IRISH and Scotch Gaelic folk-stories are, as a living form of literature, by this time pretty nearly a thing of the past. They have been trampled in the common ruin under the feet of the Zeitgeist, happily not before a large harvest has been reaped in Scotland, but, unfortunately, before anything worth mentioning has been done in Ireland to gather in the crop which grew luxuriantly a few years ago. Until quite recently there existed in our midst millions of men and women who, when their day's work was over, sought and found mental recreation in a domain to which few indeed of us who read books are permitted to enter. Man, all the world over, when he is tired of the actualities of life, seeks to unbend his mind with the creations of fancy. We who can read betake ourselves to our favourite novelist, and as we peruse his fictions, we can almost see our author erasing this, heightening that, and laying on such-and-such a touch for effect. His book is the product of his individual brain, and some of us or of our contemporaries have been present at its genesis.
But no one can tell us with certainty of the genesis of the folk-tale, no one has been consciously present at its inception, and no one has marked its growth. It is in many ways a mystery, part of the flotsam and jetsam of the ages, still beating feebly against the shore of the nineteenth century, swallowed up at last in England by the waves of materialism and civilization combined; but still surviving unengulfed on the western coasts of Ireland, where I gathered together some bundles of it, of which the present volume is one.
The folk-lore of Ireland, like its folk-songs and native literature, remains practically unexploited and ungathered. Attempts have been made from time to time during the present century to collect Irish folk-lore, but these attempts, though interesting from a literary point of view, are not always successes from a scientific one. Crofton Croker's delightful book, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, first published anonymously in 1825, led the way. All the other books which have been published on the subject have but followed in the footsteps of his; but all have not had the merit of his light style, his pleasant parallels from classic and foreign literature, and his delightful annotations, which touch, after a fascinating manner peculiarly his own, upon all that is of interest in his text. I have written the word text, but that word conveys the idea of an original to be annotated upon; and Crofton Croker
p.xiis, alas! too often his own original. There lies his weak point, and there, too, is the defect of all who have followed him. The form in which the stories are told is, of course, Croker's own; but no one who knows anything of fairy lore will suppose that his manipulation of the originals is confined to the form merely. The fact is that he learned the ground-work of his tales from conversations with the Southern peasantry, whom he knew well, and then elaborated this over the midnight oil with great skill and delicacy of touch, in order to give a saleable book, thus spiced, to the English public.
Setting aside the novelists Carleton and Lover, who only published some incidental and largely-manipulated Irish stories, the next person to collect Irish folk-lore in a volume was Patrick Kennedy, a native of the County Wexford, who published Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, and in 1870 a good book, entitled, The Fireside Stories of Ireland, which he had himself heard in Wexford when a boy. Many of the stories which he gives appear to be the detritus of genuine Gaelic folk-stories, filtered through an English idiom and much impaired and stunted in the process. He appears, however, not to have adulterated them very much. Two of the best stories in the book, Jack, the Cunning Thief and Shawn an Omadawn, I heard myself in the adjoining county Wicklow, and the versions of them that I heard did not differ very widely from Kennedy's. It
p.xiiis interesting to note that these counties, close to the Pale as they are, and under English influence for so long, nevertheless seem to have preserved a considerable share of the old Gaelic folk-tales in English dress, while in Leitrim, Longford, Meath, and those counties where Irish died out only a generation or two ago, there has been made as clean a sweep of folk-lore and Gaelic traditions as the most uncompromising West Briton could desire. The reason why some of the folk-stories survive in the eastern counties is probably because the Irish language was there exchanged for English at a time when, for want of education and printed books, folk-stories (the only mental recreation of the people) had to transfer themselves rightly or wrongly into English. When this first took place I cannot tell, but I have heard from old people in Waterford, that when some of their fathers or grandfathers marched north to join the Wexford Irish in '98, they were astonished to find English nearly universally used amongst them. Kennedy says of his stories: I have endeavoured to present them in a form suitable for the perusal of both sexes and of all ages; and such as they are, they may be received by our readers as obtained from local sources. Unfortunately, the sources are not given by him any more than by Croker, and we cannot be sure how much belongs to Kennedy the bookseller, and how much to the Wexford peasant.
After this come Lady Wilde's volumesher Ancient Legends, and her recently published Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages, in both of which books she gives us a large amount of narrative matter in a folk-lore dress; but, like her predecessors, she disdains to quote an authority, and scorns to give us the least inkling as to where such-and-such a legend, or cure, or superstition comes from, from whom it was obtained, who were her informants, whether peasant or other, in what parishes or counties the superstition or legend obtains, and all the other collateral information which the modern folklorist is sure to expect. Her entire ignorance of Irish, through the medium of which alone such tales and superstitions can properly, if at all, be collected, is apparent every time she introduces an Irish word. She astonishes us Irish speakers with such striking observations as thisPeasants in Ireland wishing you good luck, say in Irish, 'The blessing of Bel and the blessing of Samhain be with you,' that is, of the sun and of the moon.1 It
p.xivwould be interesting to know the locality where so curious a Pagan custom is still practised, for I confess that though I have spoken Irish in every county where it is still spoken, I have never been, nor do I expect to be, so saluted. Lady Wilde's volumes are, nevertheless, a wonderful and copious record of folk-lore and folk customs, which must lay Irishmen under one more debt of gratitude to the gifted compiler. It is unfortunate, however, that these volumes are hardly as valuable as they are interesting, and for the usual reasonthat we do not know what is Lady Wilde's and what is not.
Almost contemporaneously with Lady Wilde's last book there appeared this year yet another important work, a collection of Irish folk-tales taken from the Gaelic speakers of the south and north-west, by an American gentleman, Mr. Jeremiah Curtin. He has collected some twenty tales, which are told very well, and with much less cooking and flavouring than
p.xvhis predecessors employed. Mr. Curtin tells us that he has taken his tales from the old Gaelic-speaking men but he must have done so through the awkward medium of an interpreter, for his ignorance of the commonest Irish words is as startling as Lady Wilde's.2 He follows Lady Wilde in this, too, that he keeps us in profound ignorance of his authorities. He mentions not one name, and except that he speaks in a general way of old Gaelic speakers in nooks where the language is still spoken, he leaves us in complete darkness as to where and from whom, and how he collected these stories. In this he does not do himself justice, for, from my own knowledge of Irish folk-lore, such as it is, I can easily recognize that Mr. Curtin has approached the fountainhead more nearly than any other. Unfortunately, like his predecessors, he has a literary style of his own, for
p.xviwhich, to say the least of it, there is no counterpart in the Gaelic from which he has translated.3
We have as yet had no folklorist in Ireland who could compare for a moment with such a man as Iain Campbell, of Islay, in investigative powers, thoroughness of treatment, and acquaintance with the people, combined with a powerful national sentiment, and, above all, a knowledge of Gaelic. It is on this last rock that all our workers-up of Irish folk-lore split. In most circles in Ireland it is a disgrace to be known to talk Irish; and in the capital, if one makes use of an Irish word to express one's meaning, as one sometimes does of a French or German word, one would be looked upon as positively outside the pale of decency; hence we need not be surprised at the ignorance of Gaelic Ireland displayed by littérateurs who write for the English public, and foist upon us modes of speech which we have not got, and idioms which they never learned from us.
