Dean of Lismore’s Book

Autograph of Dean M'Gregor.


Part of Ossian's Ode to Finn.


In the heart of the Perthshire Highlands, and not far from the northern shore of Loch Tay, there lies a secluded vale of about six miles long. The river Lyon, which issues from the long and narrow valley of Glenlyon through the pass of Chesthill, hardly less beautiful than the celebrated pass of Killichranky, meanders through it. On the east bank of a small stream which falls into the Lyon about the centre of the vale, is the Clachan or Kirkton of Fortingall, anciently called Fothergill, from which it takes its name; and on the west or opposite bank is the mansion of Glenlyon House, anciently called Tullichmullin.

A stranger stationed at the clachan or little village of Fortingall, would almost fancy that there was neither egress from nor ingress to this little district, so secluded and shut in among the surrounding mountains does it appear to be. It is a spot where one could well suppose that the traditions of former times, and the remains of a forgotten oral literature, might still linger in the memories of its inhabitants; while the local names of the mountains and streams about it are redolent of the mythic times of the Feine. On the west is the glen of Glenlyon, the ancient Cromgleann nan Clach or Crooked Glen of the Stones, associated with many a tradition of the Feine, and where the remains of those rude forts, termed Caistealan na Feine, crown many a rocky summit; and the vale is bounded on the south and east by the ridge of Druimfhionn or Finn's Ridge.

In the latter part of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, there dwelt here a family of the name of Macgregor. They were descended from a vicar of Fortingall, who, at the time when, during the century preceding the Reformation, the Catholic Church was breaking up, and their benefices passing into the hands of laymen, secured for himself and his descendants the vicarage of Fortingall and a lease of the church lands.

Of the history of this family we know somewhat from an obituary commenced by one of his descendants, and continued to the year 1579 by the Curate of Fothergill, which is still preserved.

His son, whether legitimate or illegitimate we know not, was Ian Rewych, or John the Grizzled, termed Makgewykar or son of the Vicar.

His grandson was Dougall Maol, or Dougall the Bald or Tonsured, called patronymically Dougall Johnson, or the son of John.

This Dougall Johnson appears in 1511 as a notary-public, and dwelt at Tullichmullin, where his wife Katherine, daughter of Donald M'Clawe, alias  Grant, died in 1512. He is twice mentioned in the obituary or Chronicle of Fortingall; in 1526, as repairing the cross in Inchadin, or the old church of Kenmore, situated on the north bank of the river Tay, nearly opposite Taymouth Castle; and in 1529, as placing a stone cross in Larkmonemerkyth, the name of a pass among the hills which leads from Inchadin to the south.

Of Dougall the Bald, the son of John the Grizzled, we have no further mention; but of his family we know of two sons, James and Duncan.

James was a Churchman. He appears as a notary-public, an office then held by ecclesiastics, along with his father, in the year 1511, and he early attained to honour and influence, through what channel is unknown; for, in 1514, we find him Dean of Lismore, an island in Argyllshire, lying between the districts of Lorn and Morvern, which was at that time the Episcopal seat of the Bishops of Argyll. He was, besides, Vicar of Fortingall and Firmarius or tenant of the church lands; and died possessed of these benefices in the year 1551, and was buried in the choir of the old church of Inchadin.

In 1552, a year after his death, Gregor Macgregor, son of the deceased Sir James Macgregor, Dean of Lismore, as became the head of a small but independent sept of the Macgregors, and with a due regard to its safety, bound himself to Colin Campbell of Glenurchy and his heirs, “taking him for his chief, in place of the Laird of Macgregor, and giving him his calp.”

In 1557 Gregor and Dougall Macgregors, natural sons of Sir James Macgregor, receive letters of legitimation; and, in 1574, Dougall Macgregor appears as Chancellor of Lismore.

It is unnecessary for our purpose to follow the history of this family any further; suffice it to say, that the two brothers, James and Duncan, members of a clan which, though under the ban of the Government, and exposed to the grasping aggression of their powerful neighbours, the Campbells of Glenurchy, considered themselves as peculiarly Highland, and had high pretensions, as descended from the old Celtic monarchs of Scotland—connected with the Church, and as such, possessing some cultivation of mind and such literary taste as Churchmen at that time had, yet born and reared in the farm-house of Tullichmullin, in the secluded vale of Fortingall, and imbued with that love of old Highland story and cherished fondness for Highland song, which manifests itself in so many a quiet country Highlander, and which the scenery and associations around them were so well calculated to foster—the one, from his high position in the Church of Argyll, having peculiar facilities for collecting the poetry current in the West Highlands—the other, though his brother, yet, as was not uncommon in those days, his servitor or amanuensis, and himself a poet—and both natives of the Perthshire Highlands—collected and transcribed into a commonplace book Gaelic poetry obtained from all quarters.

This collection has fortunately been preserved. It is, unquestionably, a native compilation made in the central Highlands, upwards of three hundred years ago. It contains the remains of an otherwise lost literature. In it we find all that we can now recover of native compositions current in the Highlands prior to the sixteenth century, as well as the means of ascertaining the extent to which the Highlanders were familiar with the works of Irish poets.

It is a quarto volume of some 311 pages, and is written in the current Roman hand of the period. Though much injured by time, the leaves in part worn away, and the ink faint, it is still possible to read the greater part of its contents.

With the exception of a short Latin obituary, and one or two other short pieces, it consists entirely of a collection of Gaelic poetry made by the two brothers.

At the bottom of the 27th page appears the following note in Latin:—Liber Dni Jacobi Macgregor Decani Lismoren.

At , there is a chronological list of Scottish kings written in the Scottish language, which ends thus:—“James the Fyfte reignis now in great felicitie.” He reigned from 1513 to 1542; and, on , there is a genealogy of the Macgregors, written by the brother Duncan, deducing their descent from the old Scottish kings, and he adds a docquet in Gaelic, which may be thus translated:—Duncan the Servitor, the son of Dougall, who was son of John the Grizzled, wrote this from the Book of the History of the Kings, and it was done in the year 1512.

There can be no question, therefore, that this collection was formed during the lifetime of the Dean of Lismore, and a great part of it as early as the year 1512. How it was preserved through that and the succeeding century is unknown. In the last century it passed into the possession of the Highland Society of London, by whom it was transferred to the custody of the Highland Society of Scotland, when a committee of that Society was engaged in an inquiry into the authenticity of the Poems of Ossian, published by Macpherson. It has now been deposited, along with other Gaelic MSS. in the possession of that Society, in the Library of the Faculty of Advocates, and forms part of that collection of Gaelic MSS. which have been brought together within the last few years, and contain nearly all the Gaelic MSS. which are known still to exist.

The Dean's MS. differs from all the other MSS. in that collection in two essential particulars. It is not, like the other MSS., written in what is called the Irish character, but in the current Roman character of the early part of the sixteenth century; and the language is not written in the orthography used in writing Irish, and now universally employed in writing Scotch Gaelic, but in a peculiar kind of phonetic orthography, which aims at presenting the words in English orthography as they are pronounced.

The peculiar orthography employed is, however, evidently not the mere attempt of a person ignorant of the proper orthography to write the words in English letters in an arbitrary manner, so as to present, as nearly as possible, the sound of the words as they struck his ear when repeated to him, but bears evident marks of having been a regular and known system of orthography, which, although we have few specimens of it left, may not the less have once prevailed in that part of the Highlands more removed from the influence of Irish teaching.

It is a peculiarity of all the Celtic dialects, that the consonants suffer a change in the beginning of words, from the influence of the preceding words, or in forming the oblique cases, and likewise change their sound in the middle of words by being aspirated.

In the Irish orthography, the original consonant is invariably preserved; and the change is indicated by prefixing another consonant when the sound is affected by eclipsis, or the influence of the preceding word, or by adding the letter h, when it is changed by aspiration.

In the Welsh dialects, however, and in the Manx, which is a dialect of the Gaelic division of the Celtic languages, a different system of orthography has always prevailed. Instead of retaining the original letter, and indicating the change in the sound by prefixing or adding another, a different letter expressing simply the new sound, is substituted for the original letter; and hence the orthography bears more of a phonetic and less of an etymologic character.

Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. In the one, the original form of the word is preserved, and the primary sounds of the letters are retained. The alteration in their sound in inflection is marked by prefixing another letter, or adding the letter h. It is by the application of grammatical rules that the pronunciation of the word is ascertained, and that pronunciation may deviate from time to time to a greater degree from the original standard, while the orthography, always remaining the same, fails to chronicle it.

In the other, a new letter is substituted for the original letter, when the sound is changed by inflection, or by the position of the word in a sentence, and the orthography employed expresses the pronunciation of the word in its inflected, without reference to its original form.

The one presents the language in its etymologic form, without reference to its pronunciation, and is of value in preserving the original form of the written speech.

The other stereotypes its sounds as spoken at the time; it is committed to writing without reference to the original form or primary shape of the words; and is of value in exhibiting the living dialects as spoken by the people.

An apt illustration of this is afforded by the English language and its dialects.

The English orthography exhibits the language as it once was, but from which it has greatly deviated in pronunciation; and it is hardly possible to frame rules by applying which, to the orthography, the present pronunciation can be deduced. It is obvious that if the words, which are differently pronounced in the Scotch dialect, were spelt according to the English orthography, no clue would be afforded to its peculiarities. On the other hand, when the Scotch dialect is spelt phonetically, as is done, for instance, by Sir Walter Scott in his Scotch romances, the peculiarities in the pronunciation of a living dialect are vividly presented, and these elements of the original language, which may have been preserved in this dialect, are made available for philological purposes.

The collection of Gaelic poetry made by the Dean of Lismore and his brother is thus written in an orthography of this latter class. It attracted some notice when the Highland Society was engaged in its inquiry into the authenticity of Ossian's Poems, from its including among its contents some poems attributed to Ossian. Three of these are printed in the report, though incorrectly and imperfectly, but little was known of the other contents of the MS.

A transcript was made of the MS. for the Highland Society by the late Mr. Ewen M'Lachlan, an accomplished Gaelic scholar, who was employed to examine their MS. It, however, passed into the possession of the Rev. J. Macintyre of Kilmanievaig, who allowed it to be examined for a short time by the editors, but no full or correct account was given of the MS. till the Rev. T. M'Lauchlan, one of the editors of this work, read an account of it to the Society of Scottish Antiquaries in the year 1856, which is printed in their proceedings. This account attracted considerable notice to the MS., and led to its value being more appreciated. The present publication has, in consequence, been undertaken.

The Dean's MS. has a double value, philological and literary, and is calculated to throw light both on the language and the literature of the Highlands of Scotland. It has a philological value, because its peculiar orthography presents the language at the time in its aspect and character as a spoken language, and enables us to ascertain whether many of the peculiarities which now distinguish it were in existence three hundred years ago; and it has a literary value, because it contains poems attributed to Ossian, and to other poets prior to the sixteenth century, which are not to be found elsewhere; and thus presents to us specimens of the traditionary poetry current in the Highlands prior to that period, which are above suspicion, having been collected upwards of three hundred years ago, and before any controversy on the subject had arisen.

It has been found impossible to present so large a collection entire, but the selection has been made with reference to these two objects. Each poem selected for publication has been presented entire. There is a literal translation of the poem made by the Rev. T. M'Lauchlan, and appended is the original Gaelic text of the poem in the Dean's orthography, exactly as it appears in the MS.; and, on the opposite page, the same Gaelic has been transferred by Mr. M'Lauchlan into the modern orthography of the Scotch Gaelic, which is nearly the same as that of the Irish, so as to afford the means of comparing the one orthography with the other, and the modern spoken dialect in the Highlands with the language of the poems collected by the Dean upwards of three hundred years ago, as well as to furnish a test of the accuracy of the translation, by showing the rendering given to the Dean's language.

The present spoken language of the Highlands of Scotland is, as is well known, a dialect of that great branch of the Celtic languages termed the Gwyddelian or Gaelic, and to which belong also the Irish and Manx, or spoken language of the Isle of Man. These three dialects of the Gaelic branch of the Celtic languages, the Irish, the Scotch Gaelic, and the Manx, approach each other so nearly, as to form in fact but one language; and the peculiarities which distinguish them from one another are not of a nature sufficiently broad or vital to constitute either of them a distinct language.

