LEGENDARY FICTIONS OF THE IRISH CELTS.* Tars is a very
admirable popular selection of the Irish fairy stories and legends, in which those who are familiar with Mr. Croker's and other selections of the same kind will find much that is fresh, and full of the peculiar vivacity and humour, and some- times even of the ideal beauty, of the true Celtic legend. Mr. Arnold in those fine papers on Celtic literature which he recently published in the Cornhill Magazine, said, in speaking of the Celtic genius (the essence of which he finds in sentiment,—readiness to ra-act against the despotism of fact), " Our word gay, it is said, is itself Celtic. It is not from gaudieun, but from the Celtic Bair, to laugh ; and the impressionable Celt, soon up and soon down, is the more down because it is so his nature to be up, to be sociable, hospitable, eloquent, admired, figuring away brilliantly. He loves bright colours ; he easily becomes audacious, overcrowing, full of fanfaronade." No one can read these lively legends, with their genuine vivacity, yet too often rising till it is pitched so high that it jars, and the romance of the Ossianic legends, trying as it does "to express the inexpressible," and often overbalancing itself into stilted fanfaronade, without recalling this just and delicate judgment of Mr. Matthew Arnold. And it is the easier in the case of many of these legends to verify Mr. Arnold's criticism, that we have them also in their German form in Grimm's delightful Kinder and Hausnzahrchen, so that we can note the special differ- ences introduced into the tales by the modification of the Irish genius.
Compare, for instance, that favourite tale with all children, The Brennen Town-Musicians, with this Irish edition of it. The tale itself, as our readers may remember (for has it not been immortal- ized by the pencil of Cruikshank ?) is the story of a co-operative society of domestic animals who travel together to seek their fortune. A superannuated donkey, hound, and cat join company with a cock who is doomed to death to make up a dish for its mis- tress's guests, and all agree to go together to Bremen, there to obtain places as town musicians—evidently some antique piece of satire on the indifference or bad taste of the people of Bremen in musical affairs. On their way to Bremen they pass the night in a wood, where the cock detects a light at a distance, which, as the allies find, proceeds from a house where robbers are feasting them- selves, and which they accordingly determine to carry by assault. The ass puts up his fore feet on the window-sill, the hound jumps up on his back, the cat mounts above the dog, and the cock perches on the cat's head, and then they begin, each at the same moment, to emit their peculiar music, while the ass breaks in the window, and they all enter in a single crash. The robbers, frightened out of their wits, take to flight, and the allies commence their supper, and lay themselves each after his own habit of body to rest,—the ass on the dunghill, the dog behind the door, the cat on the hearth, and the cock on the crossbeam. The robbers, anxious to return, send one of their body * Legendary Fictions of the /rich Celts. Colkcted and narrated by Patio': Kennedy. London: Macmillan. previously to explore the dangerous premises. He goes into the kitchen, and mistaking the cat's eyes for glowing cinders, puts his match into them to light it, which she resents by spitting and flying at his face with her claws ; as he goes out at the back door, the dog seizes and bites him in the leg ; as he passes the dunghill the ass kicks him in the back ; and the cock, waking up, crows vehemently. The poor wretch, limping off, reports to his com- panions that he found a terrible witch sitting on the hearth, who scratched his face with her long fingers, a man with a knife at the door who stabbed him in the leg, a black monster in the court- yard who struck at him with a heavy club, while there was a magistrate sitting up on the roof who cried out Bring me the rogue here.' So the robbers desert their mansion altogether, and the allies give up the idea of becoming musicians to the town of Bremen, so pleased are they with the residence which they have won for themselves by their own prowess. In the book of Irish tales before us this story is essentially modified, and, fond as we were of the story of our childhood, we cannot help thinking, improved. Jack, an Irish boy, in the ordinary state of Irish im- pecuniosity, proposes to seek his fortune, at all events till harvest is ready, and the ass, the dog, the cat, and the cock associate themselves to him in gratitude for services rendered as his retainers.. The story of the enlistment is told with true Irish vivacity :- " Well, he went along and along till he was tired, and ne'er a farmer's house he went into wanted a boy. At last his road led by the side of a bog, and there was a poor ass up to his shoulders near a big bunch of grass he was striving to come at.= Ah ! then, Jack asthore,' says he, help me out or I'll be dhrownded.'—'Never say't twice,' says Jack, and he pitched in big stones and scrams (sods) into the slob, till the ass got good ground under him.—' Thank you, Jack,' says he, when he was out on the hard road ; I'll do as much for you another Acne. Where are you going?'—' Faith, I'm going to seek my fortune till harvest comes. in, God bless it !'—' And if you like,' says the ass, I'll go along with you ; who knows what luck we may have ?'—' With all my heart ; it's getting late, let us be jogging.'