Social life previous to the English Invasion—Domestic
Habitations—Forts—Granard and Staigue—Crannoges and
Log-houses—Interior of the Houses—The Hall—Food and Cooking
Utensils—Regulations about Food—The Kind of Food used—Animal
Food—Fish—Game—Drink and Drinking Vessels—Whisky—Heath
Beer—Mead—Animal Produce—Butter and
Cheese—Fire—Candles—Occupations and
Amusements—Chess—Music—Dress—Silk—Linen—Ancient Woollen
Garments—Gold Ornaments—Trade—General Description of the Fauna and
Flora of the Country.


ustoms which illustrate the social life of our
ancestors, are scarcely the least interesting or important elements of
history. Before we enter upon that portion of our annals which commences
with the English invasion, under the auspices of Henry II., we shall
give a brief account of the habitations, manners, customs, dress, food,
and amusements of the people of Ireland. Happily there is abundant and
authentic information on this subject, though we may be obliged to delve
beneath the tertiary deposits of historical strata in order to obtain
all that is required. English society and English social life were more
or less influenced by Ireland from the fifth to the twelfth century. The
monks who had emigrated to "Saxon land" were men of considerable
intellectual culture, and, as such, had a preponderating influence,
creditable alike to themselves and to those who bowed to its sway. From
the twelfth to the sixteenth century, English manners and customs were
introduced in Ireland within the Pale. The object of the present chapter
is to show the social state of the country before the English
invasion—a condition of society which continued for some centuries
later in the western and southern parts of the island.

The pagan architecture of public erections has already been as fully
considered as our limits would permit. Let us turn from pillar-stones,
cromlechs, and cairns, to the domestic habitations which preceded
Christianity, and continued in use, with gradual improvements, until the
period when English influence introduced the comparative refinements
which it had but lately received from Norman sources. The raths, mounds,
and forts, whose remains still exist throughout the country, preceded
the castellated edifices, many of which were erected in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, principally by English settlers. The rath was
probably used for the protection and enclosure of cattle; and as the
wealth of the country consisted principally in its herds, it was an
important object. Its form is circular, having an internal diameter
averaging from forty to two hundred feet, encompassed by a mound and
outer fosse or ditch. In some localities, where stone is abundant and
the soil shallow, rude walls have been formed: the raths, however, are
principally earthwork alone. Forts were erected for defence, and the
surrounding fosse was filled with water. They were, in fact, the
prototypes of the more modern castle and moat. These forts were
sometimes of considerable size, and in such cases were surrounded by
several fosses and outworks. They were approached by a winding inclined
plane, which at once facilitated the entrance of friends, and exposed
comers with hostile intentions to the concentrated attacks of the
garrison. The fort at Granard is a good example of this kind of
building. It is probably of considerable antiquity, though it has been
improved and rebuilt in some portions at a more modern period. The
interior of it evidences the existence of several different apartments.
An approach internally has been exposed on one side, and exhibits a
wide, flat arch of common masonry, springing from the top of two side
walls, the whole well-constructed.