The language spoken by the Highlanders of Scotland is termed by them simply Gaelic; but the name of Erse has occasionally been bestowed upon it during the last few centuries by the Lowlanders. As early as the year 1690 a short vocabulary of Scotch Gaelic words was appended to an edition of Bedel's Irish Bible, to adapt it to the use of the Scotch Highlanders; and a somewhat fuller vocabulary, by the same author, was published in Nicolson's Scottish Historical Library in 1702.

In 1741, a more complete vocabulary was published by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, for the use of their schools in the Highlands. It was compiled by Mr. Alexander M'Donald, schoolmaster at Ardnamurchan. Another vocabulary was published in 1795 by Robert M'Farlane; and, in 1815, a further step in advance was made by the larger vocabulary of Mr. P. M'Farlane.

In 1825, a large quarto dictionary of the Scotch Gaelic was published by R. A. Armstrong; and in three years afterwards the splendid dictionary compiled by the first Gaelic scholars, under the auspices of the Highland Society of Scotland, appeared. In this dictionary Gaelic words from all quarters are inserted; but those which belong to the vernacular dialect of the Scotch Highlands are carefully distinguished.

The small dictionary compiled by M'Alpine, a schoolmaster in Islay, affords a genuine representation of the Gaelic spoken in that island.

The only grammar of the Scotch Gaelic which it is necessary to notice, is the able and philosophic grammar by Alexander Stewart, Minister of the Gospel at Dingwall, the first edition of which was published in 1801, and the second in 1812. As a first attempt to reduce the spoken language of the Scotch Highlanders to a grammatical system, it is a work of rare excellence and fidelity, and all other grammars have been more or less taken from it.

This grammar, then, and the vocabularies and dictionaries above referred to, contain the Gaelic language as spoken, at the time of their compilation, in the Highlands of Scotland, and afford the materials for judging of the character of those peculiarities which distinguish it from the Irish and Manx Gaelic.

The differences between the spoken language of the Scottish Highlands and the Irish exist partly in the pronunciation, where the accentuation of the language is different, where that peculiar change in the initial consonant, produced by the influence of the previous word, and termed by the Irish grammarians eclipsis, is unknown except in the sibilant, where the vowel sounds are different, and there are even traces of a consonantal permutation; partly in the grammar, where the Scotch Gaelic prefers the analytic form of the verb, and has no present tense, the old present being now used for the future, and the present formed by the auxiliary verb, where the plural of one class of the nouns is formed in a peculiar manner, resembling the Anglo-Saxon, and a different negative is used; partly in the idioms of the language, where a greater preference is shown to express the idea by the use of substantives, and the verb is anxiously avoided; and in the vocabulary, which varies to a considerable extent, where words now obsolete in Irish are still living words, and others are used in a different sense.

The Scotch Gaelic is spoken in its greatest purity in the central districts of the Highlands, including Mull, Morvern, Ardnamurchan, Ardgowar, Appin, Lochaber, and that district termed the Garbh chriochan, or rough bounds, consisting of Arisaig, Moydart, Moror, and Knoydart. The language here spoken is characterized by a closer adherence to grammatical rules, by a fuller and more careful pronunciation of the vowel sounds, by a selection of the best words to express the idea, and by their use in their primary sense.

In the county of Argyll, and the islands which face the coast of Ireland, the language approaches much more nearly to the Ulster dialect of the Irish, there being probably no perceptible difference between the form of the language in Isla and Rachrin, or in Cantyre and the opposite coast of Antrim.

In the Gaelic of Sutherland and Caithness, again, there are marked differences of a different and opposite character, a native of Sutherland and the southern districts of Argyll having some difficulty in understanding each other; and in Perthshire, on the other hand, the influence of the English language is apparent, the pronunciation is more careless, the words selected less pure, and the secondary senses of many are only used.

The central districts afford the best type of that variety of Gaelic which forms the spoken language of the Highlands of Scotland.

Of this language two views may be taken. The peculiarities of the language may have sprung up quite recently, and the language may, at no very distant period, have been absolutely identical in form and sound with the Irish, from which it may have become corrupted by the absence of cultivation, and must be regarded merely as the rude patois  of a people whose ignorance of the cultivated language has led to their adoption of peculiarities sanctioned by no grammatical rule; or, on the other hand, these peculiarities may partake rather of the character of dialectic differences, and enter more deeply into the organization of the language, and thus may have characterized it from that remoter period, when geographical separation and political isolation may have led to the formation, in the Highlands of Scotland, of a dialectic variety of the common language.

The first is the view taken by Irish grammarians, and if correct, these differences cannot be considered as of any philological importance. The question has not, however, been treated by them in a candid spirit, or with any grasp of the subject; and their opinion must be based upon a more accurate knowledge of the spoken dialect which is the subject of it, and upon a sounder and more impartial examination of those philologic elements which ought to enter into its consideration, before it can be accepted as conclusive. If the second view is the correct one, then it is obvious that the Scotch Gaelic is well deserving of study, as a distinct variety of the Gaelic language which was common to Scotland and Ireland; and everything that tends to throw light upon it, and upon the existence and origin of these differences, acquires a philologic value.

In the study of language, the spoken dialects are of great value. It is from the study of the living dialects, which are not merely corruptions of the spoken language, but present dialectic peculiarities, that we arrive at a full perception of the character and tendencies of the mother tongue.

It is the destiny of all languages, that they no sooner enter upon the domain of history than they begin to alter, decompose, and split into dialects. The formation of the mother tongue belongs to the prehistoric period; and it is a process which, carried on in the infancy and growth of the social state, is concealed from observation. When its possessors first emerge into view, and take their place among the history of nations, counter influences have already been at work, their language has already entered upon its downward course, and we can only watch it in its process of decomposition and alteration, and reach its primitive condition, through the medium of its dialects.

There are two opposing influences by which all languages are affected—the etymologic and the phonetic. The etymologic principle is all-powerful in the formation and original structure of the language, producing combinations of sounds demanded by the laws of its composition, but irrespective altogether of the requirements of harmony, or the tendencies of the human organs of sound. It contains in it, however, the seeds of its own destruction, and has no sooner completed its work of formation than a process of modification and decomposition commences, caused by the respective idiosyncrasies of its speakers, their craving after harmony of combination and ease of utterance, and the influence of physical situation and surrounding agents upon the organs of speech.

These phonetic causes enter at once into conflict with the strictly etymologic formations of the language, moulding its sounds, decomposing its structure, and interchanging the organs producing the sounds; and these effects are perpetuated by circumstances causing the separation or isolation of the people who have adopted them, while new words and combinations are added to their vocabulary by new wants arising in their separate state, by their advance in social condition, or by the peculiarities of their new condition. Thus innumerable dialects spring up. Whenever a difference of situation takes place among the people composing the aggregate by whom the original language was spoken, a diversity of dialect is at once created. In these dialects are preserved the bones of the mother tongue; and it is only by a comparison of these that her full character can be ascertained.

This tendency of the mother tongue, to break up into as many dialects as there are shades of difference in the position and tendencies of its speakers, is only arrested by the formation of a cultivated dialect, created when the wants of an educated or cultivated class in the community demand a common medium of interchanging their ideas. This cultivated language is usually first formed by poetry, completed by writing, and adopted by education. Its first stage is that of the language in which the songs and poems, the first literature of a rude people, are recited by its bards, its earliest literary class; and, by the introduction of the art of writing, it passes over into the written speech. It then becomes a common dialect, spoken and written by the cultivated class of the community, and to a knowledge of which a portion of the people are raised by education.

This cultivated or written language may have been originally one of the numerous dialects spoken by the people composing the community, and which circumstances have elevated into that position; or it may have been introduced from another country speaking a sister dialect, which has preceded it in cultivation; or it may, like the German, have been developed from an unspoken variety of the language created by other causes and for other purposes. In the one case, the language first cultivated by poetry passes over into the written language. In the other, it remains an indigenous, cultivated, spoken language, which is antagonistic to, and contends with, the imported written speech till the influence of the latter prevails, and it is either extinguished by it, or remains as popular poetry in the vernacular tongue, while everything prose is absorbed.

But however it originates, the spoken dialects still remain as the vernacular speech of portions of the community. They are not the children or creatures of the written speech, still less corruptions of it, but are equally ancient, and retain much of the elements of the original language which the written speech has rejected.

The formation of a cultivated or written language is always an eclectic process. It selects, it modifies, and it rejects, while the living dialects retain many of the forms and much of the structure modified and rejected by it. Hence, for the study of the character and formation of the mother tongue, the living spoken dialects are of the first importance; and a restricted attention to the written language, and the contemptuous rejection of everything in the spoken dialects which vary from it, as barbarisms and corruptions, is simply to part with much valuable material for the study, and to narrow the range of inquiry.

Perhaps the English language affords an illustration of these remarks. As a written and cultivated language, it took its rise in England, but was introduced from England into Scotland.

In England, the provincial dialects have remained as the spoken language of the uncultivated class in the respective provinces side by side with it; but their antiquity and their value for philological purposes is fully acknowledged. No one dreams of viewing them as merely corruptions of the written language, arising from rudeness and ignorance.

In Scotland, the English language has been introduced as the written or cultivated language, but a different form of the language, the Broad Scotch, is the vernacular speech of the people, and preceded the English language as the written language of the country in which its earliest literature was contained. Its great value, as an early form of the original Anglic tongue which formed the language of the country, is so fully acknowledged, that Jamieson's Dictionary of the Scotch language has been called the best dictionary of the English language. It has ceased to be a vehicle for prose composition; but there exists a ballad literature in the Scotch dialect which has resisted the absorbing influence of the English.

So it was also in the Scotch Highlands, where the written and cultivated language did not originate in this country, but was brought over from Ireland in the sixth century, though in this case the analogy is not so great, from the various dialects of the Gaelic having probably at all times approached each other much more nearly than the provincial dialects of England and Scotland, and been more greatly influenced by the written language.

In order to determine the philological position and value of the Scotch Gaelic, it is necessary to form a more accurate conception of the historical position of the people who spoke it, and of the influences to which they have been exposed, and by which the language was likely to be affected.

Two races seem to have entered, as original elements, into the population of Ireland and of the Highlands of Scotland. These were the race of the Scots and the people termed by the early Irish authorities the race of the Cruithne. The latter appear everywhere to have preceded the former.

Prior to the sixth century, the Cruithne alone seem to have formed the population of the Scotch Highlands. In Ireland they formed the original population of Ulster and the north part of Leinster. Connaught, the rest of Leinster, and Munster, were Scottish. The east and north of Ireland appear to have been most exposed to external influences, and to have suffered the greatest changes in their population. In the south and west it was more permanent; and from Connaught and Leinster the royal races of the Scots emerged, while their colonies proceeded from south and west to north and east.

The traditionary history of Ireland records an early settlement of the Scots among the Cruithne of Ulster, termed from its mythic founder Dalriada, and likewise the fall of the great seat of the Cruithnian kingdom, called Emania, before an expedition, led by a scion of the Scottish royal race, who established the kingdom of Orgialla on its ruins. It is certain that, while we have reason to believe that the Cruithne formed the original population of the whole of Ulster, we find them in the historic period confined to certain districts in Ulster only, although their kings retained the title of kings of Ulster.

In the beginning of the sixth century, the Scots, who are frequently recorded by the Roman writers as forming part of the predatory bands who, from time to time, assailed the Roman province, and finally overthrew their empire in Britain, passed over to the opposite coast of Argyll, and effected a permanent settlement there, which, from its mother tribe, was also called Dalriada. This settlement is recorded, by the oldest authority, to have taken place twenty years after the battle of Ocha, which was fought in the year 483, and, therefore, in the year 503. The territory occupied by this settlement of the Scots was the south part of Argyllshire, consisting of the districts of Cowall, Kintyre, Knapdale, Argyll-proper, Lorn, and probably part of Morvern, with the islands of Isla, Iona, Arran, and the small islands adjacent. The boundary which separated them from the Cruithne was on the east, the range of mountains termed Drumalban, a mountain chain which still separates the county of Argyll from that of Perth. On the north, the boundary, which probably was not very distinct, and varied from time to time, seems to have been coincident with a line extending from the Island of Colonsay through the Island of Mull to the centre of the district of Morvern, through which it passed to the shores of the Luine Loch opposite Appin. The rest of the Highlands was still occupied by the Cruithne, who were Pagans, while the Dalriadic Scots were Christians.

In the year 563, an event took place which was destined to exercise a powerful influence both on the condition and the language of the population. This was the mission of Saint Columba, a Scot from Ireland, to convert the Cruithne to the Christian faith, and the consequent foundation of the Monastery of Iona, which became the seat of learning, and the source of all ecclesiastical authority, both for the Cruithne and the Dalriadic Scots, from whence innumerable Scottish clergy issued, who spread over the country and founded churches among the Cruithne under its influence and authority.

