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The Highlanders of Scotland
Part I - Chapter VIII


Religion of the Highlanders – The Culdee Church – Its Constitution and Form of Government – Poetry – Ossian Considered as an Historical Poet – New Proof of his Authenticity – Music

THE Highlanders, like all other people who have long preserved their original manners and mode of life unaltered, possessed a peculiarly imaginative character. While their manners remained in primitive rudeness, while their occupations were still those peculiar to the early stages of society, the energy of savage nature displayed itself in the increased power of imagination and the engrossing influence of fancy. But these natural properties of primitive society were greatly heightened in the Highlanders by the wild and romantic aspect of their country, which exercised a powerful influence on their character; and the force of imagination over the Highlanders has consequently displayed itself from the earliest period in the wildest superstition and poetic fancy.

      What ancient religion of the Highlanders was before the light of Christianity dawned upon them, whether the Druidical, as suspected by some, or a belief peculiar to themselves, would lead to too extensive an enquiry to ascertain. The direct authority upon this subject is not great. Tacitus mentions, that when the Caledonian clans united for the purpose of opposing Agricola, that they ratified their confederacy by solemn sacrifices. The only other writer from whom any information can be obtained is Adomnan, from whom it appears, that the Picts, whom we have formerly shown to have been the ancestors of the Highlanders, were possessed of a religious establishment of priests, and that a Pagan religion, full of the usual ceremonies and superstitions, existed among them. The most authentic record, perhaps, of the nature of that religion exists in the numerous stone monuments and circles which have remained, and may still be seen in such profusion, in spite of the ravages of time, the zeal of early converts to Christianity, and the consequences of agricultural improvement; and there can be little doubt that a comparison of these interesting monuments, in connection with the few historical facts on the subject which are known, would afford a curious and sufficiently accurate picture of the nature of that ancient religion. The conversion of the northern Picts to Christianity took place in the sixth century, and was effected by the preaching of St. Columba, whose memory is still regarded with veneration by the Highlanders as the great apostle of their nation. The form of church government established by him in the north of Scotland was of a very peculiar nature, and is deserving of some notice, as well from that circumstance as from its having given rise to a modern controversy of unusual length and bitterness. In the Christian church founded by that great man, and afterwards termed the Culdee Church, the zealous Presbyterian sees at that early period the model of a pure Presbyterian government, and the great principle of clerical equality acknowledged in a remote and obscure island, at a period when the rest of the world submitted willingly and blindly to Episcopal supremacy. The devout believer in the apostolic origin and authority of Episcopacy can discover nothing essentially different from the diocean episcopacy which was at that time universal in Christian churches; and the Roman Catholic sees evidence of the existence of his own peculiar doctrines in that church which both the other parties are agreed in pronouncing to be the solitary exception to the universal prevalence of its dogmas and the earliest witness against its corruptions. When a controversy of this nature has arisen regarding the constitution of an early Christian church, it is manifest that that church must have possessed considerable peculiarities of form and character, and that it must in some respects have differed from the other churches of the period. If in no respect distinct in form or doctrine from the generality of Christian societies of that period, it is difficult to conceive how any doubt could have arisen as to its polity; and it is still more difficult to suppose that it could have presented an exact counterpart to a modern system of church government, confessedly formed upon no ancient model, and the invention of the sixteenth century. Each party has unfortunately been more anxious to prove its resemblance to their own cherished system of church government than to ascertain its actual constitution. They have eagerly seized hold of every circumstance which appeared to favour their hypothesis, and attempted to neutralise and explain away whatever was adverse to their system; but until we find it impossible, from an impartial examination of all the scattered notices of the history of the Culdee church which have come down to us, to extract a consistent form of church government, although that form may have been a peculiar one, we are not entitled to assume, à priori, that the form of the Culdee church must have been the same with some known form of church government, and in consequence to disregard any embarrassing notice, however trivial. The obscurity which attends this subject has arisen from various causes. We cannot expect to find in the older writers much information regarding the internal history of the country, because, while they anxiously recorded the principal events of its external history, there was nothing in its manners and form of society to strike them as peculiar or worth of commemoration. With regard to the Christian church established in the country the case is different, for when we consider that at that period all Christian churches possessed essentially the same form of government, and that a form believed to be of apostolic institution, we may well suppose that if the Culdee church differed essentially from other churches in any important particular, that that circumstance would be carefully recorded by every ecclesiastical writer; and if we find that ecclesiastical writers do impute peculiarities to that church, we may safely conclude that, with the exception of the differences of form mentioned by these writers, it must in all other respects have been similar to other Christian societies throughout the world. Modern writers have added much to the difficulty of the question by overlooking the fact, that the Culdee church of Scotland was the offspring of the church founded in Ireland a century before by St. Patrick, and by persisting in viewing the Culdee church as it existed in Scotland unconnected with its mother church, although it formed an essential part of that church for many centuries after its foundation by Columba; but the difficulty has been increased still more by not distinguishing between the different churches which existed at the same time in Ireland and in Britain. During the occupation of Britain by the Romans, that island was inhabited by two races – the Britons and the Picts, and the latter were divided into two nations of the southern and northern Picts; Ireland at the same period was also inhabited by two races – the Scots, who possessed the south and west, and the Cruithne, or Irish Picts, who inhabited the north and east. In the fourth century the Scots brought the whole island under subjection, and after that period, while their name extended over the whole of Ireland, we find the two races distinguished by the titles of the Southern Scot and Northern Scots. The Britons were the first of these different races who became Christian, and after them the Scots, both having been apparently converted to Christianity before the departure of the Romans from the island. After that event we find, in A.D. 431, Palladius sent from Rome as Primus Episcopus [Much confusion has arisen among our historians by mistaking the meaning of the expression “Primus Episcopus.” It most certainly signified first bishop, in respect of dignity, or primate, not first bishop in order of time.] to the “Scotos in Christum Credentes,” and in the following year Patrick made his mission to Ireland. It would be unnecessary here to refute the absurd idea formerly held, that the Scots to whom Palladius was sent were the Scots of Britain, as there is no point which has been so clearly established as the fact that his mission was to Ireland; but historians have been much puzzled to reconcile the mission of Palladius with that of Patrick. Patrick unquestionably converted his Scots from Paganism, and that for the first time; Palladius, it is equally certain, was sent but one year before to Scots already Christian. Many attempts have been made to account for this, all of which are equally unsatisfactory. But when we find, on examining the best authorities, that Saint Patrick in fact converted the people of the north of Ireland only, that he founded his archiepiscopal seat at Armagh in Ulster, and that the jurisdiction of that primate never extended beyond that part of the island, the inhabitants of which were termed the northern Scots, it will appear very plain that the Scoti in Christum Credentes, to whom Palladius was sent as primate, were the southern Scots, or Scots proper, and that Saint Patrick’s mission was directed principally to the Irish Picts, or northern Scots, who alone formed his church. In A.D. 414, Ninian, a bishop of the British church, converted the southern Picts to Christianity; and in 565, Columba, a presbyter of the church founded by Saint Patrick, by the conversion of the king of the northern Picts, added that nation to the church, which previously consisted of the northern Scots of Ireland only. To the same church also belonged the Scots of Britain, who came over from the north of Ireland sixty years before the arrival of Saint Columba. Now, it must be remarked that the churches of Britain, of the southern Scots founded by Palladius, and of the southern Picts by Ninian, had all emanated from Rome; and although they did not owe ecclesiastical obedience to the aspiring bishops of that city, they unquestionably derived their form of government and worship from her, and, accordingly, when again brought in contact with their mother church, in the person of Augustine, they were not found to differ in any essential particular. The church of the northern Picts and northern Scots, to which the name of Culdee was afterwards given, and which owed its origin to St. Patrick, was in a very different situation, for it as unquestionably emanated from the church of Gaul, a church always opposed to that of Rome, and claiming a descent from the church of Ephesus, and its founder, St. John the Evangelist; and it was under the teaching of St. Martin of Tours that St. Patrick framed the system of church government which he afterwards introduced. The principal writer from whom any information regarding the Culdee church is to be derived is the Venerable Bede, and we accordingly find that writer imputing to the Culdee church certain peculiarities in its outward form and government which he implies not to have existed in other churches.

