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Returning to the question how far from all sources the Highlanders were possessed of the material necessaries and comforts of life, the natural conclusion is, that according to the rule of progress in the rest of the population, they must have been in worse plight of old than they are now. But this is not a conclusion of universal acceptance. We are not accustomed to hear of either Ireland or the Highlands of the present day as a land of plenty. In both, however, popular literature speaks of abundance in old times; and it has been held that when the people lived unmolested under their old national institutions, it fared better with them than they have been under the ungenial control of the Saxon. All doctrines are entitled to a hearing ; but this one leads to conclusions so unharmonious to all established belief in the blessed influences of peace and industry, that it will require support from a more consolidated supply of facts, than theorists about the Irish and the Highlanders are generally content with.1
eldest son, John of Islay (or, as he was named among his kinsmen, Eoin na h-Ile), married, as his second wife, Margaret, daughter of Robert II., King of Scotland. The second son of this marriage was John Mor, who married Marjory Bisset, daughter of MacEoin Bisset, Lord of the Glyns of Antrim; and lay her the seven tuoghs or districts of the Glyns, together with the island of Rathlin, came originally into the family of the Macdonnells. John Mor and his Antrim bride dwelt in Scotland; but their son Donald, surnamed Ballach, or the Freckled, was compelled to seek an asylum in the Antrim glens."Ulster Journal of Archæology, vii. 247, 248. This family of Bisset throws us far back into our History, to a tragedy that occurred in the twelfth century. It compelled the Bissets to leave Scotland, and vacating their Highland estates there, to be occupied by the Frasers of Lovat, we find them passing a parallel career among the Celts of Ireland.
1 In The Ballads of Ireland, collected and edited by Edward Hayes,' there are repeated testimonies to this, as
“A plenteous place is Ireland for hospitable cheer,
Where the wholesome fruit is bursting from the yellow-barbed ear." And
“Large and profitable are the stacks upon the ground;
The butter and the cream do wonderfully abound.” In a “ Vision of Connaught," in the thirteenth century, we have
“I walked entranced
Through a land of morn;
When the facts are proved, the process of accounting for them will take the following shape. In a naturally industrious and enterprising population, war and confusion, no doubt, desolate the land, not only by bringing actual ruin on the produce of industry, but by cutting off the
The sun, with wondrous excess of light,
Over seas of corn,
And lustrous gardens a-left and right.” Nor is this all imagination; for there is testimony, in Ireland espe. cially, of abundance of provender and profuse consumption among some, whatever privations might have been endured among others: “ The annual revenue received by O'Doyne in 1608, from his vast territory, was but £2, 75, in cash, 36 beeves, 432 crannocs of oats, 268 cakes of bread, 89 dishes of butter, 24 carnes, and 52 barins of malt and 12 barins of wheat, to which was added £3, 8s. for "horseboys' diet,' as a commutation instead of coigny or refection to his grooms, whenever he rode about to tenants' houses." When O'Neil returned from London in 1603, relieved of a difficulty for which he had to appear at Court, his people “ turned out in troops to welcome him home, and gave their Tierna More all the honour and homage they could bestow, presenting him with store of beeves, colpaghs, sheep, hens, bonny-clabber, sruan, butter, greddan-meal strowans; with snush and bolean as much as they could get to regale him.”— Montgomery MSS.; Ulster Journal of Archæology, iii. 121.
There is such testimony to the abundant consumption of wine in the Western Isles as would be at once rejected with derision, were it not the expression of laborious and vain efforts by the Government to restrain it. In 1616 the Secret Council issued an Act on the preamble that “the great and extraordinary excess in drinking of wine commonly used among the commons and tenants of the Isles, is not only an occasion of the beastly and barbarous cruelties and inhumanities that falls out among them to the displeasure of God and contempt of law and justice, but with that it draws numbers of them to miserable necessity and poverty, so that they are constrained, when they want of their own, to take from their neighbours.” The remedy is that first and simplest always tried in such cases—absolute prohibition. The Council, however, had to go farther back, and put restraints on the importation of wine; and in justification of these they gave the following strange picture of the external symptoms of the passion for wine : “With the insatiable desire thereof the said inhabitants are so far possessed, that when there arrives any ship or other vessel there with wines, they spend both days and nights in their excess of drinking, and seldom do they leave their drinking so long as there is any of the wine retained ; so that, being overcome with drink, there falls out many inconvenients among them.” There is an odd exception to the restraints—that they are to be “without
industrious hands. But here the people are indolent, and content with the bounties supplied to them by nature. If their population increases beyond a balance with the natural supply of these bounties, they starve.' Thus do we find, by logical conclusion, a race among whom war and murder have a wholesome social tendency; and it is added to the wrongs committed on the Celt that the law and order to which he has been reduced under the rule of the Saxon have driven him to starvation.