Forts of dry-wall masonry, which are, undoubtedly, the more ancient, are
very numerous in the south-west of Ireland. It is probable that similar
erections existed throughout the country at a former period, and that
their preservation is attributable to the remoteness of the district.
The most perfect of these ancient habitations is that of Staigue Fort,
near Derryquin Castle, Kenmare. This fort has an internal diameter of
eighty-eight feet. The masonry is composed of flat-bedded stones of the
slate rock of the country, which show every appearance of being
quarried, or carefully broken from larger blocks. There is no appearance
of dressed work in the construction; but the slate would not admit of
this, as it splinters away under the slightest blow. Still the building
is an admirable example of constructive masonry; it is almost impossible
to dislodge any fragment from off the filling stones from the face of
the wall. A competent authority has pronounced that these structures
cannot be equalled by any dry masonry elsewhere met with in the country,
nor by any masonry of the kind erected in the present day.[245] Some
small stone buildings are also extant in this part of Ireland, but it is
doubtful whether they were used for ecclesiastical or domestic purposes.
The crannoge was another kind of habitation, and one evidently much
used, and evincing no ordinary skill in its construction. From the
remains found in these island habitations, we may form a clear idea of
the customs and civilization of their inmates: their food is indicated
by the animal remains, which consist of several varieties of oxen, deer,
goats, and sheep; the implements of cookery remain, even to the knife,
and the blocks of stone blackened from long use as fire-places; the
arrows, which served for war or chase, are found in abundance; the
personal ornaments evidence the taste of the wearers, and the skill of
the artist; while the canoe, usually of solid oak, and carefully hidden
away, tells its own tale how entrance and exit were effected. One of the
earliest crannoges which was discovered and examined in modern times,
was that of Lagere, near Dunshaughlin, county Meath. It is remarkable
that Loch Gabhair is said to have been one of the nine lakes which burst
forth in Ireland, A.M. 3581. The destruction of this crannoge is
recorded by the Four Masters, A.D. 933, giving evidence that it was
occupied up to that period. In 1246 there is a record of the escape of
Turlough O'Connor from a crannoge, after he had drowned his keepers;
from which it would appear such structures might be used for prisons,
and, probably, would be specially convenient for the detention of
hostages. In 1560 we read that Teigue O'Rourke was drowned as he was
going across a lake to sleep in a crannoge; and even so late as the
sixteenth century, crannoges were declared to be the universal system of
defence in the north of Ireland.



Log-houses were also used, and were constructed of beams and planks of
timber, something like the Swiss chalet. One of these ancient
structures was discovered in Drumhalin bog, county Donegal, in 1833. The
house consisted of a square structure, twelve feet wide and nine feet
high: it was formed of rough planks and blocks of timber; the mortises
were very roughly cut—a stone celt,[246] which was found lying upon the
floor, was, probably, the instrument used to form them. The logs were
most likely formed by a stone axe.[247] The roof was flat, and the house
consisted of two compartments, one over the other, each four feet high.
A paved causeway led from the house to the fire-place, on which was a
quantity of ashes, charred wood, half-burnt turf, and hazle-nuts. So
ancient was this habitation, that twenty-six feet of bog had grown up
around and over it. It is supposed that this was only one portion of a
collection of houses, which were used merely as sleeping-places. A
slated enclosure was also traced, portions of the gates of which were
discovered. A piece of a leathern sandal, an arrow-headed flint, and a
wooden sword, were also found in the same locality.



It is probable that wattles and clay formed the staple commodity for
building material in ancient Erinn. Planks and beams, with rough blocks
of wood or stone, were most likely reserved for the dwelling-place of
chieftains. Such were the material used also for the royal residence in
Thorney Island, a swampy morass in the Thames, secured by its insular
position, where the early English kings administered justice; and such,
probably, were the material of the original Palais de Justice, where
the kings of Gaul entrenched themselves in a pal-lis, or impaled fort.

From the description which Wright[248] gives of Anglo-Saxon domestic
architecture, it appears to have differed but little from that which was
in use at the same period in Ireland. The hall[249] was the most
important part of the building, and halls of stone are alluded to in a
religious poem at the beginning of the Exeter Book: "Yet, in the earlier
period at least, there can be little doubt that the materials of
building were chiefly wood." The hall, both in Erinn and Saxon land, was
the place of general meeting for all domestic purposes. Food was cooked
and eaten in the same apartment; the chief and his followers eat at the
same time and in the same place. On the subject of food we have ample
details scattered incidentally through our annals. Boiling was probably
the principal method of preparing meat, and for this purpose the Irish
were amply provided with vessels. A brazen cauldron is lithographed in
the Ulster Archæological Journal, which is a most interesting specimen
of its kind. It was found in a turf bog in the county Down, at a depth
of five feet from the surface; and as this bog has been used from time
immemorial for supplying the neighbourhood with fuel, and is remembered
to have been forty feet above its present level by a generation now
living, the antiquity of the vessel is unquestionable. As a specimen of
superior workmanship, the cauldron has been greatly admired. It is made
of sheets of gold-coloured bronze, evidently formed by hammering: the
rim is of much thicker metal than the rest, and is rendered stiffer by
corrugation—a process which has been patented in England within the
last dozen years, as a new and valuable discovery.[250]

Cauldrons are constantly mentioned in the Book of Rights, in a manner
which shows that these vessels were in constant use. It was one of the
tributes to be presented in due form by the King of Cashel to the King
of Tara; and in the will of Cahir Môr, Monarch of Ireland in the second
century, fifty copper cauldrons are amongst the items bequeathed to his
family. Probably the poorer classes, who could not afford such costly
vessels, may have contented themselves with roasting their food
exclusively, unless, indeed, they employed the primitive method of
casting red hot stones into water when they wished it boiled.