      The passage in Bede upon which both parties found their principal argument with regard to the form of government in the Culdee church, is the following: – “Habere autem solet ipsa insula rectorem semper Abbatem Presbyterum cujus juri et omnis provincia et ipso etiam episcopi, ordine inusitato debeant esse subjecti justa exemplum primi doctoris illius, qui non eqpscopus sed presbyter extitit et monachus.” From this passage the Presbyterian argues that if a presbyter possessed the supreme government of the church, it must have been essentially a Presbyterian church, and overcomes the objection derived from the mention of bishops by asserting that the word had a different signification in the

Culdee church from that in other churches, and did not imply a distinct or superior order of clergy. The Episcopalian justly argues that Bede must have used the word episcopus in its ordinary sense, and consequently that the church must have been an Episcopalian one; but he attempts to explain the anomalous circumstance of these bishops being subject to a presbyter by asserting that the monastery of Iona possessed a bishop as well as an abbot, and that the episcopi who were subject to the presbyter abbot were merely those bishops of Iona over whom the abbot had some jurisdiction in temporal matters. But it is manifest that neither of these explanations are satisfactory, and that an impartial consideration of this passage would bring us to a very different conclusion from either. By the use of the words “ordine inusitato,” it is plain that the only anomalous circumstance connected with Iona was the subjection of the bishops to its presbyter abbot. By confining the expression to this circumstance, he clearly implies that the church possessed an order of bishops exactly in the same manner as other churches; nor, of the episcopi were not a separate and superior order, but merely implied certain missionaries, as the Presbyterians allege, do we see any room for the remark that their subjection to the abbot was an unusual institution.

      On the other hand, if the Episcopalians are right in asserting that there was nothing unusual or anomalous in the constitution of the Culdee church with the exception that the Abbot of Iona exercised jurisdiction over the Bishop of Iona in some temporal matters, independently of the fact that we cannot trace either in the Irish Annals, which contain many particulars regarding Iona, or in other historians, the smallest trace of any Bishop of Iona different from the Abbot of Iona, it is difficult to suppose that Bede would have intimated the existence of an unusual form of government in the strong and precise terms which he uses. But that the Culdee church was essentially an episcopal church, and possessed an order of bishops distinct from and superior to that of the presbyter, is very clear, both from an impartial consideration of the language of Bede throughout, and from other writers.