The platform occupied by the two populations, embracing both Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland, in the sixth century, thus showed in the south and west of Ireland pure Scots; in the north and east settlements of Scots among the Cruithne, gradually confining the latter to isolated districts; in Argyll, a Scottish settlement among the Cruithne of Alban; and in the rest of the Highlands pure Cruithne; but over both Scots and Cruithne in Alban a Scottish clergy, who brought a cultivated and literary language with them.

In Ireland the Gaelic spoken in the different provinces varies, and probably has always varied from each other. They differ in words, pronunciation, and idiom; and in grammatical construction and idiom there is a marked difference between the Gaelic of the northern and of the southern half of Ireland. The written language resembles most the language of the south and west of Ireland. It seems to have been formed from it, and to have become the common language of the literary and cultivated class, while the other dialects remained as the spoken language of their respective populations.

This written language was brought over to Scotland in the sixth century by Columba and his clergy, who introduced it, with Christianity, among the Cruithne; where, however, the native dialect must have received some cultivation, as we find that he was opposed by Magi, which implies a literary class among the Pagan Cruithne. At this time there was so little political separation between the two countries, that the Scots of British Dalriada remained subject to the Irish Dalriada, from which they emerged, till the year 573, when Aedan, son of Gabran, became king of Scotch Dalriada, and, at the great Council of Drumceat, it was declared independent of Irish Dalriada, and he was crowned as its first independent monarch. The Cruithne of Ireland, likewise, formed part of that great Cruithnian kingdom, which had its head-quarters in Scotland, till the reign of Fiacha mac Baedan, King of Ulster, who ruled over the Irish Cruithne from 589 to 626, and probably in the year 608, when they threw off the yoke of the Cruithne of Scotland.

The Cruithne and the Scots of Ireland and of Scotland then first became separated from, and independent of, each other, and a complete political separation took place between the two countries.

The Cruithne of Scotland remained under the influence of the Scottish clergy till the beginning of the eighth century, when their king, Nectan, adopted the usages of the Romish party, and in 717 expelled the Scottish clergy out of his dominions across the boundary of Drumalban, which separated them from the Scots of Dalriada, and a new clergy was introduced into that part of the country, occupied by the Cruithne, from the Anglic kingdom of Northumberland. In 731, we learn from Bede, who then closes his history, that the Scots of Dalriada were still confined within the same limits; and that no change had up to that date taken place in the relative positions of the two populations, the Cruithne and the Scots. After this date we know little of the history of the population of the Highlands till the middle of the ninth century, when we find that a great change had, in the interval, taken place in their political condition. The two populations had now become united in one kingdom, and a family of undoubted Scottish race ruled over the united people.

Of the events which brought about this great change, authentic history tells us nothing—of the fact there can be no doubt; and the question arises of how the Gaelic language originated in the undalriadic part of the Highlands. Prior to this date, it was exclusively occupied by people of the race of the Cruithne, first Pagan under native Magi, then Christian, and for 150 years under clergy of Scottish race, who were, however, driven out in the year 717. Either then these Cruithne spoke a Gaelic dialect, or, if they spoke a different language, we must suppose that the language of Gaelic Dalriada had, subsequently to the ninth century, spread, with the rule of a Scottish king, over the whole of the Highlands not embraced in that limited territory. We have no materials for determining this question. The latter supposition has always been assumed by the Irish historians, but without proof; and they have never attempted to account for the entire disappearance of the previous language, and the expulsion of the previous population of so extensive a district, so mountainous and inaccessible in its character, and so tenacious of the language of its early inhabitants in its topography, which such a theory involves.

If the first supposition be the correct one, and the Cruithne spoke a Gaelic dialect, we can easily understand how, though originally different from the Gaelic dialect of Dalriada, it may, by the influence of the written language, and its vernacular use by their clergy for so long a period, have become modified and assimilated to it; and if, as is probable, their dialect had been so far cultivated, as the existence of popular poetry, the first literature of a rude people, was calculated to effect, the influence of the clergy would probably be antagonistic to such literature, and be employed to suppress it; and the language in which it was conveyed might remain for some time in opposition to the written language, as a vernacular and popular form of the language, the type and symbol of the anti-Christian party, till it was finally amalgamated with, or assimilated to it as the party itself was ultimately overcome.

But another event had taken place during this obscure period, extending to little more than a century, and in which the union of the two populations under a Scottish royal race had been effected, which must have interposed an obstacle to the spread of an influence from Ireland into the nondalriadic portion of the Highlands, and greatly counteracted that arising from a dominant royal family of Scottish descent. This was the destruction of Iona by the Scandinavian pirates, and their subsequent occupation of the Western Isles and western seaboard of Scotland. Towards the end of the eighth century, these hordes of Vikings or sea-robbers, issuing from Norway and Denmark, had appeared in the western sea, ravaging and plundering the coasts and islands, and their course was everywhere marked by the burning and sacking of the monasteries and religious establishments. In 794, the ravaging of the islands and the destruction of Iona by these Gentiles, as they were termed, is recorded in the Irish annals. In 802, the Monastery of Iona was burnt by them, and in 806 the community or family of Iona, as it was termed, slain, to the number of sixty-eight. In consequence of the insecurity of Iona, the abbot eventually retired to Kells, another foundation of St. Columba, and the reliques of St. Columba were subsequently taken to Ireland, when Derry became the head of the Columbian houses in Ireland, while a part of the reliques were removed to Dunkeld, which represented the Columbian clergy in Scotland. The influence of Iona, as the nucleus and centre of Gaelic learning, and of its Scottish clergy upon the population of the Highlands, thus ceased for ever.

The islands were, by degrees, occupied by these pirates, till eventually the Norwegian Kingdom of Man and the Isles was formed; and after they had passed over from Paganism to Christianity, and their power became constituted, the bishopric of the Isles became included in the Norwegian diocese of Man. During this period, which lasted till the middle of the twelfth century, while the Western Isles and the western shores of the mainland were in the occupation of the Norwegians, and a royal family of Scottish race was on the throne of the united population, all that remained intact of the Gaelic population of the Highlands was mainly represented by the great province of Moray, which contained the mainland part of the modern counties of Inverness and Ross, and whose chiefs or maormors are found, during the whole of this period, maintaining a struggle for local independence against the ruling powers, whether Scottish or Saxon, till they were finally suppressed in the year 1130 by the great battle in which Angus, the Celtic Earl of Moray, was defeated and slain by David the First.

The Norwegian Kingdom of Man and the Isles was now approaching its fall, and a new power arose on the ruins of that of the Maormors of Moray, which soon became paramount in the Western Highlands, and exercised a very different influence upon its language and population. This was the dynasty of the Celtic kings or Lords of the Isles, which took its rise under Somarled, the founder of the race in the twelfth century, and maintained a powerful sway in the West Highlands till the Lord of the Isles was forfeited at the close of the fifteenth century; and, after several ineffectual attempts to maintain their ground against the Government, finally fell in the middle of the succeeding century.

Whether the race of the Lords of the Isles was of Irish descent or not, is a question which depends upon the precise degree of credibility to be given to a Celtic pedigree which reaches back to the beginning of the fourth century; but certain it is, that the spirit and tendency of the whole race was essentially Irish. The history of Somarled, the founder of the family, who may, from female connexion, have possessed a Norwegian name, is quite incompatible with the idea of his representing a Norwegian house, or deriving his position by inheritance from them. The names of his father Gillabride, and his grandfather Gillaagamnan, are purely Celtic. The interest of his family was antagonistic to that of the Norwegians; their efforts were to supplant and drive them out, and to elevate a Gaelic kingdom upon their ruins. In the foundation of this kingdom, Irish aid and Irish interest entered largely, and the connexion of the family with Ireland became always more and more closely connected,—an influence and connexion extending to the powerful Celtic families who rose under their auspices and owned their sway.

Somarled, the founder of the race, first appears in history as regulus or petty king of Oirirgaidheal, or, as it is given in the Irish form, Airergaidheal, and, in the Latin, Argathelia, a name which had sprung up subsequently to the ninth century, signifying the coast-lands of the Gael, and embracing the entire west coast from Cowall to Loch Broom.

To this district he must have had hereditary claims; and an ancient sennachy of the race thus details the steps by which he recovered possession of it:—

Gillabride, the son of Gillaagamnan, the son and grandson of the Toiseach of Argyll, and descendant of Colla, being amongst his kindred in Ireland, the clan Colla, that is, the Macguires and Macmahons, held a great meeting and assembly in Fermanagh, the country of Macguire, regarding the affairs of Gillabride, how they might restore him to his patrimony, from which he had been driven by the power of the Lochlans and Finngalls. When Gillabride saw such a large body of men assembled together, he besought them to embark in his cause, and to assist the people of Alban, who were favourable to him in an attempt to win back the possession of the country. The people declared themselves willing to go, and four or five hundred put themselves under his command. With this company Gillabride proceeded to Alban, and landing there, commenced a series of skirmishes and sudden assaults, with the assistance of friends, for his name was then very powerful. The Lochlans possessed the islands from Man to the Orkneys; but the Gael retained possession of the woods and mountains in the districts, extending from Dumbarton to Caithness, north of the two oirirs, and in Mar. Somarled, the son of Gillabride, was now becoming manly and illustrious, and a band attached themselves to him, who had possession of the hills and woods of Ardgowar and Morvaren. Here he came upon a large army of Lochlans and Fingalls, and assembled round him all the soldiers he could muster and the people engaged in herding the flocks, and ranged them in order of battle. He practised a great deception on his enemies, for he made the same company pass before them three times, so that it appeared to them as if there were three companies, and then attacked them. The enemy were broken by Somarled and fled, till they reached the north bank of the river Shiell, and part escaped with their king to the Isles. Somarled did not desist from his efforts till he had cleared the whole west side of Alban from the Lochlans, except the islands of the Finnlochlans, called Innsegall.

Having married the daughter of Olave the Red, the Norwegian king of Man and the Isles, he succeeded in 1154 in obtaining one-half of the Western Isles for his eldest son Dougall, the ancestor of the M'Dougalls, Lords of Lorn, in right of his mother. The portion of the Isles thus added to the Gaelic kingdom of Oirirgaidheal were those south of the point of Ardnamurchan, including Mull, Isla, and Jura. Ten years afterwards, in 1164, he showed still further his close relation with Ireland, by placing the Monastery of Iona under the Abbacy of Derry, and in the same year he was slain in Renfrew, in an attempt which he made to subvert the Scottish throne itself, with Irish assistance. His successors remained in possession of this territory, consisting of Oirirgaidheal, or the western districts, from Cowall to Loch Broom, and the southern half of the Isles, till 1222, when Alexander the Second took possession of Argathelia, and annexed the north part of it to the earldom of Ross, and the central portion to the district of Moray, leaving the districts of Morvaren and Garwmorvaren, and parts of South Argyll, with the south half of the Isles, to the descendants of Somarled. On the conquest of the Norwegian kingdom of Man and the Isles by the King of Scotland in 1266, Skye and Lewis were annexed to the earldom of Ross, the rest of the Isles went to Somarled's family, their possessions were further increased by grants from Robert Bruce, and in the end of the fourteenth century they inherited the possessions of the earldom of Ross, by which they regained possession of the Oirir a tuath. A petty kingdom was thus formed, consisting of Argathelia, or the western districts, from Cowall to Loch Broom and the Western Isles, nominally subordinate to the Scottish throne, but in reality all powerful among the population of the Highlands; the clans of the centre and north Highlands, which had once looked up to the almost equally powerful Maormors of Moray, alone representing a different interest.

The marriage of the Lord of the Isles, the head of this race, with a daughter of the great Irish house of O'Cathan, princes of an extensive territory in the north of Ireland, towards the close of the thirteenth century, still further cemented the connexion with Ireland. Tradition records that twenty-four families followed this lady from Ulster to the Scottish Highlands, and founded as many houses there, and, in the subsequent century, a scion of the House of the Isles acquired land in the north of Ireland, and founded the Antrim family. In all the Irish wars this race took generally a part, and, in their own wars at home, were rarely without assistance from Ireland.