The exact precision which characterizes every legal enactment in ancient
Erinn, and which could not have existed in a state of barbarism, is
manifested even in the regulations about food. Each member of the
chieftain's family had his appointed portion, and there is certainly a
quaintness in the parts selected for each. The saoi of literature and
the king were to share alike, as we observed when briefly alluding to
this subject in the chapter on ancient Tara; their portion was a prime
steak. Cooks and trumpeters were specially to be supplied with "cheering
mead," it is to be supposed because their occupations required more than
ordinary libations; the historian was to have a crooked bone; the
hunter, a pig's shoulder: in fact, each person and each office had its
special portion assigned[251] to it, and the distinction of ranks and
trades affords matter of the greatest interest and of the highest
importance to the antiquarian. There can be but little doubt that the
custom of Tara was the custom of all the other kings and chieftains, and
that it was observed throughout the country in every family rich enough
to have dependents. This division of food was continued in the Highlands
of Scotland until a late period. Dr. Johnson mentions it, in his Tour
in the Hebrides
, as then existing. He observes that he had not
ascertained the details, except that the smith[252] had the head.

The allowance for each day is also specified. Two cows, and two tinnés,[253] and two pigs was the quantity for dinner. This allowance was for a hundred men. The places which the household were to occupy
were also specified; so that while all sat at a common table,[254] there
was, nevertheless, a certain distinction of rank. At Tara there were
different apartments, called imdas, a word now used in the north of
Ireland to denote a couch or bed. The name probably originated in the
custom of sleeping in those halls, on the benches which surrounded them,
or on the floor near the fire-place. In the ground plan of the
banqueting hall at Tara, the house is shown as divided into five parts,
which are again divided into others. Each of the two divisions extending
along the side wall, is shown as subdivided into twelve imdas, which
here mean seats; the central division is represented as containing three
fires at equal distances, a vat, and a chandelier.

Benches were the seats used, even by persons of rank, until a late
period. In the French Carlovingian romances, even princes and great
barons sat on them. Chairs were comparatively rare, and only used on
state occasions, as late as the twelfth century. Wright gives some
curious woodcuts of persons conversing together, who are seated on
settles, or on seats formed in the walls round the room; such as may
still be seen in monastic cloisters and the chapter houses of our old
cathedrals. Food which had been roasted was probably handed round to the
guests on the spit on which it had been cooked.[255] Such at least was
the Anglo-Saxon fashion; and as the Irish had spits, and as forks were
an unknown luxury for centuries later, we may presume they were served
in a similar manner. The food was varied and abundant, probably none the
less wholesome for being free from the Anglo-Norman refinements of
cookery, introduced at a later period. For animal diet there were fat
beeves, dainty venison, pork, fresh and salted, evidently as favourite a
dish with the ancients as with the moderns—except, alas! that in the
good old times it was more procurable. Sheep and goats also varied the
fare, with "smaller game," easily procured by chase, or shot down with
arrows or sling stones. The land abounded in "milk and honey." Wheat was
planted at an early period; and after the introduction of Christianity,
every monastic establishment had its mill. There were "good old times"
in Ireland unquestionably. Even an English prince mentions "the honey
and wheat, the gold and silver," which he found in "fair Innis-fail." It
is probable that land was cultivated then which now lies arid and
unreclaimed, for a writer in the Ulster Archæological Journal mentions
having found traces of tillage, when laying out drains in remote
unproductive districts, several feet beneath the peaty soil. Dr.
O'Donovan also writes in the same journal: "I believe the Irish have had
wheat in the more fertile valleys and plains from a most remote period.
It is mentioned constantly in the Brehon laws and in our most ancient
poems."[256] Nor should we omit to mention fish in the list of edibles.
During the summer months, fishing was a favourite and lucrative
occupation; and if we are to believe a legend quoted in the Transactions of the Ossianic Society, the Fenians enjoyed a monopoly
in the trade, for no man dare take a salmon, "dead or alive," excepting
a man in the Fenian ranks; and piscatory squabbles seem to have extended
themselves into downright battles between the Northmen and the natives,
when there was question of the possession of a weir.[257]