      In mentioning the mission of Aidan and of Finan to the Northumbrians, Bede adds in both cases that they were sent “accepto gradu Episcopatus,” and what Bede implied by the “gradus [sic] Episcopatus” abundantly appears from the case of Cedd, who was ordained Bishop of Finan. The words of Bede are “qui (Finan) ubi prosperatum ei opus evangelii comperit, fecit eum (Cedd) episcopum in gentem orientalium Saxonum, vocatus ad se in ministerium ordinationis aliis duobus episcopis; qui accepto gradu episcopatus rediit ad provinciam et majore auctoritate coeptum opus explens, fecit per loca ecclesias, presbyteros et diaconos ordinavit.” & c.

      In another part of his work he mentions that Pope John wrote a letter to the heads of the Scottish or Culdee church, which letter bore this superscription, “Dilectissimis et sanctissimis Thomiano Columbano, Chromano, Dimae et Bartano episcopis, Chromano, Hermannoque Laistrano, Stellano et Segeno presbyteris, Sarano ceterisque doctoribus seu abbatibus Scotis”; [Bede, lib. ii., c. 19.] which implies both the existence and the superiority of the episcopal order of the church. Adomnan is equally distinct that the bishops were a superior order to the presbyters. He narrates that Columba upon one occasion sent for a priest at the consecration of the eucharist, and that suddenly casting a look at him, he desired him to use the privilege of his order, and break the bread according to the episcopal mode. [“Hunc solus episcopus episcopali ritu frange panem – nune scimus quod sis episcopus.” – Adom. Vit. S. Columb., lib. i., c. 16.] The unavoidable inference from these passages is unquestionably that the Culdee church was no exception to the universal prevalence of episcopacy in Christian churches at that period, and to this inference the Presbyterian party oppose merely the passage of Bede formerly quoted; but allowing to that passage its fullest force, to which the other passages are equally entitled, the fact there stated is not only, as we shall afterwards see, compatible with the existence of episcopacy in that church, but the direct inference from the passage unquestionably is that the Culdee church possessed an order of bishops superior to that of the presbyters.

      The Culdee church being, then, essentially an episcopal church, let us now examine its peculiarities, and in what respected it differed from the form of church government universally prevalent at that period; and in doing so it will be necessary to bear in mind that the Culdee church included the province of the northern Scots in Ireland, as well as the northern Picts in Scotland, and that it was the work of St. Patrick in the fifth century, not that of Columba in the sixth (as generally supposed), who merely added the nation of the northern Picts to its jurisdiction.

      In the year 380, about fifty -two years before the Culdee church was established by Saint Patrick, the monastic system was for the first time introduced into Europe by Saint Martin of Tours; and previous to the rise of this extraordinary and powerful institution, the Catholic clergy consisted merely of the three orders of bishops, presbyters, and deacons.

      The bishops were, generally speaking, seated in the principal towns, and exercised an ecclesiastical jurisdiction over a certain extent of the surrounding country which formed his diocese, while the spiritual wants of its inhabitants were supplied by the subordinate orders of presbyters and deacons. Such was the state of the clergy when the Culdee church took its origin, but a new institution had arisen in the East, which was destined afterwards almost to supplant the clergy, and to wield the whole power of the Establishment. Although they subsequently attained this extraordinary elevation, yet at the time of which we speak the monasteries had barely risen to a station which placed them on a par with the clergy. Originally the monasteries were societies exclusively composed of laymen, who adopted this mode of retiring from the active duties of the world, and devoting themselves to a life of contemplation and devotion. Their spiritual wants were supplied by the bishop and presbyters of the diocese in which the monastery was situated, and to whose jurisdiction they were subject in ecclesiastical matters. Subsequently they found it expedient to procure a presbyter for the head of their monastery, and after this period the abbots of the monasteries were universally presbyters, while the monks remained laymen as before. They thus in some degree dispensed with the services of the neighbouring clergy, and while the bishop was obliged to render assistance to the monastery in matters which belonged exclusively to his order to perform, the abbot was relieved entirely from his jurisdiction. Such was the condition of these societies when Saint Martin established the first European monastery at Tours. The monks still consisted of laymen, and the abbot was an ordained presbyter. The dangerous consequences likely to result from such an institution, if elevated beyond its original position, were not seen, and its advantages and merits were over-estimated to such a degree as to facilitate their rapid advance to power. To the progress which they had already made, Martin added the step of providing a bishop for the exclusive use of the monastery, who was elected by the abbot and monks, and ordained by the adjacent bishops to the end that he might preach and do episcopal offices in the monastery; and this bishop was obliged to reside within its walls, and submit to its monastic rule. In this state Saint Patrick arrived at Tours, and there can be little doubt that it was under the teaching of Saint Martin, who was his uncle, that he framed the system of church polity which he afterwards introduced into Ireland. In that system we should consequently expect to find the same weight and preference given to the monastic institutions over the clerical which Saint Martin had already manifested, and that the same effect should follow from that preference, of an additional step in their progress being attained by the monastic orders at the expense of the secular clergy.