—Well, they were going through a vil- lage, and a whole army of gorsoons were hunting a poor dog with a kittk tied to his tail. He ran up to Jack for protection, and the ass let such a roar out of him, that the little thieves took to their heels as if the ould boy (the devil) was after them. More power to you, Jack!' says the dog : I am much obleeged to you : where is the baste and your- self going?'—' We're going to seek our fortune till harvest comes 'And wouldn't I be proud to go with you!' says the dog, and get shut [rid] of them ill-conducted boys ; purshuile to 'em Well, well, throw your tail over your arm, and come along.'—They got outside the town, and sat down under an old wall, and Tack pulled out his bread and moat, and shared with the dog; and the ass made his dinner on a bunch of thistles. While they were eating and chatting, what should come by but a half- starved cat, and the moll-row he gave out of him would make your heart ache.—`You look as if you saw the tops of nine houses since breakfast,' says Jack ; ' here's a bone and something on May your child never know a hungry belly !' says Tom ; it's myself that's in need of your kindness. May I be so bold as to ask where yez are all going ?'—' We're going to seek our fortune till the harvest comes in, and you may join us if you like.'—' And that I'll do with a heart and a half,' says the cats and thank'ee for asking me.'—Off they set again, and just as the shadows of the trees were three times as long as themselves, they heard a great cackling in a field inside the road, and out over the ditch jumped a fox with a fine black cock in his mouth .= Oh you anointed villain says the ass, roaring like thunder.—' At him, good dog !' says Jack, and the word wasn't out of his month when Coley was in full sweep after the Moddhera Rua (Red Dog). Reynard dropped his prize like a hot potatoe, and was off like a shot, and the poor cock came back fluttering- and trembling to Jack and his comrades.—' 0 musha, naybours r says he, ' wasn't it the hoith o' luck that threw you in my way ? Maybe I won't remember your kindness if ever I find you in hardship ; and where in the world are you all going ?'—' We're going to seek our fortune till the harvest comes in ; you may join our party if you like, and sit on Neddy's crupper when your legs and wings are tired.' " That, with perhaps just a little too much of the tendency to "figure away brilliantly," is a much livelier opening than the story of the German Bund contracted between superannuated animals in danger from ungrateful masters. Jack's grand patronizing air to the dog with the kettle tied to his tail,—" Well, well, throw your tail over your arm and come along," and his criticism on the famished con- dition of the cat, " You look as if you saw the tops of nine houses since breakfast," inspires confidence in his leadership at once. One sees that the Irish genius is for monarchical institutions,—the German rather for steady republicanism. The same effect of unity given by Jack's leadership, and the humour in the conception of the alliance between him and his humble friends, runs through the- reat of the story. The cock mistakes the light in the robbers' wood-house for dawn and wakens his friends by crowing lustily.. Jack sets him right and marshals his forces with true strategic skill. What animation is not infused into the German outline by the collation of this Irish version!— "Well, the soundness of deep sleep was over them all, when the cock took a notion of crowing.—' Bother you, Cui/each Dhu (Black Cock] says the ass : you disturbed me from as nice a wisp of hay as ever I tasted. What's the matter It's daybreak, that's the matter : don't you see light yonder?'—'I see a light indeed,' says Jack, but it's from a candle it's coming, and not from the sun. As you've roused us we may as well go over, and ask for lodging.'--So they all shook themselves, and went on through grass, and rocks, and briars till they got down into a hollow, and there was the light coming through the shadow, and along with it came singing, and laughing, and cursing.—'Easy, boys!' says Jack: Walk on your tippy toes till we see what sort of people we have to deal with.'--rSo they crept near the window, and there they saw six robbers inside, with pistols, and blunderbushes, and cutlashes, sitting at a table, eating roast beef and pork, and drinking mulled beer, and wine, and whisky punch.—'Wasn't that a fine haul we made at the Lord of Dunlavin'a!' says one ugly-looking thief with his mouth full, and it's little we'd get only for the honest porter: here's his party health! '— The porter's party health!' cried out every one of them, and Jack bent his finger at his comrades.—' Close your ranks, my men,' says he in a whisper, and let every one mind the word of command.'--So the ass pat his fore-hoofs on the sill of the window, the dog got on the ass's head, the cat got on the dog's head, and the cock en the cat's head. Then Jack made a sign, and they all sung out like mad.---' Hee haw, hee-haw ! ' roared the ass • 'bow-wow ! ' barked the dog; meaw-meaw cried .the cat ; cock-a,00dle-doo!' crowed the cock.—' Level your pistols I ' cried Jack, 'and make smithereens of 'em. Don't leave. a mother's son of 'em alive ; present, fire !'—With that they gave another halloo, and smashed every pane in the window. The robbers were frightened out of their lives. They blew out the candles, threw down the table, and skalped out at the back door as if they were in earnest, -and never drew rein till they were in the very heart of the wood."
