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This change in the opinions commonly received in Ireland concerning the Danish conquests has been effected more particularly by the late political movements. It is but little known in the Scandinavian North that, since the Repeal agitation in Ireland, the Danish conquests and the Danish name have been used as a constant and effective means of agitating against England; yet such is actually the case.
When O'Connell stepped forward as the mouth-piece of Irish nationality, to revive the ancient independence of Ireland, and if possible to restore its Parliament, by means of a repeal of the Union, it was of course important for him to awaken in his countrymen a feeling of freedom. With this design, he looked to Ireland's earlier history, and particularly to the period when she formed an independent kingdom. But that time was extremely remote. As early as the close of the twelfth century the English had firmly established themselves in Ireland; and the Danes before them had, for several centuries, held dominion over the most important places in that country. Had O'Connell, therefore, wished to dwell on the time of Ireland's real independence, he must have reverted to a period more than a thousand years ago. But he shrewdly foresaw that the vast and uneducated mass of the people, whom he chiefly wished to agitate, would not be able to follow him. He therefore chose historical events that lay nearer, and of which the remembrance still lived among the people; and, as his chief aim was to irritate the Irish against the “Saxons” (or English) he laid great stress upon the glory which the Irish had acquired in former combats against that people, as well as against the “Danes,” who had preceded them in conquering Ireland.
Nothing could have been better adapted to O'Connell's object than the traditions and exaggerated notions about the Danes, still so widely diffused among the poorer classes in Ireland. O'Connell knew how to flatter with dexterity the vanity and self-love of the Irish, by representing how great a triumph they had achieved in former times, by driving out the Danes, and annihilating a dominion founded with so much bravery and wisdom. If he drew no direct conclusion from this, he let it, however, be sufficiently seen, that as the Irish were formerly able to expel their Danish conquerors, there was nothing to prevent them from chasing the hated “Saxons” from their coasts. At one of his great meetings, held on Tara Hill, where the ancient Irish kings were crowned in the time of Ireland's independence, he reminded his countrymen that their forefathers had, in the year 978, gained on that spot a considerable victory over the “Danes.”
On the coast about three miles to the north-east of Dublin, is the plain of Clontarf, where, in the year 1014, a great battle was fought between the “Danes "and the Irish. This battle, one of the most sanguinary in all the wars of the Norwegians and Trish, was gained by the latter, whose king Brian Boroimha (or Brian Boru) fell just as victory declared for his army. A victory over the Danes like this must naturally always occupy a prominent place in the historical reminiscences of the Irish; and their historians throughout the middle ages, and down to our own times, have accordingly dwelt with extreme complacency on the description of the bravery of the Irish and of their king. But it did not suffice O'Connell and his followers to adhere to historical realities. They followed the chroniclers of a later period, by whom the victory of Clontarf has been delineated in far too brilliant colours. In songs, pamphlets, and speeches, the battle of Clontarf was now represented as having completely annihilated the Danish power in Ireland, and saved her independence and freedom. According to these accounts, not a single Dane or Norwegian would seem to have remained in Ireland after the battle. Brian Boroimha (Boru) was extolled to the skies, as a martyr for the deliverance of his country from the yoke of the oppressors. And in the intoxication of enthusiasm thus produced, his portrait, together with a picture of the battle of Clontarf, was distributed among the people in immense quantities, and at the very lowest price. On the tickets of members of the Repeal Association, which were ornamented with the names of the most important national triumphs of the Irish, as well as with portraits of the victors, the battle of Clontarf, and Brian Boru's portrait, stood at the top.