      Now, in examining the Culdee monasteries, the first peculiarity which strikes us is, that the monks were no longer laymen, but ordained clergymen, [This fact is acknowledged by all who have written upon the subject, although the inference to be drawn from it, and the peculiarity of such a circumstance, does not appear to have been perceived.] and in this that church is certainly an exception to all other churches. But we find a still more remarkable peculiarity in their system, for we see many of the abbots of their monasteries possessing the same character, exercising the same functions, and in every respect occupying the same position with the bishops of the other churches; and we find the monasteries over which these abbots presided possessing a jurisdiction over a certain extent of territory in the neighbourhood, in the same way as the bishops did in other churches. Now, when we add to this fact that although, as we have seen, the episcopal order existed in this church, we find it impossible to trace the existence of any individual bishop distinct from the abbot of the monastery, the presumption naturally arises in the mind that the great peculiarity of the Culdee church was the union of the clerical and monastic orders into one collegiate system, where the abbot and the bishop was the same person, and the inferior orders of presbyters and deacons formed the monks who were under his control; and accordingly, on an attentive examination of the older historians, we find that this was actually the case. We can distinctly trace a division of the Culdee abbots into two orders, of “abbates et episcopi” and of “abbates et presbyteri;” thus, in the letter addressed by Pope John to the Culdees, the superscription implies that the five bishops as well as the five presbyters were abbots, and we accordingly find in the Irish Annals several of these bishops and presbyters mentioned as abbots. Besides this, the bishop-abbots are frequently alluded to in these Annals. [In Tighernac the following of those to whom the letter is addressed are mentioned: – OF THE BISHOPS. A.D. 661–Death of Tomene, Abbptt-bishop of Armagh. A.D. 654–Death of Colman, Bishop of the O’Telly’s and Abbot of Cluanirard. A.D. 643–Death of Cronan, Bishop of Antrim. A.D. 659–Death of Dima, Bishop of Conere. OF THE PRESBYTERS. A.D. 650–Death of Cronan, Abbot of Maighe Bile. A.D. 646–Death of Laisre, Abbot of Bencair. A.D. 652–Death of Segine, Abbot of Iona. A.D. 662–Death of Saran, Abbot of the O’Cridans. One of the Bishops and two of the presbyters are not mentioned in these Annals, and were therefore probably in Scotland. Of bishop-abbots, besides the two above mentioned, I find in Tighernac the following: – A.D. 663–Tuenoc, the son of Findlain, Abbot of Ferna, and Dimna, two bishops, died. A.D. 687–Death of Osen, Bishop of the Monastery of Finntan. A.D. 715–Celine, Bishop-abbot of Ferna, died. A.D. 718–Death of Dubduin, Bishop-abbot of Cluanirard.] This distinction appears to have been drawn between monasteries which had been founded by the primate, and the abbots of which were ordained bishops, and the monasteries which had emanated from those ruled by a bishop-abbot, which being intended to remain subordinate to the monastery from which they proceeded, and not to form a separate jurisdiction, were governed by presbyter-abbots, and resembled in many respects the chorepiscopi of the ancient church, and the archdeaconries of the present established church of England.

      The character of the Culdee church, then, may be considered to have been in its polity a collegiate system, as carried to its fullest extent. In its mode of operation it may be viewed as a missionary church, and this was a system which was evidently peculiarly adapted to the state and character of the people among whom the church was established.

      Both the nation of the northern Scots of Ireland and that of the northern Picts of Scotland consisted at that time of a union of several tribes, when the power of the king was circumscribed and his influence small; while the turbulent chiefs, almost independent, and generally at war with each other, rendered the royal protection unavailable for the security of any church constituted as most Christian churches at that time were. The Culdee polity preserved the principle of clerical subordination and centralisation, then and justly considered indispensable for the efficiency of a Christian church, while it avoided the dangers arising from the peculiar form of society of their converts by the peculiar form of government which their church assumed. Enclosed in a monastery with their ecclesiastical superior, the clergy were safe from aggression, and issuing forth as missionaries from its walls in time of peace, they carried the blessings of Christianity to the savage members of the tribe in which they had been cast.

      Of the history of the Culdee church little is known, and the annalists merely afford a few of the leading changes which took place in its external form. At first it consisted of the province of the northern Scots in Ireland alone, and the primacy over the whole church was vested in the monastery of Armagh, the bishop of which was styled Primus Episcopus. The province was inhabited by numerous tribes, in each of which a monastery was gradually founded, governed by a bishop-abbot, whose jurisdiction extended over the territories of the tribe [In Tighernac the bishop-abbots of the different monasteries are frequently styled bishop of the tribe in which the monastery was situated, thus–A.D. 579. Death of Mani, Bishop of the O’Fiatachs. See two instances in the former note.] in which his monastery was placed; and where the spiritual necessities of his diocese required an additional establishment of clergy, a subordinate monastery was founded, over which a presbyter only was placed. In 565, Columba, the presbyter-abbot if the monastery of Dearmagh, which had emanated from that of Cluanirard, over which Finan ruled as bishop-abbot, converted Brude, king of the northern Picts, and added that nation to the Culdee church. The monastery of Iona, of course, remained of that subordinate species ruled by a presbyter-abbot, and accordingly it appears that the additional monasteries required by the exigencies of the infant church in the Highlands were still for many years afterwards supplied from the episcopal monasteries of Ireland. In the middle of the seventh century the primacy was removed, for what cause we know not, from Armagh to Scotland. [Cujus monasterium (Iona) in cunctis pene septentrionalium Scottorum et omnibus Pictorum monasteriis non parvo tempore arcem tenebat. – Bede, lib. iii., cap. 3.] The great veneration and sanctity which attached to the character of Saint Columba, as first apostle of the Picts, had invested the monastery of Iona, which he had founded, with a superiority over the other Pictish monasteries, and consequently the primacy became the undoubted right of that monastery; but the almost idolatrous veneration entertained for Saint Columba, produced the anomalous and extraordinary departure from the principle of episcopacy of the abbot of Iona assuming the primacy of the Culdee church and retaining his character of presbyter. That such was the fact it is impossible to avoid admitting, if full force be given to the passage of Bede, frequently alluded to; but that this is incompatible with the existence and privileges of the episcopal order there is no reason for thinking; nor if this explanation, resulting from an impartial examination of the history of the church and the language of the old writers, be admitted, is it possible to produce a single passage which would infer that the Culdee church was not essentially, and in the strictest meaning of the term, an episcopal church.

