Irish Druids And Old Irish
THE FUTURE LIFE, OR LAND OF THE
No more touching or inspiring
belief was there among the ancient Irish, than
in the hope of another life beyond the grave Nature restored the dead forest of
winter to the wealth of foliage in spring, why should not the breathless form of
man once more find joy in life? But this happy thought, with our Islanders, was
associated with two things--the sea-wave and the western sunset
The soul of the Maori, it was said, took its flight to the Reinga, the
northernmost promontory of New Zealand, and, from the branch of an overhanging
tree, dropped into the ocean in search of its subaqueous home The Irish, in like
manner, knew that his next tenement would be beneath the flood
The dying Egyptian beheld with the eye of faith hi spirit following the
setting sun The Irish looked forward to the West as the place to which his
ethereal nature would take its flight The roar of the Atlantic was music to
ears, for it was but the echo of the voices of his forefather and departed loved
ones, in the western Land of the Blest.
"Where mortals easiest pass the careless hour,
Penelope's suitors, slain by her returning lord, were thus led by Mercury to
No lingering winter there, nor snow, nor shower,
But ocean ever, to refresh mankind,
Breathes the cool spirit of the western wind."
"So cowering fell the sable heap of ghosts,
Chronos slept in his palace of glass in Ogygia, Isle of the West. The
Hesperides and its apples lay in the happy West. The Teutones went to the glass
Isles of the West, as did the Norsemen and Celtiberians. Arthur was rowed to
Avalon in the West. The Sacred Isles of the Hindoos were to the West. Christian
hymns still speak of crossing the waters to Heaven. How many of us have been
delighted with Faber's beautiful hymn--"The Land across the sea!" The
Gaulish Cocagne, the Saxon Cockaign, the Lusitanian Cocana,
or Happy Land, were beyond the seashore. Prof. Rafinesque might well say,"
It is strange, but true, that, throughout the earth, the place of departed
souls, the land of spirits, was supposed to be in the West."
And such a scream filled all the dismal coasts.
And now they reach'd the earth's remotest ends,
And now the gates where evening Sol descends."
"To Rhadamanthys of the golden hair,
Procopius had a story of the West. Thither the souls are conveyed by ghostly
fishermen to an island for rest; and tales are told of ears detecting the
calling over of names, as the boat touches the mystic strand, and wives and
husbands being summoned to their arriving mates.
Beyond the wide world's end; Ah! never there
Come storm or snow; all grief is left behind,--
And men immortal, in enchanted air,
Breathe the cool current of the Western Wind."
Erebos was the gloom that fell after sunset. The word in Assyrian was from eribu,
to descend, as suns then dropped below. Odysseus turned to Erebos when offering
his sacrifice to departed hero-gods. Ghosts were there Wont to assemble, and
might be seen flitting to and fro in the uncertain light. The main entrance of
Greek temples was in the East, so that the worshippers might face the Happy West.
Homer's reputed poems are unlike in their records of the dead. The Iliad
knows no apotheosis; the Odyssey has it. Coleridge observes, "In the
Iliad, Castor and Pollux are mentioned in the ordinary language denoting
death and burial, and no more. In the Odyssey, we have the account of their
ultimate resuscitation, which finally became the popular fable."
Alluding to the Homeric Hades--Aides and Erebos.--W. E. Gladstone
writes--"A particular portion of the unseen world, apparently special in
its character, is stated to be situated as far below Aides as our earth is below
heaven. It bears the name of Tartaros, and it appears to have been reserved for
preter-human offenders." The condition of the departed generally was not
very joyous; Gladstone shows this as follows--"The Hellenic dead are
wanderers in the Shades, without fixed doom or occupation".
Again--"The Greek personages, recently dead, do not appear to have been
either rewarded or punished; an Achilles bitterly complains of the sheer want of
interest this life."
In Homer's Nekromanteia, we have the intercourse of Ulysses with the
dead. He employs necromantic arts in his descent into Hades, which were strictly
of a Babylonia character, and the whole description reminds us of the fabled
descent of the Assyrian goddess to the Sheol. The ghosts gather round Ulysses at
the smell of the blood his offerings, and, inspired thereby, "expressed
dark things to come." Tiresias then says--
"Know to the spectres that thy beverage taste,
We are assured that when the hero sought to embrace friend--
The scenes of life recur, and actions past."
"Thrice in my arms I strove her shade to bind,
Coleridge exclaims, "The whole of the Nekromanteia is remarkable
for the dreary and even terrible revelations which it makes of the conditions of
the future life. All is cold and dark; hunger and thirst and discontent
prevail." The ghost of Achilles was made to say--
Thrice through my arms she slipp'd like empty wind."
