Map of Ireland

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


(A.D. 845), and reigned fifteen years; Hugh VII. succeeded and reigned sixteen years (dying A.D. 877); Flan (surnamed Flan of the Shannon) succeeded at the latter date, and reigned for thirty-eight years, far into the tenth century. Of these six kings, whose reigns average twenty years each, we may remark that not one died by violence, if we except perhaps Nial of Callan, drowned in the river of that name in a generous effort to save the life of one of his own servants. Though no former princes had ever encountered dangers equal to these--yet in no previous century was the person of the ruler so religiously respected. If this was evident in one or two instances only, it would be idle to lay much stress upon it; but when we find the same truth holding good of several successive reigns, it is not too much to attribute it to that wide diffusion of Christian morals, which we have pointed out as the characteristic of the two preceding centuries. The kings of this age owed their best protection to the purer ethics which overflowed from Armagh and Bangor and Lismore; and if we find hereafter the regicide habits of former times partially revived, it will only be after the new Paganism--the Paganism of interminable anti-Christian invasions--had recovered the land, and extinguished the beacon lights of the three first Christian centuries.

The enemy, who were now to assault the religious and civil institutions of the Irish, must be admitted to possess many great military qualities. They certainly exhibit, in the very highest degree, the first of all military virtues--unconquerable courage. Let us say cheerfully, that history does not present in all its volumes a braver race of men than the Scandinavians of the ninth century. In most respects they closely resembled the Gothic tribes, who, whether starting into historic life on the Euxine or the Danube, or faintly heard of by the Latins from the far off Baltic, filled with constant alarm the Roman statesmen of the fourth century; nor can the invasions of what we may call the maritime Goths be better introduced to the reader than by a rapid sketch of the previous triumphs of their kindred tribes over the Roman Empire.

It was in the year of our Lord 378 that these long-dreaded barbarians defeated the Emperor Valens in the plain of Adrianople, and as early as 404--twenty-six years after their first victory in Eastern Europe--they had taken and burned great Rome herself. Again and again--in 410, in 455, and in 472--they captured and plundered the Imperial City. In the same century they had established themselves in Burgundy, in Spain, and in Northern Africa; in the next, another branch of the Gothic stock twice took Rome; and yet another founded the Lombard Kingdom in Northern Italy. With these Goths thus for a time masters of the Roman Empire, whose genius and temper has entered so deeply into all subsequent civilization, war was considered the only pursuit worthy of men. According to their ideas of human freedom, that sacred principle was supposed to exist only in force and by force; they had not the faintest conception, and at first received with unbounded scorn the Christian doctrine of the unity of the human race, the privileges and duties annexed to Christian baptism, and the sublime ideal of the Christian republic. But they were very far from being so cruel or so faithless as their enemies represented them; they were even better than they cared to represent themselves. And they had amongst them men of the highest capacity and energy, well worthy to be the founders of new nations. Alaric, Attila, and Genseric, were fierce and unmerciful it is true; but their acts are not all written in blood; they had their better moments and higher purposes in the intervals of battle; and the genius for civil government of the Gothic race was in the very beginning demonstrated by such rulers as Theodoric in Italy and Clovis in Gaul. The rear guard of this irresistible barbaric invasion was now about to break in upon Europe by a new route; instead of the long land marches by which they had formerly concentrated from the distant Baltic and from the tributaries of the Danube, on the capital of the Roman empire; instead of the tedious expeditions striking across the Continent, hewing their paths through dense forests, arrested by rapid rivers and difficult mountains, the last northern invaders of Europe had sufficiently advanced in the arts of shipbuilding and navigation to strike boldly into the open sea and commence their new conquests among the Christian islands of the West. The defenders of Roman power and Christian civilization in the fifth and sixth centuries, were arrayed against a warlike but pastoral people encumbered with their women and children; the defenders of the same civilization, in the British Islands in the ninth and tenth centuries, were contending with kindred tribes, who had substituted maritime arts and habits for the pastoral arts and habits of the companions of Attila and Theodoric. The Gothic invasion of Roman territory in the earlier period was, with the single exception of the naval expeditions of Genseric from his new African Kingdom, a continental war; and notwithstanding the partiality of Genseric for his fleet, as an arm of offence and defence, his companions and successors abandoned the ocean as an uncongenial element. The only parallel for the new invasion, of which we are now to speak, is to be found in the history and fortunes of the Saxons of the fifth century, first the allies and afterwards the conquerors of part of Britain. But even their descendants in England had not kept pace, either in the arts of navigation or in thirst for adventure, with their distant relatives, who remained two centuries later among the friths and rocks of Scandinavia.

The first appearance of these invaders on the Irish and British coasts occurred in 794. Their first descent on Ireland was at Rathlin island, which may be called the outpost of Erin, towards the north; their second attempt


Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page



Map of Ireland