Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 240

See the map of comparative nigrescence given in Ripley's “Races of Europe,” p. 318. In France, however, the Bretons are not a dark race relatively to the rest of the population. They are composed partly of the ancient Gallic peoples and partly of settlers from Wales who were driven out by the Saxon invasion.


See for these names Holder's “Altceltischer Sprachschatz.”


Vergil might possibly mean “the very-bright” or illustrious one, a natural form for a proper name. Ver in Gallic names (Vercingetorix, Vercassivellasimus, &c.) is often an intensive prefix, like the modern Irish fior. The name of the village where Vergil was born, Andes (now Pietola), is Celtic. His love of nature, his mysticism, and his strong feeling for a certain decorative quality in language and rhythm are markedly Celtic qualities. Tennyson's phrases for him, “landscape-lover, lord of language,” are suggestive in this connexion.


Ptolemy, a friend, and probably, indeed, half-brother, of Alexander, was doubtless present when this incident took place. His work has not survived, but is quoted by Arrian and other historians.


One is reminded of the folk-tale about Henny Penny, who went to tell the king that the sky was falling.


The Book of Leinster is a manuscript of the twelfth century. The version of the “Táin” given in it probably dates from the eighth. See de Jubainville, “Premiers Habitants,” ii. 316.


Dr. Douglas Hyde in his “Literary History of Ireland” (p. 7) gives a slightly different translation.


It is also a testimony to the close accuracy of the narrative of Ptolemy.


Roman history tells of various conflicts with the Celts during this period, but de Jubainville has shown that these narratives are almost entirely mythical. See “Premiers Habitants,” ii. 318-323.


E.g., Moymell (magh-meala), the Plain of Honey, a Gaelic name for Fairyland, and many place-names.


For these and many other examples see de Jubainville's “Premiers Habitants,” ii. 255 sqq.


Quoted by Mr. Romilly Allen in “Celtic Art,” p. 136.


“Premiers Habitants,” ii. 355, 356.


Irish is probably an older form of Celtic speech than Welsh. This is shown by many philological peculiarities of the Irish language, of which one of the most interesting may here be briefly referred to. The Goidelic or Gaelic Celts, who, according to the usual theory, first colonised the British Islands, and who were forced by successive waves of invasion by their Continental kindred to the extreme west, had a peculiar dislike to the pronunciation of the letter p. Thus the Indo-European particle pare, represented by Greek παρά, beside or close to, becomes in early Celtic are, as in the name Are-morici (the Armoricans, those who dwell ar muir, by the sea); Are-dunum (Ardin, in France); Are-cluta, the place beside the Clota (Clyde), now Dumbarton; Are-taunon, in Germany (near the Taunus Mountains), &c. When this letter was not simply dropped it was usually changed into c (k, g). But about the sixth century B.C. a remarkable change passed over the language of the Continental Celts. They gained in some unexplained way the faculty for pronouncing p, and even substituted it for existing c sounds; thus the original Cretanis became Pretanis, Britain, the numeral qetuares (four) became petuares, and so forth. Celtic place-names in Spain show that this change must have taken place before the Celtic conquest of that country, 500 B.C. Now a comparison of many Irish and Welsh words shows distinctly this avoidance of p on the Irish side and lack of any objection to it on the Welsh. The following are a few illustrations:

Irish Welsh English
crann prenn tree
mac map ton
cenn pen head
clumh (cluv) pluv feather
cúig pimp five

The conclusion that Irish must represent the older form of the language seems obvious. It is remarkable that even to a comparatively late date the Irish preserved their dislike to p. Thus they turned the Latin Pascha (Easter) to Casg; purpur, purple, to corcair, pulsatio (through French pouls) to cuisle. It must be noted, however, that Nicholson in his “Keltic Researches” endeavours to show that the so-called Indo-European p—that is, p standing alone and uncombined with another consonant—was pronounced by the Goidelic Celts at an early period. The subject can hardly be said to be cleared up yet.


The Irish, says Edmund Spenser, in his “View of the Present State of Ireland,” “use commonyle to send up and down to know newes, and yf any meet with another, his second woorde is, What newes?”