      On the transference of the primacy from Armagh to Iona, many of the other monasteries of the Picts became episcopal, and were placed under the government of the bishop-abbot. In this state the church continued with little variation till the conquest of the southern Picts by the Scots of Dalriada. The church which previously existed among the southern Picts was one of those which had emanated, though not immediately, from Rome, and it differed in no essential particular from other churches. On the conquest of that race by the Scots, the Culdee church and system of polity was introduced by the conquerors, and in consequence of this great accession of territory to the Culdee church, and of the ruin of the Irish part of their Establishment by the Danes, the primacy was once more removed from Iona to Dunkeld, a church belonging to the northern Picts; and this monastery being an episcopal one, the anomalous form of government which had resulted from the primacy of Iona ceased for ever. [It is universally admitted that Dunkeld was founded after the conquest, by Kenneth M’Alpine. That the primacy was likewise removed to it appears from the two following passages in the Annals of Ulster: – A.D. 864, Tuathal Mac Artguso, Primus Episcopus of Fortren and Abbot of Dunkeld, died. A.D. 864, Flaibhertach Mac Murcertaigh, Princeps of Dunkeld, died.] With Dunkeld the primacy continued for forty years only, for the Culdee churches established by Kenneth in the conquered territory of the southern Picts, and which were peculiarly Scottish, appear to have become jealous of their subjection to the Pictish bishop of Dunkeld, and to have taken advantage of the usurpation of the throne by Grig, a chief of the northern Picts, to procure from him, probably as the price of their submission, the removal of the primacy from Dunkeld to Saint Andrews. [The Chronicon Elegiacum says of Grig, “Qui dedit Ecclesiae libertates Scoticanae quae sub Pictorum lege redacta fuit”; and as it is in this reign that the Bishop of St. Andrews is first termed “Primus Episcopus,” it is plain that the above passage refers to a removal of the primacy to the Scottish church of St. Andrews.] After this period there appears to have been no alteration in the outward form of the church until the reign of David.

      There are few facts in the early history of the Christian church more striking than the remarkable ease and pliability with which the church adapted itself in its outward form to the political constitution of the countries in which it was established. When Christianity was established by the Emperor Constantine as the religion of Europe, we see the extreme facility with which the church assumed a polity formed after the model of the Roman. On the fall of the empire by the invasions of the northern barbarians, the Christian church alone maintained its position, and again adapted itself to the forms of society which arose among these nations when settled in its territories.

      In the Culdee church this quality of the early Christian societies is no less apparent. When confined to the north of Ireland, which was inhabited by a number of independent tribes, scarcely owing subjection to a common head, we find the diocese of the episcopal monasteries corresponding to the extent and numbers of these tribes; and when the same system was introduced into Scotland, we should naturally expect to find the same accurate adaptation of the church to its territorial divisions. The districts occupied by the early tribes of Scotland are in every respect the same with those territorial divisions which were afterwards known as earldoms, and accordingly there is nothing more remarkable than the exact accordance between these earldoms and the position of the episcopal monasteries, so far as they can be traced. This will appear from the following table: –

            Culdee Monasteries.       Earldoms or Tribes.

                  St. Andrews                  Fife.

                  Dunblane                       Stratherne; Menteith, not an old earldom.

                  Scone                           Gowrie.

                  Brechin                         Angus; Mearns, formerly part of Angus.

                  Monymusk                    Mar.

                  Mortlach                        Buchan.

            Birney (Moray)               Moray.

                  Rosemarkie                   Ross.

                  Dornoch                        Caithness.

                  Iona                              Garmoran.

                  Dunkeld                        Atholl; Argyll, part of Atholl.

      The exact coincidence of these dioceses with the most ancient territorial divisions, forms an important and sure guide in ascertaining the extent and history of the latter.

      David I. is generally supposed to have altogether overthrown the Culdee church, and to have introduced the Roman Catholic clergy in their place; but this is a most erroneous view of the nature and extent of the alteration effected by him. To give a complete view of the change which took place in his reign would lead to too great length here; it may be sufficient to mention that it appears, from all the authentic information on the subject that remains to us, that the alteration produced by him affected the church in three particulars only. First, by the establishment of parochial clergy, and consequently superseding the missionary system which had hitherto supplied the spiritual wants of the people. Secondly, by the introduction of the monastic orders of the Roman Catholic church into the country; and, thirdly, by appointing a bishop over the parochial clergy, and declaring the territory over which the Culdee monastery had exercised their jurisdiction to be his diocese, in the Roman Catholic sense of the word. The extent and number of the dioceses remained unaltered, being just those which had previously existed among the Culdees. The bishop was almost invariably the Culdee abbot, who was taken out of his monastery; his place was supplied by an officer termed a prior, and wherever the privilege was not expressly taken from them, the prior and Culdee college constituted the dean and chapter of the diocese, and elected the same person as bishop whom they would formerly have elected to precisely the same office under the title of abbot.

