Our Ancient Capital (3) - Legends, Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

The earliest tribes that reached our island, though removed so far from the centre of light and wisdom, must still have been familiar with all science necessary to preserve existence, and to organize a new country into a human habitation. They cleared the forests, worked the mines, built chambers for the dead, after the manner of their kindred left in Tyre and Greece, wrought arms, defensive and offensive, such as the heroes of Marathon used against the long-haired Persians; they raised altars and pillar-stones, still standing amongst us, mysterious and eternal symbols of a simple primitive creed; they had bards, priests, and lawgivers, the old tongue of Shinar, the dress of Nineveh, and the ancient faith whose ritual was prayer and sacrifice.

The kindred races who remained stationary, built cities and temples, still a world's wonder, and arts flourished amongst them impossible to the nomads of the plains, or the wanderers by the ocean islands; but the destiny of dispersion was still on the race, and from these central points of civilization, tribes and families constantly went forth to achieve new conquests over the yet untamed earth.

Whatever wisdom the early island colonizers had brought with them, would have died out for want of nourishment, had not these new tribes, from countries where civilization had become developed and permanent, constantly given fresh impulses to progress. With stronger and more powerful arts and arms, they, in succession, gained dominion over their weaker predecessors, and by commerce, laws, arts, and learning, they organized families into nations, enlightening while they subjugated.

The conquest of Canaan gave the second great impetus to the human tides ever flowing westward. Irish tradition has even, in a confused manner, preserved the names of two amongst the leaders of the Sidonian fugitives who landed in Ireland. Partholan, with his wife Elga, and Gadelius, with his wife Scota.

"This Gadelius," say the legends, "was a noble gentleman, right wise, valiant, and well spoken, who, after Pharaoh was drowned, sailed for Spain, and from thence to Ireland, with a colony of Greeks and Egyptians, and his wife Scota, a daughter of Pharaoh's; and he taught letters to the Irish, and warlike feats after the Greek and Egyptian manner."

These later tribes brought with them the Syrian arts and civilization, such as dyeing and weaving, working in gold, silver, and brass, besides the written characters, the same that Cadmus afterwards gave to Greece, and which remained in use amongst the Irish, it is said, until modified by Saint Patrick into their present form, to assimilate them to the Latin.

Continued intercourse with their Syrian kindred soon filled Ireland with the refinement of a luxurious civilization. From various sources, we learn that in those ancient times, the native dress was costly and picturesque, and the habits and modes of living of the chiefs and kings splendid and Oriental. The highborn and the wealthy wore tunics of fine linen of immense width, girdled with gold and with flowing sleeves after the Eastern fashion. The fringed cloak, or cuchula, with a hood, after the Arab mode, was clasped on the shoulders with a golden brooch. Golden circlets, of beautiful and classic form, confined their long, flowing hair, and, crowned with their diadems, the chiefs sat at the banquet, or went forth to war. Sandals upon the feet, and bracelets and signet rings, of rich and curious workmanship, completed the costume. The ladies wore the silken robes and flowing veils of Persia, or rolls of linen wound round the head like the Egyptian Isis, the hair curiously plaited down the back and fastened with gold or silver bodkins, while the neck and arms were profusely covered with jewels.*

For successive centuries, this race, half Tyrian and half Greek, held undisputed possession of Ireland, maintaining, it is said, constant intercourse with the parent state, and, when Tyre fell, commercial relations were continued with Carthage. Communication between such distant lands was nothing to Phoenician enterprise. Phoenicians in the service of an Egyptian king had sailed round Africa and doubled the Cape of Good Hope two thousand years before the Portuguese. The same people built the navy of King Solomon a thousand years before Christ; and led the fleet to India for the gold necessary for the Temple.

They cast the brazen vessels for the altar, employing for the purpose the tin which their merchants must have brought from the British Isles. Thus, to use the words of Humboldt, there can be no doubt that three thousand years ago "the Tyrian flag waved from Britain to the Indian Ocean."

A king of the race, long before Romulus founded Rome, erected a college at Tara, where the Druids taught the wisdom of Egypt, the mysteries of Samothrace, and the religion of Tyre. Then it was that Ireland was known as Innis-Alga—the Holy Island—held sacred by the Tyrian mariners as the "Temple of the Setting Sun:" the last limit of Europe, from whence they could watch his descent into the mysterious western ocean.

But onward still came the waves of human life, unceasing, unresting. Driven forth from Carthage, Spain, and Gaul, the ancient race fled to the limits of the coast, then surged back, fought and refought the battle, conquering and yielding by turns, till at length the Syrian and the Latin elements blended into a new compound, which laid the foundation of modern Europe. But some tribes, disdaining such a union, fled from Spain to Ireland, and thus a new race, but of the old kindred, was flung on our shores by destiny.

The leaders, brave, warlike, and of royal blood, speedily assumed kingly sway, and all the subsequent monarchs of Ireland, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Neils, the O'Donnels, and other noble races, claim descent from them: and very proud, even to this day, are the families amongst the Irish who can trace back their pedigree to these princely Spaniards.

NOTES

* These relics of a civilization three thousand years old, may still be gazed upon by modern eyes in the splendid and unrivalled antiquarian collection of the Royal Irish Academy. The golden circlets, the fibulas, torques, bracelets, rings, &c, worn by the ancient race, are not only costly in value, but often so singularly beautiful in the working out of minute artistic details, that modern art is not merely unable to equal them, but unable even to comprehend how the ancient workers in metals could accomplish works of such delicate, almost microscopic minuteness of finish.