Page images
PDF
EPUB

FINGAL. It was the light tread of a ghost, the fair dweller of eddying winds. Why deceivest thou me with thy voice? Here let me rest in shades. Shouldst thou stretch thy white arm from thy grove, thou sunbeam of Cormac of Erin!

ROS-CRANA. He is gone; and my blue eyes are dim; faint-rolling in all my tears. But, there, I behold him, alone; king of Selma, my soul is thine. Ah me! what clanging of armour! Colc-ulla of Atha is near!

DUAN IV.

P. 46. v. 1. Fo dharaig" so labhair an righ, &c.] This episode has an immediate connection with the story of Connal and Duth-caron, in the latter end of the third book. Fingal, sitting beneath an oak, near the palace of Selma, discovers Connal just landing from Ireland. The danger which threatened Cormac king of Ireland induces him to sail immediately to that island. The story is introduced, by the king, as a pattern for the future behaviour of Fillan, whose rashness in the preceding battle is reprimanded. P. 48. v. 28. Bhuail mi is choimhid mi suas

Mu ruadh-chiabh is teine Ul-Eirinn.] Ul-erin, the guide to Ireland, a star known by that name in the days of Fingal, and very useful to those who sailed, by night, from the Hebrides, or Caledonia, to the coast of Ulster.

P. 48. v. 42. Roscranna nam gorm-shuil gun bheud, &c.] Ros-crana, the beam of the rising sun; she was the mother of Ossian. The Irish bards relate strange fictions concerning this princess. Their stories, however, concerning Fingal, if they mean him by Fion Mac-Comnal, are so inconsistent and notoriously fabulous, that they do not deserve to be mentioned; for they evidently bear, along with them, the marks of late invention. P. 50. v. 56. Ge mòr iad, theid an taomadh sios

O m' anam, is eg eirigh suas ;] Cormac had said that the foes were like the roar of streams, and Fingal continues the metaphor. The speech of the young hero is spirited, and consistent with that sedate intrepidity, which eminently distinguishes his character throughout.

P. 52. v. 74. Ach feith-sa ri Cairbre, a thréin,] Cairbar, the son of Cormac, was afterwards king of Ireland. His reign was short. He was succeeded by his son Artho, the father of that Cormac who was murdered by Cairbar the son of Borbar-duthul. Cairbar, the son of Cormac, long after his son Artho was grown to man's estate, had, by his wife Beltanno, another son, whose name was Ferad-Artho. He was the only one remaining of the race of Conar, the first king of Ireland, when Fingal's expedition against Cairbar the son of Borbar-duthul happened. See more of Ferad-Artho in the eighth book. P. 52. v. 88. Mar ghlan thaibhs an iomairt a triall

Leth cheilte an cearb nan dubh nial.] The attitude of Ros-crana is illustrated by this simile; for the ideas of those times, concerning the spirits of the deceased, were not so gloomy and disagreeable, as those of succeeding ages. The spirits of women, it was supposed, retained that beauty, which they possessed while living, and transported themselves, from place to place, with that gliding motion, which Homer ascribes to the gods. The descriptions which poets, less ancient than Ossian, have left us of those beautiful figures, that appeared sometimes on the hills, are elegant and picturesque. They compare them to the rainbow on streams ; or, the gilding of sun-beams on the hills.

A chief who lived three centuries ago, returning from the war, understood that his wife or mistress was dead. A bard introduces him speaking the following soliloquy, when he came within sight of the place, where he had left her, at his departure :

" My soul darkens in sorrow. I behold not the smoak of my hall. No grey dog bounds at my streams. Silence dwells in the valley of trees.

“ Is that a rainbow on Crunath? It Aies: and the sky is dark. Again, thou movest, bright, on the heath, thou sun-beam clothed in a shower! Hah! it is she, my love! her gliding course on the bosom of winds!"

In succeeding times the beauty of Ros-crana passed into a proverb; and the highest compliment, that could be paid to a woman, was to compare her person with the daughter of Cormac.

'S tu fein an Ros-cranna.

Siol Chormaic na n'ioma lann. P. 56. v. 135. Teann air ag aomadh air carraig

Tha Sùilmhall bhunail nan gorm-shuil, &c.] In order to illustrate this passage, I shall give, here, the history on which it is founded, as I have gathered it from tradition. The nation of the Firbolg

who inhabited the south of Ireland, being originally descended from the Belge, who possessed the south and south-west coast of Britain, kept up, for many ages, an amicable correspondence with their mothercountry; and sent aid to the British Belgæ, when they were pressed by the Romans or other new comers from the continent. Conmor, king of Iris-huna (that part of South Britain which is over against the Irish coast) being attacked, by what enemy is not mentioned, sent for aid to Cairbar, lord of Atha, the most potent chief of the Firbolg. Cairbar dispatched his brother Cathmor to the assistance of Con-mor. Cathmor, after various vicissitudes of fortune, put an end to the war, by the total defeat of the enemies of Inis-huna, and returned in triumph to the residence of Con-mor. There, at a feast, Sul-malla, the daughter of Con-mor, fell desperately in love with Cathmor, who, before her passion was disclosed, was recalled to Ireland by his brother Cairbar, upon the news of the intended expedition of Fingal, to re-establish the family of Conar on the Irish throne. The wind being contrary, Cathmor remained, for three days, in a neighbouring bay, during which time Sul-malla disguised herself in the habit of a young warrior, and came to offer him her service in the war. Cathmor accepted of the proposal, sailed for Ireland, and arrived in Ulster a few days before the death of Cairbar.