Drinking vessels, of various shapes and materials, are constantly
mentioned in the Book of Rights. There were drinking-horns with handsome
handles, carved drinking-horns, variegated drinking-horns,
drinking-horns of various colours, and drinking-horns of gold.[258] Even
in pagan times, cups or goblets were placed beside the public wells; and
it is related that, in the reign of Conn of the Hundred Battles, Ireland
was so prosperous, so wealthy, and so civilized (circa A.D. 123) that
those cups were made of silver. Brian revived this custom nearly a
thousand years later. The Danes probably carried off most of these
valuables, as there are no remains of them at present. We are able,
however, to give an illustration of a stone drinking-cup, which is
considered a very beautiful specimen of its kind. This great rarity was
found in the Shannon excavations. We give a specimen below of a celt,
and on page 246 of a celt mould, for which we have also to acknowledge
our grateful obligations to the Council of the Royal Irish Academy.



Drink was usually served to the guests after meals. Among the seven
prerogatives for the King of Teamhair (Tara) we find:

"The fruits of Manann, a fine present;
And the heath fruit of Brigh Leithe;
The venison of Nas; the fish of the Boinn;
The cresses of the kindly Brosnach."



Dr. O'Donovan suggests that the "heath fruit" may have been bilberries
or whortleberries, and adds that some of the old Irish suppose that
this, and not the heath, was the shrub from which the Danes brewed their
beer.[259] It would appear that the Celts were not in the habit of
excessive drinking until a comparatively recent period. In the year 1405
we read of the death of a chieftain who died of "a surfeit in drinking;"

but previous to this entry we may safely assert that the Irish were
comparatively a sober race. The origin of the drink called whisky in
modern parlance, is involved in considerable obscurity. Some authorities
consider that the word is derived from the first part of the term
usquebaugh; others suppose it to be derived from the name of a place,
the Basque provinces, where some such compound was concocted in the
fourteenth century. In Morewood's History of Inebriating Liquors, he
gives a list of the ingredients used in the composition of usquebaugh,
and none of these are Irish productions.

There is a nice distinction between aqua vitæ and aqua vini in the Red
Book of Ossory, which was rescued by Dr. Graves from a heap of rubbish,
the result of a fire in Kilkenny Castle in 1839. MacGeoghegan, in his
annotations on the death of the chieftain above-mentioned, observes that
the drink was not aqua vitæ to him, but rather aqua mortis; and he
further remarks, that this is the first notice of the use of aqua
, usquebaugh, or whisky, in the Irish annals. Mead was made from
honey, and beer from malt; and these were, probably, the principal
liquors at the early period[260] of which we are now writing. As to the
heath beer of Scandinavian fame, it is probable that the heather was
merely used as a tonic or aromatic ingredient, although the author of a
work, published in London in 1596, entitled Sundrie Newe and Artificial
Remedies against Famine
, does suggest the use of heath tops to make a
"pleasing and cheape drink for Poor Men, when Malt is extream Deare;"

much, we suppose, on the same principle that shamrocks and grass were
used as a substitute for potatoes in the famine year, when the starving
Irish had no money to buy Indian corn. But famine years were happily
rare in Ireland in the times of which we write; and it will be
remembered that on one such occasion the Irish king prayed to God that
he might die, rather than live to witness the misery he could not



It would appear that butter was also a plentiful product then as now.
Specimens of bog butter are still preserved, and may be found in the
collection of the Royal Irish Academy. The butter was thus entombed
either for safety, or to give it that peculiar flavour which makes it
resemble the old dry Stilton cheese, so much admired by the modern bon
. A writer in the Ulster Archæological Journal mentions that he
found a quantity of red cows' hair mixed with this butter, when boring a
hole in it with a gouge. It would appear from this as if the butter had
been made in a cow-skin, a fashion still in use among the Arabs. A
visitor to the Museum (Mr. Wilmot Chetwode) asked to see the butter from
Abbeyleix. He remarked that some cows' heads had been discovered in that
neighbourhood, which belonged to the old Irish long-faced breed of
cattle; the skin and hair remained on one head, and that was red. An
analysis of the butter proved that it was probably made in the same way
as the celebrated Devonshire cream, from which the butter in that part
of England is generally prepared. The Arabs and Syrians make their
butter now in a similar manner. There is a curious account of Irish
butter in the Irish Hudibras, by William Moffat, London, 1755, from
which it appears that bog butter was then well known:—