This being the case, the chief interest in too many of our folk-tale writers lies in their individual treatment of the skeletons of the various Gaelic stories obtained through English mediums, and it is not devoid of interest
p.xviito watch the various garbs in which the sophisticated minds of the ladies and gentlemen who trifled in such matters, clothed the dry bones. But when the skeletons were thus padded round and clad, although built upon folk-lore, they were no longer folk-lore themselves, for folk-lore can only find a fitting garment in the language that comes from the mouths of those whose minds are so primitive that they retain with pleasure those tales which the more sophisticated invariably forget. For this reason folk-lore is presented in an uncertain and unsuitable medium, whenever the contents of the stories are divorced from their original expression in language. Seeing how Irish writers have managed it hitherto, it is hardly to be wondered at that the writer of the article on folk-lore in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, though he gives the names of some fifty authorities on the subject, has not mentioned a single Irish collection. In the present book, as well as in my Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta, I have attemptedif nothing elseto be a little more accurate than my predecessors, and to give the exact language of my informants, together with their names and various localitiesinformation which must always be the very first requisite of any work upon which a future scientist may rely when he proceeds to draw honey (is it always honey?) from the flowers which we collectors have culled for him.
It is difficult to say whether there still exist in Ireland many stories of the sort given in this volume. That is a question which cannot be answered without further investigation. In any other country the great body of Gaelic folk-lore in the four provinces would have been collected long ago, but the Hiberni incuriosi suorum appear at the present day to care little for anything that is Gaelic; and so their folk-lore has remained practically uncollected.
Anyone who reads this volume as a representative one of Irish folk-tales might, at first sight, imagine that there is a broad difference between the Gaelic tales of the Highlands and those of Ireland, because very few of the stories given here have parallels in the volumes of Campbell and MacInnes. I have, however, particularly chosen the tales in the present volume on account of their dissimilarity to any published Highland tales, for, as a general rule, the main body of tales in Ireland and Scotland bear a very near relation to each other. Most of Mr. Curtin's stories, for instance, have Scotch Gaelic parallels. It would be only natural, however, that many stories should exist in Ireland which are now forgotten in Scotland, or which possibly were never carried there by that section of the Irish which colonized it; and some of the most modernespecially of the kind whose genesis I have called consciousmust have arisen amongst the Irish since then, while on the other
p.xixhand some of the Scotch stories may have been bequeathed to the Gaelic language by those races who were displaced by the Milesian Conquest in the fifth century.
Many of the incidents of the Highland stories have parallels in Irish MSS., even incidents of which I have met no trace in the folk-lore of the people. This is curious, because these Irish MSS. used to circulate widely, and be constantly read at the firesides of the peasantry, while there is no trace of MSS. being in use in historical times amongst the Highland cabins. Of such stories as were most popular, a very imperfect list of about forty is given in Mr. Standish O'Grady's excellent preface to the third volume of the Ossianic Society's publications. After reading most of these in MSS. of various dates, and comparing them with such folk-lore as I had collected orally, I was surprised to find how few points of contact existed between the two. The men who committed stories to paper seem to have chiefly confined themselves to the inventions of the bards or professional story-tellersoften founded, however, on folk-lore incidentswhile the taste of the people was more conservative, and willingly forgot the bardic inventions to perpetuate their old Aryan traditions, of which this volume gives some specimens. The discrepancy in style and contents between the MS. stories and those of the people leads me to believe that the
p.xxStories in the MSS. are not so much old Aryan folk-tales written down by scholars as the inventions of individual brains, consciously inventing, as modern novelists do. This theory, however, must be somewhat modified before it can be applied, for, as I have said, there are incidents in Scotch Gaelic folk-tales which resemble those of some of the MS. stories rather nearly. Let us glance at a single instanceone only out of manywhere Highland tradition preserves a trait which, were it not for such preservation, would assuredly be ascribed to the imaginative brain of an inventive Irish writer.
The extraordinary creature of which Campbell found traces in the Highlands, the Fáchan, of which he has drawn a whimsical engraving,4 is met with in an Irish MS. called Iollann Arm-Dearg. Old MacPhie, Campbell's informant, called him the Desert creature of Glen Eite, the son of Colin, and described him as having one hand out of his chest, one leg out of his haunch, and one eye out of the front of his face; and again, ugly was the make of the Fáchan, there was one hand out of the ridge of his chest, and one tuft out of the top of his head, and it were easier to take a mountain from the root than to bend that tuft. This one-legged, one-handed, one-eyed creature, unknown, as Campbell remarks, to German or Norse mythology, is thus described
p.xxiin the Irish manuscript: And he (Iollann) was not long at this, until he saw the devilish misformed element, and the fierce and horrible spectre, and the gloomy disgusting enemy, and the morose unlovely churl (mogha); and this is how he was: he held a very thick iron flail-club in his skinny hand, and twenty chains out of it, and fifty apples on each chain of them, and a venomous spell on each great apple of them, and a girdle of the skins of deer and roebuck around the thing that was his body, and one eye in the forehead of his black-faced countenance, and one bare, hard, very hairy hand coming out of his chest, and one veiny, thick-soled leg supporting him and a close, firm, dark blue mantle of twisted hard-thick feathers, protecting his body, and surely he was more like unto devil than to man. This creature inhabited a desert, as the Highlander said, and were it not for this corroborating Scotch tradition, I should not have hesitated to put down the whole incident as the whimsical invention of some Irish writer, the more so as I had never heard any accounts of this wonderful creature in local tradition. This discovery of his counterpart in the Highlands puts a new complexion on the matter. Is the Highland spectre derived from the Irish manuscript story, or does the writer of the Irish story only embody in his tale a piece of folk-lore common at one time to all branches of the Gaelic race, and now all but extinct. This last supposition is certainly the true one, for it is
p.xxiiborne out by the fact that the Irish writer ascribes no name to this monster, while the Highlander calls him a Fáchan,5 a word, as far as I know, not to be found elsewhere. But we have further ground for pausing before we ascribe the Irish manuscript story to the invention of some single bard or writer. If we read it closely we shall see that it is largely the embodiment of other folk-tales. Many of the incidents of which it is composed can be paralleled from Scotch Gaelic sources, and one of the most remarkable, that of the prince becoming a journeyman fuller, I have found in a Connacht folk-tale. This diffusion of incidents in various tales collected all over the Gaelic-speaking world, would point to the fact that the story, as far as many of the incidents go, is not the invention of the writer, but is genuine folk-lore thrown by him into a new form, with, perhaps, added incidents of his own, and a brand new dress.
