CELT document E800002-038

Old Ireland [Ancient Ireland]

Thomas Osborne Davis

Edited by D.J. O' Donoghue

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Old Ireland

There was once civilisation in Ireland. We never were very eminent, to be sure, for manufactures in metal, our houses were simple, our very palaces rude, our furniture scanty, our saffron shirts not often changed, and our foreign trade small. Yet was Ireland civilised. Strange thing! says one whose ideas of civilisation are identical with carpets and cut glass, fine masonry, and the steam-engine; yet 'tis true. For there was a time when learning was endowed by the rich and honoured by the poor, and taught all over our country. Not only did thousands of natives frequent our schools and colleges, but men of every rank came here from the Continent to study under the professors and system of Ireland, and we need not go beyond the testimonies of English antiquaries, from Bede to Camden, that these schools were regarded as the first in Europe. Ireland was equally remarkable for piety. In the Pagan times it was regarded as a sanctuary of the Magian or Druid creed. From the fifth century it became equally illustrious in Christendom. Without going into the disputed question of whether the Irish church was or was not independent of Rome, it is certain that Italy did not send out more apostles from the fifth to the ninth centuries than Ireland, and we find their names and achievements remembered through the Continent.

Of two names which Hallam thinks worth  p.198 rescuing from the darkness of the dark ages, one is the Irish metaphysician, John Erigena. In a recent communication to the Association, we have Bavarians acknowledging the Irish St. Killian as the apostle of their country.

Yet what, beyond a catalogue of names and a few marked events, do even the educated Irish know of the heroic Pagans or the holy Christians of Old Ireland? These men have left libraries of biography, religion, philosophy, natural history, topography, history, and romance. They cannot all be worthless; yet, except the few volumes given us by the Archaeological Society, which of their works have any of us read?

It is also certain that we possessed written laws with extensive and minute comments and reported decisions. These Brehon laws have been foully misrepresented by Sir John Davies. Their tenures were the Gavelkind once prevalent over most of the world. The land belonged to the clan, and,on the death of a clansman, his share was re-apportioned according to the number and wants of his family. The system of erics or fines for offences has existed amongst every people from the Hebrews downwards, nor can anyone, knowing the multitude of crimes now punishable by fines or damages, think the people of this empire justified in calling the ancient Irish barbarous because they extended the system. There is in these laws, so far as they are known, minuteness and equity; and what is a better test of their goodness we learn from Sir John Davies himself, and from the still abler Baron Finglass 1, that the people reverenced, obeyed, and clung to  p.199 these laws, though to decide by or obey them was a high crime in England's code. Moreover, the Norman and Saxon settlers hastened to adopt these Irish laws, and used them more resolutely, if possible, than the Irish themselves.

Orderliness and hospitality were peculiarly cultivated. Public caravansarais were built for travellers in every district, and we have what would almost be legal evidence of the grant of vast tracts of land for the supply of provisions for these houses of hospitality. The private hospitality of the chiefs was equally marked; nor was it quite rude. Ceremony was united with great freedom of intercourse; age, and learning, and rank, and virtue were respected, and these men, whose cookery was probably as coarse as that of Homer's heroes, had around their board harpers and bards who sang poetry as gallant and fiery, though not so grand, as the Homeric ballad-singers, and flung off a music which Greece never rivalled.

Shall a people, pious, hospitable, and brave, faithful observers of family ties, cultivators of learning, music, and poetry, be called less than civilised, because mechanical arts were rude, and comfort despised by them?

Scattered through the country in MS. are hundreds of books wherein the laws and achievements, the genealogies and possessions, the creeds, and manners and poetry of these our predecessors in Ireland are set down. Their music lives in the traditional airs of every valley.

Yet mechanical civilisation, more cruel than time, is trying to exterminate them, and, therefore, it becomes us all who do not wish to lose the heritage of centuries, nor to feel ourselves living among nameless ruins, when we might  p.200 have an ancestral home—it becomes all who love learning, poetry, or music, or are curious of human progress, to aid in or originate a series of efforts to save all that remains of the past.

It becomes them to lose no opportunity of instilling into the minds of their neighbours, whether they be corporators or peasants, that it is a brutal, mean, and sacrilegious thing, to turn a castle, a church, a tomb, or a mound, into a quarry or a gravel pit, or to break the least morsel of sculpture, or to take any old coin or ornament they may find to a jeweller, so long as there is an Irish Academy in Dublin to pay for it or accept it.

Before the year is out we hope to see A Society for the Preservation of Irish Music2 established in Dublin, under the joint patronage of the leading men of all politics, with branches in the provincial towns, for the collection and diffusion of Irish airs.