"But let his faith be good or bad,
He in his house great plenty had
Of burnt oat bread, and butter found,
With garlick mixt, in boggy ground;
So strong, a dog, with help of wind,

By scenting out, with ease might find."

A lump of butter was found, twelve feet deep, in a bog at Gortgole,
county Antrim, rolled up in a coarse cloth. It still retains visibly the
marks of the finger and thumb of the ancient dame who pressed it into
its present shape.

Specimens of cheese of great antiquity have also been discovered. It was
generally made in the shape of bricks,[261] probably for greater
convenience of carriage and pressure in making. Wax has also been
discovered, which is evidently very ancient. A specimen may be seen in
the collection of the Royal Irish Academy. According to the Book of
Rights, the use of wax candles was a royal prerogative:—

"A hero who possesses five prerogatives,
Is the King of Laighlin of the fort of Labhraidh:
The fruit of Almhain [to be brought to him] to his house;
And the deer of Gleann Searraigh;
To drink by [the light of] fair wax candles,

At Din Riogh, is very customary to the king."[262]

In this matter, at least, the Irish kings and princes were considerably
in advance of their Anglo-Saxon neighbours. Wright informs us[263] that
their candle was a mere mass of fat, plastered round a wick, and stuck
upon an upright stick: hence the name candlestick.

It is probable that fire-light was, however, the principal means of
assisting the visual organs after dark in both countries. Until
comparatively recent times, fires were generally made on square, flat
stones, and these could be placed, as appears to have been the case at
Tara, in different parts of any large hall or apartment. There was
sometimes a "back stone" to support the pile of wood and turf. The smoke
got out how best it might, unless where there was a special provision
made for its exit, in the shape of a round hole in the roof. At a later
period a "brace" was sometimes made for conducting it. The brace was
formed of upright stakes, interlaced with twigs, and plastered over,
inside and outside, with prepared clay—the earliest idea of the modern

Macaulay[264] gives us a picture of an ancient Roman fire-side, and the
occupations of those who sat round it. We can, perhaps, form a more
accurate and reliable idea of the dress, amusements, and occupations of
those who surrounded the hall-fires of ancient Tara, or the humble,
domestic hearths of the crannoges or wattled houses.

The amusements of the pre-Christian Celt were, undeniably, intellectual.
Chess has already been mentioned more than once in this work as a
constant occupation of princes and chieftains. Indeed, they appear to
have sat down to a game with all the zest of a modern amateur. A few
specimens of chessmen have been discovered: a king, elaborately carved,
is figured in the Introduction to the Book of Rights. It belonged to Dr.
Petrie, and was found, with some others, in a bog in the county Meath.
The chessmen of ancient times appear to have been rather formidable as
weapons. In the Táin bó Chuailgné, Cuchullain is represented as having
killed a messenger, who told him a lie, with a chessman, "which pierced
him to the centre of his brain." English writers speak of the use of
chess immediately after the Conquest, and say that the Saxons learned
the game from the Danes. The Irish were certainly acquainted with it at
a much earlier period; if we are to credit the Annals, it was well known
long before the introduction of Christianity. Wright gives an engraving
of a Quarrel at Chess, in which Charles, the son of the Emperor
Charlemagne, is represented knocking out the brains of his adversary
with a chessboard. The illustration is ludicrously graphic, and the
unfortunate man appears to submit to his doom with a touching grace of
helpless resignation.