Compare Spenser: “I have heard some greate warriors say, that in all the services which they had seen abroad in forrayne countreys, they never saw a more comely horseman than the Irish man, nor that cometh on more bravely in his charge ... they are very valiante and hardye, for the most part great endurours of cold, labour, hunger and all hardiness, very active and stronge of hand, very swift of foote, very vigilaunte and circumspect in theyr enterprises, very present in perrils, very great scorners of death.”


The scene of the surrender of Vercingetorix is not recounted by Cæsar, and rests mainly on the authority of Plutarch and of the historian Florus, but it is accepted by scholars (Mommsen, Long, &c.) as historic.


These were a tribe who took their name from the gæsum, a kind of Celtic javelin, which was their principal weapon. The torque, or twisted collar of gold, is introduced as a typical ornament in the well-known statue of the dying Gaul, commonly called “The Dying Gladiator.” Many examples are preserved in the National Museum of Dublin.


“Cæsar's Conquest of Gaul,” pp. 10, 11. Let it be added that the aristocratic Celts were, like the Teutons, dolichocephalic—that is to say, they had heads long in proportion to their breadth. This is proved by remains found in the basin of the Marne, which was thickly populated by them. In one case the skeleton of the tall Gallic warrior was found with his war-car, iron helmet, and sword, now in the Music de St.-Germain. The inhabitants of the British Islands are uniformly long-headed, the round-headed “Alpine” type occurring very rarely. Those of modern France are round-headed. The shape of the head, however, is now known to be by no means a constant racial character. It alters rapidly in a new environment, as is shown by measurements of the descendants of immigrants in America. See an article on this subject by Professor Haddon in “Nature,” Nov. 3, 1910.


In the “Tain Bo Cuailgne,” for instance, the King of Ulster must not speak to a messenger until the Druid, Cathbad, has questioned him. One recalls the lines of Sir Samuel Ferguson in his Irish epic poem, “Congal”:

“... For ever since the time When Cathbad smothered Usnach's sons in that foul sea of slime Raised by abominable spells at Creeveroe's bloody gate, Do ruin and dishonour still on priest-led kings await.”


Celtice, Diarmuid mac Cearbhaill.


It was the practice, known in India also, for a person who was wronged by a superior, or thought himself so, to sit before the doorstep of the denier of justice and fast until right was done him. In Ireland a magical power was attributed to the ceremony, the effect of which would be averted by the other person fasting as well.


“Silva Gadelica,” by S.H. O'Grady, p. 73.


The authority here quoted is a narrative contained in a fifteenth-century vellum manuscript found in Lismore Castle in 1814, and translated by S.H. O'Grady in his “Silva Gadelica.” The narrative is attributed to an officer of Dermot's court.


From Greek megas, great, and lithos, a stone.


See p. 78.


See Borlase's “Dolmens of Ireland,” pp. 605, 606, for a discussion of this question.


Professor Ridgeway (see Report of the Brit. Assoc. for 1908) has contended that the Megalithic People spoke an Aryan language; otherwise he thinks more traces of its influence must have survived in the Celtic which supplanted it. The weight of authority, as well as such direct evidence as we possess, seems to be against his view.


See Holder,“Altceltischer Sprachschatz.” sulb voce “Hyperboreoi.”


Thus the Greek pharmakon=medicine, poison, or charm; and I am informed that the Central African word for magic or charm is mankwala, which also means medicine.


If Pliny meant that it was here first codified and organised he may be right, but the conceptions on which magic rest are practically universal, and of immemorial antiquity.


Adopted 451 B.C. Livy entitles them “the fountain of all public and private right.” They stood in the Forum till the third century A.D., but have now perished, except for fragments preserved in various commentaries.


See “Revue Archeologique,” t. xii., 1865, “Fouilles de René Galles.”


Jade is not found in the native state in Europe, nor nearer than China.


Small stones, crystals, and gems were, however, also venerated. The celebrated Black Stone of Pergamos was the subject of an embassy from Rome to that city in the time of the Second Punic War, the Sibylline Books having predicted victory to its possessors. It was brought to Rome with great rejoicings in the year 205. It is stated to have been about the size of a man's fist, and was probably a meteorite. Compare the myth in Hesiod which relates how Kronos devoured a stone in the belief that it was his offspring, Zeus. It was then possible to mistake a stone for a god.