Of the social condition of any people the nature and nomenclature of those who bear influence or rule over them are significant elements. The titles of dignity given by the Celts both of Ireland and Scotland to their sove
prejudice always to any person within the Isles to brew aqua vitæ and other drink to serve their own houses.” One would think this as likely to be productive of “inconvenients," and even “beastly and barbarous cruelties," as the wines of the Rhine and the Garonne; and so the Irish Parliament seems to have felt when uttering this preamble : “Forasmuch as aqua vitæ, a drink not profitable to be daily drunken and used, is now universally throughout this realm of Ireland made, and especially in the borders of the Irishry and for the furniture of Irishmen, and thereby much corn, grain, and other things are consumed, spent, and wasted." The remedy is simple prohibition-and there, of course, an end. On further dealing with the Isles, limitation was the policy. We have the rule stated in a quarter worthy of thorough reliance. The smaller chiefs, “such as Mackinnon in Skye, Maclane of Coll, and Maclean of Lochbuy, were restricted to one tun or four hogsheads each in the twelvemonth. Chiefs of a higher rank, such as the Captain of Clanranald, had three tuns or twelve hogsheads a-year. Potentates of still greater mark-Maclean of Duart, Macleod of Dunvegan, and Donald Gorme of Sleat-were permitted to have each of them four tuns or sixteen hogsheads yearly. Four Scottish tuns, I should explain, contain rather more than 876 imperial gallons. In other words, there were in 1616 at least three houses in the West Isles where the consumption of wine, under the jealous regimen of the Privy Council, amounted to 478 dozen every year. May I ask if there be one house now in all the Hebrides which uses so much?”—Paper by Joseph Robertson, Proceedings, Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, iii. 424.
Of this consumption of wine, as in other Highland practices, there was example teaching froin Ireland. We hear of Shane O'Neil that " albeit he had most commonly two hundred tuns of wine in his cellar at Dundrun, and had his fill thereof, yet was he never satisfied till he had swallowed up marvellous great quantities of usqueba or aqua vitæ of that country.”—Holingshed's Chron. of Ireland, 113. reigns or leaders had a fine simplicity, like those of old Rome. The head of the house of Argyle was MacCallum Mohr. Lord Lovat was MacShimei. The ruler over the great island-sept of MacLeods was simply “MacLeod.” The best-accepted representative of the ancient Irish dynasties of the Hy Nyal, when Earl of Tyrone, had a higher title in the simple designation of O'Neil. All this was in strong contrast with the Royal Highnesses, Serene Highnesses, Right Well-born, Right Honourable, and the like, brought into the nomenclature of the Empire after it fell into the hands of the Germans. It was a contrast, too, at variance with the usual notions of the Celtic character, as . being showy and boastful.
This character profusely adorns the genealogies of the great houses. When those who come to Britain directly or indirectly from the Scandinavian north-Danes, Normans, and their brethren-first cross our path, they are new men-men with no pedigrees. But they built their houses on a foundation, to provide secure pedigrees for their descendants. These are the only men whose hereditary descent belongs to record. To have “come in with the Conqueror” is the boast of our noblest houses ; and perhaps there are no other families in the world that can look with the same clearness so far back. But the Celt seems ever to have had a curious horror of anything about himself or his affairs being committed to the sure testimony of writing or record. We have seen the Highland antipathy to “the sheepskin title " which established a holding by feudal tenure of the Crown. The titles to their lands, which in more recent times committed Celtic pedigrees to writing, are inimical to their traditionary claims, by sometimes drawing the real descent into a different groove. It is not to be inferred from this that the Celtic people of Ireland and the Highlands were averse to pedigrees. These, such as they were, abounded. Whenever, in their countless fluctuations, any man rose to considerable power, he was surrounded by a court or staff of sennachies-the bards and historians of his race. It was their duty to maintain his descent to be ancient and illustrious, just as it is the duty of the officers of a government
to support its policy. These were distinguished men in their proper place; but when the breaking of the clan or any other casualty drove them forth from the protection of a chief, they got small respect from the Lowland laws. Parliament made provision for them in a law brief and distinct, that bards and suchlike runners-about be put in the king's prisons, or in irons, to be so kept while they have means of their own; and if “ they have naught to live upon, that their ears be nailed to the trone, or to ane other tree, and their ears cutted off, and banished the country; and if thereafter they be founden again, that they be hanged.” 1
Sometimes the claims founded on these traditional genealogies got into record. In the great diplomatic collection known as the Federa there are frequent alliances or contracts between the Court of England and the Irish or Highland potentates, who take in the negotiations the titles of dignity conceded to them at home. These documents generally subsidise them to fight for the English policy in the subjugation of Scotland. In other instances, peerages or baronetages are conferred on them, and their dignities are acknowledged in the patent. But these were mere casual acceptances of tradition, and could not
i Solecisms of various kinds are apt to arise out of the conflicts of custom between Highlander and Lowlander. The Highlander, for all his pride in his own race or clan, courteously admits the claims of any stranger bringing with him the attributes of wealth and position. If he hold no place in their own distinguished hierarchy, yet he may have a high one in his own. It was said of a late distinguished poet, that on a visit to a Highland family he was at first treated with much deference, until they discovered the art by which he had won renown. He was a poet-a mere sennachie ; and he dropped in their eyes to the social position which the sennachie had occupied since
“The bigots of the iron tim
Had called his harmless art a crime." 2 “The Macdonnells of Antrim represent one branch of a race that in former times supplied kings to Ireland and lords to the Isles and Highlands of Scotland. The fact is admitted in the letters-patent issued by James I. of England for the investiture of Randal Macdonnell with the dignity of a peer in 1617, and is asserted, indeed, as one principal reason for the distinction thus conferred.” - Transactions of the Ulster Journal of Archäology, vii. 247.