For several centuries the Irish continued in the happy state described in the last chapter. While the whole European Continent was convulsed by the irruptions of the Germanic tribes, and of the Huns, more savage still, the island was at peace, opened her schools to the youth of all countries--to Anglo- Saxons chiefly--and spread her name abroad as the happy and holy isle, the dwelling of the saints, the land of prodigies, the most blessed spot on the earth. No invading host troubled her; the various Teutonic nations knew less of the sea than the Celts themselves, and no vessel neared the Irish coast save the peaceful curraghs which carried her monks and missionaries abroad, or her own sons in quest of food and adventure.
Providence would seem to have imposed upon the nation the lofty mission of healing the wounds of other nations as they lay helpless in the throes of death, of keeping the doctrines of the Gospel alive in Europe, after those terrible invasions, and of leading into the fold of Christ many a shepherdless flock. The peaceful messengers who went forth from Ireland became as celebrated as her home schools and monasteries; and well had it been for the Irish could such a national life as this have continued.
But God, who wished to prepare them for still greater things in future ages, who proves by suffering all whom he wishes to use as his best instruments, allowed the fury of the storm to burst suddenly upon them. It was but the beginning of their woes, the first step in that long road to Calvary, where they were to be crucified with him, to be crucified wellnigh to the death before their final and almost miraculous resurrection. The Danes were to be the first torturers of that happy and holy people; the hardy rovers of the northern seas were coming to inaugurate a long era of woe.
The Scandinavian irruption which desolated Europe just as she was beginning to recover from the effects of the first great Germanic wave, may be said to have lasted from the eighth to the twelfth century. Down from the North Sea came the shock; Ireland was consequently one of the first to feel it, and we shall see how she alone withstood and finally overcame it.
The better to understand the fierceness of the attack, let us first consider its origin:
The Baltic Sea and the various gulfs connected with it penetrate deeply the northern portion of the Continent of Europe. Its indentations form two peninsulas: a large one, known under the name of Norway and Sweden, and a lesser one on the southwest, now called Denmark. The first was known to the Romans as Scania; the second was called by them the Cimbric Chersonesus. From Scania is derived the name Scandinavians, afterward given to the inhabitants of the whole country. Besides these two peninsulas, there are several islands scattered through the surrounding sea.
The frozen and barren land which this people inhabited obliged them from time immemorial to depend on the ocean for their sustenance: first, by fishing; later on, by piracy. They soon became expert navigators, though their ships were merely small boats made of a few pieces of timber joined together, and covered with the hide of the walrus and the seal.
It seems, from the Irish annals, that they belonged to two distinct races of men: the Norwegians, fair-haired and of large stature; the Danes dark, and of smaller size. Hence the Irish distinguished the first, whom they called Finn Galls, from the second, whom they named Dubh Galls. By no other European nation was this distinction drawn, the Irish being more exact in observing their foes.
It is the general opinion of modern writers that they belonged to the Teutonic family. The Goths, a Teutonic tribe, dwelt for a long period on the larger peninsula. But whether the Goths were of the same race as the Norwegians or Danes is a question. Certain it is that the various German nations which first overwhelmed the Roman Empire bore many characteristics different from those of the Danes and Norwegians, though the language of all indicated, to a certain extent, a common origin.
The Swedes, the inhabitants of the eastern coast of Scania, do not appear to have taken an important part in the Scandinavian invasions; nor, indeed, have they ever been so fond of maritime enterprises as the two other nations. Moreover, they were at that time in bloody conflict with the Goths, and too busy at home to think of foreign conquest.
For a long time the Scandinavian pirates seem to have confined themselves to scouring their own seas, and plundering the coasts as far as the gulfs of Finland and Bothnia. At length, emboldened by success, they ventured out into the ocean, attacked the nations of Western and Southern Europe, and in the west colonized the frozen shores of the Shetland and Faroe Islands, and soon after Iceland and Greenland.
For several centuries the harbors of Denmark and Norway became the storehouses of all the riches of Europe, and a large trade was carried on between those northern peninsulas and the various islands of the Northern and Arctic Seas, even with the coast of America, of which Greenland seems to form a part.
Those stern and mountainous countries and the restless ocean which divides them were for the Scandinavian pirates what the Mediterranean and the coasts of Spain and Africa had long before been for the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. These peoples were clearly destined to introduce among modern nations the spirit of commerce and enterprise.
But here it is well to consider their religious and social state from which nations chiefly derive their noble or ignoble qualities. We shall find both made up of the rankest idolatry, of cruel manners and revolting customs.
Their system of worship, with its creed and rites, is much more precise in character and better known to us than that of the Celts. If we open the books which were written in Europe at the time of the irruption of these Northmen, and the poems of those savage tribes preserved to our own days, and comprised under the name of Edda, besides the numerous sagas, or songs and ballads, which we still possess, we find mention of three superior gods and a number of inferior deities, which gave a peculiar character to this Northern worship.
They were Thor, the god of the elements, of thunder chiefly; Wodan or Odin, the god of war; and Frigga, the goddess of lust; the long list of others it is unnecessary to give. Their religion, therefore, consisted mainly: 1. In battling with the elements, particularly on the sea, under the protection of Thor;
Such was Scandinavian mythology in its reality.
Modern investigators, principally in Germany and France, find in the Edda a complete system of cosmogony and of a religion almost inspired, so beautiful do they make it. At least they have made it appear as profound a philosophy as that of old Hindostan and far-off Thibet. By grouping around those three great divinities, which are supposed to be emblematical of the superior natural forces, their numerous progeny, that of Odin especially, together with an incredible number of malicious giants and good- natured ases--a kind of fairy--any skilful theorist, gifted with the requisite imagination, may extract from the whole an almost perfect system of cosmogony and ethics. Then the disgusting legends of the Edda and the sagas are straightway transformed into interesting myths, offsprings of poetry and imagination, and conveying to the mind a philosophy only less than sublime, derived, as they say, from the religion of Zoroaster.
It is, as we said, in Germany and France chiefly that these discoveries have been made. The English, a more sober people, although of Scandinavian blood, do not set so high a value on what is, in the literal sense, so low.
Pity that such pleasing speculations should be mere theoretical bubbles, unable to retain their lightness and their vivid colors in the rude atmosphere of the arctic regions, bursting at the first breath of the north wind! How could sensible men, under such a complicated system of religion and physics, account for the uncouth pirates of the Baltic?
As useless is it to say that they brought it from the place of their origin--Persia, as these theorists affirm. To a man uninfluenced by a preconceived or pet system, it is evident at first sight that no mythology of the East or of the South has ever given rise to that of Scandinavia. There is not the slightest resemblance between it and any other. It must have originated with the Scandinavians themselves; and their long religious tales were only the bloody dreams of their fancy, when, during their dreary winter evenings, they had nothing to do but relate to each other what came uppermost in their gross minds.