Replaced by a photograph in this edition.


See Sir J. Simpson's “Archaic Sculpturings” 1867.


The fact is recorded in the “Annals of the Four Masters” Under the date 861, and in the “Annals of Ulster” under 862.


See “Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy,” vol. xxx. pt. i., 1892, and “New Grange,” by G. Coffey, 1912.


It must be observed, however, that the decoration was, certainly, in some, and perhaps in all cases, carried out before the stones were placed in position. This is also the case at Gavr'inis.


He has modified this view in his latest work, “New Grange,” 1912.


“Proc. Royal Irish Acad.,” vol. viii. 1863, p. 400, and G. Coffey, op. cit. p. 30.


“Les Sculptures de Rochers de la Suède,” read at the Prehistoric Congress, Stockholm, 1874; and see G. Coffey, op. cit. p. 60.


“Dolmens of Ireland,” pp. 701-704.


“The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria.”


A good example from Amaravati (after Fergusson) is given by Bertrand, “Rel. des G.,” p. 389.


Sergi, “The Mediterranean Race,” p. 313.


At Lökeberget, Bohuslän; see Monteiius, op. cit.


See Lord Kingsborough's “Antiquities of Mexico,” passim, and the Humboldt fragment of Mexican painting (reproduced in Churchward's “Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man”).


See Sergi, op. cit. p. 290, for the Ankh on a French dolmen.


“Bulletin de la Soc. d'Anthropologie,” Paris, April 1893.


“The Welsh People,” pp. 616-664, where the subject is fully discussed in an appendix by Professor J. Morris Jones. “The pre-Aryan idioms which still live in Welsh and Irish were derived from a language allied to Egyptian and the Berber tongues.”


Flinders Petrie, “Egypt and Israel,” pp. 137, 899.


I quote from Mr. H.B. Cotterill's beautiful hexameter version.


Valerius Maximus (about A.D 30) and other classical writers mention this practice.


Book V.


De Jubainville, “Irish Mythological Cycle,” p.191 sqq.


The etymology of the word “Druid” is no longer an unsolved problem. It had been suggested that the latter part of the word might be connected with the Aryan root VID, which appears in “wisdom,” in the Latin videre, &c., Thurneysen has now shown that this root in combination with the intensive particle dru would yield the word dru-vids, represented in Gaelic by draoi, a Druid, just as another intensive, su, with vids yields the Gaelic saoi, a sage.


See Rice Holmes, “Cæsar's Conquest,” p. 15, and pp. 532-536. Rhys, it may be observed, believes that Druidism was the religion of the aboriginal inhabitants of Western Europe “from the Baltic to Gibraltar” (“Celtic Britain,” p. 73). But we only know of it where Celts and dolmen-builders combined. Cæsar remarks of the Germans that they had no Druids and cared little about sacrificial ceremonies.


“Rel. des Gaulois,” leçon xx.


Quoted by Bertrand, op. cit. p. 279.


“The Irish Mythological Cycle,” by d'Arbois de Jubainville, p. 6l. The “Dinnsenchus” in question is an early Christian document. No trace of a being like Crom Cruach has been found as yet in the pagan literature of Ireland, nor in the writings of St. Patrick, and I think it is quite probable that even in the time of St. Patrick human sacrifices had become only a memory.


A representation of human sacrifice has, however, lately been discovered in a Temple of the Sun in the ancient Ethiopian capital, Meroë.


“You [Celts] who by cruel blood outpoured think to appease the pitiless Teutates, the horrid Æsus with his barbarous altars, and Taranus whose worship is no gentler than that of the Scythian Diana”, to whom captive were offered up. (Lucan, “Pharsalia”, i. 444.) An altar dedicated to Æsus has been discovered in Paris.


Mont Mercure, Mercœur, Mercoirey, Montmartre (Mons Mercurii), &c.


To this day in many parts of France the peasantry use terms like annuit, o'né, anneue, &c., all meaning “to-night,” for aujourd'hui (Bertrand, “Rel. des G.,” p. 356).


The fili, or professional poets, it must be remembered, were a branch of the Druidic order.


