« PreviousContinue »
Iberia, and the latter Hibernia. On fuch a flight foundation were probably built thofe romantic fictions, concerning the Milefians of Ireland.
FROM internal proofs it fufficiently appears, that the poems published under the name of Offian, are not of Irish compofition. The favourite chimæra, that Ireland is the mother-country of the Scots, is totally fubverted and ruined. The fictions concerning the antiquities of that country, which were forming for ages, and growing as they came down, on the hands of fucceffive fenachies and fileas, are found, at laft, to be the fpurious brood of modern and ignorant ages. To thofe who know how tenacious the Irish are, of their pretended Iberian descent, this alone is proof fufficient, that poems, fo fubverfive of their fyftem, could never be produced by an Hibernian bard.-But when we look to the language, it is fo different from the Irish dialect, that it would be as ridiculous to think, that Milton's Paradife Loft could be wrote by a Scottish peasant, as to fuppofe, that the poems afcribed to Offian were writ in Ireland.
THE pretenfions of Ireland to Offian proceed from another quarter. There are handed down, in that country, traditional poems, concerning the Fiona, or the heroes of Fion Mac Comnal. This Fion, fay the Irifh annalifts, was general of the militia of Ireland, in the reign of Cormac, in the third century. Where Keating and O'Flaherty learned, that Ireland had an embodied militia fo early, is not
eafy for me to determine. Their information certainly did not come from the Irish poems, concerning Fion. I have just now, in my hands, all that remain, of those compofitions; but, unluckily for the antiquities of Ireland, they appear to be the work of a very modern period. Every stanza, nay almost every line, affords striking proofs, that they cannot be three centuries old. Their allu. fions to the manners and customs of the fifteenth century, are so many, that it is, matter of wonder to me, how any one could dream of their antiquity. They are entirely writ in that romantic tafte, which prevailed two ages ago. Giants, enchanted castles, dwarfs, palfreys, witches and magicians form the whole circle of the poet's invention. The celebrated Fion could scarcely move from one hillock to another, without encountering a giant, or being entangled in the circles of a magician. Witches, on broomsticks, were continually hovering round him, like crows, and he had freed enchanted virgins in every valley in Ireland. In fhort, Fion, great as he was, paffed a difagreeable life.-Not only had he to engage all the mischiefs in his own country, foreign armies invaded him, affisted by magicians and witches, and headed by kings, as tall as the main-mast of a firft rate. It must be owned, however, that Fion was not inferior to them in height.
A chos air Cromleach, druim-ard,
With one foot on Cromleach his brow,
Cromleach and Crommal were two mountains in the neighbourhood of one another, in Ulfter, and the river Lubar ran through the intermediate valley. The property of fuch a monster as this Fion, I fhould never have disputed with any nation. But the bard himself, in the poem, from which the above quotation is taken, cedes him to Scotland.
FION O ALBIN, fiol nan laoich.
Were it allowable to contradict the authority of a bard, at this distance of time, I should have given as my opinion, that this enormous Fion was of the race of the Hibernian giants, of Ruanus, or fome other celebrated name, rather than a native of Caledonia, whose inhabitants, now at least, are not remarkable for their ftature.
IF Fion was fo remarkable for his ftature, his heroes had alfo other extraordinary properties In weight all the fons of ftrangers yielded to the celebrated Ton-iofal; and for hardness of skull, and, perhaps, for thickness too, the valiant Ofcar stood unrivalled and alone. Offian himself had many fingular and lefs delicate qualifications, than playing on the harp; and the brave Cuchullin was of fo diminutive
diminutive a fize, as to be taken for a child of two years of age, by the gigantic Swaran. To illuftrate this fubject, I fhall here lay before the reader, the history of fome of the Irish poems, concerning Fion Mac Comnal. A translation of these pieces, if well executed, might afford fatisfaction to the public. But this ought to be the work of a native of Ireland. To draw forth, from obfcurity, the poems of my own country, has afforded ample employment to me; befides, I am too diffident of my own abilities, to undertake fuch a work. A gentleman in Dublin accufed me to the public, of committing blunders and abfurdities, in tranflating the language of my own country, and that before any translation of mine appeared*. How the gentleman came to see my blunders before I committed them, is not eafy to determine; if it did not conclude, that, as a Scotsman, and, of course
In Faulkner's Dublin Journal, of the 1ft December, 1761, appeared the following Advertisement :
Speedily will be published, by a gentleman of this kingdom, who hath been, for fome time paft, employed in tranflating and writing Hiftorical Notes to
FING AL, A POEM,
Originally wrote in the Irish or Erfe language. In the preface to which, the tranflator, who is a perfect mafter of the Irish tongue, will give an account of the manners and cuftoms of the antient Irish or Scotch; and, therefore, moft humbly intreats the public, to wait for his edition, which will appear in a short time, as he will fet forth all the blunders and abfurdities in the edition now printing in London, and fhew the ignorance of the English tranflator, in his knowledge of Irish grammar, not understanding any part of that accidence.
defcended of the Milefian race, I might have committed fome of thofe overfights, which, perhaps very unjustly, are faid to be peculiar to them.
FROM the whole tenor of the Irish poems, concerning the Fiona, it appears, that Fion Mac Comnal flourished in the reign of Cormac, which is placed, by the universal confent of the fenachies, in the third century. They even fix the death of Fingal in the year 286, yet his fon Offian is made cotemporary with St. Patrick, who preached the gospel in Ireland about the middle of the fifth age. Of fian, though, at that time, he must have been two hundred and fifty years of age, had a daughter young enough to become wife to the faint. On account of this family connection, Patrick of the Pfalms, for fo the apoftle of Ireland is emphatically called in the poems, took great delight in the company of Offian, and in hearing the great actions of his family. The faint fometimes threw off the aufterity of his profeffion, drunk freely, and had his foul properly warmed with wine, in order to hear, with becoming enthufiafm, the poems of his father-in-law. One of the poems begins with this piece of useful information.
Lo don rabh PADRIC na mhúr,
Gun Sailm air uidh, ach a gól,
The title of this poem is Teantach mor na Fiona. It appears to have been founded on the fame ftory