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Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter XXVII - Conversation on the Celts


Cameron. —Then you think that the language which we call Celtic was spoken in the countries called Celtic, before the first invasion mentioned in Roman history as being made on Italy by that people?

Loudoun.—I think that the countries alluded to must have had a Celtic language, or mixture of languages, and I think that mixture was allied to the Roman. For that reason they coalesced so easily. Those nearest Rome would have the language nearest to Latin.

Cameron.—If it be true that the language spoken by the Celts in Gaul was closely allied to that spoken by us here in the Highlands and in Ireland, it seems to me that we must be all of one race and family, from Rome to Donegal and Sutherland.

Loudoun.—Here you introduce difficulties. I have already shown the great diversity in appearance amongst the nations even now called Celts, and Dion Cassius says that the Gaul of his time contained many tribes. Now, I particularly called your attention to the great continuousness of race upon the ground it first seizes. The long-continued and enormous migration of Goths into France has not made it Gothic. When lately going from the north down to Nimes by the Bourbonnais Railway, I did not see light-coloured hair at any station till we came near the south, when I saw that the children on the high ground were light-haired. In going up again to Dijon, it was wonderful to see the old Burgundian country with light-haired people, or at least not black, and the whole country population befaced like Germans, with countenances sympathetic for us Saxons, and to find this strong in Alsace, at least where I went, and on to Saarbourg and Saarbrucke, and north to Trier and Aachen.

Margaet.—That makes me think of the poem-

and so on

Loudoun.—Of course this is no proof that the Nibelungen Lied was written in Burgundy, but it shows the Germanism of the kingdom in the poet's mind. Worms, where, in the German version of the story, the heroine is said to have lived, was far east in Burgundy, and Dijon far west; in the first there is German and in the second there is French spoken; still, I say that in the province of Burgundy, if we do not extend its limits to the extreme limit of its power, at any moment, there is the north-eastern face and hair, yes, and character ; and no one who looks at the Burgundians will care much for their early boast, that they sprang from Romans. Language is no final proof. The Franks speak French now, and are not as the old Franks.

Cameron—You seem to argue both ways—the Burgundians not altered, and the Franks altered.

Loudoun.—This only shows the complex character of the subject. The Burgundians on the side of Germany making constant inroads, destroyed, to a great extent, the Gallic character, but were not the less altered by the Gauls, and made to speak French. The Franks going farther forwards, were absorbed altogether, at least as to appearance and language. Their character may be sought mixed with the present French.

All who came far enough west became Celtic, because of the strong Celtism in the west, and this Celtism extended to Scotland and Ireland. But this Celtism was a consequence of a great mixture.

Cameron.—Is it not difficult to reconcile these theories with the fact of Rome being separated from the Celts by part of Etruria, even allowing that the languages of Umbria and Liguria were Celtic?

Loudoun.—The first speakers of Celtic came early, in my opinion. The invasions of the Celts spoken of by the Romans were by a later band, and some of these new comers were less civilized than the long resident. It is indeed questionable how far some of the immigrants were Celts, the Romans not distinguishing them well from Germans. (See Ethnology of Germany, Part II., by H. H. Howorth, Esq., F.S.A., Journal of Anthropological Institute, February 1878.) But in any case, the Etruscan break into Italy does not alter the case. Even Etruria may have had a population originally as Celtic as Umbria before a Greek, Lydian, Phoenician, or northern race came there and planted civilization, which is difficult to retrace. The similarity of the Roman language, even to Irish and Scotch Gaelic, is too great to be passed over, and we must explain it.

My idea is, that the Celtic language, coming west, ran down into Macedonia in part, but being stopped, pushed on westwards because the road was less occupied, and pressing on, occupied west Europe, and poured into Italy. Rome thus got its language, which was modified by soon meeting that of Greece. The Celtic was modified in Gaul by meeting an endless number of small tribes. This explains why the Celtic language is not totally Aryan, at least my belief is that it cannot be totally so.

This explains also why the Celtic nations are not wholly Aryan; and, indeed, at the root of this argument, you will see why no nation of western Europe is, or at least can be proved to be totally Aryan. Of course we can see, without much observation, that the differences are too great to allow of much pure Aryan blood, but the probability is that there is none pure.