Saxo Grammaticus, certainly a competent authority, and Snorry Sturleson, the first to translate the Edda into Latin, who is still considered one of the greatest antiquarians of the nation --both of whom lived in the times we speak of, when this religious system still flourished or was fresh in the minds of all-- solved the question ages ago, and demonstrated beforehand the falsehood of those future theories by stating with old-time simplicity that the abominable stories of the Edda and the sagas were founded on real facts in the previous history of those nations, and were consequently never intended by the writers as imaginative myths, representing, under a figurative and repulsive exterior, some semblance of a spiritual and refined doctrine.
We must look to our own more enlightened times to find ingenious interpreters of rude old songs first flung to the breeze nine hundred years ago in the polar seas, and bellowed forth in boisterous and drunken chorus during the ninth and tenth centuries by ferocious, but to modern eyes romantic, pirates reeking with the gore of their enemies.
Because it has pleased some modern pantheist to concoct systems of religion in his cabinet, does it become at once clear that the mythic explanation of those songs is the only one to be admitted, and that the odious facts which those legends express ought to be discarded altogether? At least we hope that, when philosophers come to be the real rulers of the world, they will not give to their subtle and abstract ideas of religion the same pleasant turn and the same concrete expression in every-day life that the worshippers of Odin, Thor, and Frigga, found it agreeable to give when they were masters of the continent and rulers of the seas.
No! The only true meaning of this Northern worship is conveyed in the simple words of Adam of Bremen, when relating what still existed in his own time. (Descript. insularum Aquil., lib. iv.) He describes the solemn sacrifices of Upsala in Sweden thus: "This is their sacrifice; of each and all animals they offer nine heads of the male gender, by whose blood it is their custom to appease the gods. The dead bodies of the victims are suspended in a grove which surrounds the temple. The place is in their eyes invested with such a sacred character that the trees are believed to be divine on account of the blood and gore with which they are besmeared. With the animals, dogs, horses, etc., they suspend likewise men; and a Christian of that country told me that he had himself seen them with his own eyes mixed up together in the grove. But the senseless rites which accompany the sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood are so many, and of so gross and immoral nature, that it is better not to speak of them."
We have here the naked truth, and no meaning whatever could be attached to such ceremonies other than that of the rankest idolatry. To complete the picture, it is proper to state that Thor, Odin, and Frigga, were frightful idols, as represented in the Upsala temple, and the small statues carried by the Scandinavian sailors on their expeditions and set in the place of honor on board their ships, were but diminutive copies of the hideous originals. It is known, moreover, that Odin had existed as a leader of some of their migrations, so that their idolatry resolved itself into hero-worship.
Having spoken of their gods, we have only a word to add on their belief in a future state, for every one is acquainted with their brutal and shocking Walhalla. Yet, such as it was, admittance to its halls could only be aspired to by the warriors and heroes, the great among them; the common herd was not deemed worthy of immortality. Thus aristocratic pride showed itself at the very bottom of their religion.
Of their social state, their government, we know little. They lived under a kind of rude monarchy, subject often to election, when they chose the most savage and the bravest for their ruler. But blood-relationship had little or nothing to do with their system, so different from that of the Celts. The sons of a chieftain could never form a sept, but at his death the eldest replaced him; the younger brothers, deprived of their titles and goods, were forced to separate and acquire a title to rank and honor by piracy; and that right of primogeniture, which was the primary cause of their sea invasions, stamped the feudal system with one of its chief characteristics, a system which probably originated with them. Some, however, entertain a contrary opinion, and suppose that at the death of the father his children shared his inheritance equally.
Of their moral habits we may best judge by their religion. All we know of their history seems to prove that with them might was right, and outlawry the only penalty of their laws.
A man guilty of murder was compelled to quit the country, unless his superior daring and the number of his friends and followers enabled him, by more atrocious and wholesale murders, still to become a great chieftain and even aspire to supreme power. Iceland was colonized by outlaws from Norway; and the frequent changes of dynasty in pagan times prove that among them, as among barbarous tribes generally, brute force was the chief source of law and authority.
That outlawry was not esteemed a stain on the character is sufficiently demonstrated by the fact that the mere accident of birth made outlaws of all the children of chieftains with the exception of the eldest born; the necessity for the younger sons abandoning their home and native country, and roaming the ocean in search of plunder, being exactly equivalent, according to their opinion and customs, to criminal outlawry of whatever character. This, at least, many authors assert without hesitation.
Their domestic habits were fit consequences of such a state of society. There could exist no real tie of kindred, no filial or brotherly affection among men living under such a social system. The gratification of brutal passions and the most utter selfishness constituted the rule for all; and even the fear of an inexorable judge after death could not restrain them during life, as might have been the case among other pagan nations, since the hope of reaching their Walhalla depended for its fulfilment on murder or suicide.
With their system of warfare we are better acquainted than with any thing else belonging to them, as the main burden of their songs was the recital of their barbarous expeditions. It is, indeed, difficult for a modern reader to wade through the whole of their Edda poems, or even their long sagas, so full is their literature of unimaginable cruelties. Yet a general view of it is necessary in order to understand the horror spread throughout Europe by their inhuman warfare.
As soon as the warm breeze of an early spring thaws the ice on his rivers and lakes, the Scandinavian Viking unfurls his sail, fills his rude boat with provisions, and trusts himself to the mercy of the waves. Should he be alone, and not powerful enough to have a fleet at his command, he looks out for a single boat of his own nation--there being no other in those seas. Urged by a mutual impulse, the two crews attack each other at sight; the sea reddens with blood; the savage bravery is equal on both sides; accident alone can decide the contest. One of the crews conquers by the death of all its opponents; the plunder is transferred to the victorious boat; the cup of strong drink passes round, and victory is crowned by drunkenness.
But if the two chieftains have contended from morning till night with equal valor and success, then, filled with admiration for each other, they become friends, unite their forces, and, falling on the first spot where they can land, they pillage, slay, outrage women, and give full sway to their unbridled passions. The more ferocious they are the braver they esteem themselves. It is a positive fact, as we may gather from all their poems and songs, that the Scandinavians alone, probably, of all pagan nations, have had no measure of bravery and military glory beyond the infliction of the most exquisite torture and the most horrible of deaths.
Plunder, which was apparently the motive power of all their expeditions, was to them less attractive than blood; blood, therefore, is the chief burden of their poetry, if poetry it can be called. It would seem as though they were destined by Nature to shed human blood in torrents--the noblest occupation, according to their ideas, in which a brave man could be engaged.
The figures of their rude literature consist for the most part of monstrous warriors and gods, each possessed of many arms to kill a greater number of enemies, or of giant stature to overcome all obstacles, or of enchanted swords which shore steel as easily as linen, and clave the body of an adversary as it would the air.
Then, heated with blood, the Northman is also influenced with lust, for he worships Frigga as well as Odin. But this is not the place to give even an idea of manners too revolting to be presented to the imagination of the reader.
Cantu's Universal History will furnish all the authorities from which the details we have given and many others of the same kind are derived.