But now in tracing this typical story, we come across another remarkable factthe fresh start the story took on its being thus recast and made up new. Once the order and progress of the incidents were thus stereotyped, as it were, the tale seems to have taken a new
p.xxiiilease of its life, and gone forth to conquer; for while it continued to be constantly copied in Irish manuscripts, thus proving its popularity as a written tale, it continued to be recited verbally in Scotland in something like the same bardic and inflated language made use of by the Irish writer, and with pretty nearly the same sequence of incidents, the three adventurers, whose Irish names are Ur, Artuir, and Iollann, having become transmogrified into Ur, Athairt, and Iullar, in the mouth of the Highland reciter. I think it highly improbable, however, that at the time of this story being composedlargely out of folk-tale incidentsit was also committed to paper. I think it much more likely that the story was committed to writing by some Irish scribe, only after it had gained so great a vogue as to spread through both Ireland and Scotland. This would account for the fact that all the existing MSS. of this story, and of many others like it, are, as far as I am aware, comparatively modern.6 Another argument in favour of this
p.xxivsupposition, that bardic tales were only committed to writing when they had become popular, may be drawn from the fact that both in Ireland and the Highlands we find in many folk-lore stories traces of bardic compositions easily known by their poetical, alliterative, and inflated language, of which no MSS. are found in either country. It may, of course, be said, that the MSS. have perished; and we know how grotesquely indifferent the modern Irish are about their literary and antiquarian remains; yet, had they ever existed, I cannot help thinking that some trace of them, or allusion to them, would be found in our surviving literature.
There is also the greatest discrepancy in the poetical passages which occur in the Highland oral version and the Irish manuscript version of such tales as in incident are nearly identical. Now, if the story had been propagated from a manuscript written out once for all, and then copied, I feel pretty sure that the resemblance between the alliterative passages in the two would be much closer. The dissimilarity between them seems to show that the incidents and not the language were the things to be remembered, and that every wandering bard who picked up a new story from a colleague, stereotyped the incidents in his mind, but uttered them whenever he recited
p.xxvthe story, in his own language; and whenever he came to the description of a storm at sea, or a battle, or anything else which the original poet had seen fit to describe poetically, he did so too, but not in the same way or the same language, for to remember the language of his predecessor on these occasions, from merely hearing it, would be well-nigh impossible. It is likely, then, that each bard or story-teller observed the places where the poetical runs should come in, but trusted to his own cultivated eloquence for supplying them. It will be well to give an example or two from this tale of Iollann. Here is the sea-run, as given in the Highland oral version, after the three warriors embark in their vessel:
It will be observed how different the corresponding run in the Irish manuscript is, when thrown into verse,
p.xxvifor the language in both versions is only measured prose:
It may, however, be objected that sea-runs are so common and so numerous, that one might easily usurp the place of another, and that this alone is no proof that the various story-tellers or professional bards, contented themselves with remembering the incidents of a story, but either extemporised their own runs after what flourish their nature would, or else had a stock of these, of their own composing, always ready at hand. Let us look, then, at another story of which Campbell has preserved the Highland version, while I have a good Irish MS. of the same, written by some northern scribe, in 1762. This story, The Slender Grey Kerne, or Slim Swarthy Champion, as Campbell translates it, is full of alliterative runs, which the Highland reciter has retained
p.xxviiin their proper places, but couched in different language, while he introduces a run of his own which the Irish has not got, in describing the swift movement of the kerne. Every time the kerne is asked where he comes from, the Highlander makes him say
In the Irish MS, the kerne always says
In Dun Monaidh, in the town of the king of Scotland,
I slept last night,
But I be a day in Islay and a day in Cantire,
A day in Man and a day in Rathlin,
A day in Fionncharn of the watch
Upon Slieve Fuaid.
A little miserable traveller I,
And in Aileach of the kings was I born.
And that, said he, is my story.
Again, whenever the kerne plays his harp the Highlander says:
He could play tunes and oirts and orgain,
Trampling things, tightening strings,
Warriors, heroes, and ghosts on their feet,
Ghosts and souls and sickness and fever,
p.xxviiThat would set in sound lasting sleep
The Irish run is as follows:
The kerne played music and tunes and instruments of song,
Wounded men and women with babes,
And slashed heroes and mangled warriors,
And all the wounded and all the sick,
And the bitterly-wounded of the great world,
They would sleep with the voice of the music,
Ever efficacious, ever sweet, which the kerne played.
Again, when the kerne approaches anyone, his gait is thus described half-rhythmically by the Scotch narrator:A young chap was seen coming towards them, his two shoulders through his old coat, his two ears through his old hat, his two squat kickering tatter-y shoes full of cold roadway-ish water, three feet of his sword sideways in the side of his haunch after the scabbard was ended.
The Irish writer makes him come thus:And he beheld the slender grey kerne approaching him straight, and half his sword bared behind his haunch, and old shoes full of water sousing about him, and the top of his ears out through his old mantle, and a short butt-burned javelin of holly in his hand.
These few specimens, which could be largely multiplied,
p.xxixmay be sufficient for our purpose, as they show that wherever a run occurs in the Irish the same occurs in the Gaelic, but couched in quite different language, though preserving a general similarity of meaning. This can only be accounted for on the supposition already made, that when a professional bard had invented a successful story it was not there and then committed to paper, but circulated viva voce, until it became the property of every story-teller, and was made part of the stock-in-trade of professional filès, who neither remembered nor cared to remember the words in which the story was first told, but only the incidents of which it was composed, and who (as their professional training enabled them to do) invented or extemporised glowing alliterative runs for themselves at every point of the story where, according to the inventor of it, a run should be.
It may be interesting to note that this particular story cannotat least in the form in which we find it disseminated both in Ireland and Scotlandbe older than the year 1362, in which year O'Connor Sligo marched into Munster and carried off great spoil, for in both the Scotch and Irish versions the kerne is made to accompany that chieftain, and to disappear in disgust because O'Connor forgot to offer him the first drink. This story then, and it is probably typical of a great many others, had its rise in its present shapefor, of course, the germ
p.xxxof it may be much olderon Irish ground, not earlier than the end of the fourteenth or the beginning of the fifteenth century, and was carried by some Irish bard or professional story-teller to the Gaeldom of Scotland, where it is told to this day without any great variations, but in a form very much stunted and shortened. As to the Irish copy, I imagine that it was not written down for a couple of centuries later, and only after it had become a stock piece all over the Scotch and Irish Gaeldom; that then some scribe got hold of a story-teller (one of those professionals who, according to the Book of Leinster, were obliged to know seven times fifty stories), and stereotyped in writing the current Irish variation of the tale, just as Campbell, two, three, or four centuries afterwards, did with the Scotch Gaelic version.
It may, of course, be alleged that the bombastic and inflated language of many of the MS. stories is due not to the oral reciter, but to the scribe, who, in his pride of learning, thought to himself, nihil quod tango non orno; but though it is possible that some scribes threw in extraneous embellishments, I think the story-teller was the chief transgressor. Here, for instance, is a verbally collected specimen from a Connemara story, which contains all the marks of the MS. stories, and yet it is almost certain that it has been transmitted purely viva voce:'They journeyed to the harbour where there was a vessel waiting to take them across the sea. They
p.xxxistruck into her, and hung up the great blowing, bellying, equal-long, equal-straight sails, to the tops of the masts, so that they would not leave a rope without straining, or an oar without breaking, plowing the seething, surging sea; great whales making fairy music and service for them, two-thirds going beneath the wave to the one-third going on the top, sending the smooth sand down below and the rough sand up above, and the eels in grips with one another, until they grated on port and harbour in the Eastern world. This description is probably nothing to the glowing language which a professional story-teller, with a trained ear, enormous vocabulary, and complete command of the language, would have employed a couple of hundred years ago. When such popular traces of the inflated style even still exist, it is against all evidence to accredit the invention and propagation of it to the scribes alone.