O'Keefe.—Then you will refuse to the West Highlanders the purity of Celtic blood, and even to the Irish?

Loudoun.-How is it possible to consider even the Irish as pure-blooded. It required many races to build up your people, and many tongues to make your language. "Tanta moles erat," &c. (I like my school-day quotations) may be said of you, as it was of the greatest city of your kindred—Rome, which had Greek and other strange and subtle Eastern blood ; but do not be cast down, even if you are mixed with clear German blood, and that of the "powerful azure Gentiles and the fierce hard-hearted Danars," who oppressed you long since : even whilst they killed your countrymen, they were -obliged to leave their vigour in your land. We see the mixture already existing, and we read of ancient mixtures; but we must remember that the older mixtures were probably more Celtic than the modern, as the newer waves at least were Teutonic or Scandinavian of a known type. The early people of the west, who lived so long, according to my opinion, without being invaded by the bringers of the Aryan tongue, had probably long been disconnected from Central Asia, so that they formed not merely one separate race, but several races and varieties, in appearance and character, and it might take several invasions to modify the tongue of Ireland, so as to make it somewhat different from that of Gaul. There were men continually prowling about the sea; Fumorians landed on the shores, especially of the north and north-west—by name, "men of the sea" probably. Famhair is a giant, and may also mean "man of the sea." It is true that Faobh Fear is considered a derivation, meaning "spoil man," but this is much strained, and we want the gin. They were evidently connected with the German and Northern Ocean. I presume they were large men, because the men of the sea, Fear mara, and giants have the same possible derivation. They may have even been of Celtic origin, since there were people in the north of Germany who were not Germans—the gens Ęstiorum, for example, mentioned by Tacitus, possessors of Amber. If any one will connect Pomerania with Fomoria, I do not object, although Fear Mara was probably the first form of the word—a man of the sea—it is not so clear that the F should become a P. I may be wrong. This is a perfectly fair and probable mode of adding fresh Celtic blood to Ireland. There is still an island in the Baltic called Femern or Fehmarn, which we know to be near once formidable nests of sea rovers, and here it stands with a Celtic name, or at least one which may be Celtic, and which is closely woven into Irish legendary life, let us say also historical.

There were also people in Ireland called Tuatha de Danann. You sec that they came also, perhaps first, to Scotland, bringing wonders (p. 41)—a very wise wily people versed in magic. Although there was no kingdom known as Denmark when they appeared, it is not going far to suppose them to have come from the rest of the Danes who gave Denmark its name, and who, as the Cimbric Chersonesus is supposed to have also had a number of Celts to get rid of, were obliged to run west, as others had done, before the Teutons, or be thrown down among the dregs.

The "black Danars" spoken of in "the wars of the Gaedhil and the Gaill" were clearly Danes, and we have tall, dark-haired men in Denmark still, accounting for a dark colour without small Iberians. In Denmark at present there are more light or red-haired. I have counted in a regiment in Copenhagen two thirds having reddish hair. Thus we have both black and red from Denmark, the second agreeing with a tradition in Scotland that red-haired are Danish, and with a statement, which I give as my own opinion, that there are red-haired people of Ireland who have neither the proper German nor Scandinavian type. They are probably the same as of old, but all called Celts, speaking one tongue.

Of course, we must say a word about Firbolgs—men who have been called Belgians, also bagmen, miners carrying sacks, creeping men, and lately men with paunches. It is not impossible, from their attacks having been made in the south of Ireland, that these men were Belgians, but from their character and appearance it is most unlikely. Still accounts arc very different. One says that they were a mean and contemptible race—small, quarrelsome tattlers, slaves and thieves, very numerous and black-haired. I do not recognise such a race in Belgium—a country filled with quiet and remarkably industrious people; but if they were Celts, they had less occasion to emigrate, we would suppose, for if driven west they had Gaul to flee to. Mr. Skene thinks they came from Cornwall, and if so were Celtic. Their numbers may have grown, notwithstanding that in early times they were said to have been reduced to 300 fighting men.

It seems to me more likely that the name had nothing to do with Belgium. It seems better to use a derivation out of fashion now, "men of the quiver"—Fir, men, and bolg, a quiver —men who used bows and arrows, which were of late introduction into Ireland ; possibly the Firbolgs alone used them for a long time. Perhaps you would go back, and say that the Belgians were called Firbolgs or men with quivers; but that is going far, since this arm would surely be well known among other people of the continent: still it is admissible.

