Our Ancient Capital (11) - Legends, Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

It was unfortunate for Ireland that her Irish princes were so unconquerable, and that her Norman lords should have caught the infection of resistance to the crown. Eight hundred years ago the Saxons of England peaceably settled down with the Normans to form one nation, with interests and objects identical.

The Norman conquerors, better fitted, perhaps, for rulers than any other existing in Europe, established at once a strong, vigorous government in England. The Kings, as individuals, may have been weak or tyrannous, but there was a unity of purpose, a sense of justice, and a vigour of will existing in the ruling class that brought the ruled speedily under the order and discipline of laws. Not a century and a half had elapsed from the Conquest before Magna Charta and representation by Parliament secured the liberty of the people against the caprices of kings; and the Norman temperament which united in a singular degree the instincts of loyalty with the love of freedom, became the hereditary national characteristic of Englishmen. But Ireland never, at any time, comprehended the word nationality. From of old it was broken up into fragments, ruled by chiefs whose principal aim was mutual destruction. There was no unity, therefore no strength.

If, at the time of the Norman invasion, a king of the race had settled here as in England, the Irish would gradually have become a nation under one ruler, in place of being an aggregate of warring tribes; but for want of this chief corner-stone the Norman nobles themselves became but isolated chiefs—new petty kings added to the old—each for himself, none for the country. It was contrary to all natural laws that the proud Irish princes, with the traditions of their race going back two thousand years, should at once serve with love and loyalty a foreign king whose face they never saw and from whom they derived no benefits. And thus it was that five hundred years elapsed, from Henry Plantagenet to William of Nassau, before Ireland was finally adjusted in her subordinate position to the English crown.

Meanwhile the Danish Dublin was fast rising into importance as the Norman city, the capital of the English pale. Within that circle the English laws, language, manners and religion were implicitly adopted; without, there was a fierce, warlike, powerful people, the ancient lords of the soil, but with them the citizens of Dublin had no affinity; and the object of the English rulers was to keep the two races as distinct as possible. Amongst other enactments tending to obliterate any feeling of kindred which might exist, the inhabitants of the pale were ordered to adopt English surnames, derived from everything which by the second commandment we are forbidden to worship. Hence arose the tribes of fishes—cod, haddock, plaice, salmon, gurnet, gudgeon, &c.; and of birds—crow, sparrow, swan, pigeon; and of trades, as carpenter, smith, baker, mason; and of colours—the blacks, whites, browns, and greens, which in Dublin so copiously replace the grand old historic names of the provinces. Determined also on annihilating the picturesque, at least in the individual, lest the outward symbol might be taken for an inward affinity, the long flowing hair and graceful mantle, after the Irish fashion, were forbidden to be worn within the pale.

Neither was the Irish language tolerated within the English jurisdiction, for which Holingshed gives good reason, after this fashion—"And here," he says, "some snappish carpers will snuffingly snib me for debasing the Irish language, but my short discourse tendeth only to this drift, that it is not expedient that the Irish tongue should be so universally gagled in the English pale; for where the country is subdued, there the inhabitants should be ruled by the same laws that the conqueror is governed, wear the same fashion of attire with which the victor is vested, and speak the same language which the victor parleth; and if any of these lack, doubtless the conquest limpeth." The English tongue, however, seems to have been held in utter contempt and scorn by the Irish allies of the pale. After the submission of the Great O'Neil, the last who held the title of king in Ireland, which he exchanged for that of Earl of Tyrone, as a mark and seal of his allegiance to Queen Elizabeth, "One demanded merrilie," says Holingshed, "why O'Neil would not frame himself to speak English? 'What,' quoth the other in a rage, 'thinkest thou it standeth with O'Neil his honour to writhe his mouth in clattering English.'"

As regarded religion, the English commanded the most implicit obedience to the Pope, under as strict and severe penalties as, five hundred years later, they enacted against those who acknowledged his authority. One provision of the ancient oath imposed upon the subjugated Irish was—"You acknowledge yourself to be of the Mother Church of Rome, now professed by all Christians." But, that the Irish of that era little heeded papal or priestly ordinances may be inferred from the fact that, during the wars of Edward Bruce, the English complained that their Irish auxiliaries were more exhausting than the Scots, as they ate meat all the time of Lent; and it is recorded, that in 1133, when the Leinster Irish rose against the English, "they set fire to everything, even the churches, and burned the church of Dunleary, with eighty persons in it, and even when the priest in his sacred vestments, and carrying the Host in his hands, tried to get out, they drove him back with their spears and burned him. For this they were excommunicated by a Papal Bull, and the country was put under an interdict. But they despised these things, and again wasted the county of Wexford."*

The energetic and organizing spirit of the Normans was, however, evidenced by better deeds than those we have named. Courts of law were established in Dublin, a mayor and corporation instituted, and Parliaments were convened after the English fashion. Within fifty years after the Norman settlement, the lordly pile of Dublin Castle rose upon the site of the old Danish fortress, built, indeed, to overawe the Irish, as William the Conqueror built the Tower of London to overawe the English; yet, by Norman hands, the first regal residence was given to our metropolis. St. Patrick's Cathedral was next erected by the colonists, and gradually our fair city rose into beauty and importance through Norman wealth and Norman skill. From henceforth, the whole interest of Irish history centres in the chief city of the pale, and the history of Dublin becomes the history of English rule in Ireland. For centuries its position was that of a besieged city in the midst of a hostile country; for centuries it resisted the whole force of the native race; and finally triumphantly crushed, annihilated, and revenged every effort made for Irish independence.

In truth, Dublin is a right royal city, and never fails in reverential respect towards her English mother.

NOTES

* Grace's Annals. Rev. E. Butler's translation.