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THE CHARACTER OF THE IRISH CONTINUED_REMARKS ON THE POETRY AND MUSIC OF THE HISH_ON THEIR BARDS, SENACHIES, AND HARPERS.
THÉ subject of this and the following chapter, I once intended to have treated at much greater length ; I shall only at present, however, make such remarks as may seem necessary to illustrate the character and genius of the Irish, and as may tend still more evidently to identify that people with the Highlanders.
To shew from the customs, manners, superstitions, and language, a similarity of origin bea tween these two nations,must at least be amusing. But though this may be a subordinate consideration, it is not my chief object. If it can be shewn that the Highlanders and the Irish are one people ; that their ancient manner, their poetry, music, and superstition, are nearly alike, then it may be asked, what are those circumstances which have formed the character of the one with so much heroic elevation, so amiable, and so useful, while that of the other has been prevented from arriving at the same moral attainment, from rising to the same popularity and distinction. The Irishman, as well as the Highlander, possesses, with some limitations, - the generous and chival“ rous spirit, the self-subdued mind, the warm C affection to his family-the fond attachmentto “his clan—the love of story and of song-the “contempt of danger and of luxury—the mystic “superstition equally awful and tender.” Some of these qualities, perhaps, he possesses in an inferior degree : still it must be allowed that his mind is equally susceptible, and tender, and generous, and he only requires to be placed in circumstances favourable to moral'improvement in order to exhibit the same lovely picture; of simplicity and innocence, of affection and fidelity, that may be seen in the glens and recesses of the north.
Campion, with all the prejudiees of an Englishman of the sixteenth čentury, confirms this view 'of the Irish character, if, indeed, any confirmation be necessary, on a point so obvious though not generallyunderstood.“Thepeople are “ thus inclined : religious, frank, amorous, ire“ful, sufferable of pains infinite, very glorious, “ delighted with wars,great alms givets,passing
“ in hospitality. The same being virtuously " bred up or reformed, are such mirrors of holio ness and austerity, that other 'nations retain "but a shadow or shew of devotion in compa6 rison of them."*.
The same author mentions a circumstance respecting the extreme and even brutish ignorance of the Irish, which, I am persuaded, when properly explained will support no such conclusion. For, though it is admitted, that they are ignorant on moral and religious subjects, I am unwilling to allow that they have been at any time so ignorant, as not to know the guilt of homicide. They, indeed, as well as : the Highlanders, deemed it lawful to take the life of any connected with another clan or sept in open combat ; and all nations engaged in war, entertain similar sentiments ; but the assassin seems always to have been viewed by them with abhorrence.
56 I found a fragment of an epistle (says Cam66 pion) wherein a virtuous monk declareth that " to him, travelling in Ulster, came a grave gen« tleman about Easter, desirous to be confessed « and howseled,who in all his lifetime had never 66 yet received the blessed sacrament. When he ** had said his mind, the priest demanded him
rówhether he were faultless in the sin of homicide?
It is well known that no people in the world were more averse to homicide than the Highlanders. Even the professed thieves of the mountains, were degraded in their own estimation, and shunned by their fellow plunderers, if they killed a human being otherwise than in fair combat: though the Highlanders, it must be. confessed, in certain cases, if commissioned by their chief, blindly executed vengeance in secret on the sons of the strangers ; not, indeed, when they came as guests, but when they were known to be the avowed enemies of their country or their clan. Such instances, however, were ex
tremely rare ; since it was always deemed disgrateful to the warrior, not to command his enemy to “ draw and defend his life.”
Similar sentiments prevailed on this subject in Ireland. Indeed, we cannot suppose that a people whose nature is characterised by a tender enthusiasm, by warm and social affections, and who like “ the men of Athens are in “ all things too superstitious,"* should be that blood-thirsty race, at least originally,which they have been represented. The virtues of impulse, for which they are distinguished when not fully under the controul of reason, may often terminate in ungovernable ferocity ; this unhappy result must always be accidental, and can never be the effect of settled principle.
But though I thus maintain that the Irish character is equally warm and benevolent with the Highland, and, like it, that it possesses the elements of all that is endearing or sublime in human nature, yet, the moral texture of the former, it must be acknowledged, has, by certain circumstances, been differently modified from the latter. To some of these I have already alluded; it may not be here improper to take a more enlarged and connected view of this subject. Perhaps there is not a
* That is, much given to devotion,