The struggle between this great Celtic family and the Crown assumed an aspect at length which could only terminate in the ruin of the former or the humiliation of the latter, and at length resulted in the forfeiture of the Lord of the Isles in 1478, and his subsequent submission, when he resigned his hereditary Celtic title, and received in exchange the feudal dignity of Lord of the Isles; a humiliation which gave deep offence to his subjects, and was not acquiesced in by them, and produced such internal dissensions, that the Crown took advantage of them to enforce the final forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isles in the year 1493. A series of insurrections followed in favour of the descendants of the forfeited Lord, which finally terminated in the utter extinction of the kingdom of the Isles in the year 1545.

During this period, which extends to nearly four centuries, there was not only a close political connexion between the Western Highlands and Islands and Ireland, but the literary influence was equally close and strong; the Irish sennachies and bards were heads of a school which included the West Highlands, and the Highland sennachies were either of Irish descent, or, if of native origin, resorted to bardic schools in Ireland for instruction in the language and the accomplishments of their art.

The annals of the four masters record the following Irish sennachies as being recognised masters in the Highlands:—

In 1185 died Maclosa O'Daly, ollav, or chief sage or poet of Erin and Alban; a man illustrious for his poetry, hospitality, and nobility.

In 1328 died the blind O'Carril, chief minstrel of Erin and Alban in his time.

In 1448 died Tadg og, son of Tadg, son of Giollacoluim O'Higgin, chief preceptor of the poets of Erin and Alban.

In 1554 died Tadg, son of Aodh O'Coffey, chief teacher of poetry in Erin and Alban.

The oldest of the Gaelic MSS., preserved in the Library of the Faculty of Advocates, belong to this period. They are all written in the Irish character; the language is the written language of Ireland; and they contain numerous specimens of the poetry of these Irish masters, especially of Tadg og and the O'Dalys.

The Betons, or, as their name was in Gaelic, Macbheatha, who were hereditary physicians in Isla and Mull, and who were also sennachies of the Macleans, were of Irish descent, being O'Neills, and are said by tradition to be one of the families who accompanied O'Cathan's daughter to Scotland; and many of these MSS. belonged to them. The M'Vurichs, who were hereditary sennachies to Clanranald, were likewise of Irish descent, and are said “to have received their education in Irish Colleges of poetry and writing.” Many of these MSS. were compiled by them; and the earliest are likewise written in the Irish character and idiom. The sennachies of the other great families, comprised within the dominions of the Lords of the Isles, appear likewise to have all resorted to Ireland for instruction and training in their art.

A powerful influence must thus have been exercised upon the language and literature of the Highlands, which must have become by degrees more and more assimilated to that of Ireland; and it may well be doubted whether, towards the close of this period, there existed the means of acquiring the art of writing the language except in Ireland, or the conception of a written and cultivated literature, which was not identified with its language and learning.

We have no reason, however, to conclude, on that account, that there was not a vernacular Gaelic, which preserved many of the independent features of a native language, and existed among the people as a spoken dialect; or that a popular and unwritten literature may not at the same time have existed in that native and idiomatic Gaelic in the poetry handed down by tradition, or composed by native bards, innocent of all extraneous education in the written language of Ireland. It is, in fact, in poetry, or rather in popular ballad poetry, that the nervous and idiomatic vernacular of the people is usually preserved. Prose readily assimilates itself and succumbs to the influence of a cultivated and written language, but the tyranny of rhythm and metre preserves the language in which poetry is composed in its original form and idiom.

The fall of the great House of the Isles was coincident with another event, destined to effect a great change in the position of the Highland population and of their literature. This was the Reformation of the sixteenth century and its attendant events, the establishment of a Reformed Church, the introduction of printing, and the translation of the Scriptures and religious works for the instruction of the people.

From this source sprung up a religious literature, which, commencing in the written or Irish Gaelic, gradually approached nearer and nearer to the spoken dialect of the country, and, accompanied by the preaching of the clergy in the vernacular dialect, tended to preserve and stereotype the language spoken in the Highlands in its native form and idiom.

The first printed book was a translation of the Form of Prayer issued by John Knox, which was made by John Carsewell, the Protestant Bishop of the Isles, and printed at “Dunedin darab comhainm Dunmonaidh,” that is, at Dunedin or Edinburgh, otherwise called Dunmonaidh, 24th April 1567. Bishop Carsewell was a native of Kilmartin, in the southern part of the country of Argyll. He prefixes to his translation an address, which is written in the Irish orthography, and in the pure Irish or written dialect. In it he says, that “we, the Gael of Alban and Erin, have laboured under the want that our dialects of the Gaelic have never been printed;” and he alludes to the dialects of the language and to the manuscript literature then existing, “written in manuscript books in the compositions of poets and ollaos, and in the remains of learned men,” and characterizes them not unjustly as full of “lying, worldly stories concerning the Tuatha de Dannan, the sons of Milesius, the heroes, and Finn mac Cumhal with his Feine.”

The second printed book was a translation of Calvin's Catechism, which was published, along with an English edition, in 1631. This translation seems likewise to have been made in Argyllshire, and is in the Irish orthography and idiom.

In 1659, the Presbyterian Synod of Argyll took up the work of issuing translations into Gaelic of the metrical Psalms and of the Scriptures, and commenced with a portion of the Psalter, which was completed in 1694. This also is in the Irish dialect; but, in 1753, an amended version was published by the Rev. Alexander Macfarlane, minister of Kilninver and Kilmelford, who had previously, in 1750, published a translation into Gaelic of Baxter's Call to the Unconverted, adapted to the Gaelic of the central and north Highlands; and, in 1787, another version was issued by Dr. J. Smith, minister of Kilbrandon, and afterwards of Campbelltown, who had in 1781 translated Alleine's Alarm into Gaelic, and in this version the north country words and Irishisms were thrown out, and the metre suited to the west country dialect; and, finally, in 1807, an edition of the Psalter was published by Thomas Ross for the use of the northern districts, in which the Irish words, unintelligible to them, are explained at the bottom of the page by synonymous words used in that part of the Highlands.

In 1690, the first Bible was published for the use of the Highlands. It was simply an edition of the Irish version of the Bible, by the Rev. Robert Kirke, minister of Balquhidder, to which he appended a short vocabulary.

In 1767, the first translation of the New Testament was published. It was translated by the Rev. James Stewart of Killin. It was then considered as pure Scotch Gaelic, and free from Irish idiom; and, in 1796, it was revised and altered by his son, Dr. Stewart of Luss. In 1783, a translation of the Old Testament was undertaken by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge in Scotland, and completed in 1787, and various editions subsequently appeared. In 1816, a memorial was presented to the General Assembly of the Church, urging the necessity of a final revision of the Gaelic Scriptures, and a committee of the best Gaelic scholars appointed to superintend it, under whose auspices an amended edition was published of the Old Testament in 1820, and of the whole Scriptures in 1826, which may now be considered as the standard of the orthography and idiom of the Scotch Gaelic.

It will be seen that the earlier printed books emanated entirely from Argyllshire, where the spoken dialect approaches more nearly to the Irish; and the work of translating and publishing the Psalter and Scriptures into Gaelic being a new and difficult task, the translators resorted to Ireland and to the written and cultivated dialect of the Irish as the medium through which to convey it; but as subsequent editions were issued, they were brought more and more near to the spoken language of the Scotch Highlands in its purest form and idiom, and the Irish orthography by degrees adapted to it, till at length the Scotch Gaelic became clothed in that orthography in which we now find it, and elevated to the position of a written and cultivated language.

Throughout the whole of this period, however, there existed, side by side with this printed religious literature, another literature in the popular poetry of the uncultivated native bards, removed from the influence of Irish training, whose compositions were expressed in the pure idiom of the spoken dialect; and in the poems of Ian Lom, the Lochaber poet of the Wars of Montrose; Duncan Ban Macintyre, whose exquisite poem of Bendoran is a beautiful specimen of pure Gaelic, and whose poems were printed in 1778; Ailen Buidhe Macdougall, W. Ross, and Allan Dall Macdougall—all natives of the central districts of the Highlands,—we find ample evidence of the existence and character of a vernacular dialect, in which the people interchanged their homely ideas, and their favourite bards composed their poems which found an immediate access to the hearts and imagination of the people; while the language in which their scriptures and formularies were conveyed was looked upon as a sort of sacred dialect, through which they received their religious teaching.

There was thus, throughout, a double influence exercised upon the language and literature of the Highlands. One from Ireland, which was associated with the written and cultivated dialect of Gaelic which had there been formed, and brought over with Christianity to Scotland. With it came the Irish orthography. It was mainly connected with learning and religious teaching, and its influence was most powerful in the western districts and islands, and the territories subject to the power of the Lord of the Isles. The other, indigenous and antagonistic to it, falling back upon a literary influence from the south and east, when not predominant, and associated more with the popular poetry of the Highlands. Its orthography seems to have resembled that of the other Celtic languages, the Welsh and the Manx; and its influence prevailed in the central and north Highlands, where the best and purest type of the Scotch Gaelic is still to be found.

The literary history of the Highlands falls into periods as these influences respectively prevailed.

The first period is prior to the seventh century, when there was no political separation between Ireland and Gaelic Scotland. The great divisions of the people were regulated by race rather than by geographical distribution. The Cruithne everywhere were united by common origin and ties of race; and the Scots, wherever settled, owned the Milesian Ardrigh in Ireland. The countries were simply viewed as the east and the west, and were known as Erin and Alban, and the communication between them was free and unrestrained. The second period commences with the separation of the Scotch Dalriada from the Irish in 573, and of the Irish Cruithne from the present race, some thirty years later, when a political as well as a geographical separation between the Celtic tribes of the two countries took place; but, for upwards of a century afterwards, the church and clergy of the Highlands were Irish, and the written Irish dialect imported by them must still have remained in use, and exercised its accustomed influence on the spoken language.

After the expulsion of the Scotch clergy in 717, a period of great obscurity in the history of Scotland occurs, extending to nearly a century and a half, during which the ecclesiastical influence exercised was from the south, taking its origin from the Anglic kingdom of Northumbria; some revolution also took place, which placed a Scottish royal family upon the throne of a kingdom consisting of the united tribes situated to the north of the Forth and Clyde. But during the same period another event took place, of great significance in the literary history of the country; the Monastery of Icholumkill or Iona, the time-honoured seat of Gaelic learning, went down amidst the troubled waters of Scandinavian piracy, and its position, as head of the learning and religion of the country, was gone for ever.

During the fourth period, which lasted for three hundred years, the Norwegian kingdom of Man and the Isles, which likewise embraced the western seaboard of the Highlands, interposed itself between the Highlands and Ireland; and the influence from the latter country must for the time have been paralysed, while the indigenous and native influence maintained itself in the extensive Highland province of Moray.

At the close of this period we have a hint of the existence of an Albanic dialect of Gaelic in the Life of St. Kentigern, first Bishop of Glasgow, by Jocelyn, the biographer also of St. Patrick, who wrote in the year 1180. He says that the name of Kentigern was justly given to one who might be called their dominus capitaneus; “nam ken  caput Latine, tyern Albanice, dominus Latine interpretatur.” This is nearly a phonetic orthography, and not unlike that of the Dean of Lismore's MS. In Irish orthography the words would be cend, signifying caput, or a head; tigerna, dominus, or lord; but in pronunciation the d  in cend  is quiescent, and the aspirated g  in tigerna, so that the sound is exactly represented even as now pronounced. Jocelyn seems to recognise the existence of a native dialect designated by Albanice ; and one of the peculiarities of Scotch Gaelic is also present in the omission of the final a from the word tigerna.

The fate of the great Celtic earldom of Moray, and the decay of the Norwegian power in the Isles, was followed by the powerful sway of the Celtic Lords of the Isles, who, during the fifth period, extending from three to four centuries, were dominant in the western districts; and, as far as their sway extended, the spirit, influence, and literature were all Irish, and it was only when the fall of the almost independent kingdom of the Isles, and the Reformation again separated the country from Ireland, that a reaction towards the vernacular and spoken Scotch Gaelic took place, which has resulted in a clear development of its grammatical rules and construction, and the establishment of a fixed orthography.

