Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

is in itself a serious objection to the credibility of the legend's first chapter. To answer, we copy an interesting page' from O'Donoghue's Brendaniana: “The ancient Celts, in their migrations from the East, brought with them a strong faith, the faith, also, of the ancient Greeks,” in the existence of a wide and beautiful land towards the setting sun; and when they settled in Iberia and in western Gaul their earliest traditions tell how they believed firmly that the spirits of their deceased friends took their departure from certain promontories on their coasts towards this happy land, which they called ‘Flathinnis,' Noble Island, and ‘Yma’ or ‘Hy-ma,’ Isle of the Just or Good. After their westward migration into Ireland they retained their ancestral faith in a still more western “Land of the Souls,’ to which, in the ancient language of the Gaodhal, they gave such names as “Tir nam-bed,’ Land of the Living; “Tir na n-Óg, Land of Youth; ‘Hy-Breasail,’ Isle of the Blest, which, under the name of ‘Brezill,’ has been preserved On the maps until modern times. “They colonized Ireland and permanently occupied this isle of the West; but beyond it still lay the great western land ‘towards the setting sun,' the object of their ancestral belief and ambition. Did those migratory Celts, whose nomadic instincts had urged them from Asia to this western island in the ocean, make no movement farther west during the many centuries of their occupation of Ireland? It is hard to think that such masterful tendencies as actuated the race had spent all their force within the narrow Irish shores. It is very probable that many of them still nursed yearnings and aspirations to seek out the great mysterious western land, and, in obedience to them, made efforts to traverse the ocean that lay between them and the object of their desires; and we may well believe that such daring attempts were crowned with success. “In a curious legend, given by Macpherson in his Introduction to the History of Great Britain, it is related that a “Druid of renown, who dwelt in early ages beside the western sea, often sat on the shore with his face to the West, his eye following the declining sun; and he blamed the careless billows that rolled between him and the distant isle he desired to reach. One day, as he sat musing on a rock, a storm arose on the sea; a cloud, under whose squally skirts the foaming waters tossed, rushed suddenly towards him, and from its dark womb emerged a boat with white sails and banks of gleaming oars on either side; but no mariner was to be seen. Terror seized on the aged druid, and he heard a voice saying, “Arise and behold the Green Isle of the Departed.’ He entered the boat, and at once the wind shifted, the cloud enveloped him, and in its bosom he sailed away for seven days until, on the eighth day, he suddenly heard a cry, ‘The isle! the isle !’ At once the clouds parted before him, the waves subsided, and his boat rushed into a dazzling light, when before his eyes lay the ‘Isle of the Departed.’” This is a characteristic specimen of those early Celtic “Tales of the Sea,” or “Imramha,” of which O’Curry says that, though indefinite in their results and burdened with much matter of a poetic or romantic character, there can be no rational doubt that they are founded on facts. To our surmises it may be objected that the Irish of olden times had no ships of sufficient power to cross the Atlantic Ocean; but Tacitus makes already the remark that “the approaches and harbors of Ireland were better known than those of Britain, by reason of commerce and of the merchants;”' from which it appears that Irish vessels, before and after Christ, were seaworthy and of sufficient capacity to cross the Atlantic. We are told by O'Halloran, on the authority of the “Psalter of Cashel,” the oldest Irish manuscript extant, of a great naval expedition made by Moghcorb, king of Munster, in the year of our Lord 296, against the king of Denmark. In 367 a powerful fleet was despatched from Ireland to Scotland in behalf of the Picts against the Romans: and in 396 Niall of the Nine Hostages sent another numerous navy for a similar purpose.” We will soon notice that, during the very century in which St. Brendan lived, the Irish sailed in every direction on the northern Atlantic, and then or shortly after settled in Iceland, and probably in Greenland and farther south on our coasts. All these considerations and statements, we acknowledge, do not prove the actual