Our Ancient Capital (6) - Legends, Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

Great consternation must have been in Ireland when the report spread that a fleet of sixty strange sail was in the Boyne, and that another of equal number was sailing up the Liffey. The foreigners leaped from their ships to conquest. Daring brought success; they sacked, burned, pillaged, murdered; put a captive king to death in his own gyves at their ships; drove the Irish before them from the ocean to the Shannon; till, with roused spirit and gathered force, the confederate kings of Ireland in return drove back the white foreigners from the Shannon to the ocean. But they had gained a footing, and inroads, with plunder and devastation, never ceased from that time till the whole eastern sea-border of Ireland was their own. There they established themselves for four centuries, holding their first conquests, but never gaining more, until they were finally expelled by the Normans.

To these red-haired pirates and marauders Dublin owes its existence as a city. The Ath-Cliath of the Irish, though of ancient fame, was but an aggregate of huts by the side of the Liffey, which was crossed by a bridge of hurdles. The kings of Ireland never made it a royal residence, even after Tara was cursed by St. Rodan. Their palaces were in the interior of the island; but no doubt exists that Ath-Cliath, the Eblana of Ptolemy, was a well-known port, the resort of merchantmen from the most ancient times. There were received the Spanish wines, the Syrian silks, the Indian gold, destined for the princes and nobles; and from thence the costly merchandize was transported to the interior.

But Dublin, with its fine plain watered by the Liffey, its noble bay, guarded by the sentinel hills, at once attracted the special notice of the bold Vikings. Their chiefs fixed their residence there, and assumed the title of Kings of Dublin, or Kings of the Dark Water, as the word may be translated. They erected a fortress on the very spot where the Norman Castle now rules the city, and, after their conversion, a cathedral, still standing amongst us, venerable with the memories of eight hundred years.

Their descendants are with us to this day, and many families might trace back their lineage to the Danish leaders, whose names have been preserved in Irish history. Amongst sundry of "these great and valiant captains" are named Swanchean, Griffin, Albert Roe, Torbert Duff, Goslyn, Walter English, Awley, King of Denmark, from whom descend the Macaulays, made more illustrious by the modern historian of their race than by the ancient pirate king. There are also named Randal O'Himer, Algot, Ottarduff Earl, Fyn Crossagh, Torkill, Fox Wasbagg, Trevan, Baron Robert, and others; names interesting, no doubt, to those who can claim them for their ancestry.

The Norsemen having walled and fortified Dublin, though including but a mile within its circumference—whereas now the city includes ten—proceeded to fortify Dunleary, now Kingstown, in order to secure free passage to their ships. Then, from their stronghold of Dublin, they made incessant inroads upon the broad rich plains of the interior. They spread all along Heath, which received its name from them, of "Fingall" (the land of the white stranger); they devastated as far north as Armagh, as far west as the Shannon; Wexford, Waterford, and Limerick became half Danish cities. Everywhere their course was marked by barbaric spoliation. At one time it is noticed that they carried off a "great prey of women"—thus the Romans woo'd their Sabine brides; indeed the accounts in the Irish annals of the shrines they burned, the royal graves they plundered, the treasures they pillaged, the ferocities they perpetrated, are as interminable as they are revolting.

When beaten back by the Irish princes they crouched within their walled city of Dublin, till an opportunity offered for some fresh exercise of murderous cunning, some act of audacious rapine. Thus the contest was carried on for four centuries between the colonists and the nation; mutual hatred ever increasing; the Irish kings of Leinster still claiming the rights of feudal lords over the Danes; the Danes resisting every effort made to dislodge them, though they were not unfrequently forced to pay tribute.

Sometimes the Irish kings hired them as mercenaries to assist in the civil wars which raged perennially amongst them. Sometimes there were intermarriages between the warring foes—the daughter of Brian Boro' wedded Sitric, King of the Danes of Dublin. Occasionally the Irish kings got possession of Dublin, and ravaged and pillaged in return. Once the Danes were driven forth completely from the city, and forced to take refuge upon "Ireland's Eye," the lone sea rock, since made memorable by a tragic history. Malachy, King of Meath, besieged Dublin for three days and three nights, burned the fortress, and carried off the Danish regalia; hence the allusion in Moore's song to "The Collar of Gold which he won from the proud invader." But the most, terrible defeat the Danes ever sustained was at Clontarf, when ten thousand men in coats of mail were opposed to King Brian; but "the ten thousand in armour were cut in pieces, and three thousand warriors slain besides." Even the Irish children fought against the invader. The grandchild of King Brian, a youth of fifteen, was found dead with his hand fast bound in the hair of a Dane's head, whom the child had dragged to the sea.*

Still the Danish colony was not uprooted, though after this defeat they grew more humble, kept within their city of Dublin, and paid tribute to the kings of Leinster, and to the paramount monarch of Ireland.

NOTES

* Hogan, the great historical sculptor of Ireland, has illustrated this era of Irish history by a fine group, heroic and poetical in idea, as well as beautiful in execution, like every work that proceeded from the gifted mind of this distinguished artist.