An effort—a great and decided one—must be made to have the Irish Academy so endowed out of the revenues of Ireland, that it may be a National School of Irish History and Literature and a Museum of Irish Antiquities, on the largest scale. In fact, the Academy should be a secular Irish College, with professors of our old language, literature, history, antiquities, and topography; with suitable schools, lecture-rooms, and museums.

No surer way exists of bringing that to pass than sustaining those who are now collecting and spreading information on the subject. Every man able to afford it should subscribe to the Archaeological Society. It has given us many things, the  p.201 Battle of Magh Rath, worth a dozen MacPhersons, the Statutes of Kilkenny, Grace's Annals and a number of smaller works. It is about to give us O'Flaherty's History of West Connaught, edited by Mr. Butler and Dr. Aquilla Smith, the Books of All Hallows and Christ Church, under the able Dr. Todd, and best of all, Hy-Fiachra and Cormac's Glossary, by John O'Donovan.

We see a just complaint in the last report of the Society, that they had asked for the use of old family papers illustrative of the manners, laws, topography, or aught of the information of past days, for their miscellany, and had asked in vain. Now, this is a disgrace to the country, and we hope each of our readers will exert him or herself to remove it ....

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Title (uniform): Old Ireland [Ancient Ireland]

Author: Thomas Osborne Davis

Editor: D.J. O' Donoghue

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

proof corrections by: Margaret Bonar

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2. Second draft.

Extent: 2525 words

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Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2006

Date: 2008

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CELT document ID: E800002-038

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  • First published in The Nation 10 August, 1844.

Editions of this text; other writings by Thomas Davis

  1. Thomas Davis, Essays Literary and Historical, ed. by D. J. O'Donoghue, Dundalk 1914.
  2. Thomas Davis: selections from his prose and poetry. [Edited] with an introduction by T. W. Rolleston. London and Leipzig: T. Fisher Unwin (Every Irishman's Library). 1910. [Published in Dublin by the Talbot press, 1914.]
  3. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Davis, the memoirs of an Irish patriot, 1840–1846. 1890.
  4. Thomas Osborne Davis, Literary and historical essays 1846. Facsimile reprint, with an introduction by John Kelly, 1998, Washington, DC: Woodstock Books.
  5. Essays of Thomas Davis. New York, Lemma Pub. Corp. 1974, 1914 [Reprint of the 1914 ed. published by W. Tempest, Dundalk, Ireland, under the title 'Essays literary and historical'.]
  6. Thomas Davis: essays and poems, with a centenary memoir, 1845–1945. Dublin, M.H. Gill and Son, 1945. [Foreword by an Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera.]
  7. Angela Clifford, Godless colleges and mixed education in Ireland: extracts from speeches and writings of Thomas Wyse, Daniel O'Connell, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, Frank Hugh O'Donnell and others. Belfast: Athol, 1992.

Selected further reading

  1. Arthur Griffith (ed.), Thomas Davis: the thinker & teacher; the essence of his writings in prose and poetry. Dublin: Gill 1914.
  2. William O'Brien, The influence of Thomas Davis: a lecture delivered by William O'Brien, M.P., at the City Hall, Cork, on 5th November 1915. Cork: Free Press Office, 1915.
  3. Johannes Schiller, Thomas Osborne Davis, ein irischer Freiheitssänger. Wiener Beiträge zur englischen Philologie, Bd. XLVI. Wien und Leipzig, W. Braumüller, 1915.
  4. Michael Quigley (ed.), Pictorial record: centenary of Thomas Davis and young Ireland. Dublin [1945].
  5. Joseph Maunsell Hone, Thomas Davis (Famous Irish Lives). 1934.
  6. M. J. MacManus (ed.), Thomas Davis and Young Ireland. Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1945.
  7. J. L. Ahern, Thomas Davis and his circle. Waterford, 1945.
  8. Michael Tierney, 'Thomas Davis: 1814–1845'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 34:135 (1945) 300–10.
  9. Theodore William Moody, 'The Thomas Davis centenary lecture in Newry'. An t-Iubhar (=Newry) 1946, 22–6.
  10. D. R. Gwynn, O'Connell, Davis and the Colleges Bill (Centenary Series 1). Oxford and Cork, 1948.
  11. D. R. Gwynn, 'John E. Pigot and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 145–57.
  12. D. R. Gwynn, 'Denny Lane and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 15–28.
  13. N. N., Clár cuimhneacháin: comóradh i gcuimhne Thomáis Daibhis, Magh Ealla, 1942. Baile Átha Cliath (=Dublin) 1942.
  14. K. M. MacGrath, 'Writers in the