"Rather I'd choose laboriously to bear
Ulysses, horrified at the sight of the Underworld, exclaims--
A weight of woes, and breathe the vital air,
A slave to some poor hind that toils for bread,
Than reign the sceptred monarch of the dead."
"No more my heart the dismal din sustains,
Horace writes more cheerfully of the locality--the land of plenty and of
And my cold blood hangs shiv'ring in my veins."
"No bear grins round the fold, no lambs he shakes;
Renouf, in his translation of the Book of the Dead, has this Egyptian
prayer--"Let me have my heart, that it may rest within me. I shall feed on
the food of Osiris. Hail to you, O ye Lords of everlasting Time and Eternity.
Let not my heart be torn from me. I shall not surrender to thee this heart of
the Living. Come forth to the bliss towards which we are bound."
No field dwells there with pois'nous snakes,
No heat annoys; the ruler of the gods
From plagues secures these blest abodes."
Prof. Whitney thus speaks of the Hindoo faith--"There is no attempt
made, in any Vedic hymn, to assign employments to the departed in their changed
state, nor, for the most part, to describe their condition, excepting in general
terms as one of happiness."
How far these old pagan views of the Future Life reached the shores of Erin
may be seen in what follows in this chapter. A perusal of Ossianic songs, as elsewhere noted, will give the
popular conception of the Unseen World just before the reception of
Christianity. The Purgatory of St. Patrick might be, also, consulted for
information upon the same subject. As to what opinions were cherished on the
reception of Christian truths, we may perhaps discover some in the writings of
Eastern Fathers, upon the supposition of some that the earliest teachers of Erin
came from the Levantine regions.
The following passages from their writings may exhibit some notions about the
Hereafter prevalent in the early Oriental Church.
Gregory of Nyssa tells us--"After due curative treatment, and when the
fire shall have destroyed all foreign matter, then the nature even of these
shall improve." St. Gregory writes--"It is not just that they should
perish eternally who are sustained by His breath and Spirit. The fallen angel
will begin to be that which he was created, and man, who had been expelled from
Paradise, will be once more restored to the tilling of Paradise." St Basil
trusted that "everything of wickedness in man shall cease." Gregory of
Nazianzus, 370 A.D. declares that "all will be loosed who groan under
Tartarine chains." Origen affirms--"God will be all, seeing evil
nowhere exists." Clement, 190 A.D., hopefully says, "He, by the
Father, will direct the salvation of all." Only Tertullian, from
unfriendliness to the theatre, exults in seeing "the tragedians more
tuneful under their own sufferings."
The story of the Purgatory of St. Patrick declares another order of teaching,
introduced later on into Erin, one more in consistency with the Babylonian
"doctrine of devils," and which still survives with its lurid light. A
recognition of Our Father is more elevating, helpful, and comforting.
The heathen Irish did certainly dwell upon a Land Beyond.
In Dr. Maiden's Ossian and the Clyde we read, "When the
warrior, who was also a hunter, reposed, his dog was laid beside him on the
left, as if waiting his summons to attend his master on fields of air beyond the
verge of earth--like Oscar's at Glenree, and like Cuthullin's by Lake
Lego." And, yet, in the Songs of Selma, one mourns forth--"No
more shall he hear thy voice, no more awake at thy call. When shall it be morn
in the grave to bid the slumberer awake?" In the Chapter on
"Superstitions" are references to the ghost belief of other days.
In the account of the Land of Youth, given by the heathen Fenian Oisin
to St. Patrick--when the hero was carried off from the field of battle by the
golden-haired fairy Niamh--the region was divided into states under sovereigns,
as in the Land of the Living. It lay beneath the waves in the West, in a
How easy it was in so blessed a place to lose ideas of time! When Oisin
obtained leave from his beautiful captor to revisit earth, he alluded to the
rapidity of time passed in this retreat by his three months' imprisonment--
"'Three months!' replied the Fair, 'three months alone;
In Dodsley's fairy collection, one King Porsuma was carried off by a
Zephyr--the princess taking him for a phœnix, and conveying him, as in the case
of Oisin, to Thierna-na-Oge, the paradise of eternal youth.
Know that three hundred years have roll'd away
Since at my feet my lovely phœnix lay."
Oisin had a fanciful description of his happy home--
"You shall obtain the diadem of the King of the Land of Youth,
Then there was Flath-innis, the Island of the Good, which word
is still the Irish for Heaven. An old Gaelic poem had this description of it--
Which he never gave to any person beneath the sun;
It shall shield you both by night and day,
In battle, conflict, and hard struggle.
You shall get one hundred satin shirts,
One hundred cows, one hundred calves;
One hundred sheep with fleeces of gold,
And one hundred precious stones not found in the world.
You shall have one hundred merry young maidens,
Bright and shining like the sun;
Who excel in shape, form, and features,
And whose voices are sweeter than the melody of birds," &c.