But when the robber goes back to reconnoitre and gets into cum- cultiez amongst the intruding animals, the story put into his mouth is not so good as in the German version. The raciness of the Irish humour rises here into conceit, and there is something artificial in the exaggeration of which he is guilty which renders many of those Irish stories, both of the household and of the romantic sort, a little jarring and less 'fitted to delight children than the
straightforward, grave, wide-eyed simplicity of the German tales. This is the captain's report :—
" Well, well,' cried them all, when he came within hearing, 'any
chance of our property You may say chance,' says he, and it's itself is the poor chance all out. Ah ! will any of you pull abed of dry grass for me? All the sticking-plaster in Inniscorfy [Enniscorthy] will be too little for the cute and braises I have on me. Ah, if you only knew what I have gone through for you! When I got to the kitchen fire, looking for a sod of lighted turf, what should be there but a colliach [old woman] carding flax, and you may see the marks she left on my face with the cards. I made to the room door as fast as I could, and who should I stumble over but a cobbler and his seat, and if he did not work at me with his awls and his pinchers you may call me a rogue. Well, I got away from him somehow, but when I was passing through the door, it must be the died himself that pounced down on me with his claws, and his teeth, that were equal to sixpenny nails, and his wings— ill luck be in his road! Well, at last I reached the stable, and there, by way of salute, I got a pelt from a sledge-hammer that sent me half a mile off. H you don't believe me, I'll give you leave to go and judge for yourselves.'—'0h, my poor captain !' says they, we believe you to the nines. Catch us, indeed, going within a hen's race of that unlucky cabin !"
There is a false note about that as of a story-teller trying to figure away," .As Mr. Arnold says, and such false notes we find in many of the tales even when the vivacity, and the sentiment, and the feeling for beauty are most clearly distinguishable. To take another example. There is an amusing fairy tale widely spread in Germany which Grimm gives under the title Six Come through the Whole World, a story of six persons travelling together to make their, fortunes, five of whom have wonderful gifts, and who are nevertheless, like many persons of wonderful gifts, in want of an ordinary person of good mother-wit who may use them, or direct them in the use of them. One of them is supernaturally strong, one an archer who can shoot with perfect aim at a distance of many miles, one a man of such hangs that he can turn a windmill two miles off with the breath of one nostril, one a runner who is so swift that he has to tie up one leg in order to prevent running swifter than the birds fly, and one a man with a hat of such remarkable properties, that if he puts it straight on his head a frost comes on which would kill all the birds in the sky. The adventures of these wonderfully gifted persons we do not intend to describe. We mention them only to remark that these gifts are obviously marvels not of the sublime, but of the humorous kind,— marvels not properly capable of poetic treatment, only of quaint and playful, or at best wondering treatment,—the sort of treat- ment which will inspire gravely pleasurable surprise in child-like minds. Now, this story has been partly incorporated into one of the-Celtic legends called The Golden Pin of Sleep (" An Braon Suan Or "), given by Mr. -Kennedy, and instead of retaining its proper type of ingenious marvel to which you may get children to open their eyes wide, but which is nevertheless far too visibly stamped with the caprice and arbitrariness belonging to the very essence of a good fairy story to admit of poetical effect, it is in its Celtic form embodied in a legend, if not Ossianic in character, at all events making clear pretensions to some of the intellectual beauty of the Greek myths. Feargal, son of Ceocal, aspires to the hand of Fiongalle, which no one may have who cannot bring from the dark hand thelolly bough, marigold, and the crimson berries
of the yew. These were to be found in the dark land, in the Western sea, near the Stone Circle of Power, and a corrocban or bark lay in a wooded nook near Bantry for the voyage. By the help of the powerful fairy or Sighe Finneaev he achieves this, and she accomplishes it by lending him three servants,—the great runner Tied-Foot, the great archer, and the great blower with swollen cheeks. The runner Tied-Foot is lulled to sleep in the corrochan, by the power of a hostile fairy, and he is wakened up by the archer thus :—
"His two companions arrived on the rocks an hour later, and were dismayed at sight of him, far below them, in dead sleep. In his 'hair they espied the magic pip, and in a moment they recognized it, and guessed at what had occurred. The archer had his bow heart in atrice, and the next the braon was dashed from the hair of Ow3h, and lay power- less at his feet. He awoke, took his foot again in'his hnnd, looked at the pin, then up at the cliff, waved his free arm in gratitude, seized on the oar, and the skiff ,went skimming over the great sea fleeter than the Evariftest arrow. Fir na Mulls, Headha put his hand to his, eyebrow, and spoke to his comrade Through 'the thick air and the mist I still see the shooting bark ; the dim veils are clearing a little round Cush, and he seems almost at the world's end; a low, thick fog lies beyond; the boat speeds to it, and it becomes a land of rocks, and woods, and valleys, as grey as clouds. He enters a bay, secures his boat, advances inland. A grove is before him, and under the shade of trees as old as the world stands a ring of mighty atones. Within is a cromleacht, and overshadow- ing it the holly-bough and berry-bearing yew ; at its.footsprings the marigold. He leaves the dim land behind him. I see the 130,91 more plainly, but the land has become a cloud. The boat is larger, but the dpud bank has vanished. Here he comes swifter than the arrow from your own bow-string.'