We may then suppose that chess was a favourite evening amusement of the
Celt. Chessboards at least were plentiful, for they are frequently
mentioned among the rights of our ancient kings. But music was the Irish
amusement par excellence; and it is one of the few arts for which they
are credited. The principal Irish instruments were the harp, the
trumpet, and the bagpipe. The harp in the Museum of Trinity College,
Dublin, usually known as Brian Boroimhé's harp, is supposed, by Dr.
Petrie, to be the oldest instrument of the kind now remaining in Europe.
It had but one row of strings, thirty in number; the upright pillar is
of oak, and the sound-board of red sallow. The minute and beautiful
carving on all parts of the instrument, attests a high state of artistic
skill at whatever period it was executed. As the harp is only thirty-two
inches high, it is supposed that it was used by ecclesiastics in the
church services, Cambrensis[265] mentions this custom; and there is evidence of its having existed from the first introduction of
Christianity. Harps of this description are figured on the knees of
ecclesiastics on several of our ancient stone crosses.

The subject of Irish music would require a volume, and we cannot but
regret that it must be dismissed so briefly. The form of the harp has
been incorrectly represented on our coins. It was first assumed in the
national arms about the year 1540. When figured on the coins of Henry
VIII., the artist seems to have taken the Italian harp of twenty-four
strings for his model; but in the national arms sketched on the map of
Ireland in the State Papers, executed in the year 1567, the form is more
correct. That the Irish possessed this musical instrument in
pre-Christian times, cannot be doubted. The ornamental cover of an Irish
MS., which Mr. Ferguson considers to date prior to A.D. 1064, contains
five examples of the harp of that period. This, and the sculptured harp
at Nieg, in Rosshire, are believed to be the earliest delineations of
the perfect harp. Dr. Bunting gives a sketch of a harp and harper, taken
from one of the compartments of a sculptured cross at Ullard, county
Kilkenny. This is a remarkable example. The cross is supposed to be
older than that of Monasterboice, which was erected A.D. 830, and this
is believed to be the first specimen of a harp without a fore pillar
that has been discovered out of Egypt. If the Irish harp be really a
variety of the cithara, derived through an Egyptian channel, it would
form another important link in the chain of evidence, which leads us
back to colonization from Egypt through Scythia. Captain Wilford
observes,[266] that there may be a clue to the Celtic word bard in the
Hindoo bárdátri; but the Irish appellation appears to be of
comparatively modern use. It is, however, a noticeable fact, that the
farther we extend our inquiries, the more forcibly we are directed to
the East as the cradle of our music. Several recent travellers have
mentioned the remarkable similarity between Celtic airs and those which
they heard in different parts of Asia.[267] Sir W. Ouseley observed, at
the close of the last century, that many Hindoo melodies possessed the
plaintive simplicity of the Scotch and Irish.

A German scholar has written a work, to prove that the pentatonic scale
was brought over by the Celts from Asia, and that it was preserved
longer in Scotland than elsewhere, on account of the isolated position
of that country.[268] The Phoenicians are supposed to have invented the kinnor, trigonon, and several other of the most remarkable instruments
of antiquity. Their skill as harpists, and their love of music, are
indicated by the prophetic denunciation in Ezechiel, where the ceasing
of songs and the sound of the harp are threatened as a calamity they
were likely specially to feel.

We give at least one evidence that the Irish monks practised the choral
performance of rhythmical hymns. Colgan supplies the proof, which we
select from one of the Latin hymns of St. Columba:—

"Protegat nos altissimus,

De suis sanctis sedibus,
Dum ibi hymnos canimus,
Decem statutis vicibus."

Mr. O'Curry gives the names of all the ancient Irish musical instruments
as follows:—Cruit, a harp; Timpan, a drum, or tambourine; Corn, a
trumpet; Stoc, a clarion; Pipai, the pipes; Fidil, the fiddle. He
adds: "All those are mentioned in an ancient poem in the Book of
Leinster, a MS. of about the year 1150, now in the Library of Trinity
College. The first four are found in various old tales and descriptions
of battles."

We shall find how powerful was the influence of Irish music on the Irish
race at a later period of our history, when the subject of political
ballads will be mentioned.

The dress of the rich and the poor probably varied as much in the
century of which we write as at the present day. We have fortunately
remains of almost every description of texture in which the Irish Celt
was clad; so that, as Sir W. Wilde has well observed, we are not left to
conjecture, or forced to draw analogies from the habits of
half-civilized man in other countries at the present day.

