Page images
PDF
EPUB

465-890]

IRISH SCHOOLS

II

Finan and Colman-all Irishmen—are among the most illustrious names in the history of the early British Church, and are to this day household words in many an English home. Another Irish missionary—Columbanus (circa 543-615) - preached to the Gauls, Germans and Italians, and founded the monasteries of Luxeuil, and Fontaines. The town of San Colombano in Lombardy still commemorates his name and fame. His disciple Gall (550-645) preached to the Swiss, founded one of the most famous monasteries of Europe—the Abbey of St Gall—and gave a name to one of the cantons of his adopted country. Other illustrious names may be recorded :-St Fiacre of Breuil, St Fridolin, founder of the convent of Seckingen, Argobast and Florentius, bishops of Strasburg, St Kilian, St Cataldus, Dungal the astronomer who won the patronage of Charlemagne, and, greatest of all, John Scotus, Erigena (815-890), the most famous European scholar of his day.

Ireland is a land rich in ruins, and these ruins bear witness to the glories of an immortal past. Travellers from many lands still visit scenes hallowed by patriotic associations; and the round towers of Ardmore and Dromish, the sculptured crosses of Clonmacnoise and Kells and Monasterboice, and the ruined churches at Glendalough, Killaloe, Cashel and Clonfert, recall memories of an early civilisation on which Irishmen may proudly dwell.

In the study of music the Irish excelled from an early period, and in the seventh century Irish professors taught in some of the famous

[ocr errors]

schools of Europe. A reluctant witness—writing at a later date-bears ample testimony to the skill and charm of the old Irish harpers who were the delight and solace of so many Irish homes.

"They are incomparably more skilful,' says Giraldus Cambrensis,' than any other nation. I have ever seen.

They delight so delicately, and soothe with such gentleness that the perfection of their art appears in the concealment of art!'

In the artistic illumination of books, in sculpture, and in architecture, proofs are still extant of Irish progress and Irish genius. And though during the Norse wars many traces of Irish learning were effaced, there is yet sufficient evidence to show the literary activity of the people ; while that remarkable compilation, the Brehon Laws, proves that the legal systems of Ireland rank in the first place among the early institutions of the Aryan

races.

But although Ireland had advanced in religion and civilisation, in art, music, literature and laws, the political development of the country remained absloutely stationary. There was no national life. Each provincial king thought only of his own province; he had no country beyond it. The allegiance which he paid to the Ard-ri was merely nominal. There was no supreme authority no central government. Provincial kings attacked each other; tribe

1 A Welsh historian who accompanied King John to Ireland.

944)

THE NORSEMEN

13

warred against tribe, and the general good was made subservient to local interest and local passions.

And so it came to pass, that when the Norse pirates, sailing from Scandinavia, poured into the island in the ninth and tenth centuries, they found the Irish a ready prey to their attacks. The Norse wars lasted throughout the ninth and tenth centuries.

The invaders were beaten in many a pitched battle, but they could not be driven from the island. They settled in Waterford, Limerick and Dublin, and thence made incursions into the interior, spreading ruin and havoc all round. A united and an organised Ireland could have easily swept them into the sea. But mere local efforts, however gallant, and however successful, must always fail to achieve great national results; and so, despite many defeats and disasters, the power of the Norsemen remained unbroken, until a chief appeared who infused national life into the country, and welded the people together in one grand movement against the fierce and barbarous invaders.

Brian Boru was born in Kincora about 944. He belonged to the royal house of Thomond, and sprang from the Dalcassian race. When but a mere lad, ten years old, his brother Mahon became king of Munster. But his sovereignty was only nominal, for the Norsemen held the strongholds of Limerick, Cork and Waterford, and dominated the country all round. Mahon

i The descendants of Cormac Cas the son of Oilioll Olum who was King of Munster n the second century.

1

men.

hardly dared to meet them in the field. Hemmed in a corner of his dominions, he for a time maintained a defensive war, but was glad ultimately to make peace with the stranger. He was allowed to reign in Kincora, but the Norsemen were to rule in Munster. The young Brian, then some sixteen years of age, protested against this peace, said it was dishonourable to his house, refused to keep it, and with a handful of followers went forth himself to fight the enemy.

But his little band was soon cut to pieces, and he was left alone with but fifteen attendants. Then Mahon came to him in the wilds and fastnesses where he had taken refuge. The king begged him to return to Kincora and abandon the hopeless struggle against the Norse

But Brian said he would never rest while the stranger ruled in Munster, and he begged Mahon to muster all the Dalcassian forces and to make one mighty effort to rid the land of a foreign oppressor. But Mahon said the Norsemen were invincible, and that it was idle to talk of destroying them. Where, Brian,' he asked, “are your followers ?' 'Dead on the battlefield,' answered Brian, and it is our duty to fight until we conquer or are dead on the battlefield too. The Dalcassians must

never let the stranger rule in the land of their fathers.' The young warrior soon infused his own spirit into the king, and Mahon at length consented to declare war against the Norsemen. He summoned the Dalcassian clan from all parts of Ireland, and held a great council.

It was then determined that no time should

[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

976)

BATTLE OF SULCOIT

15

be lost in beginning hostilities, and Mahon immediately took the field, concentrating his forces at Cashel. But Ivar the Norse king had heard of Mahon's preparations, and he resolved to strike before the Dalcassians were ready. He marched out from Limerick at the head of a formidable Norse army, supported by an Irish contingent under two traitorous chiefs, Donovan and Molloy, and advanced on the Dalcassian encampment.

But Mahon did not wait for the enemy's approach. He broke up his camp and pushed forward to face the foe. The hostile armies met at the wood of Sulcoit near the present town of Tipperary, and there, in the words of the old chronicler, a fierce and bloody battle' was fought (968). It lasted from sunrise until noon; but the foreigners were routed, and they fled to the ditches, and to the valleys and to the solitudes of the great, sweet, flowery plain.' Mahon followed up his victory, marched on Limerick, burned the town and dispersed the Norsemen in every direction.

Ivar fled beyond the seas and took refuge in Wales, and Mahon ruled in peace in Munster. His reign lasted until 976, when he was foully murdered by Donovan and Molloy and a band of Norse assassins.

Brian now became king. He had no sooner mounted the throne than he resolved to take vengeance on the murderers of his brother, and to attack their confederate Ivar, who had once more returned to Ireland and taken possession of the island of Scattery near the mouth of the Shannon. Scattery, Brian attacked first, and

« PreviousContinue »