It was at the close of the fifth period, during which the Lords of the Isles were all-powerful in the west, and just before the middle of the sixteenth century ushered in the Reformation, that the collection, of which selections are now published, was made by the Vicar of Fortingal, who was also Dean of Lismore. It is a collection, formed upwards of three hundred years ago, from all quarters, and presents to us a specimen of the literature which was current in the Highlands during this period. There are poems by the Irish bards, whose schools extended also to the Highlands, by the O'Dalys, who lived during the fifteenth century; by Teague og O'Higgin, who died in 1448; by Dermod O'Hiffernan; and by Turn O'Meilchonair, Ollav of the Sil Murray, who died in 1468. There are poems by Allan M'Ruadrie and Gillecallum Mac an Olla, who seem to have been native bards; by John of Knoydart, who celebrates the murder of the young Lord of the Isles by his Irish harper in 1490; by Finlay M'Nab, called the Good Poet; and by the transcriber of the greater part of the manuscript, Duncan, the Dean's brother, who wrote in praise of the M'Gregors.

The great value of this collection, as regards the language, arises from the peculiar orthography used, which presents it as it must have been pronounced, and affords a means of testing one of the chief differences which characterize the different provincial dialects, the vowel and consonantal sounds, and the presence or absence of eclipsis and aspiration.

It has been found impossible to print the whole of the contents of the MS., but the selection which has been made, chiefly with reference to the literature of the Highlands, will also afford a fair specimen of the shades of difference which characterized the language in which the poems are written. Some are in pure Irish, and must have been transferred from the Irish orthography into that used in the MS. Others are in pure Scotch Gaelic, as the poems of Duncan, son of Dougall Maol, Finlay M'Nab, the bard roy, and John of Knoydart. Others are in a mixed dialect, in some of which the Irish idiom, in others the Scotch, predominates.

In general, it will be found that the language approaches more or less nearly to the Irish, as the writers appear to have had more or less cultivation in the written language, or were more or less removed from Irish influence; and the MS. may be viewed as the only known record of those vernacular dialects of Gaelic in the sixteenth century which differed in any degree from the written and cultivated language.

But while the Dean of Lismore's MS. has in this respect a philological value, it has likewise no mean literary value, from the circumstance that it contains no fewer than twenty-eight Ossianic poems, extending to upwards of 2500 lines, nine directly attributed to Ossian, two to Farris or Ferghus Filidh, and one to Caolte M'Ronan, the three bards of the Feine; two to Allan M'Ruadri, and one to Gillecallum Mac an Olla, bards hitherto unknown; and eleven poems, Ossianic in their style and subject, to which no author's name is attached.

The circumstances under which the controversy regarding the authenticity of the poems of Ossian, published by James Macpherson, arose, and the extent to which it for the time agitated the minds of the literati  of England and Scotland, are well known.

In the summer of 1759, Mr. John Home, the author of Douglas, met Mr. James Macpherson, then a tutor in the family of Graham of Balgowan, at Moffat. Mr. Home had previously been told by Professor Adam Fergusson, a native of Atholl, and acquainted with Gaelic, that there existed in the country some remains of ancient Gaelic poetry. Mr. Home mentioned the circumstance to James Macpherson, also a Highlander, and a native of Badenoch, and was told by him that he had some pieces of ancient Gaelic poetry in his possession. After some difficulty, Mr. Home obtained translations of them from Macpherson, and took them to Edinburgh, and showed the translations to Drs. Blair, Fergusson, and Robertson, by whom they were much admired. Macpherson was importuned to translate all he had, and the translations furnished by him were published in a little volume in June 1760, under the title of “Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands of Scotland.”

There seems little reason to doubt that these translations were made from genuine fragments in Macpherson's possession. If they existed at all, they were in his possession before any talk had arisen of translating Gaelic poetry. There was no pretext of going to the Highlands to collect them. There was no idea, at the time the translations were produced, that such poetry could have any value in the eyes of the literary world, and there seems no motive for any deception. In the fragments, or rather short poems, contained in this little work, the proper names are smoothed down from their original Gaelic form to suit English ears; and Macpherson had already hit upon that happy prose version, the conception of which has great merit, and had no little share in the popularity which immediately attached to them; but, in other respects, they have every appearance of having been translations from short Gaelic poems which really existed. The admiration which they excited in the minds of men of the great literary reputation of Home, Blair, Fergusson, and Robertson, must have first astonished, and then greatly flattered, a man of the disposition of Macpherson. He was urged to undertake a journey to the Highlands, to collect all that remained of poetry of this description, and a subscription was raised to defray the expense. This proposal must have raised a prospect sufficiently dazzling before the poor Highland tutor, who seemed likely to exchange a life of poverty, obscurity, and irksome duty, for one of comparative independence and literary fame; and he acceded to it with affected reluctance. At that time, anything like that spirit of severe and critical antiquarianism, which attaches the chief value to the relics of past ages from their being genuine fragments of a past literature, and demands a rigid and literal adherence to the form and shape in which they are found, was totally unknown. That feeling is the creation of subsequent times. At that time literary excellence was mainly looked to, their authority was usually taken on trust, and it was thought that the claims of such criticism were sufficiently satisfied when the remains of the past were woven into an elegant and flowing narrative. With Homer and other classical epics before him, such a proposal as the publication of the ancient poetry of the Highlands, assuming, as we now know to be the fact, that Ossianic poetry of some kind did exist, and looking to the high expectations formed, must have at once suggested to him the idea that he should not do justice to the task he had undertaken if he could not likewise produce a Gaelic epic. This idea seems early to have suggested itself to Macpherson's mind; it is obscurely hinted at in the preface to the Fragments; and Macpherson seems to have started on his tour with the preconceived determination to view any short poems and fragments he might find as parts of longer poems, and, if possible, by welding them together, to produce a national epic which should do honour to his country, and confirm his own reputation as its recoverer and translator. He was accompanied, in the earlier part of his journey, by a countryman of his own, Mr. Lachlan Macpherson of Strathmashie, who was a better Gaelic scholar than he was himself, and an excellent Gaelic poet. It is certain that, in this tour, a number of MSS. were collected by them, and poetry taken down from recitation; and that he was joined in it by another Gaelic scholar, Captain Alexander Morrison, who likewise assisted him. On his return, he proceeded to Badenoch, his native place and that of Lachlan Macpherson, and here he remained till January 1761, engaged, with the assistance of Lachlan Macpherson and Alexander Morrison, in preparing the materials for the next publication of Ossian; and then proceeded to Edinburgh, from whence he writes to the Rev. James M'Lagan, in a letter dated 16th January 1761,—“I have been lucky enough to lay my hands on a pretty complete poem, and truly epic, concerning Fingal. . . . I have some thoughts of publishing the original, if it will not clog the work too much.”

His task, whatever it was, had then been accomplished; and after remaining some time in Edinburgh, engaged in preparing the English version for the press, he went to London, and early in 1762 issued a quarto volume, containing the epic poem of Fingal, in six books, and sixteen other poems. In the following year another quarto appeared, containing another epic poem in eight books, called Temora, and five other poems. This volume also contained what was called “a specimen of the original of Temora,” being a Gaelic version of the seventh book, and the only Gaelic bearing to be the original of any of the poems which appeared.

The English version, contained in these two quartos, possessed the same character as the English of the Fragments; the same accommodation of the Gaelic proper names to the supposed requirements of English ears, and the prose style, originated by Macpherson, sustained with equal spirit; the poems, however, were longer, and more elaborate.

The literary public, who had welcomed the Fragments with admiration, received the volume containing the epic of Fingal with startled but silent acquiescence, and exploded under the eight books of Temora. It seemed incredible that poems such as these could have been handed down by oral recitation from the supposed age of Ossian; the refined manners described, and the allusions to the Roman Emperors, awakened suspicion, and a storm of adverse criticism and questioning incredulity arose, in which Dr. Johnson—at that time in the zenith of his reputation—took the lead.

Macpherson, who found the fair breeze of flattery and laudation, before which he had been sailing so smoothly on his heavy quartos, without a suspicion that he had not attained the full success he aimed at, so suddenly changed into an adverse storm of criticism and depreciation, knew not how to meet the crisis. He had not courage to avow the truth, and state candidly to the world how much of his work was based on original authority, and to what extent he had carried the process of adapting, interpolating, and weaving into epic poems. He took refuge first in sulky silence, and eventually seemed to find a sort of compensation for his denunciation, as a detected forger, in the necessary alternative, the credit of having been a successful composer, and by half hints encouraged that view.

The journey which Dr. Johnson took to the Hebrides, in order to examine the question, and of his Journal of which, one passage seems to have adhered to men's recollections almost as pertinaciously as that of Ossian's Address to the Sun did to the Highland reciters of his poems—the celebrated description of Iona—was not likely to do much in the way of solving the question.

A man of the obstinate prejudices and overbearing temper of Dr. Johnson, with a firm belief that no Ossianic poems really existed, and that Gaelic was not a written language, with an entire ignorance of that language, and a colossal reputation as a critic, bursting suddenly among the frightened Highland ministers, who believed in him, and trembled before him, could hardly return with any other result than that he had found no poems of Ossian, and no one bold enough to avow, in his presence, that he believed in their existence; and most men now subsided into the conviction that the whole thing was an imposture, an opinion embodied and elaborately worked out by Malcolm Laing.

This led to the Highland Society of Scotland undertaking an inquiry into the authenticity of the poems of Ossian published by Macpherson, which involved the subsidiary inquiry of whether such poems existed in the Highlands in the original Gaelic. The result of this inquiry is contained in the elaborate report prepared by Henry Mackenzie, the author of the Man of Feeling, and published in 1806.

The inquiry was conducted with much candour. The committee were aided by receiving from Mr. John Mackenzie, Secretary of the Highland Society of London, and executor of Mr. James Macpherson, all the Gaelic MSS. in his possession, including those which Macpherson had left behind him; and they resorted to every means within their reach to obtain information.

The whole of the materials for forming a judgment which they had collected were placed impartially before the public; and the subject, so far as such materials then existed or were at their command, is really exhausted by this report.

The committee were cautious in giving an opinion, but the result they arrived at seems to have been—

1st, That the characters introduced into Macpherson's poems were not invented, but were really the subjects of tradition in the Highlands; and that poems certainly existed which might be called Ossianic, as relating to the persons and events of that mythic age.

2d, That such poems, though usually either entire poems of no very great length, or fragments, had been handed down from an unknown period by oral recitation, and that there existed many persons in the Highlands who could repeat them.

3d, That such poems had likewise been committed to writing, and were to be found to some extent in MSS.

4th, That Macpherson had used many such poems in his work; but by joining separated pieces together, and by adding a connecting narrative of his own, had woven them into longer poems, and into the so-called epics.

No materials existed, however, to show the extent to which this process had been carried, and the amount of genuine matter the poems, as published by Macpherson, contained.

Such was the result to which the committee appeared to come, and which may fairly be deduced from this inquiry; all intelligent inquirers seemed now to adopt this result, and the unbiassed public generally acquiesced in it,—the only difference of opinion being as to the greater or less extent to which Macpherson carried his process of adaptation and amalgamation.

The publication in 1806 of what was called the original Gaelic of Ossian, did not affect this conclusion, or tend to alter the general acquiescence of the public in it. Instead of consisting of genuine extracts from old MSS., or copies of pieces taken down from oral recitation, it proved to be a complete version in Gaelic poetry of the English version transcribed under James Macpherson's eye, and left by him in a state for publication. It was a smooth and polished version in Gaelic verse of the entire poems, in the same shape as they were presented in English, and written in the modern Gaelic of that time.

It is very difficult, however, to believe that this Gaelic version had been composed subsequently to the publication of the English Ossian, and translated from it. To any one capable, from a knowledge of Gaelic, of judging, such a theory seems almost impossible; and it is difficult to acquiesce in it. A review of all the circumstances which have been allowed to transpire regarding the proceedings of James Macpherson, seems rather to lead to the conclusion that the Gaelic version, in the shape in which it was afterwards published, had been prepared in Badenoch, during the months Macpherson passed there, after his return from his Highland tour, with the assistance of Lachlan Macpherson of Strathmashie, and Captain Morrison, and that the English translation was made from it by Macpherson in the same manner in which he had translated the fragments,—a conclusion which is the more probable, as, while James Macpherson's acquaintance with the language seems not to have been sufficiently complete to qualify him for such a task, there appears to be no doubt of the Laird of Strathmashie's perfect ability to accomplish it.

But while from this date the controversy in England may be said to have terminated, with the exception of an occasional reproduction of old arguments and of criticism long superseded, by enthusiastic young Highlanders, and occasional discussions at young debating societies, it broke out from a new quarter, and in a different shape.

The Irish, who had been long murmuring under the neglect of their claims to literary notice, and the absorbing attention obtained by the Highlands, suddenly burst forth with a succession of violent and spasmodic attacks, of which the partial detection of the Ossian of Macpherson afforded a favourable opportunity.