We do not propose describing here the horrors of the devastations committed by the Anglo-Saxons and Danes in England, by the Normans in France, Spain, and Italy. All these nations, even the first, were Scandinavians, and naturally fall under our review. The story is already known to those who are acquainted with the history of mediaeval Europe. The only thing which we do not wish to omit is the invariable system of warfare adopted by this people when acting on a large scale.
Arrived on the coast they had determined to ravage, they soon found that in stormy weather they were in a more dangerous position than at sea. Hence they looked for a deep bay, or, better still, the mouth of a large river, and once on its placid bosom they felt themselves masters of the whole country. The terror of the people, the lack of organization for defence, so characteristic of Celtic or purely Germano-Franco society, the savage bravery and reckless impetuosity of the invaders themselves, increased their rashness, and urged them to enter fearlessly into the very heart of a country which lay prostrate with fear before them. All the cities on the river-banks were plundered as they passed, people of whatever age, sex, or condition, were murdered; the churches especially were despoiled of their riches, and the numerous and wealthy monasteries then existing were given to the flames, after the monks and all the inmates even to the schoolchildren, had been promiscuously slaughtered, if they had not escaped by flight.
But, although all were slaughtered promiscuously, a special ferocity was always displayed by the barbarous conqueror toward the unarmed and defenceless ministers of religion. They took a particular delight in their case in adding insult to cruelty; and not without reason did the Church at that time consider as martyrs the priests and monks who were slain by the pagan Scandinavians. Their sanguinary and hideous idolatry showed its hatred of truth and holiness in always manifesting a peculiar atrocity when coming in contact with the Church of Christ and her ministers. And, our chief object in speaking of the stand made by the Irish against the pagan Danes is, to show how the clan-system became in truth the avenger of God's altars and the preserver of the sacred edifices and numerous temples with which, as we have seen, the Island of Saints was so profusely studded, from total annihilation.
Knowing that, when their march of destruction had taken them a great distance from the mouth of the river, the inhabitants might rise in sheer despair and cut them off on their return, the Scandinavian pirates, to guard against such a contingency, looked for some island or projecting rock, difficult of access, which they fortified, and, placing there the plunder which loaded their boats, they left a portion of their forces to guard it, while the remainder continued their route of depredation. In Ireland they found spots admirably adapted for their purpose in the numerous loughs into which many of the rivers run.
This was their invariable system of warfare in the rivers of England; in Germany along system Rhine; along the Seine, the Loire, and the Garonne, in France, as well as on the Tagus and Guadalquivir in Spain, where two at least of their large expeditions penetrated. This continued for several centuries, until at last they thought of occupying the country which they had devastated and depopulated, and they began to form permanent settlements in England, Flanders, France, and even Sicily and Naples.
When that time had arrived, they showed that, hidden under their ferocious exterior, lay a deep and systematic mind, capable of great thoughts and profound designs. Already in their own rude country they had organized commerce on an extensive scale, and their harbors teemed with richly-laden ships, coming from far distances or preparing to start on long voyages. They had become a great colonizing race, and, after establishing their sway in the Hebrides, the Orkneys, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, they made England their own, first by the Jute and Anglo-Saxon tribes, then by the arms of Denmark, which was at that time so powerful that England actually became a colony of Copenhagen; and finally they thought of extending their conquests farther south to the Mediterranean Sea, where their ships rode at anchor in the harbors of fair Sicily.
We know, from many chronicles written at the time, with what care they surveyed all the countries they occupied, confiscating the land after having destroyed or reduced its inhabitants to slavery; dividing it among themselves and establishing their barbarous laws and feudal customs wherever they went. Dudo of St. Quentin, among other writers, describes at length in his rude poem the army of surveyors intrusted by Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, with the care of drawing up a map of their conquests in France, for the purpose of dividing the whole among his rough followers and vassals.
Of this spirit of organization we intend to speak in the next chapter, when we come to consider the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland; but we are not to conclude that the Northmen became straightway civilized, and that the spirit of refinement at once shed its mild manners and gentle habits over their newly- constructed towns and castles. For a long time they remained as barbarous as ever, with only a system more perfect and a method more scientific--if we may apply such expressions to the case-- in their plunderings and murderous expeditions.
Of Hastings, their last pagan sea-kong, Dudo, the great admirer of Northmen and the sycophant of the first Norman dukes in France, has left the following terrible character, on reading which in full we scarcely know whether the poem was written in reproach or praise. We translate from the Latin
According to Dudo, he was--
"A wretch accursed and fierce of heart,
Unmatched in dark iniquities;
A scowling pest of deadly hate,
He throve on savage cruelties.
Blood-thirsty, stained with every crime,
An artful, cunning, deadly foe,
Lawless, vaunting, rash, inconstant, True well-spring of unending woe!"
Hastings never yielded to the new religion, which he always hated and persecuted. But, even after their conversion to Christianity, his countrymen for a long time retained their inborn love of bloodshed and tyranny; they were in this respect, as in many others, the very reverse of the Irish.
Of Rollo, the first Christian Duke of Normandy, Adhemar, a contemporary writer, says:
"On becoming Christian, he caused many captives to be beheaded in his presence, in honor of the gods whom he had worshipped. And he also distributed a vast amount of money to the Christian churches in honor of the true God in whose name he had received baptism;" which would seem to imply that this transaction occurred on the very day of his baptism.
We may now compare the success which attended the arms of these terrible invaders throughout the rest of Europe with their complete failure in Ireland. It will be seen that the deep attachment of the Irish Celts for their religion, its altars, shrines, and monuments, was the real cause of their final victory. We shall behold a truly Christian people battling against paganism in its most revolting and audacious form.
But, first, how stood the case in England?
"It is not a little extraordinary," says a sagacious writer in the Dublin Review (vol. xxxii., p. 203), "that the three successive conquests of England by the Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans, were in fact conquests made by the same people, and, in the last two instances, over those who were not only descended from the same stock, but who had immigrated from the very same localities. The Jutes, Angles, and Saxons, were for the most part Danes or of Danish origin. Their invasion of England commenced by plunder and ended by conquest. These were overthrown by the Danes and Norwegians in precisely the same manner.
"In the year 875, Roll or Rollo, having been expelled from Norway by Harold Harfager, adopted the profession of a sea-kong, and in the short space of sixteen years became Duke of Normandy and son-in-law of the French king, after having previously repudiated his wife. The sixth duke in succession from Rollo was William, illegitimate son of Robert le Diable and Herleva, a concubine. By the battle of Hastings, which William gained in 1066, over King Harold, who was slain in it, the former became sovereign of England, and instead of the appellation of 'the Bastard,' by which he had been hitherto known, he now obtained the surname of 'the Conqueror.'
"Thus both the Saxon and Danish invaders were subdued by their Norman brethren."
All the Scandinavian invasions of England were, therefore, successful, each in turn giving way before a new one; and it is not a little remarkable that the very year in which Brian Boru dealt a death-blow to the Danes at Clontarf witnessed the complete subjection of England by Canute.