—Great was the joy of the Druidical servants as they met ; but after a moment Cuah fe Crish cried oat., Our work is only half accomplished. The powerful Amarach is speeding south, and if she reaches Bean Tra she will induce Feargal to touch the land, and then our labour is void. You, 0 Boghadoir ! [archer] have done your duty—follow at your leisure. Get on my back, 0 Mulls Headha ! I value not your weight a dry leaf. Now-for the southern bay.'--Aln they swept, leaving the breeze behind them, and at last spied the sage Amarach as she skimmed by the side of Ben Gulban, and, passed the mound of the sword hilt, where Diarmnid the peerless perished by the tusk of the fell wild boar. She found herself pursued, and increased her speed; but Cash M Criah found new vigour in his limb$ at sight of her, and still was gaining as they brushed the hills of Iar-Coaacht. As they approached Knoc an Air (hill of slaughter), Tied-Foot, who had not yet put forth his utmost speed, swept past, and his rider, making him stop and turn about, blew from his month such a mighty tempest as rooted up the oaks in its path. Catching up the sorceress, she was blown throagh the air to a great distance, and a second blast put all further struggles on her part at an end."
There is something incongruous in this mixture of poetry and the arbitrary caprice of the fairy tale,—in this combination of the grotesque humour of the conception of a runner so fleet that he has to tie up one of his legs to hold himself in, or a blower with swollen cheeks who can raise a tempest at a breath, with the mysterious search for the holly bough, the marigold, and the yew berry in the dark land, —a search which reminds one of the search for the apples in the Hesperides, or of the mission to cut off the mysterious Gorgon's head. The Celtic legend spoils the two distinct class of talcs of marvel, the sublime and the grotesque, by mingling them. It is not satisfied with the child-like wonder which is enough for the German story, but tries to throw in some of the purer awe which was at the source of the Greek myths, and so gives a tawdry air to the poetic elements and an absurd air to the grotesque elements of the tale. As Mr. Arnold says, the Celtic legend here " overcrows" the Teutonic, and thereby spoils without transfiguring it. Yet there are many stories in which the Celtic form is far the most humorous, as well as the more animated. Compare, for instance, the admirable account of Jack's game of football with the ghosts who fell down from the upper room in three pieces,—first legs, then body, then head and hat, like the bits of a dissected map, and pieced themselves together in Jack's sight,—with the same tale in its German form, Story of a Man who went out to Learn what Fear was Like. The Celtic is infinitely the more -humorous and effective.. And there are snatches of tenderness and beauty in the Celtic fairy story which we never find in the German, though we find there instead sometimes a deeper 'imaginative grandeur. There is a very alight Celtic story of the yearning of the fairies for a spiritual hope which has always struck us as unique in the tenderness of its tone. A priest loses his way at night, and is conscious of an unusual heaviness and darkness in the air around him :- "While he stood perplexed, he heard the rustle of wings or bodies ,passing swiftly through the air, and a musical voice was heard, You will euffer,rameh if you do not find your way. Give .us .,a :favourable answer to, a question, and you shall be on the road in a few. rrinates.'—The good priest With somewhat awed at the rustle and the voice' let he answered without delay, ' Who are you, and what's your question?'=The same voice_replied, 'We are the Chla.wa Sighe, and wish you to dealer() that at the last day our lot may not be with Satan. .443,,t)aat the Saviour died for ua as well as for you..'=-' I will give you a favourable answer, if you can make me a hopeful one. Do you adore and love the Sox of Gen received no answer , hat„ we all and, atirlirOgns,, and the rushing of wings, and at once it seemed as if he had shaken off some oppression. The dark clouds had separated, a weak light was shed round where he stood, and he distinguished the path, and an opening in the bushes on the fence. He crossed into the next field, and following the path, he was soon on the road. In fifteen ,mitiutes he was seated at his comfortable fire, and his little round table, covered with books, was at his side."
The " weak, shrill cries,—the rushing of wings," and the sudden clearing off of agreat oppression, though a mere touch, strikes us as a wonderfully beautiful touch to express the weak despair,—the despair, indeed, almost with capacity for despair,—attributed to these fanciful beings of preteraatural power and ,no souls.
Mr. 4,ennedy has produced a beautiful and popular book, for which he will earn the hearty thanks of both little people and great people with any imagination and sympathy for Celtic story.