Cameron.—And do you think that with these facts you can account for the condition of our language and people.

Loudoun.—These facts are stated generally enough to include, in a similarly general way, some questions relating to Irish and Celtic ethnology; but it is a wide subject, not to be trifled with by throwing it aside, and telling us that all the tribes of Europe are the same.

Cameron.—I have heard that all the country was inhabited by small men called Iberians, and that they were really the true beginning of the Celtic race. Although you have quoted Irish story for making the Firbolgs dark and mean, we can also quote other sayings for making them yellow-haired and large, and Dionysius Periegeta applies ucveloc and uyauos to the Iberians, rich, and, shall we say, noble or splendid? Festus Avienus says, "Tellus Europa Columnis Proxima magnanimos alit aequo cespite Ibcros." If Eber were the true beginning of the Iberians in Ireland, they would belong to the Milesians. If not, this theory breaks down.

Loudoun.—These opinions are contradictory, but these quotations are not specially applicable to the Kymry, who have been called Iberian, and their presence would agree in confirming diversity of appearance in Ireland in early times, as from present appearances we could confidently argue.

I take the description of the Firbolgs from MacFirbis' Book of Genealogies, as quoted by O'Curry in his "MSS. Materials," p. 224. These Firbolgs we know little of, but in their external appearance I still consider the evidence to be for the dark and small people. Now we know that small and dark people did not cover all Ireland and Scotland, whether we argue from the Irish records or the appearance of the descendants of the old Irish. Besides, FirboIgs were not the only "less noble race" in Ireland ; there were Gailiuns and Domhnauns, if these two were not merely a part of the same race, and we have no evidence of one original race here any more than in Gaul and Italy in historical or even Irish legendary times. There may, however, have been a race or series of tribes over W 'estern Europe sufficiently one or sufficiently mixed up to have a similar language, as has been explained. I incline, however, as already said, to the belief that this similarity was produced by an invading people, who moulded the language of all the tribes to their will, absorbing the tribal language, and thus forming the known Celtic, the Aryan part being the same, but the tribal part different. This accounts for the great diversity, as well as similarity, from Rome to Donegal.

It is more probable that this invading race brought in the links of union than that these existed before, because people with small culture spread over a great region have little communion. The idea accounts also for some people supposing the Celts to be fair, and others dark. I argue that the Celtic established nations are dark, although the Aryan influx that made the language may have been fair-haired. It gave language and so far cultivation, but if the men were fair they were to a great extent physiologically conquered by the dark-haired races, who were in overwhelming predominance in most places. The German words in the present Gaelic are numerous, and how can it be otherwise? Some of the later races were evidently German or Scandinavian in our islands, and we do not know if the Fomorians may not have been German in part, since the Irish could not distinguish the pure Aestian of Pomerania from his neighbour if they were different. All were great sea rovers and robbers. It appears that Greek and German, Latin and Celtic are the two pairs of languages which have dominated Europe, the Greek being allied in the south to the German in the north, and the Latin to the Celtic, but all altered by the pre-existent men and the long-enduring centuries, the least permanent being in the west, to which the earliest races were more driven.

Some confusion in the history of the Celts has come from the Iberians, whom the inhabitants of South Wales are said to have resembled in the early centuries. This has naturally led ethnologists to think of similar dark people in Ireland. Some have, therefore, connected the Iberians with Eber, who came to Ireland with his brother Eremon. This mode of putting together the same letters of the alphabet from different countries and languages is a habit of very early philologists, Greeks especially; and it is certainly a great favourite at present among the Germans. Celtomaniacs have a great advantage in the peculiar capacity of the Celtic language to run over letters and leave whole syllables unattended to. Eber was an ancestor of the Milesians, and they were a proud and leading race in Ireland; and, by one tradition, despised the arrow shooting of the Firbolgs as we do that of savages; by another, they were of the same stock. I put in the arrow shooting without good historic authority, but the rest is true. The connection with Eber can only be made out by denying much that is said of his descendants the Milesians. It would be necessary to show that when the Irish spoke of Eber as a forefather of Milesians it was a mistake, since he was the father of the Firbolgs. The perversion of the fact might have taken place in the legend, but it is too late to think of this. Still the sound of the name and the connection of both with Spain must be allowed to be of interest.