P. 56. v. 136. Sùilmhall, &c.] Suil-mhall, slowly-rolling eyes. Caonmor, mild and tall. Inis-huna, green island. P. 56. v. 146. Thainig Fili nan luaidh le dàn

O shruthaibh a's chruaichaibh Eirinn.] Fili, an inferior bard. It may either be taken here for the proper name of a man, or in the literal sense, as the bards were the heralds and messengers of those times. Cathmor, it is probable, was absent, when the rebellion of his brother Cairbar, and the assassination of Cormac, king of Ireland, happened. Cathmor and his followers had only arrived, from Inis-huna, three days before the death of Cairbar, which sufficiently clears his character from any imputation of being concerned in the conspiracy with his brother. P. 56. v. 148. Labhair e mu thogail na sgeithe

An Selma nan triath ; &c.] The ceremony which was used by Fingal, when he prepared for an expedition, is related thus in tradition : A bard, at midnight, went to the hall, where the tribes feasted upon solemn occasions, raised the war song, and thrice called the spirits of their deceased ancestors to come, on their clouds, to behold the actions

of their children. He then fixed the shield of Trenmor on a tree on the rock of Selma, striking it, at times, with the blunt end of a spear, and singing the war-song between. Thus he did, for three successive nights, and, in the mean time, messengers were dispatched to call together the tribes; or, to use an ancient expression, to call them from all their streams. This phrase alludes to the situation of the residences of the clans, which were generally fixed in valleys, where the torrents of the neighbouring mountains were collected into one body, and became large streams or rivers. The lifting up of the shield, was the phrase for beginning a war. P. 58. v. 177. Sheas arda nan triath mu'n cuairt

Ach Foldath nan dubh ruadh fabhraid, &c.] The surly attitude of Foldath is a proper preamble to his after-behaviour. Chafed with the disappointment of the victory which he promised bimself, he becomes passionate and overbearing. The quarrel which succeeds between him and Malthos, is introduced to raise the character of Cathmor, whose superior worth shines forth in his manly manner of ending the difference between the chiefs.

P. 60. v. 189. Claonrath.] Claon-rath, winding field. The th are seldom pronounced audibly in the Gaelic language. P. 62. v. 221. Righ Eirinn," thuirt Malthos an triath,

Leat fein-sa tha riaghladh nam blar ; &c.] This speech of Malthos is, throughout, a severe reprimand to the blustering behaviour of Foldath. P. 64. v. 256. Thuit iad sios o thaobh an trein

Mar dha mheall dubh do cheo san iar, &c.] This comparison is favourable to the superiority of Cathmor over his two chiefs. I shall illustrate this passage by another from a fragment of an ancient poem, just now in my hands. “ As the sun is above the vapours, which his beams have raised; so is the soul of the king above the sons of fear. They roll dark below him; he rejoices in the robe of his beams. But when feeble deeds wander on the soul of the king, he is a darkened sun rolled along the sky; the valley is sad below; Aowers wither beneath the drops of the night." P. 66. v. 271. Ghluais a ghuth mu mholadh an righ

Ard shiol Larthoinn o fhrith Lumoin.] Lear-thon, sea wave, the name of the chief of that colony of the Firbolg, which first migrated into Ireland. Larthon's first settlement in that country is related in the seventh book. He was the ancestor of Cathmor; and is

here called Larthon of Lumon, from a high hill of that name in Inis. huna, the ancient seat of the Firbolg. The character of Cathmor is preserved. He had mentioned, in the first book, the aversion of that chief to praise, and we find him here lying at the side of a stream, that the noise of it might drown the voice of Fonar, who, according to the custom of the times, sung his eulogium in his evening song. Though other chiefs, as well as Cathmor, might be averse to hear their own praise, we find it the universal policy of the times, to allow the bards to be as extravagant · as they pleased in their encomiums on the leaders of armies, in the presence of their people. The vulgar, who had no great ability to judge for themselves, received the characters of their princes entirely upon the faith of their bards.

P. 66. v. 280. O Charull ghluais dana gu triath ;] Carull, the son of Kinfena, by the orders of Ossian, sung the funeral elegy at the tomb of Cairbar. See the second book, towards the end. In all these poems, the visits of ghosts, to their living friends, are short, and their language obscure, both which circumstances tend to throw a solemu gloom on these supernatural scenes. Towards the latter end of the speech of the ghost of Cairbar, he foretels the death of Cathmor, by enumerating those signals, which, according to the opinion of the times, preceded the death of a person renowned. It was thought that the ghosts of deceased bards sung, for three nights preceding the death (near the place where his tomb was to be raised), round an unsubstantial figure which represented the body of the person who was to die.

P. 68. v. 314. 'Se guth mo bhrathar fein a bh' ann ; &c.] The soliloquy of Cathmor suits the magnanimity of his character. Though staggered at first with the prediction of Cairbar's ghost, he soon comforts himself with the agreeable prospect of his future renown; and, like Achilles, prefers a short and glorious life to an obscure length of years in retirement and ease. P. 70. v. 338. An gleannan diomhair nan sruthmall

Fanaidh anam nach sàr fo mhuig ; &c.] An indolent and unwarlike life was held in extreme contempt. Whatever a philosopher may say, in praise of quiet and retirement, I am far from thinking, but they weaken and debase the human mind. When the faculties of the soul are not exerted, they lose their vigour, and low and circumscribed notions take the place of noble and enlarged ideas. Action, on the contrary, and the vicissitudes of fortune which attend it, call forth, by turns,

« PreviousContinue »