In the year 1821 the body of a male adult was found in a bog on the
lands of Gallagh, near Castleblakeney, county Galway, clad in its antique garb of deerskin. A few fragments of the dress are preserved,
and may be seen in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy. Portions
of the seams still remain, and are creditable specimens of early
needlework. The material employed in sewing was fine gut of three
strands, and the regularity and closeness of the stitching cannot fail
to excite admiration. It is another of the many proofs that, even in the
earliest ages, the Celt was gifted with more than ordinary skill in the
execution of whatever works he took in hand. After all, the skin of
animals is one of the most costly and appreciated adornments of the
human race, even at the present day; and our ancestors differ less from
us in the kind of clothes they wore, than in the refinements by which
they are fashioned to modern use. It is stated in the old bardic tale of
the Táin bó Chuailgné, that the charioteer of the hero was clothed in
a tunic of deerskin. This statement, taken in connexion with the fact
above-mentioned, is another evidence that increased knowledge is daily
producing increased respect for the veracity of those who transmitted
the accounts of our ancestral life, which, at one time, were supposed to
be purely mythical. Skin or leather garments were in use certainly until
the tenth century, in the form of cloaks. It is supposed that
Muircheartach obtained the soubriquet "of the leathern cloaks," from the
care which he took in providing his soldiers with them; and it is said
that, in consequence of this precaution, there was not a single man lost
in this campaign.



We give a specimen of an ancient shoe and boot, from the collection of
the Royal Irish Academy. It would appear as if the Celt was rather in
advance of the Saxon in the art of shoemaking; for Mr. Fairholt has been
obliged to give an illustration selected from Irish remains, in his
history, although it is exclusively devoted to British costume. In
illustrating the subject of gold ornaments, he has also made a selection
from the same source. Some curious specimens of shoes joined together,
and therefore perfectly useless for ordinary wear, have also been
discovered. Sir W. Wilde conjectures they may have been used by
chieftains as inauguration shoes.[269]



Saffron was a favourite colour, though it does not appear evident how
the dye was procured. There is no doubt the Irish possessed the art of
dyeing from an early period. Its introduction is attributed to King
Tighearnmas, who reigned from A.M. 3580 to 3664. It is probable the
Phoenicians imparted this knowledge to our ancestors. Although our old
illuminations are not as rich in figures as those from which English
historians have obtained such ample information regarding the early
costume of that country, we have still some valuable illustrations of
this interesting subject. These representations also are found to
correspond faithfully, even in the details of colour, with the remains
which have been discovered from time to time. Our ancient crosses give
immense scope for antiquarian research, though the costumes are
principally ecclesiastical, and hence are not of so much general
interest. But the Book of Rights[270] affords ample information, as far
as mere description, of the clothing of a higher class. While the
peasant was covered with a garment of untanned skin or fur, however
artistically sown together, the bards, the chieftains, and the monarchs
had their tunics [imar] of golden borders, their mantles [leanna] or
shirts of white wool or deep purple, their fair beautiful matals, and
their cloaks of every colour. If we add to this costume the magnificent
ornaments which still remain to attest the truth of the bardic accounts
of Erinn's ancient greatness, we may form a correct picture of the
Celtic noble as he stood in Tara's ancient palace; and we must coincide
in the opinion of the learned editor of the Catalogue of the Royal Irish
Academy, that "the variegated and glowing colours, as well as the
gorgeous decorations of the different articles of dress enumerated in
the Book of Rights, added to the brilliancy of the arms, must have
rendered the Irish costume of the eighth and ninth centuries very

With a passing glance at our ancient Fauna and Flora, and the
physical state of the country at this period, we must conclude briefly.

It is probable that the province of Ulster, which was styled by statute,
in Queen Elizabeth's time, "the most perilous place in all the isle,"
was much in the same state as to its physical characteristics in the
century of which we write. It was densely wooded, and strong in
fortresses, mostly placed on lakes, natural or artificial. Two great
roads led to this part of Ireland—the "Gap of the North," by
Carrickmacross, and the historically famous pass by Magh-Rath. From the
former place to Belturbet the country was nearly impassable, from its
network of bogs, lakes, and mountains. We shall find at a later period
what trouble these natural defences gave to the English settlers.