The success of the Northmen in France is still more worthy of attention. Their invasions began soon after the death of Charlemagne. It is said that, before his demise, hearing of the appearance of one of their fleets not far from the mouth of the Rhine, he shed tears, and foretold the innumerable evils it portended. He saw, no doubt, that the long and oft-repeated efforts of his life to subdue and convert the northern Saxons would fail to obtain for his successors the peace he had hoped to win by his sword, and, knowing from the Saxons themselves the relentless ferocity, audacity, and frightful cruelty, inoculated in their Scandinavian blood, he could not but expect for his empire the fierce attacks which were preparing in the arctic seas. All his life had he been a conqueror, and under his sway the Franks, whom he had ever led to victory, acquired a name through Europe for military glory which, he dreaded, would no longer remain untarnished. His forebodings, however, could not be shared by any of those who surrounded him in his old age; his eagle eye alone discerned the coming misfortunes.
Seven times had the great emperor subdued the Saxons. He had crushed them effectually, since he could not otherwise prevent them from disturbing his empire. The Franks, who formed his army, were therefore the real conquerors of Western Europe. Starting from the banks of the Rhine, they subjugated the north as far as the Baltic Sea; they conquered Italy as far south as Beneventum, by their victories over the Lombards; by the subjugation of Aquitaine, they took possession of the whole of France; the only check they had ever received was in the valley of Roncevaux, whence a part of one of their armies was compelled to retreat, without, however, losing Catalonia, which they had won.
Nevertheless, we see them a few years after powerless and stricken with terror at the very name of the Northmen, as soon as Hastings and Rollo appeared. Those sea-rovers established themselves straightway in the very centre of the Frankish dominion; for it was at the mouth of the Rhine, in the island of Walcheren, that they formed their first camp. From Walcheren they swept both banks of the Rhine, and, after enriching themselves with the spoils of monasteries, cathedrals, and palaces, they thought of other countries. Then began the long series of spoliations which desolated the whole of France along the Seine, the Loire, and the Garonne.
Opposition they scarcely encountered. Paris alone, of all the great cities of France, sustained a long siege, and finally bought them off by tribute. The military power of the nation was annihilated all at once, and of all French history this period is undoubtedly the most humiliating to a native of the soil.
And now let us see how the Irish met the same piratical invasions.
We are already acquainted with the chief defect of their political system, namely, its want of centralization. The Ard- Righ was in fact but a nominal ruler, except in the small province which acknowledged his chieftainship only. Throughout the rest of Ireland the provincial kings were independent save in name. Not only were they often reluctant to obey the Ard-Righ, but they were not seldom at open war with him. Nor are we to suppose that, at least in the case of a serious attack from without, their patriotism overcame their private differences, and made them combine together to show a common front against a common foe. In a patriarchal state of government there is scarcely any other form of patriotism than that of the particular sept to which each individual belongs. All the ideas, customs, prejudices, are opposed to united action.
Yet an invasion so formidable as that of the Scandinavian tribes showed itself everywhere to be, would have required all the energies and resources of the whole country united under one powerful chief, particularly when it did not consist of one single fearful irruption.
During two centuries large fleets of dingy, hide-bound barks discharge on the shores of Erin their successive cargoes of human fiends, bent on rapine and carnage, and altogether proof against fear of even the most horrible death, since such death was to them the entry to the eternal realms of their Walhalla.
But, at the period of which we speak, the terrible evil of a want of centralization was greatly aggravated by a change occurring in the line which held the supreme power in the island.
The vigorous rule of a long succession of princes belonging to the northern Hy-Niall line gave way to the ascendency of the southern branch of this great family; and the much more limited patrimony and alliances of this new quasi-dynasty rendered its personal power very inferior to that of the northern branch, and consequently lessened the influence possessed by the ruling family in past times. In Ireland the connections, more or less numerous, by blood relationship with the great families, always exercised a powerful influence over the body of the nation in rendering it docile and amenable to the will of the Ard-Righ.
Mullingar, in West Meath, was the abode of the southern Hy- Nialls, and Malachy of the Shannon, the first Ard-Righ of this line, succeeded King Niall of Callan in 843. The Danes were already in the country and had committed depredations. Their first descent is mentioned by the Four Masters as taking place at Rathlin on the coast of Antrim in the year 790.
But the country was soon aroused; and religious feelings, always uppermost in the Irish heart, supplied the deficiencies of the constitution of the state and the particularly unfavorable circumstances of the period. The Danes, as usual, first attacked the monasteries and churches, and this alone was enough to kindle in the breasts of the people the spirit of resistance and retaliation. Iona was laid waste in 797, and again in 801 and 805. "To save from the rapacity of the Danes," says Montalembert in his Monks of the West, "a treasure which no pious liberality could replace, the body of S. Columba was carried to Ireland. And it is the unvarying tradition of Irish annals, that it was deposited finally at Down, in an episcopal monastery, not far from the eastern shore of the island, between the great monastery of Bangor in the North, and Dublin the future capital of Ireland, in the South."
Ireland was first assailed by the Danes on the north immediately after they had gained possession of the Hebrides; but the coasts of Germany, Belgium, and France had witnessed their attacks long before. Religion was the first to suffer; and as the Island of Saints was at the time of their descent covered with churches and monasteries, the Scandinavian barbarians found in these a rich harvest which induced them to return again and again. The first expedition consisted of only a few boats and a small body of men. Nevertheless, as their irruptions were unexpected, and the people were unprepared for resistance, many holy edifices suffered from these attacks, and a great number of priests and monks were murdered.
We read that Armagh with its cathedral and monasteries was plundered four times in one month, and in Bangor nine hundred monks were slaughtered in a single day. The majority of the inmates of those houses fled with their books and the relics of their saints at the approach of the invaders, but, returning to their desecrated homes after the departure of the pirates, gave cause for those successive plunderings.
But the Irish did not always fly in dismay, as was the case in England and France. A force was generally mustered in the neighborhood to meet and repel the attack, and in numerous instances the marauders were driven back with slaughter to their ships.
For the clans rallied to the defence of the Church. Though the chieftains and their clansmen might seem to have failed fully to imbibe the spirit of religion, though in their insane feuds they often turned a deaf ear to the remonstrances and reproaches of the bishops and monks, nevertheless Christianity reigned supreme in their inmost hearts. And when they beheld pagans landed on their shores, to insult their faith and destroy the monuments of their religion, to shed the blood of holy men, of consecrated virgins, and of innocent children, they turned that bravery which they had so often used against themselves and for the satisfaction of worthless contentions into a new and a more fitting channel--the defence of their altars and the punishment of sacrilegious outrage.
The clan system was the very best adapted for this kind of warfare, so long as no large fleets came, and the pirates were too few in number and too sagacious in mind to think of venturing far inland. When but a small number of boats arrived, the invaders found in the neighborhood a clan ready to receive them. The clansmen speedily assembled, and, falling on the plundering crews, showed them how different were the free men of a Celtic coast, who were inspired by a genuine love for their faith, from the degenerate sons of the Gallo-Romans.