The contradictions on this point are too many to be solved. At present we may consider the later Firbolgs as a fallen race, enslaved and mixed with slaves. They began as a higher one, and first occupied Tara. The mixture with slaves or a lower dark race might be the cause of their being considered black-haired. But I deny that all the dark men are small. I refer to the black Danars of old times who were large, at least powerful, and to the tall dark men of modern times still more telling in an argument.

 

We may now return home. We seem to have lived through the Romance of the Clan Uisnach and the homes which they admired, and I wonder sometimes why we have been so much interested in them. They were strangers to our land, even partly to our race, and the reason must be in the tragedy itself, on which human nature naturally looks with interest; also, because it is the oldest story really connected with our own Scotland. It begins before our histories, and would be ridiculed by historians. Perhaps the day may come when it will be accepted, and men will make use of some of the old Irish literature and its wondrous life, clearer in its details than Greek or Roman, and equally characteristic, if not so valuable, in its style of thought.

O'Keefe.—You look in the right direction ; our literature is unknown, and we have not a sufficient number of men given to its study. The great scholars are dying out, and there are few to take their place. Government fears to spend money on the translations, and England and the world bear the loss, thinking they are gaining. There are men who say that we are the same as the Saxons—as well call us like the negroes. It is true that our literature has not reached the stage of ripeness; it is full of crude power. It has richness of thought and extravagance, but these are not drilled by the intellect or the taste. It is like the rich yellow gorse of Ireland itself, displaying a beauty that no country can boast of, however rich in flower—a yellow, golden, sunny beauty, that sometimes covers over her fields and clothes them as far as we can see, but conceals the fact that this is caused by want of cultivation. It is as if the Iand itself had that natural instinct which the people possess of clothing their thoughts in brightness, and looking even on their rags with pride. The soul of Ireland is wild, but think of a youth of such promise. What will be its ripeness in the time when you Saxons will be sinking in old age!

Loudoun.—It may be so, but I prefer to enjoy some of the ripeness of national life, although I sometimes wish for your youthful dancing spirit. We, even in lowland Scotland, have a good deal of the Celtic blood, so that we have great diversity of character; and, on the whole, I have reason to love my own nation. We are, as the old saying made us, "kindly Scots." In no part of the world will you find people with more sympathy, or more interest in the welfare of others, especially their own brethren. We have been till lately poor, but we have not been less civilized in sonic aspects. I say it, and with reason and deliberately, the working men of Glasgow were more civilized fifty years ago than now. They had more of the love of man and reverence before God. They had less money, but they had less craving for pleasure; their lives were simpler, and they scarcely knew that they were poor, if they had only their week's wages ; and even if that failed, was it not the common lot of man to suffer? and good friends would help them through, as they themselves had helped others. They were ruder, but had higher ideals; civilization is neither science alone, nor refinement of manners nor wealth.

I would I could tell you more of the beauties of our country, but we must leave. The soil is covered with romance: I wish there were a phonograph to utter it, and yet it has one. I might take you home another way, and revel for weeks in Islay and Jura and Gigha—yes, even in that little Gigha; we might wander for a season down Cantire, and live among its saints, its martyrs, and its heroes. We could spend much time in Arran among its tales and its hills, and as long in Bute, which is a miniature of Lowlands and Highlands, with its wild, barren rocks and heaths, and rich, warm gardens; and we might spend a long time in the study even of the Little Cumbraes, which seem quite covered with the names of saints, churches, and men to be remembered, a very treasury of sacred memories. But we must separate, glad to think that even the wild Loch Etive has interest enough for more than a season for us, and will have for ages of men; and if that spot, little habited and little written of, has so much that is interesting, surely a life could not enter fully into the stories that cover all that ground which is now called Scotland. We differ distinctly from the English, and long may we keep different. Assimilation destroys originality.

O'Keefe.—These memories you mention are all Celtic, and I say Irish, and I was going to leave you by saying "Eirinn gu brath," but as you are from the Alban side, I shall include all the Gaels and use the wider expression " Gaidhealtachd gu brath." (Gaeldom for ever.)


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