      Such is a short sketch of the peculiar form which the Christian church, established among the Picts or Highlanders of Scotland, assumed on their conversion from paganism by the exertions of St. Columba, the great apostle of their nation. But, while the influence of Christianity, and the zeal with which it was propagated, soon dispelled the public and general worship of false gods, and substituted the true religion as a professed belief in place of their former idolatry; yet, as might be expected from a character so enthusiastic as that of the Highlanders, a great part of the spirit of that idolatry remained under the appearance of Christianity, and exhibited itself in the wild and fanciful superstitions of the Highlanders and the superstitious practices which they still observed on their holidays.

      To enter into this subject at all would lead to an investigation of a length altogether incompatible with the limits of this work, and it is with regret that we leave a subject which affords such a curious and interesting picture of the Highland mind. It may perhaps be sufficient to remark, with a view to direct the enquiries of others, that the superstitions of the Highlanders consisted principally of three kinds: first, a belief in a species of supernatural beings, termed by them Daoine-shith, or fairies; secondly, a belief in the influence of departed spirits over the affairs of this life; and thirdly, in second-sight, a subject of considerable difficulty, and one altogether peculiar to the Highlanders. Besides their superstitious belief, the spirit of their ancient idolatry was retained in many of their festivals, the principal of which was the Beltain, or first day of May, and Samhuin, or Allhallow eve; in the practices observed by them on these days may still be traced the rites of their ancient religion. Although their idolatrous worship had been superseded by Christianity, yet, as long as the feuds and their constant habits of predatory warfare remained among them, they do not appear to have imbibed much of its spirit. a French writer of the early part of last century remarks, “Ils se disent Chretiens, mais toute leur religion est fort tenebreuse, et ils ne craignent guères ni Dieu ni Diable.” The case is now very different, for since peace has been restored to the hills they have advanced with wonderful rapidity, and they may now with truth be called the most moral and religious part of the population of Scotland.

      Among savage nations poetry is always the first vehicle of history; before any regular means are taken for perpetuating a knowledge of the early history of their tribes, they are usually in the habit of reciting in verse the deeds of their forefathers, and their early traditions are thus handed down from the most remote antiquity. This custom, although common to all nations in a primitive stage of society, was peculiarly so to the Highlanders. The natural disposition of a hunting and pastoral people for poetry and hyperbole, was increased in them by the peculiar and imaginative nature of their character, by their secluded situation, and the romantic aspect of their country; and thus poetry was from the earliest period almost the only medium by which a knowledge of the great event of their early history, the achievements of their forefathers, and the illustrious examples presented for their emulation was conveyed to the Highlanders, and the warlike and somewhat chivalrous character of the nation preserved.

      Of this species of historical poetry, a very ancient and remarkable specimen has been preserved to us in the Albanic Duan, a poem, written in the eleventh century, and containing the earliest traditions of the origin of the nation before the fables of the Scottish monks had full sway in the country; but, by a fate altogether singular in the case of the Highlanders a complete body of these ancient versified histories have been handed down in the poems of Ossian. It is not my intention here to enter into the much disputed question of the authenticity of these poems, taken as a whole; public opinion has long been made up as to their literary merit, and no proof of their authenticity which could be adduced could make any alteration in that opinion. When considered as a poet, it only remains for the individual admirers of Ossian to examine the claims of his works to be considered as the productions of a remote age; but when looked upon as an historian, it becomes a matter of great and general importance that the question of their authenticity should be set at rest. It is now universally admitted that the ground-work of these poems is ancient, while it is generally held that upon that foundation a modern superstructure has been raised; with that question we have here nothing to do, but the point to be determined is, whether the historical system contained in the poems of Ossian is a part of that ancient ground-work, and an actual record of the events of remote ages, handed down through a long course of centuries, or whether it is the invention of a modern and ignorant antiquary. It has long been adduced, as a great objection to the authenticity of these poems, that the system of history contained in them is untrue, and that it is diametrically opposed to the real history. The historical facts contained in Ossian relate principally to Ireland, and the difference between the Ossianic system and that generally believed may be stated in a very few words. The system maintained by the Irish writers is, that Ireland was inhabited by one race of people termed Scots, who are said to have come from Spain: that they divided Ireland into four provinces, Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connaught, each of which was governed by a petty king of the Scottish race: over these kings was placed a monarch, who reigned at Fara, in Meath, and these monarchs were all of the same Scottish line and can be traced from father to son. The Ossianic system is very different from this. According to Ossian, Ireland was inhabited by two races of people: the south if Ireland was possessed by a people termed by him Firbolg; the north by Gael, who came originally from Scotland. These two peoples, according to Ossian, were constantly at war with each other; and in the second century the Firbolgs, by a series of victories having obtained possession of the greater part of Ireland, Conar, the brother of the King in Scotland, came over to the assistance of the Gael, and driving the Firbolgs out of the northern part of Ireland, founded a race of kings, who ruled in Temora or Tara, in Meath. The kings of the race of Conor remained on the throne till the middle of the third century, when the Firbolgs, under the command of Cairpre, again obtained the upper hand.

      These systems of history are, it will be observed, diametrically opposed to each other, but if it should appear that the system of Irish history, now believed, is not older than the fourteenth century, and that the history contained in the Irish Annals before that time is identic with that of Ossian; and if it should also appear that these older annals were unpublished, and inaccessible at the time Ossian was published, and even for centuries before that time, and that the very existence of a different system being contained in these older annals was unknown, it is plain, not only that this objection must fall to the ground, but that it must follow, as an incontestable proposition, that these poems were not the work of Macpherson, but must have been older, at least, than the fourteenth century.

