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REMAINS OF ANCIENT IRISH LITERATURE.-IMPORTANCE OF OUR OLD DOCUMENTS.-EARLY FILEAS.-IRISH MUSIC.-PRINCIPAL BARDS FROM THE ERA OF CHRISTIANITY TO THE CONVERSION OF THE IRISH, AND THENCE TO THE LAST CENTURY.-THEIR EDUCATION, CHARACTER, AND PRODUCTIONS.—IRISH LANGUAGE.— WELL ADAPTED FOR LYRICAL COMPOSITION.-METRE AND VERSIFICATION.-TITLE OF THE PRESENT WORK. -ITS ORIGIN AND PROGRESS.-CONCLUSION.
AFTER ages of neglect and decay, the ancient literature of Ireland seems destined to emerge from obscurity. Those memorials which have hitherto lain so long unexplored, now appear to awaken the attention of the learned and the curiosity of the public; and thus, the literary remains of a people once so distinguished in the annals of learning, may be rescued from the oblivion to which they have been so undeservedly consigned. That the ancient Irish possessed ample stores in their native language, capable of captivating the fancy, enlarging
the understanding, and improving the heart, is well known to those acquainted with the mouldering membranes which have survived to our times. The historical importance of our annals has been acknowledged by the most learned men of Europe for the last three centuries. They are written in the language of the first inhabitants of Europe ; and, with a simplicity of detail which truth only can confer, they record the primæval state of this island, the origin of its early inhabitants, their history, religion, and laws, and the arts known amongst them for several generations. Former writers have brought discredit on our history by injudiciously blending with it the fictions of romance; and succeeding authors, unable or unwilling to separate the truth from the fable, became contented copyists, and thus encreased the evil which they pretended to remedy. Eager for temporary applause, which they mistook for permanent fame, they forced on the world their crude essays, which were remarkable only for distortion of fact and boldness of conjecture. The original documents, which would have guided them to truth, were wholly neglected, or but partially explored. Hence, the imperfect state of our early history, and the erroneous opinions entertained of it by many, even of the learned, at the present day. The difficulty of procuring the documents alluded to, and the still greater difficulty of deciphering them when procured, may be alleged as an excuse for the indolence, or ignorance, of which our countrymen have reason to complain in the generality of their historical writers. But this is a plea that cannot be admitted. Those chroniclers of error ought to have rendered themselves competent, or have remained for ever silent. What is true of the past will apply equally to the future. Until the difficulties alluded to shall be overcome, all attempts to illustrate, with certainty or authority, the earlier parts of our history must prove abortive. -Having judged it necessary to make the few foregoing observations on the most important use to be made of those neglected muniments, it now remains to ascertain what information they afford on the subject at present under consideration—the ancient poetry of Ireland.
That this country, from an early period, was famous for the cultivation of the kindred arts of poetry and music, stands universally admitted. The works of the prejudiced Cambrensis, and the annals of Wales and Scotland, might be adduced in evidence of the fact; but we require not the aid of foreign proof, our domestic records supply abundant information on the subject. Although most of the records of the days of paganism were destroyed by the zeal of the first Christian Missionaries, and much of what then escaped, with many of later times, met with a similar fate from the barbarity of the Danes, and the destructive policy of the English,
yet sufficient remains to enable us to trace those arts to a remote period in Ireland. The early settlers, afterwards distinguished by the name of Milesians, derived their origin from that part of the earth, where poetry and music appear coeval with the formation of society. Accordingly we find the poet and musician numbered in the train of these celebrated invaders. The bards AMERGIN, the son of their leader, and LUGAD, the son of ITH, are particularly named. The latter is called, in old writings, first poet of Ireland," Ced laid h-Ep., and there still remain, after a lapse of nearly three thousand years, fragments of these ancient bards, some of which will be found included in the following pages, with proofs of their authenticity*. After these, but anterior to the Christian era, flourished ROYNE FILE, or the poetic,
* Vol. II. p. 347, et seq. These ancient fragments are preserved in the old historical Record, entitled Leabhar Ghabhaltus, or the "Book of Invasions;" a copy of which, transcribed in the twelfth century, and now in the Duke of Buckingham's library at Stowe, is particularly described in the late DOCTOR O'CONOR'S invaluable Catalogue of the MSS. there preserved. This learned man observes, "that we should refer this species of poetry to a very remote age, no one who has read Strabo will wonder. The HIBERNI derive their origin from the IBERI; and Strabo mentions a people of Iberia and Botica, who could produce poems nearly 6000 years old. (Lib. 3rd). Let, however, the specimens of Irish poetry still remaining speak for themselves. The oldest Saxon poetry extant is King Alfred's."- Cat. Stowe, 1. 23.—