"The bards shall forget
them in their song, and their name shall not be known. The stranger
shall come and build there, and remove the heaped-up earth. A
half-worn sword shall rise before him; bending over it, he will say,
These are the arms of the chiefs of old, but their names are not in
seems to me that you are trifling, and talking of fabricated
histories and impossible ages. Is there not a story of Conor
MacNessa having a ball in his brain for some years, and when he
observed the darkness on the day of the crucifixion, and was told by
his Druid that the "innocent One" was suffering, he became excited,
and cut down trees in his rage; and so violently was he agitated
that the ball sprang out of his skull, and his own brains with it,
so that he died; and is not this enough to set aside all your
histories, legends, and allusions as out of the region of fact?
quite true that this wonderful story occurs and I may tell you what
this ball was, and how it got into MacNessa's skull.
Connall Cearnach was
a great champion, and he killed Mesgcdhra, king of Leinster, and,
according to the custom of the time, mixed his brain up with lime
and made it into a ball. This ball was kept in the king's house in
Ulster on a shelf, and two court fools got it out to play with one
day, when Cet Mac Magach, who was an enemy of the house, and
was prowling about in disguise, got hold of it, and kept it beside
him, remembering a saying that Mesgedhra would still revenge himself
on the Ulster men. Cet kept the ball for an opportunity, which he
made by seizing cattle from the Ulster men, and causing Conor
himself to pursue them; when they met, the fighting was conducted
with more formality than we should expect. It is rather strange to
find ladies at such an engagement, but they were invited, and they
had the privilege of asking the champions to show themselves. Conor
came forward, and when he saw Cet, who had been hiding, he was
inclined to return, but the ball was sent out of a sling and stuck
in his brain, causing him an illness, which, however, soon passed
a ridiculous and coarse habit that was of making up men's brains
was certainly barbarous, but it is not so long since we cut men's
heads off. We have in museums some specimens which are thought to be
the lime compounds of brains. Those I have seen are white and very
small, so that the organic matter must have gone, and a small part
of the brain could alone have been used. The brain story may be
wrong; the knowledge of the crucifixion, which MacNessa displayed,
must be fabricated. Wonderful stories grow around remarkable men.
certainly, but not quite answering my question. Does the story not
show so much absurdity that we may put it aside altogether, and all
its connections, and is the time given—namely, the early part of the
first century—not beyond the reach of Irish tradition?
shall not drag me into the whole question of Irish chronology; but I
may say that O'Curry gives the dates, and says that Deirdre's story
can be traced as having existed as far back as the year 600, and
even Campbell of Islay calls it 800 years old, and Skene gives the
date of the Edinburgh MS. as 1238. These are long numbers, and when
you get back to 600 it is as easy to go on to St. Patrick; and, when
at St. Patrick, will any one deny that it is possible to step a
few—say, three or four hundred years further, Mr. Loudoun? We know
well that traditions may be preserved a few hundred years, and names
of places for thousands of years. The identification of names of
places spoken of in Scripture has succeeded so often now that we may
say that Palestine has remained for thousands of years with the same
nomenclature, although there may be some changes of sound according
to our ideas of the pronunciation. In Gaelic the meaning of the
names of places is often so clear that we know that they must refer
to events which are old. Does the fact of the naming of the
crucifixion not point merely to an addition made after the time of
It may be that an
error has been made by a too early date, although the actual proof
of total chronological error in old Irish writings has not been made
is it not true that the genealogies of Ireland go back to Pharaoh,
and even to Adam, and does not that make them all void?
a pity that we in Ireland are apt, like the Americans, to
exaggerate; but this does not contradict the fact that our genealogy
may be as old as Adam; and the world is far too old for your Iittle
I will allow any age you like to name, but I do not want to be
misled by the Celtic exuberance of fancy.
be afraid. In the time of Tacitus, Ireland was better known to
merchants than England; at least he says so; and if it was not very
highly civilized, it was advanced enough to induce people to go
there. In the time of Ptolemy, that is the second century, there
were cities in Ireland. Aileach is named by him, perhaps in
In Scotland you have
hundreds of castles, the origin of which has scarcely been mentioned
in history, but people have called them Picts' towers, tradition
being correct here, as this is being proved.' Before them there was
another kind of castle, much more formidable, and in many instances
larger, but not, so far as we know, so numerous. These were the
vitrified forts, about which we conversed some days ago. Tradition
fails nearly at the time when these ceased to be occupied. The
Uisnach family have their names connected with one great fort of
this kind, and a smaller in Loch Ness, also with non-vitrified
places, such as the island and farm in Loch Etive. Indeed, nearly
all the vitrified forts, if not all except these two, are
unconnected, not only with history, but even with tradition, leaving
out the part of tradition which cannot be separated from the purely
romantic. Giants, fairies, &c., may be connected with tradition, but
we shall not enter into their company in this inquiry.
We know well enough
that people lived before our miserable histories, and we see their
works. They had some large ideas, as shown both in their remains of
buildings and their geographical and descriptive names, as well as
general language; and when these names are consistently assigned to
places, we have no reason to deny the connection of the people
are the names consistently put in this case?
know of no contradiction. I know of no other region in which the
names are found in the same relation. The tale agrees with the Irish
traditions, and, as said, is natural, and one that would remain long
with a people because of its very impressive character.
are there not many ways of telling the story?
of course. Every fine story is told in many ways. Look at our war
correspondents; not two can agree on the same event, although all
are there on the same day.
Now, I may tell you
finally I am not sure of the chronology ; but the events must have
been in the early centuries, and when we get beyond the brochs we
cannot be precise. It is consistent to put it before the Dalriad
invasion, before the time of Columba, and even St. Patrick. It is a
story of heathen times. There is no trace of clerics, and the
architecture before us is itself heathen.
not let you quite off there. Have you not read Queen Hynde by James
Hogg. Here we have the fine young Christian Queen, a descendant of
many famous kings of Beregonium, marrying an Irish prince.
told that Hogg came and obtained the traditions at the spot.
may be; but they introduce such confusion that I would not even
think of them.