In 1784 Dr. Young, afterwards Bishop of Clonfert, a good Irish scholar, had made a tour in the Highlands, with the view of collecting Gaelic poems, and ascertaining from what materials Macpherson had constructed his Ossian. He published an account of his journey in the first volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, in which he maintained that any poems that existed were Irish, and that Macpherson had founded his Ossian on some of these, “retrenching, adding, and altering as he judged proper.”

In 1789 a collection of Irish Ossianic poems was published by Miss Brooke, termed Reliques of Irish Poetry. They consisted of short poems, either attributed to Ossian or on Ossianic subjects, and were accompanied by the original Irish version from which they were translated. Where that was obtained is not stated.

In 1807 the Dublin Gaelic Society was formed, for the purpose of publishing the contents of Irish MSS.; and in the only volume of transactions published, the subject of Ossian was taken up. The prose tale of Deirdre, the original of Macpherson's Darthula, interspersed with fragments of poetry, is there given; and the volume likewise contains strictures upon Macpherson, in which his work is boldly denounced as an entire fabrication and imposture from beginning to end, and the assertion made, that no poems of Ossian ever existed in Gaelic except those in Ireland.

In 1827 the Royal Irish Academy offered a prize for the best essay on the poems of Ossian. The subject proposed was “to investigate the authenticity of the poems of Ossian, both as given in Macpherson's translation and as published in Gaelic (London, 1807), under the sanction of the Highland Society of London.” The prize was awarded in 1829 to Dr. Drummond, their librarian, whose essay is published in the sixteenth volume of their Transactions. In this essay the arguments of Dr. Johnson and Malcolm Laing are adopted; and the assertion of the former is re-echoed, that “there does not exist in the whole Highlands a person who can repeat one poem of Macpherson's Ossian.” Another essay, given in by Edward O'Reilly, the author of an Irish dictionary of no great repute, is printed in continuation of Dr. Drummond's, also asserting the modern fabrication of the whole of the poems published by Macpherson, and that the Gaelic poems of Macpherson contain in them the substance stolen from Irish poems.

In 1853 a society was formed in Dublin, “whose object should be the publication of Fenian poems, tales, and romances illustrative of the Fenian period of Irish history, in the Irish language and character, with literal translations and notes explanatory of the text.” This society was termed the Ossianic Society, and they have already issued six volumes of Transactions.

In the fifth volume there is an essay on the poems of Ossian by Macpherson, which may be considered as a summary of the case of Ireland against Scotland as to these poems.

This essay is, like the others, violent in language and uncandid in spirit. It deals with the controversy as it existed in the last century, and its strength consists in simply ignoring altogether the inquiry made by the Highland Society of Scotland, the whole of the great mass of facts collected by them being passed over in silence, and in imputing to the Scots of the present day the views and feelings of those of a century back, before the rise of a true spirit of historic inquiry and genuine criticism had led them to a just appreciation of their national history, and of the claims of Macpherson's Ossian to be viewed as an authentic work.

The publications of the Dublin Gaelic Society and of the Ossianic Society have, however, not merely assailed the Ossian of Macpherson as a fabrication, and denied to Scotland the possession of any Ossianic poems whatever; they have at length given to the world those genuine Ossianic poems alleged to exist solely in Ireland.

The former contains the prose tale of Deirdre, interspersed with short poems. The latter have presented to the public a number of poems in the original Irish, with literal translations. The first volume contains a poem extending to no fewer than 180 quatrains, termed the Battle of Gabhra, to which is added a short poem termed the Rosg Catha of Oscar son of Ossian; but, strangely enough, though there is an elaborate introduction, no hint is given of where the originals of these poems were obtained. The second volume, besides a short poem given in a long and elaborate introduction, contains a prose tale called the Festivities of the House of Conan of Ceann-sleibhe; and in this volume, for the first time, the source from which this tale and the poem in the previous volume was taken is stated. They are from a MS. collection made by a celebrated scribe named Foran, who resided at Portland, in the county of Waterford, in the year 1780, that is, twenty years after Macpherson had published his Ossian.

The third volume contains a long prose tale, interspersed with poetry, termed the Pursuit of Diarmaid and Grainne; another prose tale, termed How Cormac mac Art got his Branch; and a poem, termed the Lamentation of Oisin after the Feinne. And the sources of these tales are stated to be—1st, The collection made by Laurence Foran in 1780, termed Bolg an tsalathar; and 2dly, A closely written quarto of 881 pages, from the pen of Martan O'Griobhta or Martin Griffin, an intelligent blacksmith of Kilrush, in the county of Clare, 1842-43, called an Sgeulaidhe, and containing thirty-eight Fenian and other legends, some of which are said to have been transcribed from MSS. of 1749.

The fourth volume contains ten poems, which, with the exception of two, were taken from the collection of 1780, from another collection made in 1812 by the Rev. Thomas Hill of Cooreclure, and from the volume of the intelligent blacksmith in 1844.

The fifth volume contains a long prose tale termed the Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution, an essay on the poems of Ossian, published by Macpherson, and several short poems which are ancient, but not Ossianic.

And the sixth and last contains nine Ossianic poems, which are stated to be taken from Foran's collection in 1780, from that of Mr. Hill in 1812, and from the intelligent blacksmith of 1844.

No information whatever is given as to the sources from whence these respectable collectors obtained their poems; they are all posterior to the publication of Ossian's poems by Macpherson; and, so far as we are yet informed by the Irish editors, the Ossianic poems published by them stand in no better position in regard to their antiquity or authenticity than those of Macpherson.

Professor O'Curry, in his valuable lectures on Irish literature, with that scrupulous accuracy which always distinguishes him, admits that there exists in Ireland only eleven Ossianic poems prior to the fifteenth century—seven ascribed to Fionn himself, two to his son Oisin, one to Fergus Filidh, and one to Caoilte. Most of these are extremely short, and are found principally in the book of Leinster, supposed to be compiled in the twelfth century, and in the book of Lecan in the fifteenth.

The theory, that Macpherson stole his poems directly from Ireland, is obviously untenable and inconsistent with all that we know of his proceedings, for he never was there, and had apparently no communication with Irishmen, or access to their MSS. What he obtained, he got in the Highlands of Scotland, and the collection of poems made by the Dean of Lismore and his brother tends to confirm the result which had been attained by the inquiry made by the Highland Society of Scotland, for it contains poems attributed directly to Ossian and others which may be called Ossianic, collected in the Highlands of Scotland upwards of three hundred years ago. The persons named, and the subjects, are of the same character with those in Macpherson, and such poems must have been handed down by oral recitation, as many of the poems obtained from recitation during the Highland Society's inquiry are the same as those in this MS.

Assuming, then, that Ossianic poems existed in the Highlands of Scotland, and were both preserved by oral tradition, and transcribed in MS. collections, the question arises, What is their real position in the literature of the Highlands? and this question leads to a preliminary question which will materially aid its solution.

Who were the Feinne of tradition, and to what country and period are they to be assigned?

To this question the Irish historians give a ready response.

They were a body of Irish militia, forming a kind of standing army, employed for the purpose of defending the coasts of Ireland from the invasion of foreign foes. They were billeted upon the inhabitants during winter, and obliged to maintain themselves by hunting and fishing during summer. Each of the four provinces had its band of these warriors, termed Curaidhe or champions. Those of Ulster were termed the Curaidhe na Craoibh Ruaidhe, or champions of the red branch, and were stationed at Eamhain or Eamania, near Ulster. To this body belonged the celebrated Cuchullin and the sons of Uisneach. The militia of Connaught were the Curaidhe or champions of Jorras Domnan, otherwise called the Clanna Morna, to which belonged Goll Mac Morn, stationed at Dun Domnan, in Mayo. The militia of Munster were the Curaidhe Clann Deaghadh, to which belonged Curigh Mac Daire, stationed at Cathair Conrigh, in Kerry. The militia of Leinster were the Curaighe Clanna Baoisgne, to which belonged the renowned Finn Mac Cumhal, his sons, Ossin and Fergus Filidh, his grandson Oscar, and his relation, Caoilte Mac Ronan. Cuchullin lived in the first century, in the reign of Conaire Mac Eidersgeoil, King of Ireland, and Conchobar Mac Nessa, a king of Ulster; and at the same period lived Curigh Mac Daire, who was slain by him. Finn Mac Cumhal lived in the reign of Cormac Mac Art, who ruled from A.D. 227 to 266, and whose daughter Graine he married, and Goll Mac Moirna was his cotemporary. Finn was slain in the year 285, his grandson Oscar having fallen in the battle of Gahbra, fought in the following year. Oissin and Caoilte survived to the time of St. Patrick, whose mission to Ireland fell in the year 432, and related to him the exploits of the Feinne; one conversation between these aged Feinne and the apostle of Ireland having been preserved, and is termed Agallamh na seanorach or the Dialogue of the Sages.

Such is the account of the Feinne given by the Irish.

If this is history, cadit questio. The ancient Irish militia, like their more modern representatives, could not, it is presumed, be called upon to leave their country, except in case of invasion; and poems narrating their adventures and exploits must have been as Irish as the heroes which were the subject of them.

But we cannot accept it as history in any sense of the term. It is as illusory and uncertain as are the dates of St. Patrick, and the narrative of which the one forms a part, is as little to be regarded as a veracious chronicle, as the life of the other can be accepted as a genuine biography. The chronology of the one is as questionable as the era of the other.

Prior to the year 483, the Irish have, strictly speaking, no chronological history. The battle of Ocha, fought in that year, which established the dynasty of the Hy'Neills on the Irish throne, and the order of things which existed subsequent to that date, is the great chronological era which separates the true from the empirical, the genuine annals of the country from an artificially constructed history.

Prior to that date, we find the reigns of a long succession of monarchs recorded, with a strange mixture of minute detail, chronological exactness, and the wildest fable, a wonderful structure of history palpably artificial, and ranging over a period of upwards of 3000 years. Passing over the arrival of Casar, Noah's niece, who landed in Ireland forty days before the deluge, on the fifteenth day of the moon, the so-called Irish history records the arrival of four colonies before that of the Milesians. First, that of Partolan and his followers, who landed at Inversceine, in the west of Munster, on the 14th day of May, in the year of the world 2320 or 2680 years B.C., and who all perished by a pestilence in one week to the number of 9000 on the Hill of Howth, thirty years after their arrival. Secondly, the Nemedians, under their leader Nemedius, thirty years after, who, after remaining 217 years in the island, left it, in consequence of the tyranny and oppression of the pirates, termed the Fomorians, in three bands,—one going to Thrace, from whom descended the Firbolg; the second to the North of Europe or Lochlan, from whom descended the Tuatha De Danann; and the third to Alban or Scotland, from whom descended the Britons. The third colony were the Firbolg, who returned to Ireland 217 years after the arrival of the Nemedians, and consisted of three tribes, the Firbolg, the Firdomnan, and the Firgailian under five leaders, by whom Ireland was divided into five provinces. With Slainge, the eldest of the five brothers, the Irish historians commence the monarchy of Ireland and the list of her kings. The fourth colony were the Tuatha De Danann, who went from Lochlan to Alban or Scotland, and from thence to Ireland, where they landed on Monday the 1st of May, and drove out the Firbolgs, after they had been thirty-six years in Ireland, to be in their turn driven out by the Scots, under the three sons of Milesius, Eremon, Eber, and Ir, who, with their uncle's son Lughadh, the son of Ith, led the fifth and last colony from Spain to Ireland. The island was divided between the two brothers Eremon and Eber, the former having the north, and the latter the south half of Ireland; Ir obtaining Ulster under Eremon, and Lughadh a settlement in Munster under Eber.

From the sons of Milesius to the reign of Lughadh, who was placed on the throne by the battle of Ocha, there proceeded a line of monarchs amounting to 116 in number, and extending over a period of upwards of twenty-one centuries, the descendants of the different sons of Milesius alternating with each other from time to time, and the reign of each given with an exactness of date and minuteness of event which betrays its artificial character. As part of this narrative is introduced the existence of these bands of Fenian militia, with the dates at which their leaders are said to have lived.