For instance, Pelagius in the fifth century; Columba, Columbanus, and St. Gall in the sixth; Fridolin, named Viator, “the Traveller,” and Fursa in the seventh; Virgilius (Feargal) of Salzburg, who had to answer at Rome for teaching the sphericity of the earth, in the eighth; Dicuil, “the Geographer,” and Johannes Scotus Erigena—the master mind of his epoch—in the ninth.


Dealgnaid. I have been obliged here, as occasionally elsewhere, to modify the Irish names so as to make them pronounceable by English readers.


See 1.


I follow in this narrative R.I. Best's translation of the “Irish Mythological Cycle” of d'Arbois de Jubainville.


De Jubainville, “Irish Mythological Cycle,” p. 75.


Pronounced “Yeo´hee.” See Glossary for this and other words.


The science of the Druids, as we have seen, was conveyed in verse, and the professional poets were a branch of the Druidic Order.


Meyer and Nutt, “Voyage of Bran,” ii. 197.


“Moytura” means “The Plain of the Towers”i.e., sepulchral monuments.


Shakespeare alludes to this in “As You Like It.” “I never was so be-rhymed,” says Rosalind, “since Pythagoras' time, that I was an Irish rat—which I can hardly remember.”


Lyons, Leyden, Laon were all in ancient times known as Lug-dunum, the Fortress of Lugh. Luguvallum was the name of a town near Hadrian's Wall in Roman Britain.


It is given by him in a note to the “Four Masters,” vol. i. p. 18, and is also reproduced by de Jubainville.


The other two were “The Fate of the Children of Lir” and “The Fate of the Sons of Usna.” The stories of the Quest of the Sons of Turenn and that of the Children of Lir have been told in full by the author in his “High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances,” and that of the “Sons of Usna” (the Deirdre Legend) by Miss Eleanor Hull in her “Cuchulain,” both published by Harrap and Co


O'Curry's translation from the bardic tale, “The Battle of Moytura.”


O'Curry, “Manners and Customs,” iii. 214.


The ancient Irish division of the year contained only these three seasons, including autumn in summer (O'Curry, “Manners and Customs,” iii. 217).]


S.H. O'Grady, “Silva Gadelica,” p. 191.


Pp. 104 sqq., and passim.


O'Grady, loc. cit.


O'Grady, loc. cit.


See p. 112.


Miss Hull has discussed this subject fully in the introduction to her invaluable work, “The Cuchullin Saga.”


See the tale of “Etain and Midir,” in Chap. IV.


The name Tara is derived from an oblique case of the nominative Teamhair, meaning “the place of the wide prospect.” It is now a broad grassy hill, in Co. Meath, covered with earthworks representing the sites of the ancient royal buildings, which can all be clearly located from ancient descriptions.


A.H. Leahy, “Heroic Romances,” i. 27.


See p. 114.


I cannot agree with Mr. O'Grady's identification of this goddess with Dana, though the name appears to mean “The Great Queen.”


Gerald, the fourth Earl of Desmond. He disappeared, it is said, in 1398, and the legend goes that he still lives beneath the waters of Loch Gur, and may be seen riding round its banks on his white steed once every seven years. He was surnamed “Gerald the Poet” from the “witty and ingenious” verses he composed in Gaelic. Wizardry, poetry, and science were all united in one conception in the mind of the ancient Irish.


“Popular Tales of Ireland,” by D. Fitzgerald, in “Revue Celtique,” vol. iv.


“The Voyage of Bran,” vol. ii. p. 219.


In Irish, Sionnain.


Translation by R.I. Best.


The solar vessels found in dolmen carvings. See Chap. II. p. 71 sqq. Note that the Celtic spirits, though invisible, are material and have weight; not so those in Vergil and Dante.


De Jubainville, “Irish Mythological Cycle,” p. 136. Beltené is the modern Irish name for the month of May, and is derived from an ancient root preserved in the Old Irish compound epelta, “dead.”


“Irish Mythological Cycle,” p. 138.


I follow again de Jubainville's translation; but in connexion with this and the previous poems see also Ossianic Society's “Transactions,” vol. v.


Teltin; so named after the goddess Telta. See p. 103.


Pronounced “Shee.” It means literally the People of the [Fairy] Mounds.


Pronounced “Eefa.”


This name means “The Maid of the Fair Shoulder.”