So the annals of the country tell us that the "foreigners" were destroyed in 812 by the men of Umhall in Mayo; by Corrach, lord of Killarney, in the same year; by the men of Ulidia and by Carbry with the men of Hy-Kinsella in 827; by the clansmen of Hy- Figeinte, near Limerick, in 834, and many more.
But the hydra had a thousand heads, and new expeditions were continually arriving. In the words of Mr. Worsaae, a Danish writer of this century:
"From time immemorial Ireland was celebrated in the Scandinavian north, for its charming situation, its mild climate, and its fertility and beauty. The Kongspell--mirror of Kings--which was compiled in Norway about the year 1200, says that Ireland is almost the best of the lands we are acquainted with although no vines grow there. The Scandinavian Vikings and emigrants, who often contented themselves with such poor countries as Greenland and the islands in the north Atlantic, must, therefore, have especially turned their attention to the 'Emerald Isle,' particularly as it bordered closely upon their colonies in England and Scotland. But to make conquests in Ireland, and to acquire by the sword alone permanent settlements there, was no easy task.... When we consider that neither the Romans nor the Anglo-Saxons ever obtained a footing in that country, although they had conquered England, the adjacent isle, and when we further reflect upon the immense power exerted by the English in later times in order to subdue the Celtic population of the island, we cannot help being surprised at the very considerable Scandinavian settlements which, as early as the ninth century, were formed in that country."
These are the words of a Dane. We shall see what the "very considerable Scandinavian settlements" amounted to; the quotation is worthy of note, as presenting in a few words the motives of those who at any time invaded Ireland, and the stubborn resistance which they met.
The Irish were not dismayed by the constant arrivals of those northern hordes. They met them one after another without considering their complexity and connection. They only saw a troop of fierce barbarians landed on their shores, chiefly intent upon plundering and burning the churches and holy houses which they had erected; they saw their island, hitherto protected by the ocean from foreign attack, and resting in the enjoyment of a constant round of Christian festivals and joyful feasts, now desecrated by the presence and the fury of ferocious pagans; they armed for the defence of all that is dear to man; and though, perhaps, at first beaten and driven back, they mustered in force at a distance to fall on the victors with a swoop of noble birds who fly to the defence of their young.
This kind of contest continued for two hundred years, with the exception of the periods of larger invasions, when a single clan no longer sufficed to avenge the cause of God and humanity, and the Ard-Righ was compelled to throw himself on the scene at the head of the whole collective force of the nation in order to oppose the vast fleets and large armies of the Danes.
The country suffered undoubtedly; the cattle were slain; the fields devastated; the churches and houses burned; the poets silenced or woke their song only to notes of woe; the harpers taught the national instrument the music of sadness; the numerous schools were scattered, though never destroyed; as centuries later, under the Saxon, the people took their books or writing materials to their miserable cottages or hid them in the mountain fastnesses, and thus, for the first time in their history, the hedge school succeeded those of the large monasteries. So the nation continued to live on, the energetic fire which burned in the hearts of the people could not be quenched. They rose and rose again, and often took a noble revenge, never disheartened by the most utter disaster.
On three different occasions this bloody strife assumed a yet more serious and dangerous aspect. It was not a few boats only which came to the shores of the devoted island; but the main power of Scandinavia seemed to combine in order to crush all opposition at a single blow.
When the knowledge of the richness, fertility, and beauty of the island had fully spread throughout Denmark and Norway, a large fleet gathered in the harbors of the Baltic and put to sea. The famous Turgesius or Turgeis--Thorgyl in the Norse--was the leader. The Edda and Sagas of Norway and Denmark have been examined with a view to elucidate this passage in Irish history, but thus far fruitlessly. It is known, however, that many Sagas have been lost which might have contained an account of it. The Irish annals are too unanimous on the subject to leave any possibility of doubt with regard to it; and, whatever may be the opinion of learned men on the early events in the history of Erin, the story of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries rests entirely on historical ground, as surely as if the facts had happened a few hundred years ago.
Turgesius landed with his fleet on the northeast coast of the island, and straightway the scattered bands of Scandinavians already in the country acknowledged his leadership and flocked to his standard. McGeoghegan says that "he assumed in his own hands the sovereignty of all the foreigners that were then in Ireland."
From the north he marched southward; and, passing Armagh on his route, attacked and took it, and plundered its shrines, monasteries, and schools. There were then within its walls seven thousand students, according to an ancient roll which Keating says has been discovered at Oxford. These were slaughtered or dispersed, and the same fate attended the nine hundred monks residing in its monasteries.
Foraanan, the primate, fled; and the pagan sea-kong, entering the cathedral, seated himself on the primatial throne, and had himself proclaimed archbishop.--(O'Curry.) He had shortly before devastated Clonmacnoise and made his wife supreme head of that great ecclesiastical centre, celebrated for its many convents of holy women. The tendency to add insult to outrage, when the object of the outrage is the religion of Christ, is old in the blood of the northern barbarians; and Turgesius was merely setting the example, in his own rude and honest fashion, to the more polished but no less ridiculous assumption of ecclesiastical authority, which was to be witnessed in England, on the part of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth.
The power of the invader was so superior to whatever forces the neighboring Irish clans could muster, that no opposition was even attempted at first by the indignant witnesses of those sacrileges. It is even said that at the very time when the Northmen were pillaging and burning in the northeast of the island, the men of Munster were similarly employed in Bregia; and Conor, the reigning monarch of Ireland, instead of defending the invaded territories, was himself hard at work plundering Leinster to the banks of the river Liffey--(Haverty.) But, doubtless, none of those deluded Irish princes had yet heard of the pagan devastations and insults to their religion, and thus it was easy for the great sea-kong to strengthen and extend his power. For the attainment of his object he employed two powerful agents which would have effectually crushed Ireland forever, if the springs of vitality in the nation had not been more than usually expansive and strong.
The political ability of the Danes began to show itself in Ireland, as it did about the same period (830) in England, and later on in France. Turgesius saw that, in order to subdue the nation, it was necessary to establish military stations in the interior and fortify cities on the coast, where he could receive reinforcements from Scandinavia. These plans he was prompt to put into practice.
His military stations would have been too easily destroyed by the bravery of the Irish, strengthened by the elasticity of their clan-system, if they were, planted on land. He, therefore, set them in the interior lakes which are so numerous in the island, where his navy could repel all the attacks of the natives, unused as they were to naval conflicts. He stationed a part of his fleet on Lough Lee in the upper Shannon, another in Lough Neagh, south of Antrim, a third in Lough Lughmagh or Dundalk bay. These various military positions were strongholds which secured the supremacy of the Scandinavians in the north of the island for a long time. In the south, Turgesius relied on the various cities which his troops were successively to build or enlarge, namely, Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Cork, Waterford, and Wexford. This first Scandinavian ruler could begin that policy only by establishing his countrymen in Dublin, which they seized in 836.