The relationship between Ireland and the Scottish Gaeldom was of the closest kind, and there must have been something like an identity of literature, nor was there any break in the continuity of these friendly relations until the plantation of Ulster cut off the high road between the two Gaelic families. Even during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it is probable that no sooner did a bardic composition win fame in Ireland than it was carried over to try its fortune in Scotland too, just as an English dramatic company will come over from London
p.xxxiito Dublin. A story which throws great light on the dispersion of heroic tales amongst the Gaelic-speaking peoples, is Conall Gulban, the longest of all Campbell's tales. On comparing the Highland version with an Irish MS., by Father Manus O'Donnell, made in 1708, and another made about the beginning of this century, by Michael O'Longan, of Carricknavar, I was surprised to find incident following incident with wonderful regularity in both versions. Luckily we have proximate data for fixing the date of this renowned story, a story that, according to Campbell, is very widely spread in Scotland, from Beaulay on the east, to Barra on the west, and Dunoon and Paisley in the south. Both the Irish and Gaelic stories relate the exploits of the fifth century chieftain, Conall Gulban, the son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, and his wars with (amongst others) the Turks. The Irish story begins with an account of Niall holding his court, when a herald from the Emperor of Constantinople comes forward and summons him to join the army of the emperor, and assist in putting down Christianity, and making the nations of Europe embrace the Turkish faith. We may fairly surmise that this romance took its rise in the shock given to Europe by the fall of Constantinople and the career of Mahomet the Great. This would throw back its date to the latter end of the fifteenth century at the earliest; but one might almost suppose that Constantinople had been long enough held
p.xxxiiiby the Turks at the time the romance was invented to make the inventor suppose that it had always belonged to them, even in the time of Niall of the Nine Hostages.9 We know that romances of this kind continued to be invented at a much later date, but I fancy none of these ever penetrated to Scotland. One of the most popular of romantic tales with the scribes of the last century and the first half of this, was The Adventures of Torolbh Mac Stairn, and again, the Adventures of Torolbh MacStairn's Three Sons, which most of the MSS. ascribe to Michael Coiminn, who lived at the beginning of the eighteenth century,10 and whose romance was certainly not propagated by professional story-tellers, as I have tried to prove was the case with the earlier romances, but by means of numerous manuscript copies; and it is also certain that Coiminn did not relate this tale as the old bards did, but
p.xxxivwrote it down as modern novelists do their stories. But this does not invalidate my surmise, or prove that Conall Gulban, and forty or fifty of the same kind, had their origin in a written manuscript; it only proves that in the eighteenth century the old order was giving place to the new, and that the professional bards and story-tellers were now a thing of the past, they having fallen with the Gaelic nobility who were their patrons. It would be exceedingly interesting to know whether any traces of these modern stories that had their rise in written manuscripts, are to be found amongst the peasantry as folklore. I, certainly, have found no remnant of any such; but this proves nothing. If Ireland had a few individual workers scattered over the provinces we would know more on the subject; but, unfortunately, we have hardly any such people, and what is worse, the present current of political thought, and the tone of our Irish educational establishments are not likely to produce them. Until something has been done by us to collect Irish folk-lore in as thorough a manner as Highland tales have already been collected, no deductions can be made with certainty upon the subject of the relationship between Highland and Irish folk-tales, and the relation of both to the Irish MSS.
Irish folk-stories may roughly be divided into two classes, those which I believe never had any conscious genesis inside the shores of Ireland, and those which
p.xxxvhad. These last we have just been examining. Most of the longer tales about the Fenians, and all those stories which have long inflated passages full of alliterative words and poetic epithets, belong to this class. Under the other head of stories that were never consciously invented on Irish ground, we may place all such simple stories as bear a trace of nature myths, and those which appear to belong to our old Aryan heritage, from the fact of their having parallels amongst other Aryan-speaking races, such as the story of the man who wanted to learn to shake with fear, stories of animals and talking birds, of giants and wizards, and others whose directness and simplicity show them to have had an unconscious and popular origin, though some of these may, of course, have arisen on Irish soil. To this second class belong also that numerous body of traditions rather than tales, of conversational anecdotes rather than set stories, about appearances of fairies, or good people, or Tuatha De Danann, as they are also called; of pookas, leprechauns, ghosts, apparitions, water-horses, &c. These creations of folk-fancy seldom appear, as far as I have observed, in the folktale proper, or at least they only appear as adjuncts, for in almost all cases the interest of these regular tales centres round a human hero. Stories about leprechauns, fairies, &c., are very brief, and generally have local names and scenery attached to them, and are told conversationally as any other occurrence might be
p.xxxvitold, whereas there is a certain solemnity about the repetition of a folk-tale proper.
After spending so much time over the very latest folk-tales, the detritus of bardic stories, it will be well to cast a glance at some of the most ancient, such as bear their pre-historic origin upon their face. Some of these point, beyond all doubt, to rude efforts on the part of primitive man to realize to himself the phenomena of nature, by personifying them, and attaching to them explanatory fables. Let us take a specimen from a story I found in Mayo, not given in this volume The Boy who was long on his Mother.11 In this story, which in Von Hahn's classification would come under the heading of the strong man his adventures, the hero is a veritable Hercules, whom the king tries to put to death by making him perform impossible tasks, amongst other things, by sending him down to hell to drive up the spirits with his club. He is desired by the king to drain a lake full of water. The lake is very steep on one side like a reservoir. The hero makes a hole at this side, applies his mouth to it, and sucks down the water of the lake, with boats, fishes, and everything else it contained, leaving the lake chomh tirim le bois do láimhe, as dry as the palm of your hand. Even a sceptic will be likely to confess that this tale (which has otherwise no meaning)
p.xxxviiis the remains of a (probably Aryan) sun-myth, and personifies the action of the warm sun in drying-up a lake and making it a marsh, killing the fishes, and leaving the boats stranded. But this story, like many others, is suggestive of more than this, since it would supply an argument for those who, like Professor Rhys, see in Hercules a sun-god. The descent of our hero into hell, and his frightening the spirits with his club, the impossible tasks which the king gives him to perform in the hopes of slaying him, and his successful accomplishment of them, seem to identify him with the classic Hercules. But the Irish tradition preserves the incident of drying the lake, which must have been the work of a sun-god, the very thing that Herculesbut on much slighter grounds is supposed to have been.12 If this story is not the remains of a nature myth, it is perfectly unintelligible, for no rational person could hope to impose upon even a child by saying that a man drank up a lake, ships, and all; and yet this story has been with strange conservatism repeated from father to son for probably thousands of years, and must have taken its rise at a time when our ancestors were in much the same rude and mindless
p.xxxviiicondition as the Australian blacks or the Indians of California are to-day.
Again, in another story we hear of a boat that sails equally swiftly over land and sea, and goes straight to its mark. It is so large that if all the men in the world were to enter it there would remain place for six hundred more; while it is so small that it folds up into the hand of the person who has it. But ships do not sail on land, nor grow large and small, nor go straight to their mark; consequently, it is plain that we have here another nature myth, vastly old, invented by pre-historic man, for these ships can be nothing but the clouds which sail over land and sea, are large enough to hold the largest armies, and small enough to fold into the hand, and which go straight to their mark. The meaning of this has been forgotten for countless ages, but the story has survived. Again, in another tale which I found, called The Bird of Sweet Music,13 a man follows a sweet singing bird into a cave under the ground, and finds a country where he wanders for a year and a day, and a woman who befriends him while there, and enables him to bring back the bird, which turns out to be a human being. At the end of the tale the narrator mentions quite casually that it was his mother whom he met down there.
p.xxxixBut this touch shows that the land where he wandered was the Celtic Hades, the country of the dead beneath the ground, and seems to stamp the tale at once as at least pre-Christian.