"The Isle spread large before him like a pleasing dream of the soul,
where distance fades not on the sight, where nearness fatigues not the eye. It
had its gently sloping hills of green, nor did they wholly want their clouds.
But the clouds were bright and transparent, and each involved in its bosom the
source of a stream; a beauteous stream, which, wandering down the steep, was
like the faint notes of the half-touched harp to the distant ears. The valleys
were open and free to the ocean; trees, laden with leaves, which scarcely waved
to the slight breeze, were scattered on the green declivities and rising ground.
The rude winds walked not on the mountains; no storm took its course through the
sky. All was calm and bright. The pure sun of autumn shone from his blue sky on
the fields. He hastened not to the West for repose, nor was he seen to rise from
the East. He sits in his middle height, and looks obliquely on the noble Isle.
In each valley is its slow, moving stream. The pure waters swell over the banks,
yet abstain from the fields. The showers disturb them not, nor are they lessened
by the heats of the sun. On the rising hills are the halls of the departed--the
high-roofed dwellings of the heroes of old."
In the tale of the Voyage of Condle the Hunchback, a wise woman sings
thus to him, as translated from Irish a French author--
"Tu éprouves, a cause de moi, du plaisir.
Many Celtic legends relate to a voyage in a glass ship. As Sophocles tells
us, Orithyia was carried off by Boreas to the ancient garden of Apollo. A
spirited translation of The Battle of Gabhra, by N. O'Kearney, affords
English readers another picture of the Land of the Blessed.
Sur les vagues, ton chagrin serait oublié,
Si, sur la barque de verre, nous arrivions;
Si nous avions atteint la cité divine de victorieux."
"Tiro na n-Og is the most beautiful country that can be found,
The distinguished historian, Lecky, has this allusion to another ancient
fancy; saying, "Among the many half pagan legends that were connected with
Ireland, during the Middle Ages, one of the most beautiful is that of the
Islands of Life and of Death. In a certain lake in Munster, it is said there
were two islands; into the first, Death could not enter, but age and sickness,
and the weariness of life, and the paroxysms of fearful suffering were all known
there, and they did their work, till the inhabitants, tired of their
immortality, learned to look upon the opposite island as upon a haven of repose.
They launched their barks upon the gloomy waters; they touched its shore, and
they were at rest."
The most productive now beneath the sun;
The trees are bending under fruit and bloom,
While foliage grows to the top of every bramble.
Wine and honey is abundant in it,
Consumption shall not waste you during life,
Neither shall you see death nor dissolution."
In Joyce's translation of Connla of the Golden Hair, the hero is
tempted by the fairy in these words--
"I have come from the Land of the Living,--a land where there is
neither death nor old age, nor any breach of law. The inhabitants of earth call
us Aes-shee, for we have our dwellings within large, pleasant green
hills. We pass our time very pleasantly in feasting and harmless amusements,
never growing old; and we have no quarrels or contentions."
Beseeching Connla to go with her, his father, Conn of the Hundred Fights,
called his Druid Coron to contend with her, and she was shouted off by him. But
Connla leaped into her canoe, and was lost.
"A land of youth, a land of rest,
Tradition says that one Creidé, the god of goldsmiths, had a magic palace
beneath the western sea, where he was drowned, while bringing gold to Ireland
from Spain. Earl Desmond descended below Lough Gur, and has since been usually
seen once in seven years. He is ultimately to escape as Oisin did. The Grey
Sheep's cave, near Kilkenny, is the outlet. A piper, long confined there has
been heard to play on his pipes upon a May-day morning.
A land from sorrow free;
It lies far off in the golden West,
On the verge of the azure sea.
A swift canoe of crystal bright.
That never met mortal view--
We shall reach the land ere fall of night,
In that strong and swift Canoe;
We shall reach the strand
Of that sunny land,
From druids and demons free;
The land of
In the Golden
On the verge of the azure sea."
Ireland was associated with the west by the old Welsh, or, as Professor Rhys
observed, with Wales. Taliesin, the great Welsh Druid, was stolen by an Irish
pirate vessel of the period, but he escaped in a magic coracle before reaching
Erin. The Land beneath the Sea was beyond Cardigan Bay, the Annwn of the
old Sun. The Welsh Avalon, or Island of Apples, the everlasting source of the
Elixir of Life, the home of Arthur and other mythological her was in the Irish
direction. As Morien writes, "The district of Hades beneath the earth, and
beyond the river, was the fairy-land of our ancestors, the source of the passive
principle of life."
