments of harps have been found also in the oldest crannoges, proving how ancient was the knowledge and the practice of music in Ireland—a fact confirmed by the Welsh Annals, which state that the Irish surpassed all nations in their proficiency on the harp.

The Museum possesses sixteen antique bronze trumpets, one of which—the finest specimen yet found in Europe—measures about eight feet in length, and the joining is curiously riveted with metal studs, a fact proving its antiquity, as it must have been formed in an age unacquainted with the art of soldering. With regard to coins, Sir William Wilde utterly denies that bronze ring-money was ever used in Ireland, as stated by Sir William Betham, who borrowed his idea from Vallancy: for all the articles hitherto described as ring-money, are now proved undeniably to belong to chain-dress or armour. The ancient medium of barter seems to have been so many head of cattle, or so many ounces of gold. A native coinage was utterly unknown. The amount of bronze discovered in Ireland is enormous, and proves the long duration of a period when it was in general use, before iron was known. Specimens of every object necessary to a people's life have been found fabricated of it—weapons, tools, armour, swords, and spears; culinary vessels, caldrons, spoons, and other minor requisites; hair-pins for the flowing locks of the women; brooches for the graceful mantles of the chiefs, but not of the dark, dingy, modern compound that bears the name. Irish antique bronze was a metal of bright, glowing, golden beauty, and the effect of an army marching with spears of this metal in the flashing sunlight, we can imagine to have been truly magnificent.

The people of this remote age must have attained considerable skill in the manufacturing arts—must have had laws, religion, and social culture—yet how little would have been known of them if these mute witnesses of a past humanity had not been interpreted by science. Archaeology and philology are the only solvents of the past; and no theory can henceforth be tolerated that will not stand the test of being assayed by them. The philologist traces the origin and affinities of our people in the roots of the Irish language; while their habits, modes of life, their position in the scale of civilization throughout the long duration of the unwritten age, can only be read in the letters of stone, bronze, and gold upon the walls of our Academy.

Irish manuscripts, though the oldest in North-western Europe, date back scarcely further than the fifth or sixth century. Beyond that period we enter a region of darkness, through which no literature or letters radiate their light; yet, unassisted by either, the archaeologist can reconstruct the primitive world and the primitive man with greater truth and certainty than if he possessed both; for the facts of a museum are changeless and enduring, and can suffer no mutation from prejudice or ignorance, yet we must remember that it is science alone that gives value to these facts. Without its aid a museum would be only an aggregate of curious lumber. The archaeologist must combine, in a synthetic and comprehensive view—must arrange in their proper sequence—must elucidate by a world-wide learning, these si byline fragments of the past; or this writing on the wall, though it express the most irrefragable truths of history, will remain an undeciphered hieroglyphic, as useless and unprofitable to the student as the alphabet of an unknown language, which he is unable to form into intelligible words. All this Sir William Wilde accomplished for the Museum of the Academy, and in his clear and well-arranged volumes we can read the stone pages of our history by the light of all the learning and antiquarian research of the past and. present age gathered to one focus.

The conclusion to be drawn from the facts laid before us is, that in an age of remote antiquity (M. Boucher de Perthes, the well-known French author and antiquarian, has written a book to prove that it was prior to the Deluge) the entire face of the earth was covered by a nomad people, speaking the one language, and living after the same rude fashion, with no other weapons than sharpened stone. This race passed away, and no research has ever yet discovered their name, their language, their religion, or the era of their existence. Not an inscription, not a word, not a letter graven on any stone have they left to allay the torturing curiosity of the inquirer. Yet traces of them have been found from Mexico to Japan; from the steppes of Tartary to the Pampas; round the shores of every European sea, and along the coasts of the two oceans. Wherever man's foot has trodden within historic times, they trod before all history. Even in this outlying isle of ours vestiges of this people are strewn so thickly that the very soil seems made of their remains. Then another race swept across Europe—a comparatively cultured race, bearing with them the chief element of civilization—a knowledge of metals. They spread over both sides of the Danube; left their footprints in Italy and on the shores of the Baltic; overran Switzerland, France, and Belgium, giving names to the rivers they passed, the mountains they crossed, and the towns they founded, which names cling to them even to this day. From Belgium they spread to Britain, and from thence, or by the seacoast of Spain, they reached Ireland, where they founded the existing Irish race, and brought with them the knowledge of metals, the art of music and poetry, and the still existing Irish language. Historians name these people the Celts. On the Continent they were gradually crushed down beneath the Roman and Gothic races, and in Britain also by successive conquests. But Ireland suffered no conquest. Here the old Celtic race lived and flourished, and here alone their language, which everywhere else melted into a compound with the Gothic and Latin, maintained its distinct existence.

The English language is the gradually formed product and result of the successive conquests of England. But no invading people ever gained sufficent strength in Ireland to influence the original language. It exists still amongst us, living and spoken the same as when thousands of years ago the Celtic people first crossed the Danube and gave it the name it now hears. For this reason all the archaeologists of Europe turn their eyes to our sacred isle, as to the one great museum of the Celtic race. Thus, Professor Keller, of Zurich, anxiously studies the formation of Irish crannoges, to compare them with the Swiss; and the learned Pictet, of Geneva, demands the long-deferred completion of the Irish Dictionary, with an ardour that puts to shame our own apathy, as without it comparative philology wants its chief corner-stone. The great facts of our Museum, illustrated, described, and laid before the learned of Europe in a comprehensive form, will go far to correct the crude, imperfect notions of Continental writers concerning Irish antiquities. For instance, Professor Linden-schmidt, of Mayence, asserted in one of his earlier published works, that all the ancient bronze articles found on this side of the Alps were imported from Etruria, as a people so barbarous as the Irish could never have produced them. The fact being, that the largest, most varied, most highly decorated collection of bronze celts existing is to be found in our Museum, along with numerous specimens of the moulds in which they were cast, discovered on the very spot where the ancient workman had lit his furnace. This universal interest and demand for information are enough to stimulate our learned men to exertion, seeing that they are, in a measure, answerable to Europe for the proper preservation of our antiquities, the very rudest of which can tell some tale of the past, as the mere furrows along the streets of the dead Pompeii show that life once passed there.