Even in such an unpretending-looking story as The King of Ireland's Son (the third in this volume), there are elements which must be vastly old. In a short Czech story, George with the Goat, we find some of the prince's companions figuring, only slightly metamorphosed. We have the man with one foot over his shoulder, who jumps a hundred miles when he puts it down; while the gun-man of the Irish story who performs two partsthat of seeing and shootingis replaced in the Bohemian tale by two different men, one of whom has such sight that he must keep a bandage over his eyes, for it he removed it he could see a hundred miles, and the other has, instead of a gun, a bottle with his thumb stuck into it for a stopper, because if he took it out it would squirt a hundred miles. George hires one after the other, just as the prince does in the Irish story. George goes to try to win the king's daughter, as the Irish prince does, and, amongst other things, is desired to bring a goblet of water from a well a hundred miles off in a minute. So, says the story,14 George said to the man who had the foot on his
p.xlshoulder, You said that if you took the foot down you could jump a hundred miles. He replied: I'll easily do that. He took the foot down, jumped, and was there; but after this there was only a very little time to spare, and by this he ought to have been back. So George said to the second. You said that if you removed the bandage from your eyes you could see a hundred miles; peep, and see what is going on. Ah, sir, goodness gracious! he's fallen asleep. That will be a bad job, said George; the time will be up. You third man, you said if you pulled your thumb out you could squirt a hundred miles. Be quick, and squirt thither, that he may get up; and you, look whether he is moving, or what. Oh, sir, he's getting up now; he's knocking the dust off; he's drawing the water. He then gave a jump, and was there exactly in time. Now, this Bohemian story seems also to bear traces of a nature myth; for, as Mr. Wratislaw has remarked: the man who jumps a hundred miles appears to be the rainbow, the man with bandaged eyes the lightning, and the man with the bottle the cloud. The Irish story, while in every other way superior to the Bohemian, has quite obscured this point; and were it not for the striking Sclavonic parallel, people might be found to assert that the story was of recent origin. This discovery of the Czech tale, however, throws it at once three thousand years back; for the similarity of the Irish and Bohemian
p.xliStory can hardly be accounted for, except on the supposition, that both Slavs and Celts carried it from the original home of the Aryan race, in pre-historic times, or at least from some place where the two races were in contiguity with one another, and that it, toolittle as it appears so nowwas at one time in all probability a nature myth.
Such myth stories as these ought to be preserved, since they are about the last visible link connecting civilized with pre-historic man; for, of all the traces that man in his earliest period has left behind him, there is nothing except a few drilled stones or flint arrowheads that approaches the antiquity of these tales, as told to-day by a half-starving peasant in a smoky Connacht cabin.
It is time to say a word about the narrators of these stories. The people who can recite them are, as far as my researches have gone, to be found only amongst the oldest, most neglected, and poorest of the Irish-speaking population. English-speaking people either do not know them at all, or else tell them in so bald and condensed a form as to be useless. Almost all the men from whom I used to hear stories in the County Roscommon are dead. Ten or fifteen years ago I used to hear a great many stories, but I did not understand their value. Now when I go back for them I cannot find them. They have died out, and will never again be
p.xliiheard on the hillsides, where they probably existed for a couple of thousand years; they will never be repeated there again, to use the Irish phrase, while grass grows or water runs. Several of these stories I got from an old man, one Shawn Cunningham, on the border of the County Roscommon, where it joins Mayo. He never spoke more than a few words of English till he was fifteen years old. He was taught by a hedge schoolmaster from the South of Ireland out of Irish MSS. As far as I could make out from him the teaching seemed to consist in making him learn Irish poems by heart. His next schoolmaster, however, tied a piece of stick round his neck, and when he came to school in the morning the schoolmaster used to inspect the piece of wood and pretend that it told him how often he had spoken Irish when at home. In some cases the schoolmasters made the parents put a notch in the stick every time the child failed to speak English. He was beaten then, and always beaten whenever he was heard speaking a word of Irish, even though at this time he could hardly speak a word of English. His son and daughter now speak Irish, though not fluently, his grandchildren do not even understand it. He had at one time, as he expressed it, the full of a sack of stories, but he had forgotten them. His grandchildren stood by his knee while he told me one or two, but it was evident they did not understand a word. His son and daughter laughed at them as nonsense.
p.xliiiEven in Achill where, if anywhere, one ought to find folk-stories in their purity, a fine-looking dark man of about forty-five, who told me a number of them, and could repeat Ossian's poems, assured me that now-a-days when he went into a house in the evening and the old people got him to recite, the boys would go out; they wouldn't understand me, said he, and when they wouldn't, they'd sooner be listening to géimneach na mbó, the lowing of the cows. This, too, in an island where many people cannot speak English. I do not know whether the Achill schoolmasters make use of the notch of wood to-day, but it is hardly wanted now. It is curious that this was the device universally employed all over Connacht and Munster to kill the language. This took place under the eye of O'Connell and the Parliamentarians, and, of course, under the eye and with the sanction of the Catholic priesthood and prelates, some of whom, according to Father Keegan, of St. Louis, distinguished themselves by driving the Irish teachers out of their dioceses and burning their books. At the present day, such is the irony of fate, if a stranger talks Irish he runs a good chance of being looked upon as an enemy, this because some attempts were made to proselytize natives by circulating Irish bibles, and sending some Irish scripture-readers amongst them. Surely nothing so exquisitely ludicrous ever took place outside of this island of anomalies, as that a
p.xlivStranger who tries to speak Irish in Ireland runs the serious risk of being looked upon a proselytizing Englishman. As matters are still progressing gaily in this direction, let nobody be surprised if a pure Aryan language which, at the time of the famine, in '47, was spoken at least four million souls (more than the whole population of Switzerland), becomes in a few years as extinct as Cornish. Of course, there is not a shadow of necessity, either social or economical, for this. All the world knows that bi-linguists are superior to men who know only one language, yet in Ireland everyone pretends to believe the contrary, A few words from the influential leaders of the race when next they visit Achill, for instance, would help to keep Irish alive there in saecula saeculorum, and with the Irish language, the old Aryan folk-lore, the Ossianic poems, numberless ballads, folk-songs, and proverbs, and a thousand and one other interesting things that survive when Irish is spoken, and die when it dies. But, from a complexity of causes which I am afraid to explain, the men who for the last sixty years have had the ear of the Irish race have persistently shown the cold shoulder to everything that was Irish and racial, and while protesting, or pretending to protest, against West Britonism, have helped, more than anyone else, by their example, to assimilate us to England and the English, thus running counter to the entire voice of modern Europe, which is in favour of extracting the best
p.xlvfrom the various races of men who inhabit it, by helping them to develop themselves on national and racial lines. The people are not the better for it either, for one would fancy it required little culture to see that the man who reads Irish MSS., and repeats Ossianic poetry, is a higher and more interesting type than the man whose mental training is confined to spelling through an article in United Ireland.15
p.xlviI may mention here that it is not as easy a thing as might be imagined to collect Irish stories. One hears that tales are to be had from such and such a man, generally, alas! a very old one. With difficulty one manages to find him out, only to discover, probably, that he has some work on hand. If it happens to be harvest time it is nearly useless going to him at all, unless one
p.xlviis prepared to sit up with him all night, for his mind is sure to be so distraught with harvest operations that he can tell you nothing. If it is winter time, however, and you fortunately find him unoccupied, nevertheless it requires some management to get him to tell his stories. Half a glass of ishka-baha, a pipe of tobacco, and a story of one's own are the best things to begin with. If, however, you start to take down the story verbatim with pencil and paper, as an unwary collector might do, you destroy all, or your shanachie becomes irritable. He will not wait for you to write down your sentence, and if you call out, Stop, stop, wait till I get this down, he will forget what he was going to tell you, and you will not get a third of his story, though you may think you have it all. What you must generally do is to sit quietly smoking
p.xlviiyour pipe, without the slightest interruption, not even when he comes to words and phrases which you do not understand. He must be allowed his own way to the end, and then after judiciously praising him and discussing the story, you remark, as if the thought had suddenly struck you, budh mhaith liom sin a bheith agam air pháipeur, I'd like to have that on paper. Then you can get it from him easily enough, and when he leaves out whole incidents, as he is sure to do, you who have just heard the story can put him right, and so get it from him nearly in its entirety. Still it is not always easy to write down these stories, for they are full of old or corrupted words, which neither you nor your narrator understand, and if you press him too much over the meaning of these he gets confused and irritable.