Up to that time the Irish had scarcely any city worthy of the name. A patriarchal people, they followed the mode of life of the old Eastern patriarchs, who abhorred dwelling in large towns. Until the invasion of the Danes, the island was covered with farm-houses placed at some distance from each other. Here and there large duns or raths, as they were called, formed the dwellings of their chieftains, and became places of refuge for the clansmen in time of danger. Churches and monasteries arose in great numbers from the time of St. Patrick, which were first built in the woods, but soon grew into centres of population, corresponding in many respects to the idea of towns as generally understood.
The Northmen brought with them into Ireland the ideas of cities, commerce, and municipal life, hitherto unknown. The introduction of these supposed a total change necessary in the customs of the natives, and stringent regulations to which the people could not but be radically opposed. And strange was their manner of introduction by these northern hordes. Keating tells us how Turgesius understood them. They were far worse than the imaginary laws of the Athenians as recorded in the "Birds" of Aristophanes. No more stringent rules could be devised, whether for municipal, rural, or social regulations; and, as the Northmen are known to have been of a systematic mind, no stronger proof of this fact could be given.
Keating deplores in the following terms the fierce tyranny of the Danish sea-kong:
"The result of the heavy oppression of this thraldom of the Gaels under the foreigner was, that great weariness thereof came upon the men of Ireland, and the few of the clergy that survived had fled for safety to the forests and wildernesses, where they lived in misery, but passed their time piously and devoutly, and now the same clergy prayed fervently to God to deliver them from that tyranny of Turgesius, and, moreover, they fasted against that tyrant, and they commanded every layman among the faithful, that still remained obedient to their voice, to fast against him likewise. And God then heard their supplications in as far as the delivering of Turgesius into the hands of the Gaels."
Thus in the ninth century the subsequent events of the sixteenth and seventeenth were foreshadowed. The judicious editor of Keating, however, justly remarks, that this description, taken mainly from Cambrensis, is not supported in its entirety by the contemporaneous annals of the island; that the power of the Danes never was as universal and oppressive as is here supposed; and that though each of the facts mentioned may have actually taken place in some part of the country, at some period of the Danish invasion, yet the whole, as representing the actual state of the entire island at the time, is exaggerated and of too sweeping a nature.
It is clear, nevertheless, that the domination of the Northmen could not have been completely established in Ireland, together with their notions of superiority of race, trade on a large scale, and a consequent agglomeration of men in large cities, without the total destruction of the existing social state of the Irish, and consequently something of the frightful tyranny just described.
But the people were too brave, too buoyant, and too ardent in their nature, to bear so readily a yoke so heavy. They were too much attached to their religion, not to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, in order to put an end to the sacrilegious usurpations of a pagan king, profaning, by his audacious assumptions, the noblest, highest, purest, and most sacred dignities of holy Church. A man, stained with the blood of so many prelates and priests, seated on the primatial throne of the country in sheer derision of their most profound feelings; his pagan wife ruling over the city which the virgins of Bridget, the spouses of Christ, had honored and sanctified so long; their religion insulted by those who tried to destroy it--how could such a state of things be endured by the whole race, not yet reduced to the condition to which so many centuries of oppression subsequently brought it down!
Hence Keating could write directly after the passage just quoted: "When the nobles of Ireland saw that Turgesius had brought confusion upon their country, and that he was assuming supreme authority over themselves, and reducing them to thraldom and vassalage, they became inspired with a fortitude of mind, and a loftiness of spirit, and a hardihood and firmness of purpose, that urged them to work in right earnest, and to toil zealously in battle against him and his murdering hordes."
And hereupon the faithful historian gives a long list of engagements in which the Irish were successful, ending with the victory of Malachi at Glas Linni, where we know from the Four Masters that Turgesius himself was taken prisoner and afterward drowned in Lough Uair or Owell in West Meath, by order of the Irish king.
This prince, then monarch of the whole island, atoned for the apathy and the want of patriotism of his predecessors, Conor and the Nialls. He was in truth a saviour of his country, and the death of the oppressor was the signal for a general onslaught upon the "foreigners" in every part of the island.
"The people rose simultaneously, and either massacred them in their towns, or defeated them in the fields, so that, with the exception of a few strongholds, like Dublin, the whole of Ireland was free from the Northmen. Wherever they could escape, they took refuge in their ships, but only to return in more numerous swarms than before." - (M. Haverty.)
It is evident that their deep sense of religion was the chief source of the energy which the Irish then displayed. They had not yet been driven into a fierce resistance by being forcibly deprived of their lands; although the Danes, when they carried their vexatious tyranny into all the details of private life - not allowing lords and ladies of the Irish race to wear rich dresses and appear in a manner befitting their rank - when they went so far as to refuse a bowl of milk to an infant, that a rude soldier might quench his thirst with it - could have scarcely permitted the apparently conquered people to enjoy all the advantages accruing to the owner from the possession of land. Yet in none of the chronicles of the time which we have seen is any mention made of open confiscation, and of the survey and division of the territory among the greedy followers of the sea- kong. We do not yet witness what happened shortly after in Normandy under Rollo, and what was to happen four hundred years later in Ireland. The Scandinavians had not yet attained that degree of civilization which makes men attach a paramount importance to the possession of a fixed part of any territory, and call in surveys, title-deeds, charters, and all the written documents necessitated by a captious and over-scrupulous legislation. The Irish, consequently, did not perceive that their broad acres were passing into the control of a foreign race, and were being taken piecemeal from them, thus bringing them gradually down to the condition of mere serfs and dependants.
What they did see, beyond the possibility of mistake or deception, was their religion outraged, their spiritual rulers, not merely no longer at liberty to practise the duties of their sacred ministry, but hunted down and slaughtered or driven to the mountains and the woods. They saw that pagans were actually ruling their holy isle, and changing a paradise of sanctity into a pandemonium of brutal passion, presided over by a superstitious and cruel idolatry. For surely, although the Irish chronicles fail to speak of it, the minstrels and historians being too full of their own misery to think of looking at the pagan rites of their enemies - those enemies worshipped Thor and Odin and Frigga, and as surely did they detest the Church which they were on a fair way to destroy utterly. This it was which gave the Irish the courage of despair. For this cause chiefly did the whole island fly to arms, fall on their foes and bring down on their heads a fearful retribution. This it was, doubtless, which breathed into the new monarch the energy which he displayed on the field of Glas Linni; and when he ordered the barbarian, now a prisoner in his hands, to be drowned, it was principally as a sign that he detested in him the blasphemer and the persecutor of God's church.
Thus did the first national misfortunes of this Celtic people become the means of enkindling in their hearts a greater love for their religion, and a greater zeal for its preservation in their midst.
Ireland was again free; and, although we have no details concerning the short period of prosperity which followed the overthrow of the tyranny we have touched upon, we have small doubt that the first object of the care of those who, under God, had worked their own deliverance, was to repair the ruins of the desecrated sanctuaries and restore to religion the honor of which it had been stripped.