When at length this representation of the battle of Clontarf, as one of the most important fought by Ireland for liberty, had been so impressed upon the common people that it seemed an event which had only recently taken place—and which, at least in the lively imaginations of the Irish, might possibly enough be repeated— O'Connell gave out that he would hold a great repeal meeting on the plain of Clontarf. Everybody knew beforehand that the real meaning of O'Connell's speech was, that just as the Irish, with Brian Boroimha at their head, had formerly defeated the Danes on that very place, and thus saved Ireland's freedom, so should they now in like manner follow O'Connell (who, besides, gave himself out for a descendant of Brian Boru [?]), and make every sacrifice to wrest back their lost independence from English, or “ Saxon,” ascendancy. The English government, however, forbade the meeting, and indicted O'Connell. But the same extravagant notions respecting the national importance of the battle of Clontarf naturally continued to be generally received; and that not only amongst the adherents of O'Connell, or “Old Irelanders,” as they are called, but also among the members of a political party, the “ Young Irelanders,” which has arisen since, and whose aim it is to sever the connection with England by open force. In the seditious songs of both these parties the Danes and the English generally share the same fate, as the war-cry, “The Saxon and the Dane," constantly forms the burthen of the songs. It is but very rarely that an Irish repealer (for instance, Mr. Holmes) dares venture to express an opinion that it would probably have been no detriment to Ireland if the “Danes” had remained settled there. This, when explained, means that the Danes would never have been so dangerous to the independence of Ireland as the English have since become; and that the Irish, united with and assisted by the Danes, would certainly have had a fleet capable of resisting any attacks of their powerful English neighbours (?).
Irish and Scandinavian Records.-Finn Lochlannoch.-Dubh
Lochlannoch.—The Names of the Provinces.
One of the many complaints made by the Irish against the Danes, and particularly of late, is, that by destroying Irish civilization they likewise choked the vigorous germs of a national literature, which, in consequence of the early introduction of Christianity, had begun at a very early period to take root among the Irish people. The existence of a literature, particularly like the ancient Irish, in the vernacular language of the country, must of course always afford a strong proof of a certain degree of education among the people. During the late political agitation in Ireland, the old Irish literature, of which various remains are still preserved, was therefore extravagantly extolled, with the view of proving how glorious and enlightened was the age of Ireland's long-vanished independence.
Whatever opinion may be formed of the remaining relics of this ancient literature, which are mostly limited to chronicles in the form of annals, and a few old songs, it is at all events agreed that they are of very peculiar importance as regards a knowledge of the Norwegian and Danish expeditions. It is true that the Scandinavian Sagas and chronicles contain many accounts of the achievements of the Norwegians in Ireland, both in war and peace; but the Irish records of them are still more copious. The oldest Irish chronicles relate almost as much to the battles of the Norwegians and Danes with the Irish, as to the internal state of Ireland. A singular chronicle in Irish, of the close of the eleventh century, about “ the Wars of the Irish and the Northmen,” was discovered a few years ago. It contains not only a complete account of every battle between the Irish and Northmen, down to that of Clontarf, but also various information respecting the settlements of the Norwegians in Ireland, their mode of warfare, weapons, &c. That this chronicle must have been composed not long after the battle of Clontarf, is proved by the fact that it is referred to as an old record in another Irish work, called “The Book of Leinster," written in the first half of the twelfth century. The above-named ancient chronicle—the publication of which, by that distinguished Irish scholar, Dr. Todd, cannot be far distant—will, in conjunction with the rest of the Irish accounts relative to the Norwegian expeditions into Ireland, afford an excellent opportunity for comparison with the narratives of our Scandinavian Sagas. Meanwhile we have already sufficient information at hand to compare the accounts of the conquerors and the conquereda method by which the historical truth will evidently come forth more clearly than if we were obliged to adopt exclusively the one-sided statements of either party.
The Irish accounts are, however, far from being always perfectly trustworthy. They not only reflect the customary hatred and prejudices of the Christians against the heathen Northmen, but frequently bear the stamp of being derived from early poetical legends. They relate how several Irish saints, as St. Columkill, St. Berchan, St. Kieran, and St. Comgall, had long before predicted the coming of the Scandinavian heathens and their barbarous proceedings. They likewise depict how terribly the heathens devastated and plundered unhappy Ireland. People were everywhere killed or maltreated; churches and convents were plundered, burnt, and desecrated. Thus the heathen chief Turges' (Thorgils') wife, Odo, sat on the altar of the conventual church in Clonmacnois, and on it, as on a throne