The present volume consists of about half the stories in the Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta, translated into English, together with some half dozen other stories given in the original together with a close English translation. It is not very easy to make a good translation from Irish into English, for there are no two Aryan languages more opposed to each other in spirit and idiom. Still, the English spoken by three-fourths of the people of Ireland is largely influenced by Gaelic idioms, for most of those expressions which surprise Englishmen are really translations from that Irish which was the language of the
p.xlviiispeaker's father, grandfather, or great-grandfatheraccording to the part of the country you may be inand there have perpetuated themselves, even in districts where you will scarce find a trace of an Irish word. There are, however, also hundreds of Gaelic idioms not reproduced in the English spoken by the people, and it is difficult to render these fitly. Campbell of Islay has run into rather an extreme in his translations, for in order to make them picturesque, he has rendered his Gaelic originals something too literally. Thus, he invariably translates bhain se an ceann deth, by he reaped the head off him, a form of speech which, I notice, a modern Irish poet and M.P. has adopted from him; but bain, though it certainly means reap amongst other things, is the word used for taking off a hat as well as a head. Again, he always translates thu by thou, which gives his stories a strange antique air, which is partly artificial, for the Gaelic thou corresponds to the English you, the second person plural not being used except in speaking of more than one. In this way, Campbell has given his excellent and thoroughly reliable translations a scarcely legitimate colouring, which I have tried to avoid. For this reason, I have not always translated the Irish idioms quite literally, though I have used much unidiomatic English, but only of the kind used all over Ireland, the kind the people themselves use. I do not translate, for instance, the Irish for he died, by
p.xlixhe got death, for this, though the literal translation, is not adopted into Hibernian English; but I do translate the Irish ghnidheadh se sin by he used to do that, which is the ordinary Anglo-Irish attempt at making what they have not got in Englisha consuetudinal tense. I have scarcely used the pluperfect at all. No such tense exists in Irish, and the people who speak English do not seem to feel the want of it, and make no hesitation in saying, I'd speak sooner if I knew that, where they mean, if I had known that I would have spoken sooner. I do not translate (as Campbell would), it rose with me to do it, but I succeeded in doing it; for the first, though the literal translation of the Irish idiom, has not been adopted into English; but I do translate he did it and he drunk, instead of, he did it while he was drunk; for the first phrase (the literal translation of the Irish) is universally used throughout English-speaking Ireland. Where, as sometimes happens, the English language contains no exact equivalent for an Irish expression, I have rendered the original as well as I could, as one generally does render for linguistic purposes, from one language into another.
In conclusion, it only remains for me to thank Mr. Alfred Nutt for enriching this book as he has done, and for bearing with the dilatoriness of the Irish printers, who find so much difficulty in setting Irish type, that
p.lmany good Irishmen have of late come round to the idea of printing our language in Roman characters; and to express my gratitude to Father Eugene O'Growney for the unwearying kindness with which he read and corrected my Irish proofs, and for the manifold aid which he has afforded me on this and other occasions.
I had hoped to accompany these tales with as full a commentary as that which I have affixed to the Argyllshire Märchen, collected and translated by the Rev. D. MacInnes. Considerations of business and health prevent me from carrying out this intention, and I have only been able to notice a passage here and there in the Tales; but I have gladly availed myself of my friend, Dr. Hyde's permission, to touch upon a few points in his Introduction.
Of special interest are Dr. Hyde's remarks upon the relations which obtain between the modern folk-tale current among the Gaelic-speaking populations of Ireland and Scotland, and the Irish mythic, heroic, and romantic literature preserved in MSS., which range in date from the eleventh century to the present day.
In Ireland, more than elsewhere, the line of demarcation between the tale whose genesis is conscious, and that of which the reverse is true, is hard to draw, and students will, for a long while to come, differ concerning points of detail. I may thus be permitted to disagree at times with Dr. Hyde, although, as a rule, I am heartily at one with him.
Dr. Hyde distinguishes between an older stratum of folk-tale (the old Aryan traditions, of p. xix.) and the newer stratum of bardic inventions. He also establishes a yet younger class than these latter, the romances of the professional story-tellers of the eighteenth century, who wrote them down as modern novelists do their stories. Of these last he remarks (p. xxxiv.), that he has found no remnant of them among the peasantry of to-day; a valuable bit of evidences, although, of course, subject to the inconclusiveness of all merely negative testimony. To revert to the second class, he looks upon the tales comprised in it as being rather the inventions of individual brains than as old Aryan folk-tales (p. xx.) It must at once be conceded, that a great number of the tales and ballads current in the Gaelic-speaking lands undoubtedly received the form under which they are now current, somewhere between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries; that the authors of that form were equally
p.liiundoubtedly the professional bards and story-tellers attached to the court of every Gaelic chieftain; and that the method of their transmission was oral, it being the custom of the story-tellers both to teach their tales to pupils, and to travel about from district to district.
The style of these stories and ballads enables us to date them with sufficient precision. Dr. Hyde also notes historical allusions, such as the reference to O'Connor Sligo, in the story of the Slim Swarthy Champion, or to the Turks in the story of Conall Gulban. I cannot but think, however, that it is straining the evidence to assert that the one story was invented after 1362, or the other after the fall of Constantinople. The fact that Bony appears in some versions of the common English mumming play does not show that it originated in this century, merely that these particular versions have passed through the minds of nineteenth century peasants; and in like manner the Connaught fourteenth century chieftain may easily have taken the place of an earlier personage, the Turks in Conall Gulban, of an earlier wizard-giant race. If I cannot go as far as Dr. Hyde in this sense, I must equally demur to the assumption (p. xl.), that community of incident between an Irish and a Bohemian tale necessarily establishes the pre-historic antiquity of the incident. I believe that a great many folk-tales, as well as much else of folk-lore, has been developed in situ, rather imported from the outside; but I, by no means, deny importation in principle, and I recognise that its agency has been clearly demonstrated in not a few cases.