The story here summarised is given in full in the writer's “High Deeds of Finn” (Harrap and Co.).


It may be mentioned that the syllable “Kill,” which enters into so many Irish place-names (Kilkenny, Killiney, Kilcooley, &c.), usually represents the Latin cella, a monastic cell, shrine, or church.


Cleena (Cliodhna) was a Danaan princess about whom a legend is told connected with the Bay of Glandore in Co. Cork. See p. 127.


See p. 85.


Omnia monumenta Scotorum ante Cimbaoth incerta erant. Tierna, who died in 1088, was Abbot of Clonmacnois, a great monastic and educational centre in mediæval Ireland.


Compare the fine poem of a modern Celtic writer (Sir Samuel Ferguson), “The Widow's Cloak”i.e., the British Empire in the days of Queen Victoria.


“Critical History of Ireland,” p. 180.


Pronounced “El´yill.”


The ending ster in three of the names of the Irish provinces is of Norse origin, and is a relic of the Viking conquests in Ireland. Connacht, where the Vikings did not penetrate, alone preserves its Irish name unmodified. Ulster (in Irish Ulaidh) is supposed to derive its name from Ollav Fōla, Munster (Mumhan) from King Eocho Mumho, tenth in succession from Eremon, and Connacht was “the land of the children of Conn”—he who was called Conn of the Hundred Battles, and who died A.D. 157.


The reader may, however, be referred to the tale of Etain and Midir as given in full by A.H. Leahy (“Heroic Romances of Ireland”), and by the writer in his “High Deeds of Finn,” and to the tale of Conary rendered by Sir S. Ferguson (“Poems,” 1886), in what Dr. Whitley Stokes has described as the noblest poem ever written by an Irishman.


Pronounced “Yeo´hee.”


I quote Mr. A.H. Leahy's translation from a fifteenth-century Egerton manuscript (“Heroic Romances of Ireland,” vol. i. p. 12). The story is, however, found in much more ancient authorities.


Ogham letters, which were composed of straight lines arranged in a certain order about the axis formed by the edge of a squared pillar-stone, were used for sepulchral inscription and writing generally before the introduction of the Roman alphabet in Ireland.


The reference is to the magic swine of Mananan, which were killed and eaten afresh every day, and whose meat preserved the eternal youth of the People of Dana.


See p. 124.


The meaning quoted will be found in the Dictionary under the alternative form geas


I quote from Whitley Stokes' translation, Revue Celtique, January 1901, and succeeding numbers.


Bregia was the great plain lying eastwards of Tara between Boyne and Liffey


“The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel.”


Pronounced “Koohoo´lin.”


See p. 150.


See pp. 121-123 for an account of this deity.


It is noticeable that among the characters figuring in the Ultonian legendary cycle many names occur of which the word Cu (hound) forms a part. Thus we have Curoi, Cucorb, Beälcu, &c. The reference is no doubt to the Irish wolf-hound, a fine type of valour and beauty.


Now Lusk, a village on the coast a few miles north of Dublin.


Owing to the similarity of the name the supernatural country of Skatha, “the Shadowy,” was early identified with the islands of Skye, where the Cuchulain Peaks still bear witness to the legend.


This, of course, was Cuchulain's father, Lugh.


This means probably “the belly spear.” With this terrible weapon Cuchulain was fated in the end to slay his friend Ferdia.


See genealogical table, p. 181.


Miss Hull, “The Cuchullin Saga,” p. lxxii, where the solar theory of the Brown Bull is dealt with at length.


A cumal was the unit of value in Celtic Ireland. It is mentioned as such by St. Patrick. It meant the price of a woman-slave.


The cune laid on them by Macha. Sec p. 180.


Cuchulain, as the son of the god Lugh, was not subject to the curse of Macha which afflicted the other Ultonians.


His reputed father, the mortal husband of Dectera


In the Irish bardic literature, as in the Homeric epics, chastity formed no part of the masculine ideal either for gods or men.


“The Ford of the Forked Pole.”


I quote from Standish Hayes O'Grady's translation, in Miss Hull's “Cuchullin Saga.”


Ath Fherdia, which is pronounced and now spelt “Ardee.” It is in Co. Louth, at the southern border of the Plain of Murthemney, which was Cuchulain's territory.


See p. 126.