      The proof of these facts will be taken from the Annals of Tighernac and Innisfallen, the oldest and most authentic annals which the Irish possess. The former is a work of the eleventh century; the latter was written in the beginning of the thirteenth. The book remained inaccessible to all but those who could read the ancient Irish language and character, and were for the first time printed, along with a Latin translation, in the year 1825. Before entering upon the subject of inquiry, it will be necessary to make one remark, in order that the argument may be distinctly understood, which is, that in all the Irish annals the name given to the earliest inhabitants of Scotland is Cruithne, and this appellation is always applied by them to the inhabitants of Scotland, in contradistinction to the Scots, or inhabitants of Ireland.

      In the first place, therefore, it can be proved from Tighernac that the Ultonians or inhabitants of the north of Ireland, were Cruithne, and therefore must have come from Scotland. The kings of Ulster were also called kings of Eamania; thus, Tighernac says, Elim, son of Conrach, reigned in Eamania ten years, and afterwards Fiachia was killed by Elim, son of Conrach, that is, by the king of Ulster. Again, he says, Angus Fin, king of Eamania, reigns, and afterwards he says a battle was fought by Cormac against the Ultonians, in which Angus Fin, with his Ultonians were routed; and that the kings, both of Ulster and Eamania, were called kings of th Cruithne, appears from the following passages. In 236, he says, Fiacha Araide reigns in Eamania ten years, and afterwards he reports a battle between Cormac and the king of Munster against Fiacha Araidhe and the Cruithne. Again, he says, in the year 565, Diarmait is killed by Black Hugh, king of Ulster; and Adomnan, alluding to the same transaction, says that Diomit was killed by “Aidus nigrus Cruithnicum gente,” by nation a Cruithne.

      It appears, therefore, from Tighernac, that the north of Ireland was inhabited by a people of the same race with the inhabitants of Scotland. Secondly, it can be proved from Tighernac and the Annals of Innisfallen, that a people called Bolgas inhabited the west and south of Ireland. Thus Tighernac says, that Fiacha, King of Ireland, was killed in Temora, or as others relate, in the Plains of Bolgas; and the Annals of Innisfallen mention Hugh, king of Connaught, and at the same time say that he was of the race of Bolgas. The same annals mention, in 332, a battle in Fermoy by three Collas, along with the seven tribes of the Bolgas, who are called Oilnegmacht, from inhabiting Connaught.

      We thus see that the Ossianic system of history is supported by these old annalists in the few facts recorded, and that in direct opposition to the later and generally believed system.

      We now come to the particular details of the history which extend during the second and third centuries, and in the following table the two systems are confronted with each other, with a view to the distinct understanding of the argument, as follows: –

            Irish System                                          Ossianic System

            One people in Ireland called Scots.         Two races in Ireland. In the North, the Gael; South, the Bolga.

            Conn, King of Temora                             Conar, a Gael from Alban.

            Art                                                        Art

            Cormac                                                 Cormac, killed by

            Cairpre                                                  Cairpre, King of the Bolga.

      It will be seen that in the Irish, or generally believed system, four kings are made to succeed each other, from father to son, during that period; while in the Ossianic system, Conar, a Scottish chief, comes over to Ireland and founds a family of kings of his own line, and his grandson, Cormac, is killed by Cairpre, of the race of the Bolgas, who in consequence mounted the throne.

      In corroboration of this, I remark, first, that Conn is said by Tighernac to have conquered the northern half of Ireland from the Momonians, or inhabitants of Munster, and that he is called by him of the race of the Cruithne. Thus, he remarks, counting all the kings after Conn was on the throne, seven kings of the race of the Cruithne reigned over Ireland, of course including Conn in that race. Secondly, all agree that Conn was succeeded by his son Art or Arthur, and Art by his son Cormac. Thirdly, Cairpre is not made by Tighernac the son of Cormac, but his father is not given at all. And the Annals of Innisfallen shew that he was of the race of the Bolgas, for Tighernac says in 322 that Fiach, King of Ireland, was killed by the three Collas, sons of Eacho, who was son of Cairpre; and the Annals of Innisfallen say that the battle was fought by the Collas along with the seven tribes of Bolgas, thus showing that Cairpre, their grandfather, must also have been of that race.

      We thus see that Ossian is supported throughout by the old Irish annals, and that even when he is in direct opposition to the system of Irish history at present received. Now when we consider that the history contained in these old annals was unknown, and the annals themselves unpublished when the poems of Ossian were first given to the world, we must come to the conclusion that the poems are necessarily as old at least as the fourteenth century, and that in them we have handed down to us a complete body of the most ancient historical poems by which a knowledge of the early history of the country was preserved to posterity. [An argument of the same nature has been used with great success by the well-known Danish antiquary, Finn Magnussen. He proves that the Odenism, or religion of the Lochlans, as contained in Ossian, is a correct picture of the ancient religion of the Scandinavians, and that the real nature of that religion was unknown to modern scholars when Macpherson published his Ossian, and could not have been known to him. Finn Magnussen is unquestionably the best authority on the subject of the religion of the Eddas.] It may, however, be proper to notice here shortly some of the other objections which have been made to Ossian as a historian.