The main interest of Irish folk-literature (if the expression be allowed) centres in the bardic stories. I think that Dr. Hyde lays too much stress upon such external secondary matters as the names of heroes, or allusions to historical events; and, indeed, he himself, in the case of Murachaidh MacBrian, states what I believe to be the correct theory, namely, that the Irish bardic story, from which he derives the Scotch Gaelic one, is, as far as many of its incidents go, not the invention of the writer, but genuine folk-lore thrown by him into a new form (p. xxii.)
Had we all the materials necessary for forming a judgment, such is, I believe, the conclusion that would in every case be reached. But I furthermore hold it likely that in many cases the recast story gradually reverted to a primitive folk-type in the course of passing down from the court storyteller to the humbler peasant reciters, that it sloughed off the embellishments of the ollamhs, and reintroduced the older, wilder conceptions with which the folk remained in fuller sympathy than the more cultured bard. Compare, for instance, as I compared ten years ago, Maghach Colgar, in Campbell's version (No. 36), with the Fairy Palace of the Quicken Trees. The one tale has all the incidents in the wildest and most fantastic form possible; in the other they are rationalised to the utmost possible extent
p.liiiand made to appear like a piece of genuine history. I do not think that if this later version was invented right out by a thirteenth or fourteenth century ollamh, it could have given rise to the former one. Either Maghach Colgar descends from the folk-tale which served as the basis of the Irish story, or, what s more likely, the folk, whilst appreciating and preserving the new arrangement of certain well-known incidents, retained the earlier form of the incidents themselves, as being more consonant with the totality of its conceptions, both moral and aesthetic. This I hold to be the vital lesson the folklorist may learn from considering the relations of Gaelic folk-tale and Gaelic romance (using the latter term in the sense of story with a conscious genesis): that romance, to live and propagate itself among the folk, must follow certain rules, satisfy certain conceptions of life, conform to certain conventions. The Irish bards and story-tellers had little difficulty, I take it, in doing this; they had not outgrown the creed of their countrymen, they were in substantial touch with the intellectual and artistic laws that govern their subject-matter. Re-arrange, rationalise somewhat, deck out with the questionable adornment of their scanty and ill-digested book-learningto this extent, but to this extent only, I believe, reached their influence upon the mass of folk-conceptions and presentments which they inherited from their fathers, and which, with these modifications and additions, they handed on to their children.
But romance must not only conform to the conventions, it must also fit in with the ensemble of conditions, material, mental and spiritual, which constitute the culture (taking this much-abused word in its widest sense) of a race. An example will make this clear.
Of all modern, consciously-invented fairy tales I know but one which conforms fully to the folk-tale convention The Shaving of Shagpat. It follows the formula as closely and accurately as the best of Grimm's or of Campbell's tales. To divine the nature of a convention, and to use its capabilities to the utmost, is a special mark of genius, and in this, as in other instances, whatever else be absent from Mr. Meredith's work, genius is indubitably present. But I do not think that The Shaving of Shagpat could ever be acclimatised as a folk-tale in this country. Scenery, conduct of story, characterisation of personages, are all too distinctively Oriental. But let an Eastern admirer of Mr. Meredith translate his work into Arabic or Hindi, and let the book fall into the hands of a Cairene or Delhi story-teller (if such still exist), I can well imagine that, with judicious cuts, it should win praise for its reciter in market-place or bazaar. Did this happen, it would surely be due to the fact that the story is strictly constructed upon traditional lines, rather than to the brilliant invention and fancy displayed on every page. Strip from it the wit and philosophy of the author,
p.livand there remains a fairy tale to charm the East; but it would need to be reduced to a skeleton, and reclothed with new flesh before it could charm the folk of the West.
To bring home yet more clearly to our minds this necessity for romance to conform to convention, let us ask ourselves, what would have happened if one of the Irish story-tellers who perambulated the Western Isles as late as the seventeenth century, had carried with him a volume of Hakluyt or Purchas, or, supposing one to have lingered enough, Defoe or Gil Blas? Would he have been welcomed when he substituted the new fare for the old tales of Finn and the Fians? and even if welcomed, would he have gained currency for it? Would the seed thus planted have thriven, or would it not rather, fallen upon rocky places, have withered away?
It may, however, be objected that the real difference lies not so much in the subject-matter as in the mode of transmission; and the objection may seem to derive some force from what Dr. Hyde notes concerning the prevalence of folk-tales in Wicklow, and the nearer Pale generally, as contrasted with Leitrim, Longford, and Meath (p. xii.). It is difficult to over-estimate the interest and importance of this fact, and there can hardly be a doubt that Dr. Hyde has explained it correctly. It may, then, be urged that so long as oral transmission lasts the folk-tale flourishes; and only when the printed work ousts the story-teller is it that the folk-tale dies out. But this reasoning will not hold water. It is absurd to contend that the story-teller had none but a certain class of materials at his disposal till lately. He had the whole realm of intellect and fancy to draw upon; but he, and still more his hearers, knew only one district of that realm; and had it been possible for him to step outside its limits his hearers could not have followed him. I grant folk fancy has shared the fortunes of humanity together with every other manifestation of man's activity, but always within strictly defined limits, to transgress which has always been to forfeit the favour of the folk.
What, then, are the characteristic marks of folk-fancy? The question is of special interest in connection with Gaelic folk-lore. The latter is rich in transitional forms, the study of which reveal more clearly than is otherwise possible the nature and workings of the folk-mind.
The products of folk-fancy (putting aside such examples of folk-wisdom and folk-wit as proverbs, saws, jests, etc.), may be roughly divided among two great classes:
Firstly, stories of a quasi-historical or anecdotic nature, accepted as actual fact (of course with varying degrees of credence) by narrator and hearer. Stories of this kind are very largely concerned with beings (supernatural, as we should call them) differing from man, and with their relations to and dealings
p.lvwith man. Not infrequently, however, the actors in the stories are wholly human, or human and animal. Gaelic folk-lore is rich in such stories, owing to the extraordinary tenacity of the fairy belief. We can hardly doubt that the Gael, like all other races which have passed through a certain stage of culture, had at one time an organised hierarchy of divine beings. But we have to piece together the Gaelic god-saga out of bare names, mere hints, and stories which have evidently suffered vital change. In the earliest stratum of Gaelic mythic narrative we find beings who at some former time had occupied divine rank, but whose relations to man are substantially, as therein presented, the same as those of the modem fairy to the modem peasant. The chiefs of the Tuatha de Danann hanker after earthly maidens; the divine damsels long for and summon to themselves earthly heroes. Though undying, very strong, and very wise, they may be overpowered or outwitted by the mortal hero. As if conscious of some source of weakness we cannot detect, they are anxious, in their internecine struggles, to secure the aid of the sons of men. Small wonder that this belief, which we can follow for at least 1,200 years, should furnish so many elements to the folk-fancy of the Gael.