    Title (periodical): Nation

    , 1842–5.' Irish Historical Studies 6, no. 23 (March 1949), 189–223.
  15. Christopher Preston, 'Commissioners under the Patriot Parliament, 1689'. Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 5th ser., 74:8 (1950) 141–51.
  16. W.B. Yeats, Tribute to Thomas Davis: with an account of the Thomas Davis centenary meeting held in Dublin on November 20th, 1914, including Dr. Mahaffy's prohibition of the 'Man called Pearse,' and an unpublished protest by 'A.E.', Cork 1965.
  17. Theodore William Moody, 'Thomas Davis and the Irish nation'. Hermathena, 103 (1966) 5–31.
  18. Malcolm Johnston Brown, The politics of Irish literature: from Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle (University of Washington Press) 1973.
  19. Eileen Sullivan, Thomas Davis. Lewisburg, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press, 1978.
  20. Mary G. Buckley, Thomas Davis: a study in nationalist philosophy. Ph.D. Thesis, National University of Ireland, at the Department of Irish History, UCC, 1980.
  21. Giulio Giorello, "A nation once again": Thomas Osborne Davis and the construction of the Irish "popular" tradition. History of European Ideas, 20:1–3 (1995) 211–17.
  22. John Neylon Molony, A soul came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814–1845. Dublin 1995.
  23. Robert Somerville-Woodward, "Two 'views of the Irish language': O'Connell versus Davis." The History Review: journal of the UCD History Society, 9 (1995) 44–50.
  24. John Neylon Molony, 'Thomas Davis: Irish Romantic idealist'. In: Richard Davis; Jennifer Livett; Anne-Maree Whitaker; Peter Moore (eds.), Irish-Australian studies: papers delivered at the eighth Irish-Australian Conference, Hobart July 1995 (Sydney 1996) 52–63.
  25. David Alvey, 'Thomas Davis. The conservation of a tradition.' Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 85 (1996) 37–42.
  26. Harry White, The keeper's recital: music and cultural history in Ireland, 1770–1970. (Cork 1998).
  27. Joseph Langtry; Brian Fay, 'The Davis influence.' In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 30–38.
  28. Joseph Langtry, 'Thomas Davis (1814–1845).' In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 2–7.
  29. Patrick Maume, 'Young Ireland, Arthur Griffith, and republican ideology: the question of continuity.' Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 155–74.
  30. Sean Ryder, 'Speaking of '98: Young Ireland and republican memory'. Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 51–69.
  31. Gerard Kearns, 'Time and some citizenship: nationalism and Thomas Davis'. Bullán: an Irish Studies Review, 5:2 (2001), 23–54.
  32. Ghislaine Saison, 'L'écriture de l'histoire chez la Jeune Irlande: quelle histoire pour une nation du consensus et de la réconciliation?' In: Centre de recherche inter-langues angevin, Écriture(s) de l'histoire: Actes du colloque des 2,3 et 4 décembre 1999. (Angers 2001) 435–46.
  33. Ghislaine Saison, 'Thomas Davis et la nation irlandaise'. Cercles, 4 (2002), 121–31.
  34. Helen Mulvey, Thomas Davis and Ireland: a biographical study. Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America Press, 2003.

Davis, Thomas Osborne (1914). ‘Old Ireland [Ancient Ireland]’. In: Essays, literary and historical. By Thomas Davis. Centenary edition, including several pieces never before collected.‍ Ed. by D.J. O Donoghue. Dundalk: Dundalgan Press, pp. 197–201.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {Thomas Osborne Davis},
  title 	 = {Old Ireland [Ancient Ireland]},
  editor 	 = {D.J. O Donoghue },
  booktitle 	 = {Essays, literary and historical.  By
	      Thomas Davis. Centenary edition, including several
	      pieces never before collected.},
  publisher 	 = {Dundalgan Press},
  address 	 = {Dundalk},
  date 	 = {1914},
  pages 	 = {197–201}


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Creation: by Thomas Davis

Date: 1842

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Keywords: literary; prose; 19c

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  1. 2008-02-15: Header updated; keywords added; file reparsed, new SGML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
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  4. 2005-10-08: File proofed (1). (ed. Margaret Bonar, Dublin)
  5. 1996: Text captured by scanning. (ed. Audrey Murphy)

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  1. Patrick Finglas, Cief Justice of the Kings Bench in Ireland in the sixteenth century. Ed. 🢀

  2. Such society was started later, and in 1855 published the first volume of Petrie's invaluable collection.–ED. 🢀


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