      One objection is, that the Lochlannach, or Norwegians, are mentioned in these poems, but that the Norwegians did not appear on the coasts of Britain till the ninth century. In answer to this I have only to remark, that the work Lochlannach applies equally to all the tribes inhabiting Scandinavia and the North of Germany, and to mention the well-known piracies of the Saxons, who infested the shores of Britain from the second century to the fourth, when they were defeated and driven out of the Orkneys by Theodosius. Another objection is, that Ossian placed the Plain of Moylena in Ulster, while in fact it is in Meath. [This is a most dishonest objection, for every Irish antiquary knows that there was a plain of Moylena in Ulster. I regret much to see it repeated by Mr. Moore, in his excellent History of Ireland; a work that would have been more valuable if he had not adopted the absurd and untenable system of Sir William Betham.] To answer this, I must refer again to the Irish annals, and to the best Irish antiquaries, from whom it appears that there existed an extensive and well-known plain in Ulster under that name. O’Flaherty mentions, p. 193– “Tuathal built Rathmor, or the Great Palace, in the Plains of Moylena, in Ulster.” O’Connor also, the best and most learned of the Irish antiquaries, under the word “Rathmor Moylena,” says– “Arx magna campi Lena amplissima et antiquissima Ultoniae post Eamnaniam etsi ab aliis constructa habeatur regnante Tuathalie,” A.D. 130.

      The place is mentioned three times in Tighernac, under the years 161, 565, and 682. It will be unnecessary to enter into a detailed examination of these passages, and it will be sufficient to mention that they show very clearly that the Plain of Moylena was in Ulster. A third objection is, that Ossian places Tamora, the well-known palace of the kings of Ireland, in Ulster, while its situation is known to have been in Meath; but in this objection very great injustice is done to Ossian, for it is assumed that the Tura of Ossian, which he undoubtedly places in Ulster, was the same with Temora, but in Ossian the most marked distinction is made between Tura and Teamharr, or Temora; the former appears in Ossian to have been a seat of the Cruithne in Ulster, and was probably the same place with the Rathmore Moylena of the Irish annalists, while he places the latter considerably to the south, without marking out its exact situation and implies that it was the seat of the Irish kings. From these few remarks it will appear, the value of Ossian as an historical poet must stand in the highest rank, while, whether the chief part of these poems are of ancient or modern composition, there can remain little doubt that in him we possess the oldest record of the history of a very remote age.

      Where a national disposition towards poetry and recitation is exhibited by a primitive people, the sister art of music is seldom found to be wanting, and accordingly the Highlanders have at all times possessed a peculiarly strong inclination for melody. The style of the Highland airs is singular, being chiefly remarkable for it great simplicity, wildness, and pathos or expression. The scale used is different from the ordinary or diatonic scale, and is defective, wanting the fourth and the seventh; but this very defect gives rise to the pleasing simplicity and plaintiveness of the Highland melody, and imparts to their music a character peculiarly adapted to the nature of their poetry.

      The most ancient instrument in use among them appears to have been the harp; and although it has been for many generations unknown, there is little doubt that it was at one time in very general use throughout the Highlands. The author of “certain curious matters touching Scotland in 1797: says, “they delight much in musicke, but chiefly in harps and clarischoes of their own fashion. The strings of the clarischoes are of brass wire, and the strings of the harps of sinews, which strings they strike either with their nayles growing long, or else with an instrument appointed for that use. They take great pleasure to decke their harps and clarischoes with silver and precious stones; and poor ones that cannot attayne hereunto, decke them with chrystall.”

      Innumerable other passages might be quoted to prove the very general use of the harp in the Highlands, while the records attest the existence of a numerous race of harpers attached to the different chiefs. Thus, in the lord high treasurer’s accompts we find the following entries: –

            “May 10th, 1503. Item to Makberty, the clairsha, to pass to the Isles, iijb.x8.

            “Sept. 3d, 1506. Item to Maklain’s clairsha, ix9.

“Sept. 4, 1506. To Earl of Argyle’s clairsha, xiiij8. and to Duncan Campbell’s bard, v8.”

And in a roll of Macnaughtan’s soldiers, shipped at Lochkerran, “11th December, 1627" which has been preserved among the Morton papers, appears “Harie M’Gra, harper fra Larg.” An interesting specimen of the Highland harp of this period has been preserved in the family of Lude. But besides the fact of the harp having been in general use at this period, there is complete evidence that it has been used in this country from the most remote period. The country lying to the north of the Firths of Forth and Clyde, including the greater part of the Highlands, abounds in large pillars of stone, carved with ancient sculptures, both intaglio and in relief. These sculptured pillars are evidently of very great antiquity, many of them even antecedent to the introduction of Christianity, and they form a most valuable and interesting record of the ancient manners and customs of the country. Upon two of these erect stones are found representations of the harp, exactly resembling the Highland harp in their design and appearance. On the first of these stones, the date of which is fixed from various circumstances to be of the ninth century, there is an armed figure seated and playing on the harp. The other is of still greater antiquity, and on it there appears a herp of an exactly similar construction. The use of the harp appears to have rapidly declined in the Highlands during the seventeenth century, in consequence of the civil wars which commenced at that period, and at length it was entirely superseded by the more martial instrument, the bagpipe, the origin of which is altogether unknown, although, from the character of the music, there is greater probability in supposing it an ancient instrument of the Highlanders than of foreign introduction.

      Besides the harp, the horn appears to have been in very ancient use among the Highlanders. It is found on two of these remarkable sculptured crosses, and in both cases it is apparently used in hunting.


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