Munster so abounded in woods, that it was proposed, in 1579, to employ
4,000 soldiers for the sole purpose of hewing them down. Indeed, its
five great forests were the strongholds of the Earls of Desmond; and
enough evidence still remains at Glengariff and Killarney, to manifest
the value of their sylvan possessions. The cold and withering blasts of
the great Atlantic, appear to have stunted or hindered the growth of
trees in Connaught. In 1210 the Four Masters mention the wilderness of
Cinel-Dorfa, its principal forest; but it was amply provided with other
resources for the protection of native princes. In 1529 Chief Baron
Finglas gave a list of dangerous passes, with the recommendation that
the "Lord Deputy be eight days in every summer cutting passes into the
woods next adjoining the king's subjects."



In Leinster the forests had been cleared at an earlier period; and the
country being less mountainous, was more easily cultivated. But this
portion of Ireland contained the well-known Curragh of Kildare, which
has its history also, and a more ancient one than its modern visitors
are likely to suppose. The Curragh is mentioned for the first time in
the Liber Hymnorum, in a hymn in praise of St. Brigid. The Scholiast
in a contemporary gloss says: "Currech, a cursu equorum dictus est."

It is also mentioned in Cormac's Glossary, where the etymology is
referred to running or racing. But the most important notice is
contained in the historical tale of the destruction of the mansion of Dá
Derga.[271] In this, Connairé Môr, who was killed A.D. 60, is
represented as having gone to the games at the Curragh with four
chariots. From this and other sources we may conclude, that
chariot-races preceded horse-races in ancient Erinn, and that the
Curragh has been used as a place of public amusement for the last 2,000
years. It would appear that every province in Ireland possessed an Aenach or "fair-green," where the men assembled to celebrate their
games and festivals. In an old list of Irish Triads, the three great Aenachs of Ireland are said to have been Aenach Crogan, in
Connaught; Aenach Taillten, in Meath; and Aenach Colmain, the
Curragh. The last would appear, however, to have been frequented by
persons from all parts of Ireland; and it is not a little strange that
it should still be used in a similar manner as a place of public
amusement. Ireland in the tenth century and Ireland in the nineteenth
form a painful contrast, notwithstanding the boasted march of intellect.
The ancient forests have been hewn down with little profit[272] to the
spoiler, and to the injury in many ways of the native. The noble rivers
are there still, and the mountains look as beautiful in the sunsets of
this year of grace as they did so many hundred years before; but the
country, which was in "God's keeping" then, has but little improved
since it came into the keeping of man; for the poor tenant, who may be
here to-day, and to-morrow cast out on the wayside, has but substituted
ill-fenced and ill-cultivated fields for wide tracts of heather and
moorland, which had at least the recommendation of attractive scenery,
and of not suggesting painful reflections.



The most formidable, if not the largest, of the carnivora in this
island, was the brown bear. The wolf lingered on until the beginning of
the last century; and the Irish greyhound has passed with it also. The
gigantic Irish elk, Cervus megaseros, belongs more to the
palaeontologist than to the historian, as it is supposed to have existed
only in pre-historic times. A smaller variety has been found in peat
overlaying the clay, from which it is inferred that some species may
have been contemporary with the human race. The horse co-existed with
the elephant. The red deer was the principal object of chase from an
early period. The wild boar found abundant food from our noble oaks; and
the hare, the rabbit, the goat, and the sheep supplied the wants of the
Celt in ancient as in modern times. But the great wealth of Ireland
consisted in her cows, which then, as now, formed a staple article of
commerce. Indeed, most of the ancient feuds were simply cattle raids,
and the successful party signalized his victory by bearing off the
bovine wealth of the vanquished enemy.

It is impossible exactly to estimate the population of Ireland at this
period with any degree of reliable exactitude. The only method of
approximating thereto should be based on a calculation of the known or
asserted number of men in arms at any given time. When Roderic and his
allies invested the Normans in Dublin, he is said to have had 50,000
fighting men. Supposing this to include one-fourth of all the men of the
military age in the country, and to bear the proportion of one-fifth to
the total number of the inhabitants, it would give a population of about
a million, which would probably be rather under than over the correct