discovery of the American continent by the Irish people, either before Christ or during the first centuries of our era, but they establish its possibility, if not its probability; and we may conclude that there is no reason save our ignorance to disbelieve the voyage reported at the beginning of St. Brendan's legend. The saint believed Barinthus, and resolved to start himself on a “pilgrimage” to the islands of the ocean, several of which were already inhabited by Irish hermits and cenobites, either to encourage those religious, Or, more probably, to convert the pagan natives. He chose, the legend says, fourteen willing companions, with whom, “using iron implements, he prepared a light vessel, with wicker sides and ribs, such as is usually made in that country, and covered it with cowhide tanned in oak-bark, tarring the joints thereof; he put on board provisions for forty days, with butter enough to dress hides for covering the boat, and all utensils needed for the use of the crew. St. Brendan then embarked, and they set sail towards the summer solstice,” or the Tropic of Cancer, in a southwesterly direction, according to the “Navigatio” or Latin legend." There seems to be some confusion here, for it was previously said that “St. Brendan, affectionately taking leave of his monks, sailed forth towards the West with fourteen brethren to the island wherein dwelt St. Enda,” that is, to Aran Island, from whence he returned to his native country, and afterwards prepared for his southwestern voyage. The Irish Life of St. Brendan and the Irish version of his legend afford a conciliatory explanation; for in the Life it is stated that he and his companions “were thus for the space of five years upon the ocean,” adding, however, that “they celebrated the festival of Easter, to the end of seven years, on the back of a whale.” ‘ The Irish version of St. Brendan's voyages concludes the narrative with the statement that “then they reached the land which they had been seeking for the space of seven years, even the Land of Promise.” Hence we might conclude that the saint has made two great voyages, the former commencing in a northwesterly direction, and lasting five years; the latter in a southwesterly course, and of two years' duration; both together completing the traditional seven years' sailing. The Latin Life of St. Brendan confirms this interpretation; for here it is related that, while he had first started in a vessel covered with hides, St. Ita told him “he would never find the land he was seeking from God in vessels made of dead stained skins, for it was a holy, consecrated land;” but that he would find that land later on, in vessels built of wood. And when a large, wonderful vessel had been fitted out he embarked with sixty men, “but they were not all cleries.”" The former voyage of St. Brendan apparently was among the numerous islands west and north of Great Britain. This opinion can hardly be doubted. John a Bosco” states that Sts. Malo and “Brandan,” with their companions, returned home after having visited the Orkney and the other northern islands, and von Humboldt similarly says that St. “Brandon” and his seventy-five monks returned from their seven years' voyage by way of the Orkneys.” “It is well known,” he further states, “that St. Brandon, before his distant excursions, had inhabited the still more northern Shetland Islands.” This fact seems to be inconsistent with the time assigned by Murray to the first population of these islands, but it has been rendered highly probable by an explanation of Letronne,” according to which the Shetland Isles were settled already at the time of the Romans.” The most convincing proofs, however, of St. Brendan's apostolic labors in the northern parts and islands of Scotland are the numerous churches dedicated to him in those regions, such as Kilbrennan in Mull and St. “Brengan’s” Chapel in St. Kilda. He was patron of Boyndie and Birnie, and venerated at Cullen, Dumbarney, and Balbirnie. St. “Brenghan's” fair was held at Kilbar in Ayrshire, and at Banff. He

'308, seq. * See vol. i. p. 118, seq.

'Vita Agricolae, cap. xxiv. 217 ; De Costa, Precolumbian Dis* Beamish, The Discovery, p. covery, p. 16; Gleeson, vol. i. p. 212. * The “Navigatio,” translation * O’Donoghue, Brendaniana, p. of O'Donoghue, p. 111, seq. 29.

[graphic]

'0'Donoghue, Brendaniana, pp. “Dicuil, De Mensura Orbis Terrie, 27, 86, 87. p. 134 and Add., p. 90. * Bibl. Floriac, p. 602. * Von Humboldt, Examen, t. ii.

*Examen, t. ii. p. 164. p. 166 and n. 2.

« ElőzőTovább »