The Danes themselves came to see that they had acted rashly in striving to deprive the Irish of a religion which was so dear to their hearts; they resolved on a change of policy, as they were still bent on taking possession of the island, which Mr. Worsaae has told us they considered the best country in existence.
They resolved, therefore, to act with more prudence, and to make use of trade and the material blessings which it confers, in order to entice the Irish to their destruction, by allowing the Northmen to carry on business transactions with them and so gradually to dwell among them again. Father Keating tells the story in his quaint and graphic style:
"The plan adopted by them on this occasion was to equip three captains, sprung from the noblest blood of Norway, and to send them with a fleet to Ireland, for the object of obtaining some station for purpose of trade. And with them they accordingly embarked many tempting wares, and many valuable jewels -- with the design of presenting them to the men of Ireland, in the hope of thus securing their friendship; for they believed that they might thus succeed in surreptitiously fixing a grasp upon the Irish soil, and might be enabled to oppress the Irish people again . . . . The three captains, therefore, coming from the ports of Norway, landed in Ireland with their followers, as if for the purpose of demanding peace, and under the pretext of establishing a trade; and there, with the consent of the Irish, who were given to peace, they took possession of some sea-board places, and built three cities thereon, to wit: Waterford, Dublin, and Limerick."
We see, then, the Scandinavians abandoning their first project of conquering the North to fall on the South and confining themselves to a small number of fortified sea-ports.
The first result of this policy was a firmer hold than ever on Dublin, once already occupied by them in 836. "Amlaf, or Olaf, or Olaus, came from Norway to Ireland in 851, so that all the foreign tribes in the island submitted to him, and they extracted rent from the Gaels." - (Four Masters.)
From that time to the twelfth century Dublin became the chief stronghold of the Scandinavians, and no fewer than thirty-five Ostmen, or Danish kings, governed it. They made it an important emporium, and such it continued even after the Scandinavian invasion had ceased. McFirbis says that in his time - 1650 - most of the merchants of Dublin were the descendants of the Norwegian Irish king, Olaf Kwaran; and, to give a stronger impulse to commerce, they were the first to coin money in the country.
The new Scandinavian policy carried out by Amlaf, who tried to establish in Dublin the seat of a kingdom which was to extend over the whole island, resulted therefore only in the establishment of five or six petty principalities, wherein the Northmen, for some time masters, were gradually reduced to a secondary position, and finally confined themselves to the operations of commerce.
Since the attempt of Turgesius to subvert the religion of the country, they never showed the slightest inclination to repeat it; hence they were left in quiet possession of the places which they occupied on the sea-board, and gradually came to embrace Christianity themselves.
Little is known of the circumstances which attended this change of religion on their part; and it is certain that it did not take place till late in the tenth century. Some pretend that Christianity was brought to them from their own country, where it had already been planted by several missionaries and bishops. But it is known that St. Ancharius, the first apostle of Denmark, could not establish himself permanently in that country, and had to direct a few missionaries from Hamburgh, where he fixed his see. It is known, moreover, that Denmark was only truly converted by Canute in the eleventh century, after his conquest of England. As to Norway, the first attempt at its conversion by King Haquin, who had become a Christian at the court of Athelstan in England, was a failure; and although his successor, Harold, appeared to succeed better for a time, paganism was again reestablished, and flourished as late as 995. It was, in fact, Olaf the Holy who, coming from England, in 1017, with the priests Sigefried, Budolf, and Bernard, succeeded in introducing Christianity permanently into Norway, and he made more use of the sword than of the word in his mission.
With regard to the conversion of the Danes in Ireland, it seems that, after all, it was the ever-present spectacle of the workings of Christianity among the Irish which gradually opened their eyes and ears. They came to love the country and the people when they knew them thoroughly; they respected them for their bravery, which they had proved a thousand times; they felt attracted toward them on account of their geniality of temperament and their warm social feelings; even their defects of character and their impulsive nature were pleasing to them. They soon sought their company and relationship; they began to intermarry with them; and from this there was but a step to embracing their religion.
The Danes of Waterford, Cork, and Limerick were, however, the last to abandon paganism, and they seem not to have done so until after Clontarf.
It is very remarkable that, during all those conflicts of the Irish with the Danes, when the Northmen strewed the island with dead and ruins; when they seemed to be planting their domination in the Orkneys, the Hebrides, and even the Isle of Man, on a firm footing; when the seas around England and Ireland swarmed with pirates, and new expeditions started almost every spring from the numerous harbors of the Baltic--the Irish colony of Dal Riada in Scotland, which was literally surrounded by the invaders, succeeded in wresting North Britain from the Picts, drove them into the Lowlands, and so completely rooted them out, that history never more speaks of them, so that to this day the historical problem stands unsolved-- What became of the Picts?-- various as are the explanations given of their disappearance. And, what is more remarkable still, is, that the Dal Riada colony received constant help from their brothers in Erin, and the first of the dynasty of Scottish kings, in the person of Kenneth McAlpine, was actually set on the throne of Scotland by the arms of the Irish warriors, who, not satisfied apparently with their constant conflicts with the Danes on their own soil, passed over the Eastern Sea to the neighboring coast of Great Britain.
During the last forty years of the tenth century the Danes lived in Ireland as though they belonged to the soil. If they waged war against some provincial king, they became the allies of others. When clan fought clan, Danes were often found on both sides, or if on one only, they soon joined the other. They had been brought to embrace the manners of the natives, and to adopt many of their customs and habits. Yet there always remained a lurking distrust, more or less marked, between the two races; and it was clear that Ireland could never be said to have escaped the danger of subjugation until the Scandinavian element should be rendered powerless.
This antipathy on both sides existed very early even in Church affairs, the Christian natives being looked upon with a jealous eye by the Christian Danes; so that, toward the middle of the tenth century, the Danes of Dublin having succeeded in obtaining a bishop of their own nation, they sent him to England to be consecrated by Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and for a long time the see of Dublin was placed under the jurisdiction of Lanfranc's successors.
This grew into a serious difficulty for Ireland, as the capital of Leinster began to be looked upon as depending, at least spiritually, on England; and later on, at the time of the invasion under Strongbow, the establishment of the English Pale was considerably facilitated by such an arrangement, to which Rome had consented only for the spiritual advantage of her Scandinavian children in Ireland.
And the Irish were right in distrusting every thing foreign on the soil, for, even after becoming Christians, the Danes could not resist the temptation of making a last effort for the subjugation of the country.
Hence arose their last general effort, which resulted in their final overthrow at Clontarf. It does not enter into our purpose to give the story of that great event, known in all its details to the student of Irish history. It is not for us to trace the various steps by which Brian Boru mounted to supreme power, and superseded Malachi, to relate the many partial victories he had already gained over the Northmen, nor to allude to his splendid administration of the government, and the happiness of the Irish under his sway.
But it is our duty to point out the persevering attempts of the Scandinavian race, not only to keep its footing on Irish soil, but to try anew to conquer what it had so often failed to conquer. For, in describing their preparations for this last attempt on a great scale, we but add another proof of that Irish steadfastness which we have already had so many occasions to admire.
