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ALL these extraordinary heroes, Fion, Offian, Ofcar and Caholt, fays the poet, were
Siol ERIN na gorm lánn.
Neither shall I much difpute the matter with him; He has my confent also to appropriate to Ireland the celebrated Ton-iofal. I fhall only fay, that they are different perfons from those of the fame name, in the Scotch poems; and that, though the ftupenduous valour of the first is so remarkable, they have not been equally lucky with the latter, in their poet. It is fomewhat extraordinary, that Fion, who lived fome ages before St. Patrick, fwears like a very good christian:
Air an Dia do chum gach cafe.
It is worthy of being remarked, that, in the line quoted, Offian, who lived in St. Patrick's days, seems to have understood fomething of the English, a language not then fubfifting. A perfon, more fanguine for the honour of his country than I am, might argue, from this circumftance, that this pretendedly Irish Offian was a native of Scotland; for my countrymen are univerfally allowed to have an exclufive right to the fecond-fight,
FROM the instances given, the reader may form a compleat idea of the Irish compofitions concern
ing the Fiona. The greateft part of them make the heroes of Ficn,
Siol ALBIN a n'nioma caoile.
The race of ALBION of many firths.
The reft make them natives of Ireland. But, the truth is, that their authority is of little confequence on either fide. From the inftances I have given, they appear to have been the work of a very modern period. The pious ejaculations they contain, their allufions to the manners of the times, fix them to the fifteenth century. Had even the authors of thefe pieces avoided all allufions to their own times, it is impoffible that the poems could pass for ancient, in the eyes of any perfon tolerably converfant with the Irish tongue. The idiom is fo corrupted and fo many words borrowed from the English, that that language muft have made confiderable progress in Ireland before the poems
It remains now to fhew, how the Irish bards' begun to appropriate Offian and his heroes to their own country. After the English conqueft, many of the natives of Ireland, averfe to a foreign yoke, either actually were in a state of hoftility with the conquerors, or at leaft, paid little regard to their government. The Scots, in thofe ages, were often in open war, and never in cordial friendship with the English. The fimilarity of manners and language, the traditions concerning their common
origin, and above all, their having to do with the fame enemy, created a free and friendly intercourfe between the Scottish and Irish nations. As the custom of retaining bards and fenachies was common to both; fo each, no doubt, had formed a fyftem of history, it matters not how much foever fabulous, concerning their refpective origin. It was the natural policy of the times, to reconcile the traditions of both nations together, and, if poffible, to deduce them from the fame original stock.
THE Saxon manners and language had, at that time, made great progress in the south of Scotland. The ancient language, and the traditional history of the nation, became confined entirely to the inhabitants of the Highlands, then fallen, from several concurring circumstances, into the last degree of ignorance and barbarifm. The Irish, who, for fome ages before the conqueft, had poffeffed a competent fhare of that kind of learning, which then prevailed in Europe, found it no difficult matter to impose their own fictions on the ignorant Highland fenachies, by flattering the vanity of the Highlanders, with their long lift of Heremonian kings and heroes, they, without contradiction, affumed to themfelves the character of being the mother-nation of the Scots of Britain. At this time, certainly, was established that Hibernian fyftem of the original of the Scots, which afterwards, for want of any other, was univerfally received. The Scots of the low-country, who, by
lofing the language of their ancestors, loft, together with it, their national traditions, received, implicitly, the hiftory of their country, from Irish refugees, or from Highland fenachies, perfuaded over into the Hibernian fyftem.
THESE Circumftances, are far from being ideal. We have remaining many particular traditions, which bear teftimony to a fact, of itself abundantly probable. What makes the matter inconteftible is, that the antient traditional accounts of the genuine origin of the Scots, have been handed down without interruption. Though a few ignorant fenachies might be perfuaded out of their own opinion, by the smoothness of an Irish tale, it was impoffible to eradicate, from among the bulk of the people, their own national traditions. Thefe traditions afterwards fo much prevailed, that the Highlanders continue totally unacquainted with the pretended Hibernian extract of the Scots nation. Ignorant chronicle writers, strangers to the antient language of their country, preserved only from falling to the ground, fo improbable a story.
It was, during the period I have mentioned, that the Irish became acquainted with, and carried into their country, the compofitions of Offian. The scene of many of the pieces being in Ireland, fuggefted first to them a hint, of making both heroes poet natives of that Inland. In order to do this effectually, they found it neceffary, to reject the genuine poems, as every line was pregnant with
proofs of their Scottish original, and to dress up a fable, on the fame fubject, in their own language. So ill qualified, however, were their bards to effectuate this change, that amidst all their defires to make the Fiona Irishmen, they every now and then call them Siol Albin. It was, probably, after a fucceffion of fome generations, that the bards had effrontery enough to establish an Irish genealogy for Fion, and deduce him from the Milefian race of kings. In fome of the oldeft Irish poems, on the subject, the great-grand-father of Fion is made a Scandinavian; and his heroes are often called SIOL LOCHLIN NA BEUM; i. e. the race of Lochlin of wounds. The only poem that runs up the family of Fion to Nuades Niveus, king of Ireland, is evidently not above a hundred and fifty years old; for if I mistake not, it mentions the Earl of Tyrone, fo famous in Elizabeth's time.
THIS fubject, perhaps, is purfued further than it deferves; but a difcuffion of the pretenfions of Ireland to Offian, was become in fome measure neceffary. If the Irish poems, concerning the Fiona, fhould appear ridiculous, it is but juftice to obferve, that they are fcarcely more fo than the poems of other nations, at that period. On other fubjects, the bards of Ireland have displayed a genius worthy of any age or nation. It was, alone, in matters of antiquity, that they were monstrous in their fables. Their love-fonnets, and their elegies on the death of perfons worthy or renowned, abound with such beautiful, fimplicity of fentiment,