Is it possible, however, to accept this extraordinary bead-roll of shadowy monarchs during Pagan times, with their exact chronology, and the strange and almost ludicrous peculiarities by which each are distinguished, as serious history, or even to attempt to discriminate between what may be true and what is false? Are there any materials, or any data upon which we can even fix upon a date, within a reasonable compass of time, and say all before that is fable, all after may be history, till we arrive on firm ground, after the introduction of Christianity? Professor O'Curry is right when he says, in his admirable lectures on the MS. materials of ancient Irish history, that he cannot discover any ground on which the annalist Tighernac was able to say, “omnia monumenta Scotorum usque Cimbaoth (a king of Ulster, who flourished in the seventh century, B.C.) incerta erant.”

From Slainge, the first king of the Firbolgs, who began to reign 1934 years B.C., and ruled only one year, or even from Eremon, the first monarch of all Ireland of the Milesian race, who began to reign 1700 years B.C., down to Dathy, who was killed by a flash of lightning at the foot of the Alps in the year 428, and Laogare, his successor, who was slain by the elements for refusing obedience to St. Patrick's mission which is said to have taken place during his reign, every reign is stamped with the same character; and what to accept and what to reject is a problem, for the solution of which the history itself affords no materials.

If this narrative is to be submitted to historic criticism, is the later portion less an object of such criticism than the earlier? There seems no reason why we should accept the history of Neill of the nine hostages, who reigned from 379 to 405, and had subjected all Britain and part of France to his sway, and reject that of Ugony More, who reigned 1000 years earlier, and whose conquests were equally extensive and equally unknown to European history, or why Ugony's twenty-five sons are less worthy of credit than the thirty sons of Cathoirmor, who reigned 750 years later. Why the division of Ireland into the two great portions of north and south, between Conn of the hundred battles and Modha Nuadhat, in the second century, is to be accepted in preference to the original division into the same districts between Eremon and Eber, the sons of Milesius; or which of the divisions of Ireland into five provinces, that by Tuathal the acceptable, or Eochaddh, called Feidhlioch, from the deep sighs which he constantly heaved from his heart, or that by Slainge, the first king of the Firbolgs, is to be held to represent the event which produced it.

Are the conquests in Scotland by Crimthan mor, and Dathy in the fourth and fifth centuries, to be accepted, and these equally detailed battles of Aongus olmucadha and Rechtgidh righ-derg, some centuries earlier, to be rejected because they occupy a different place in this succession of unreal monarchs? Are we to accept the reign of Conchobar Mac Nessa in the first century—to whom the death of Christ upon the cross was revealed by a Druid at the time it happened, and who became Christian in consequence, and died from over-exertion in attacking a forest of trees with his sword which he mistook for the Jews; and the reign of Cormac Mac Art, called Ulfada, either from the length of his beard and hair, or because he drove the Uladh or Ultonians far from their country, where, however, they are ever after found notwithstanding; who was also miraculously converted to Christianity two centuries before the supposed arrival of St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, and died by choking upon the bone of an enchanted fish, or, according to other accounts, was strangled by a number of infernal fiends,—as history, in preference to the reigns of scores of older monarchs, the events of whose reigns cannot be said to be less probable.

Must we hold that the chronology of Cuchullin and Corroi, of Finn Mac Cumhal and Goll Mac Morn, is fixed, because the two former are placed in the reign of Conchobar Mac Nessa, and the two latter in that of Cormac Ulfada, or that their Irish character is demonstrated because they are woven into this Milesian fable?

In fact, the whole of this history presents a structure so artificial, so compact, and so alike in all its features, that it is impossible for any one, like Samson, to withdraw any two pillars without bringing the whole edifice about his ears, and crushing the entire bead-roll of unbaptized monarchs beneath its ruins.

The truth is, that notwithstanding the claims of the Irish to an early cultivation and to a knowledge of letters in Pagan times, the art of writing was unknown in Ireland till after the introduction of Christianity, and written history there was none. The only materials that existed for it were poems, legends, historic tales, and pedigrees, handed down by tradition; and from these, at a subsequent period, when, as in all countries, the leisure hours of monks and ecclesiastics were employed in constructing a history of ante-Christian times, in imitation of more classical histories, a highly artificial system was by degrees constructed, embodying the substance of traditions and myths, real facts and imaginative poems, with bardic and monkish creations, and the whole based upon the classical model, by which the different ethnological elements which entered into the population of the country were cloaked under an artificial and symbolical genealogy.

But it is not chronological history. The dates are quite artificial, and the whole creation melts and resolves itself into its original elements upon investigation. The pre-Milesian colonies are found existing and occupying large tracts of the country down to a late period of the ante-Christian history. The provincial kings, when closely examined, lose their Milesian name, and are found ruling over Firbolgs, Firdomnan and Cruithne; and notwithstanding that the Milesians had been for 1600 years in possession of the country, and a flourishing monarchy is supposed to have existed for so long a period, we find, as late as the second century after Christ, the Attachtuatha, as the descendants of the Firbolg, Firdomnan, and Tuatha De Danann were termed during the Milesian monarchy, in full possession of the country for nearly a century, and in close alliance with the Cruithne of Ulster; during which time the Milesian kings were in exile, and the process of subjugating these tribes, supposed to be completed 1600 years before by Eremon and Eber, is again repeated by Tuathal teachtmhar, who arrives with an army from Alban.

The descendants of the different sons of Milesius likewise assume foreign characteristics. The race of Ir, son of Milesius, who possessed the whole of Ulster till the Heremonian settlements almost within the domain of history, are found calling themselves on all occasions Cruithne. The descendants of Ith called themselves Clanna Breogan, and occupy the territory where Ptolemy, in the second century, places an offshoot of British Brigantes. Eremon and Eber seem to represent the northern and southern Scots distinguished by Bede, a distinction reproduced in Conn of the hundred battles, and Modha Nuadha.

The legend of St. Patrick, too, in its present shape, is not older than the ninth century; and, under the influence of an investigation into older authorities, he dissolves into three personages; Sen-Patricius, whose day in the calendar is the 24th August; Palladius qui est Patricius, to whom the mission in 432 properly belongs, and who is said to have retired to Alban or Scotland, where he died among the Cruithne; and Patricius, whose day is the 17th of March, and to whom alone a certain date can be assigned,—for he died, in the chronological period, in the year 493,—and from the acts of these three saints the subsequent legend of the great apostle of Ireland was compiled, and an arbitrary chronology applied to it.

The Feine also, when looked at a little more closely, emerge from under the guise of a Milesian militia, and assume the features of a distinct race. Cuchullin, Conall cearnach, and the children of Uisneach belong to the race of Ir, and are Cruithne. Goll Mac Morn and his Clanna Moirne are Firbolg; Curigh Mac Daire and his Clanna Deaghadh are Ernai; and though they are called Heremonians in Irish history, yet they are also said to be a Firbolg tribe of the same race with the Clanna Morna; and in the poem of Maolmura, who died in 884, they are said to be of the race of Ith, and, therefore, probably Britons,—a conjecture singularly corroborated by the fact that there exists, in Welsh, a poem on the death of Curigh Mac Daire; and, finally, Finn Mac Cumhal and his Clanna Baiosgne, although a Heremonian pedigree is given to them, it is not the only one known to the old Irish MSS. There is a second, deducing him from the Clanna Deaghaidh, the same race with that of Curigh Mac Daire; and a third, and probably the oldest, states that he was of the Ui Tairsigh, and that they were of the Attachtuatha, as the descendants of the non-Milesian tribes were called, a fact corroborated by Maolmura, who says—

Six tribes not of Breoghan's people Who hold lands,The Gabhraighe Succa, Ui Tairsigh,Galeons of Leinster.

The fact is, when the fictitious catalogue of Milesian kings was extended over so many centuries, and the Milesian monarchy drawn back to so remote a period, it became necessary to account for the appearance of non-Milesian races in the old traditional stories, and they were either clothed with a Milesian name and pedigree, or some device hit upon to account for their separate existence; and thus the Feinne, a pre-Milesian warrior race they could not account for, appear under the somewhat clumsy guise of a standing body of Milesian militia, having peculiar privileges and strange customs.

The Irish Ossianic poems, as well as those in the Dean's MS., indicate that the Feinne were not a body of troops confined to Ireland, but belonged, whoever they were, to a much wider extent of territory.

Thus, the poem on the battle of Gabhra, published in the first volume of the Transactions of the Ossianic Society—a battle in which Oscar the son of Ossian was slain, and the Feinne from all quarters took part—we find the following verses:

The bands of the Fians of Alban,And the supreme King of Breatan,Belonging to the order of the Feinne of Alban,Joined us in that battle.
The Fians of Lochlin were powerful.From the chief to the leader of nine men,They mustered along with us To share in the struggle.


Boinne, the son of Breacal, exclaimed,With quickness, fierceness, and valour,—I and the Fians of Breatan,Will be with Oscar of Eamhain.

There were thus in this battle, besides Feinne of Erin, Feinne of Alban, Breatan, and Lochlan.

Alba or Alban was Scotland, north of the Firths of Forth and Clyde.

Breatan was not Wales, but the southern districts of Scotland, of which Dunbreatan, now Dumbarton, was the chief seat.

Lochlan was the north of Germany, extending from the Rhine to the Elbe; and the name of Lochlanach was originally applied to the ancient traditionary pirates termed the Fomorians. When the Norwegian and Danish pirates appeared in the ninth century, they were likewise called Lochlanach; and the name of Lochlan was transferred to Norway and Denmark, from whence they came. There is every reason to believe that the Low German race were preceded, in the more ancient Lochlan, by a Celtic people.

The Feinne then belonged to the pre-Milesian races, and were connected, not only with Erin, but likewise with Alban, Breatan, and Lochlan. Now, there are just two people mentioned in the Irish records who had settlements in Ireland, and who yet were connected with Alban, Breatan, and Lochlan. These were the people termed the Tuatha De Danann, and the Cruithne.

The traditionary migration of the Tuatha De Danann brings them from Lochlan, where they possessed four cities, to Alban, where they inhabited a district termed Dobhar and Jr Dobhar; and from thence they went to Erin, where they drove out the Firbolg, to be subdued in their turn by the Milesian Scots.

The Cruithne are likewise brought from Lochlan to Erin and from Erin to Alban, where they founded a kingdom, which included, till the seventh century, the Cruithne of Ulster, and which was subverted in the ninth century by the Milesian Scots.

These two tribes were thus the prior race in each country. Both must have been prior to the Low German population of Lochlan. The Cruithne were the race prior to the Scots in Alban, and the Tuatha De Dannan the prior colony to the Milesian Scots in Erin. The Feinne are brought by all the old historic tales into close contact with the Tuatha De Danann; a portion of them were avowedly Cruithne; and if they were, as we have seen, in Erin, not of the Milesian race, but of the prior population, and likewise connected with Alban, Breatan, and Lochlan, the inference is obvious, that, whether a denomination for an entire people or for a body of warriors, they belonged to the previous population which preceded the Germans in Lochlan and the Scots in Erin and Alban.

This view is corroborated by the fact, that in the old poems and tales the Feinne appear, as we have said, in close connexion with the Tuatha De Danann. They are likewise connected with the Cruithne, as in the Lamentation of Cuchullin over the body of his son Conlaoch, in Miss Brooke's collection, where he says—

Alas! that it was not in the land of the Cruithne Of the Feinne bloody and fierce,That thou didst fall, active youth,Or in the gloomy land of Sorcha.

While the traditions of the Cruithne, in narrating their migration and the names of their leaders, mention, as the mythic poet of their race, a name singularly like that of Ossian—

Cathmolodar the hardknobbed,And Cathmachan the bright,Were glorious youths;The two valiant sons of Cathluan,
His hardy puissant champions;Heavy, stern was their trampling,Cing victorious in his victory.Im, son of Pernn, were their names;Huasein  was the name of his poet,Who sought out the path of pleasantry.

In answering, then, the preliminary questions of who were the Feinne? and to what period do they belong? we may fairly infer that they were of the population who immediately preceded the Scots in Erin and in Alban, and that they belong to that period in the history of both countries, before a political separation had taken place between them, when they were viewed as parts of one territory, though physically separated, and when a free and unrestrained intercourse took place between them; when race and not territory was the great bond of association, and the movements of their respective populations from one country to the other were not restrained by any feeling of national separation.

It was natural that the deeds and events connected with this warrior race, associated as they must have been with the physical features of the country in which they dwelt, should have formed the subject of the early poems and legendary tales of their successors, and that a body of popular poetry should have sprung up in each country, which occupied itself with adventures, expeditions, and feats of bravery of this previous race, which were common to both countries, and which, attributed to their mythic poets, and full of the names of heroes, and of the scenes of their exploits, would be appropriated by the bards of each country to their own districts. The names of the places connected in tradition with these events would, as they were localized in the respective countries, be identified with its scenery and physical features, and thus a species of Fenian topography would spring up in each country, which, having a common origin, would bear the same character, and possess a mutual resemblance. Each country would thus claim the Feinne as their exclusive property, and could point to a body of popular Ossianic poetry in support of their claim, and to the Fenian names of their localities, in proof of the events which form the subject of the poems having there occurred.