In the chronicle of Adhemar, quoted by Lanigan from Labbe (Nova Bibl., MSS., Tom. 2, p.177), it is said that "the Northmen came at that time to Ireland, with an immense fleet, conveying even their wives and children, with a view of extirpating the Irish and occupying in their stead that very wealthy country in which there were twelve cities, with extensive bishopries and a king."
Labbe thinks the Chronicle was written before the year 1031, so that in his opinion the writer was a contemporary of the facts he relates.
The Irish Annals state, on their side, that "the foreigners were gathered from all the west of Europe, envoys having been despatched into Norway, the Orkneys, the Baltic islands, so that a great number of Vikings came from all parts of Scandinavia, with their families, for the purpose of a permanent settlement."
Similar efforts were made about the same time by the Danes for the lasting conquest of England, which succeeded, Sweyn having been proclaimed king in 1013, and Canute the Great becoming its undisputed ruler in 1017.
It is well known how the attempt failed in Erin, an army of twenty-one thousand freebooters being completely defeated near Dublin by Brian and his sons.
From that time the existence of the Scandinavian race on the Irish soil was a precarious one; they were merely permitted to occupy the sea-ports for the purpose of trade, and soon Irish chieftains replaced their kings in Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, and Cork.
The reader may be curious to learn, in conclusion, what signs the Danes left of their long sojourn on the island. If we listen to mere popular rumor, the country is still full of the ruins of buildings occupied by them. The common people, in pointing out to strangers the remains of edifices, fortifications, raths, duns, even round-towers and churches, either more ancient or more recent than the period of the Norse invasion, ascribe them to the Danes. It is clear that two hundred years of devastations, burnings, and horrors, have left a deep impression on the mind of the Irish; and, as they cannot suppose that such powerful enemies could have remained so long in their midst without leaving wonderful traces of their passage, they often attribute to them the construction of the very edifices which they destroyed. The general accuracy of their traditions seems here at fault. For there is no nation on earth so exact as the Irish in keeping the true remembrance of facts of their past history. Not long ago all Irish peasants were perfectly acquainted with the whole history of their neighborhood; they could tell what clans had succeeded each other, the exact spots where such a party had been overthrown and such another victorious; every village had its sure traditions printed on the minds of its inhabitants, and, by consulting the annals of the nation, the coincidence was often remarkable. How is it, therefore, that they were so universally at fault with respect to the Danes?
A partial explanation has been given which is in itself a proof of the tenacity of Irish memory. It is known that the Tuatha de Danaan were not only skilful in medicine, in the working of metals and in magic, but many buildings are generally attributed to them by the best antiquarians; among others, the great mound of New Grange, on the banks of the Boyne, which is still in perfect preservation, although opened and pillaged by the Danes-- a work reminding the beholder of some Egyptian monument. The coincidence of the name of the Tuatha de Danaan with that of the Danes may have induced many of the illiterate Irish to adopt the universal error into which they fell long ago, of attributing most of the ancient monuments of their country to the Danes.
The fact is, that the ruins of a few unimportant castles and churches are all the landmarks that remain of the Danish domination in Ireland; and even these must have been the product of the latter part of it.
But a more curious proof of the extirpation of every thing Danish in the island is afforded by Mr. Worsaae, whose object in writing his account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland, was to glorify his own country, Denmark.
He made a special study of the names of places and things, which can be traced to the Scandinavians respectively in the three great divisions of the British Isles; and certainly the language of a conquering people always shows itself in many words of the conquered country, where the subjugation has been of sufficient duration.
In England, chiefly in the northern half of the kingdom, a very great number of Danish names appear and are still preserved in the geography of the country. In Mr. Worsaae's book there is a tabular view of 1,373 Danish and Norwegian names of places in England, and also a list of 100 Danish words, selected from the vulgar tongue, still in use among the people who dwell north of Watling Street.
In Scotland, likewise--in the Highlands and even in the Lowlands- -a considerable number of names, or at least of terminations, are still to be met in the geography of the country.
Three or four names of places around Dublin, and the terminations of the names of the cities of Waterford, Wexford, Longford, and a few others, are all that Mr. Worsaae could find in Ireland. So that the language of the Irish, not to speak of their government and laws, remained proof against the long and persevering efforts made by a great and warlike Northern race to invade the country, and substitute its social life for that of the natives.
As a whole, the Scandinavian irruptions were a complete failure. They did not succeed in impressing their own nationality or individuality on any thing in the island, as they did in England, Holland, and the north of France. The few drops of blood which they left in the country have been long ago absorbed in the healthful current of the pure Celtic stream; even the language of the people was not affected by them.
As for the social character of the nation, it was not touched by this fearful aggression. The customs of Scandinavia with respect to government, society, domestic affairs, could not influence the Irish; they refused to admit the systematic thraldom which the sternness of the Northmen would engraft upon their character, and preserved their free manners in spite of all adverse attempts. In this country, Turgesius, Amlaf, Sitrick, and their compeers, failed as signally as other Scandinavian chieftains succeeded in Britain and Normandy.
The municipal system, which has won so much praise, was scornfully abandoned by the Irish to the Danes of the sea port towns, and they continued the agricultural life adapted to their tastes. Towns and cities were not built in the interior till much later by the English.
The clan territories continued to be governed as before. The "Book of Rights" extended its enactments even to the Danish Pale; and the Danes tried to convert it to their own advantage by introducing into it false chapters. How the poem of the Gaels of Ath Cliath first found a place in the "Book of Rights" is still unknown to the best Irish antiquarians. John O'Donovan concludes from a verse in it that it was composed in the tenth century, after the conversion of the Danes of Dublin to Christianity. It proves certainly that the Scandinavians in Ireland, like the English of the Pale later on, had become attached to Erin and Erin's customs--had, in fact, become. Irishmen, to all intents and purposes. Not succeeding in making Northmen of the Irish, they succumbed to the gentle influence of Irish manners and religion.
As for the commercial spirit, the Irish could not be caught by it, even when confronted by the spectacle of the wealth it conferred on the "foreigners." It is stated openly in the annals of the race that their greatest kings, both Malachi and Brian Boru, did not utterly expel the Danes from the country, in order that they might profit by the Scandinavian traders, and receive through them the wines, silks, and other commodities, which the latter imported from the continent of Europe.
The same is true of the sea-faring life. The Irish could never be induced to adopt it as a profession, whatever may have been their fondness for short voyages in their curraghs.
The only baneful effects which the Norse invasion exercised on the Irish were: 1. The interruption of studies on the large, even universal, scale on which, they had previously been conducted; 2. The breaking up of the former constitution of the monarchy, by compelling the several clans which were attacked by the "foreigners" to act independently of the Ard-Righ, so that from that time irresponsible power was divided among a much greater number of chieftains.
But these unfortunate effects of the Norse irruptions affected in no wise the Irish character, language, or institutions, which, in fact, finally triumphed over the character, language, and institutions of the pirates established among them for upward of two centuries.