In stories of the second class the action is relegated to a remote pastonce upon a timeor to a distant undefined region, and the narrative is not necessarily accepted as a record of actual fact. Stories of this class, whether in prose or verse, may again be subdivided intohumorous, optimistic, tragic; and with regard to the third sub-division, it should be noted that the stories comprised in it are generally told as having been true once, though not in the immediate tangible sense of stories in the first class.
These different narrative groups share certain characteristics, though in varying proportions.
Firstly, the fondness for and adherence to a comparatively small number of set formulas. This is obviously less marked in stories of the first class, which, as being in the mind of the folk a record of what has actually happened, partake of the diversity of actual life. And yet the most striking similarities occur; such an anecdote, for instance, as that which tells how a supernatural changeling is baffled by a brewery of egg-shells being found from Japan to Brittany.
Secondly, on the moral side, the unquestioning acceptance of fatalism, though not in the sense which the Moslem or the Calvinist would attach to the word. The event is bound to be of a certain nature, provided a certain mode of attaining it be chosen. This comes out well in the large group of stories which tell how a supernatural being helps a mortal to perform certain tasks, as a rule, with some ulterior benefit to itself in view. The most disheartening carelessness and stupidity on the part of the man cannot alter the result; the skill and courage of the supernatural helper are powerless without the mortal co-operation.
p.lviIn what I have termed the tragic stories, this fatalism puts on a moral form, and gives rise to the conception of Nemesis.
Thirdly, on the mental side, animism is prevalent, i.e., the acceptance of a life common to, not alone man and animals, but all manifestations of force. In so far as a distinction is made between the life of man and that of nature at large, it is in favour of the latter, to which more potent energy is ascribed.
Just as stories of the first class are less characterised by adherence to formula, so stories of the humorous group are less characterised by fatalism and animism. This is inevitable, as such stories are, as a rule, concerned solely with the relations of man to his fellows.
The most fascinating and perplexing problems are those connected with the groups I have termed optimistic and tragic. To the former belong the almost entirety of such nursery tales as are not humorous in character. They were married and lived happily ever afterwards; such is the almost invariable end formula. The hero wins the princess, and the villain is punished.
This feature the nursery tale shares with the god-saga; Zeus confounds the Titans, Apollo slays the Python, Lug overcomes Balor, Indra vanquishes Vritra. There are two apparent exceptions to this rule. The Teutonic god myth is tragic; the Anses are ever under the shadow of the final conflict. This has been explained by the influence of Christian ideas; but although this influence must be unreservedly admitted in certain details of the passing of the gods, yet the fact that the Iranian god-saga is likewise undecided, instead of having a frankly optimistic ending, makes me doubt whether the drawn battle between the powers of good and ill be not a genuine and necessary part of the Teutonic mythology. As is well known, Rydberg has established some striking points of contact between the mythic ideas of Scandinavia and those of Iran.
In striking contradiction to this moral, optimistic tendency are the great heroic sagas. One and all well-nigh are profoundly tragic. The doom of Troy the great, the passing of Arthur, the slaughter of the Nibelungs, the death of Sohrab at his father's hands, Roncevalles, Gabhra, the fratricidal conflict of Cuchullain and Ferdiad, the woes of the house of Atreus; such are but a few examples of the prevailing tone of the hero-tales. Achilles and Siegfried and Cuchullain are slain in the flower of their youth and prowess. Of them, at least, the saying is true, that whom the gods love die young. Why is it not equally true of the prince hero of the fairy tale? Is it that the hero tale associated in the minds of hearers and reciters with men who had actually lived and fought, brought down to earth, so to say, out of the mysterious wonderland in which god and fairy and old time kings have their being, becomes
p.lviithereby liable to the necessities of death and decay inherent in all human things? Some scholars have a ready answer for this and similar questions. The heroic epos assumed its shape once for all among one special race, and was then passed on to other races who remained faithful to the main lines whilst altering details. If this explanation were true, it would still leave unsolved the problem, why the heroic epos, which for its fashioners and hearers was at once a record of the actual and an exemplar of the ideal, should, among men differing in blood and culture, follow one model, and that a tragic one. Granting that Greek and Teuton and Celt did borrow the tales which they themselves conceived to be very blood and bone of their race, what force compelled them all to borrow one special conception of life and fate?
Such exceptions as there are to the tragic nature of the heroic saga are apparent rather than real. The Odyssey ends happily, like an old-fashioned novel, but Fénélon long ago recognised in the Odysseyun amas de contes de vieille.
Perseus again has the luck of a fairy-tale prince, but then the story of his fortunes is obviously a fairy-tale, with named instead of anonymous personages.
Whilst the fairy-tale is akin in tone to the god saga, the ballad recalls the heroic epos. The vast majority of ballads are tragic. Sir Patrick Spens must drown, and Glasgerion's leman be cheated by the churl; Clerk Saunders comes from the other world, like Helge to Sigrun; Douglas dreams his dreary dream, I saw a dead man win a fight, and that dead man was I. The themes of the ballad are the most dire and deadly of human passions; love scorned or betrayed, hate, and revenge. Very seldom, too, do the plots of ballad and Märchen cross or overlap. Where this does happen it will, as a rule, be found that both are common descendants of some great saga.
We find such an instance in the Fenian saga, episodes of which have lived on in the Gaelic folk memory in the double form of prose and poetry. But it should be noted that the poetry accentuates the tragic side-the battle of Gabhra, the death of Diarmaidwhilst the prose takes rather some episode of Finn's youth or manhood, and presents it as a rounded and complete whole, the issue of which is fortunate.
The relations of myth and epos to folk-lore may thus be likened to that of trees to the soil from which they spring, and which they enrich and fertilise by the decay of their leaves and branches which mingle indistinguishably with the original soil. Of this soil, again, rude bricks may be made, and a house built; let the house fall into ruins, and the bricks crumble into dust, it will be hard to discriminate that dust from the parent earth. But raise a house of iron or stone, and, however ruined, its fragments can always be recognised.
p.lviiIn the case of the Irish bardic literature the analogy is, I believe, with soil and tree, rather than with soil and edifice.
Reverting once more to the characteristics of folk-fancy, let us note that they appear equally in folk-practice and folk-belief. The tough conservatism of the folk-mind has struck all observers: its adherence to immemorial formulas; its fatalistic acceptance of the mysteries of nature and heredity, coupled with its faith in the efficacy of sympathetic magic; its elaborate system of custom and ritual based upon the idea that between men and the remainder of the universe there is no difference of kind.
A conception of the Cosmos is thus arrived at which, more than any religious creed, fulfils the test of catholicity; literally, and in the fullest significance of the words, it has been held semper, ubique et ab omnibus. And of this conception of the universe, more universal than any that has as yet swayed the minds of man, it is possible that men now living may see the last flickering remains; it is well-nigh certain that our grandchildren will live in a world out of which it has utterly vanished.
For the folklorist the Gospel saying is thus more poignant with meaning than for any other student of man's historythe night cometh wherein no man may work. Surely, many Irishman will take to heart the example of Dr. Hyde, and will go forth to glean what may yet be found of as fair and bounteous a harvest of myth and romance as ever flourished among any race.