The allusions to Fingal in the older Scottish historians who wrote long before Macpherson's Ossian appeared, or the controversy arose, show that stories of the Feinne were current in Scotland, and that they were regarded as belonging to this country as much as to Ireland, while the Fenian names of localities in charters and other documents evince that a Fenian topography likewise existed in Scotland before that period.

Kirke, in his Psalter, published in 1684, adds the following address:—

Imthigh a Dhuilleachan gu dan,Le dan glan diagha duisgiad thall;Cuir failte arfonn fial nab fionn,Ar-gharbh chriocha is Inseadh Gall.

That is,—

Little volume go boldly forth,Rouse whom you reach to pure and godly strains;Hail the generous land of the Feinne,The Roughbounds and the Western Isles.

The Roughbounds were the districts from Morvaren to Glenelg, which, with the Isles, are thus called the land of the Feinne.

The districts in which the Fenian names enter most largely into the topography of the Highlands are Atholl, Lochaber, Lorn, and Morvaren, Glenelg, and the districts about Loch Ness; and the antiquity of this topography in the Highlands of Scotland is proved by an old gloss to a charter by Alexander the Second to the monks of Kinloss of the lands of Burgyn, within the ancient Celtic province of Moray, which is preserved in the Chartulary of the Bishopric. The boundary of the lands passes by a place called Tuber na Fein, meaning literally the well of the Feinne, and the gloss is “or feyne, of the grett or kempis men callit ffenis, is ane well.”

Cuchullin was of the race of the Cruithne, and belongs both to Ulster and to Scotland. In Ulster his seat was Dundealgan, and the scene of his exploits the district of Cuailgne and the mountains of Sleave Cuillin; but even Irish tradition admits that he was reared by Sgathaig, in the Isle of Skye, and here we have Dunsgathaig and the Cuillin Hills.

The children of Uisneach were likewise Cruithne, and must have preceded the Scots, for the great scene of their Scotch adventures are the districts of Lorn, Loch Aw, and Cowall, afterwards the possessions of the Dalriadic Scots; thus, in the vicinity of Oban, we have Dun mhic Uisneachan, now corruptly called in guide-books Dun mac Sniachan, a fort with vitrified remains; and here we have on Loch Etive, Glen Uisneach, and Suidhe Deardhuil. The names of the three sons of Uisneach were Ainle, Ardan, and Naoise; and it is remarkable that Adomnan, in his life of St. Columba, written in the seventh century, appears to mention only three localities in connexion with St. Columba's journey to the palace of the king of the Picts, near Loch Ness, and these are Cainle, Arcardan, and the flumen Nesae. Two vitrified forts in the neighbourhood of Lochness are called Dundeardhuil.

The hunt of Diarmed O'Duine after the boar on Bengulbain, and his death by measuring his length against the bristles, enters into Scotch topography in three different localities; in Glenshee, where there is a hill called Bengulbain, also in Glenroy, where we have also a Bengulbain and an Eassroy, and also on the south bank of Loch Ness. Daire donn, who appears in the Cath Finntragha identified by the Irish with Ventry, has also deposited his name on a mountain in Ardgour, close to the west sea, called Meall Dayre donn.

The mountain streams and lakes in these districts of the Highlands are everywhere redolent of names connected with the heroes and actions of the Feinne, and show that a body of popular legends connected with them, whether in poetry or in prose, preserved by oral recitation or committed to writing, must have existed in the country when this topography sprung up, though it does not follow that the events, though now associated with the scenery of the country, originally happened there any more than does the Fenian topography of Ireland.

These legendary poems and tales seem to have passed through three different stages.

In the first and oldest form they were pure poems, of more or less excellence, narrating the adventures and deeds of these warrior bands, whose memory still lingered in the country; each poem being complete in itself, and constructed upon a metrical system which brought the aid of alliteration and of rhyme, or correspondence of sounds, to assist the memory in retaining what had been received by oral recitation, and to render it less easy to forget or lose a part. These poems seem generally to have been attributed to one mythic poet of the race they celebrate.

Then, as the language in which these poems were composed became altered or modified, or as the reciters were less able to retain the whole, they would narrate, in ordinary prose, the events of the part of the poem they had forgotten, and merely recite the poetry of what they recollected; and thus they would pass into the second stage of prose tales, interspersed with fragments of poetry.

Bards who were themselves composers as well as reciters, besides composing poems on the subjects of the day in which they lived, would likewise select the Fenian legends as their themes, and become imitators of the older Ossianic poetry. The prose narrative would form the basis of their poem; and thus would arise the third stage of their poems, in which they were reconstructed from the prose tales, and again appear as long poems, the names and incidents being the same as in the older poems, and the fragments of them preserved in the prose tale, imbedded in the new poem.

The poems of the first stage were probably common to Ireland and to Scotland, and traces of them are to be found wherever the Feinne were supposed to have once existed; though, in countries where their successors were of a different race, and spoke a different language, the continuity of the tradition would be at once broken.

Among the ancient poems in the Welsh language which have been preserved, there exists an Ossianic poem called Marwnad Coire map Daire, or the death-song of Curoi, son of Daire, the traditionary head, according to Irish history, of the Fenian militia of Munster, but who, as we have seen, appears to belong to the body called the Feinne of Breatan; and the poem, no doubt, belongs to the northern Cumbrian kingdom, which had Dunbreatan for its chief seat. Curoi is called Chief of the Southern Sea, and the contest between him and Cuchullin is mentioned.

Poems of the same character seem also to have been known in the Isle of Man, as O'Connor, in his catalogue of the Stow ms., mentions a MS. containing “Finn and Ossian,—a Manx coronach, with Manx on one side of the page, and Irish on the other.”

The oldest which has been found in any MSS. preserved in the Highlands is a poem of five quatrains, at the end of a glossary contained in a MS. written prior to the year 1500. It is in old Gaelic, and there is an interlineal gloss, explaining the meaning of the expressions in more familiar language. At the end there is a line stating that Ossian was the author of the poem.

It may be not uninteresting to insert here the text of the poem, with its glosses:—

.i. do chodladar mo shuile Tuilsither mo dherca suain .i. mo sleagh .i. mo sgiath mo ruibhne mum luibhne ar lo .i. mo cladhiomh um dhorn mo ghenam um dhuais ro bhaoi .i. mo dhorn fam chluais agus mo dhuais fam o
.i. aislinge .i. tarla Adhbhul fisi ar mo ta .i. dar leiges .i. mo chu dar cinnius go dian mo chuib .i. ar mhuic ar criobhais a leirg ar art .i. saill go fiacuil a carbui fo cheird bracht go feic a cuil
.i. throigh .i. gun broigh Triocha treathan damh gun naibh .i. go moing a srona iona taoibh go a tul moing tuinn .i. orladh .i. na fiacuil Triocha nena Finn na feic .i. a sa cionn amach asseicsi tuas re fa thuinn
.i. coimed re coire gach sul di Meidis re habhron a dherc meidis re mes afert fo .i. tesgus mo cladhiomh a muineal Sealus mo ghenam a muin .i. mo chu as a cluais agus mo chuibh as a ho
.i. muic Criobais mhara Tallann tair .i. ria cloic ris ambenann tonn benus ria hail tairges tnu .i. mo bhoill as comairce diob nert mo leo uam fhaosamh domniadh .i. ni lag mar tu mar tusa ni triath mar tu
Oisin ro chan ann sin attraigh mara nia na muice.
TRANSLATION.My eyes slumbered in sleep,My spear was with my shield,My sword was in my hand,And my hand under my ear.A strange dream happened to me,I set swiftly my dogs On a sow in the plain upon flesh.She was fat to the tusk in her jaw,Thirty feet for me with my shoes In her side to the beard of her snout.Thirty inches for Finn in her tusk Fat above on her under her hide.Large as a caldron was each eye,Large as a vessel the hollow beneath.My sword hewed in her neck,And my dogs fixed on her ear.Sow of the sea of eastern Tallann,Which strikes the rock where the wave touches.My limbs were to me a protection to me strong,As thyself not weak like thee.

Ossian sung this at the shore of the sea of Tallann, for the champion of the sow.

The tales of Cuchullin and Conlaoch, and the tale of the Sons of Uisneach, are good specimens of the second class. The latter is one of three tales, called the Three Woes, the two others relating to families of the Tuatha De Danann; but though these tales may be Irish, and of this period, they contain fragments of poems probably much older, and which may have been derived from another source. One of the poems in the tale of the Children of Uisneach contains such a tender recollection of and touching allusion to Highland scenery, that it is hardly possible to suppose that it was not originally composed by a genuine son of Alban.

It is the lament of Deirdre or Darthula over Alban, and the following is a translation:—

Beloved land that Eastern land,Alba, with its wonders.O that I might not depart from it,But that I go with Naise.
Beloved is Dunfidhgha and Dun Finn;Beloved the Dun above them;Beloved is Innisdraighende,And beloved Dun Suibhne.
Coillchuan! O Coillchuan!Where Ainnle would, alas! resort;Too short, I deem, was then my stay With Ainnle in Oirir Alban.
Glenlaidhe! O Glenlaidhe!I used to sleep by its soothing murmur;Fish, and flesh of wild boar and badger Was my repast in Glenlaidhe.
Glenmasan! O Glenmasan;High its herbs, fair its boughs.Solitary was the place of our repose On grassy Invermasan.
Gleneitche! O Gleneitche!There was raised my earliest home.Beautiful its woods on rising,When the sun struck on Gleneitche.
Glen Urchain! O Glen Urchain!It was the straight glen of smooth ridges.Not more joyful was a man of his age Than Naoise in Glen Urchain.
Glendaruadh! O Glendaruadh!My love each man of its inheritance.Sweet the voice of the cuckoo on bending bough,On the hill above Glendaruadh.
Beloved is Draighen and its sounding shore;Beloved the water o'er pure sand.O that I might not depart from the east,But that I go with my beloved!

The third class of Ossianic poems belongs principally to that period when, during the sway of the Lords of the Isles, Irish influence was so much felt on the language and literature of the Highlands, and when the Highland bards and sennachies were trained in bardic schools, presided over by Irish bards of eminence. It was at this period mainly that the Irish poems assumed so much the shape of a dialogue between the Ossianic poets and St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland; and the Highland bards imitated this form, often adding or prefixing a few sentences of such dialogue to older poems, or composing poems in imitation of Ossian in this form; but the imitation, in this respect, of Irish poems by native bards is apparent from this, that Patrick is in the Irish poems correctly called Mac Calphurn or M'Alphurn, his father, according to his own “Confessio,” having been Calphurnius, but the Highland bards, to whom Patrick's history was strange, and this epithet unintelligible, have substituted the peculiarly Scotch form of Alpine, and styled him Patrick Mac Alpine.

One of the poems in Macpherson's fragments has been one of these—the sixth fragment,—which begins and ends with a dialogue between Ossian and the son of Alpin.

It was at the same period that the collection of Gaelic poems was made by the Dean of Lismore, and it includes many poems in which this dialogue occurs, but in most the saint is termed Macalpine, showing its non-Irish source.

The Ossianic poems in this collection attributed to Ossian, Fergus Filidh, and Caoilte, the three Fenian bards, and those which are either anonymous or composed by imitators, as Gillecalum Mac an Olla and Allan Mac Ruadhri, with the other poems which are not Ossianic, afford a fair specimen of the poetic literature current in the Highlands of Scotland at the close of this period, and before the fall of the Lords of the Isles, and the Reformation again severed that country from Ireland, and ushered in a period of reaction and return towards the native dialect and literature.

On the whole, then, we fully admit the claims of Ireland to Fenian legends and tales, and their attendant poems, but not to an exclusive possession of them.

We admit that its Fenian topography is authentic, but it is not the only one.

We admit its claim to an early written and cultivated speech, but not to the only dialect of Gaelic in which such poems once existed.

We hold that Scotland possesses likewise Fenian legends and Ossianic poetry derived from an independent source, and a Fenian topography equally genuine; and we consider her dialect of the common Gaelic tongue not undeserving of the attention of philologers.