So with Ireland itself; it was the western Arran-more Isle of the Bay of
Galway, from which the quick-sighted, upon a fine day, could discern Hy-Bræfailth,
or the Enchanted Isle. Moore alludes to the tradition--
"And as echo far off, thro' the vale my sad orison rolls,
The Spanish Bay of Souls lies west of Cape Finisterre. Ogygia was thought by
Plutarch five days' sail west of Brittia. The ancient Egyptian ritual spoke of
the Happy West. The home of Calypso was in the west. Bailly, writing to
Voltaire, in 1778, said, "The giant Gyges (hundred-handed) inhabited the
island of Atlantis, which is the same as Ogygia." The Bretons had their
western Ifern, which was the Flaitheas, or Isle of Heroes, the
Welsh Gwynvyd. Vinland the Good was westward, as were the Fortunate
Isles. Spanish tales tells of seven cities below the western ocean, where still
dwell Christians who fled from the Moors and some of whom return after hundreds
of years. America was probably visited by eastern voyagers long before Columbus
I think, O my love, 'tis thy voice from the Kingdom of Souls."
Lalla Rookh of Moore has similar references, as--
"I know where the Isles of Perfume are,
Mythical allegory may give meaning to these stories.
Many a fathom down in the sea,
To the south of sun-bright Araby."
In the Transactions of the Ossian Society is the following sketch of the
Land of Youth, by Bryan O'Looney--
"This Elysium is supposed to be divided into different states and
provinces, each governed by its own king or ruler. It is all peace, tranquillity,
and happiness. The Land of Life is supposed to give perpetual life to the
liberated spirits of the just. They are supposed to be located somewhere about
the sun's setting point, and have means of approach, chiefly through the seas,
lakes, and rivers of this world, also through raths, duns, and forts. The seas, lakes,
and rivers act as cooling atmosphere, while the raths, duns, and forts serve as
ingress and egress to and from them."
Speaking then of the fabled city in Liscannor Bay, he adds--
"The white breaking waves are said to be caused by the shallowness of
the water over this enchanted little city, which is believed to be seen once in
seven years, and of which, it is observed, that those who see it shall depart
this world before the lapse of seven years to come; but it is not supposed that
these persons die, but change their abode, and transmigrate from this world of
toil into the elysium of the just, where they shall, at once, become sportive,
young and happy, and continue so for ever. It is also believed that those who
see these enchanted spots, are slightly endowed with the gift of prophecy."
The life is not greatly different from that found here since Oisin, in his
reported dialogue with the Irish saint, admitted --
"I had, by golden headed Niamh,
In the story of Cûchulainn's adventures through this mysterious realm, is a
full detail of its palaces and landscapes The hero went thither in a bronze
boat, which awaited his return thence. They who were admitted to brief visit to
the upper regions of earth were duly admonished, that if they once dismounted
from their m steeds, they would never again be able to return.
Of children, of surpassing beauty and bloom,
Of best form, shape, and countenance,
Two young sons and a gentle daughter."
Bove Derg went to visit the Dagda deity at the Bru of Mac-an-Og, where dwelt
Augus Og, the god's son, an where Oscar and other Fenian heroes were entertain
Fiachna is recorded to have come to Connaught from the agreeable
plain, in order to obtain help in a contest with other deities.
He disappeared in a lake, and fifty warriors dived in after him. War was, with
the Irish, as with other people of German or Norse descent, a most pleasant way
of beguiling time in the world beyond. Even Cuchulainn was induced to undertake
his perilous voyage, that he might gain a goddess for a wife, by promising to
help her family in a fight.
There they heard noble and melodious music of the gods, travelled from realm
to realm, drinking from crystal cups, and entertaining themselves with their
beloved. No wonder that a hero returned thence declared to an Irish sovereign
that not for his kingdom would he relinquish a single night with the gods.
In Irish so-called history, we read of the emigrations of Nemed, son of
Agnomen, from Mag more, the great plain, or Trag mâr, the great
coast, or Mag meld, agreeable plain. Nennius supposed this was Spain. It
was, however, the country from which all came, and to which at death all must
return. In the legend of Tuân mac Cairill, says M. Jubainville, Nemed's
four thousand and thirty men, and four thousand and thirty women, voyaged from The
Great Plain, and all died; i. e. went there again.
The same French writer remarked how the relations which had existed here were
continued there, even to the repayment of debts contracted on earth. "The
life of the Dead," said he, "in the mysterious region beyond the sea
is for each a second edition, so to speak--of the life led by the departed on
this side of the ocean."
O'Beirne Crowe, treating of the Book of Leinster, and other MSS.,
says--"The point of departure from this world, as well as the entrance to
the next, whether for pain, or bliss, or business, was always in the West, and
the route westwards. For the ancient Irish beliefs on this point we
can appeal to the Vision of Adamnan, which gives the angels of the West the
guardianship of the entrance to the regions of punishment, as well as to the
cave of Loch Derg, which is most decidedly a pagan relic. This cave of Loch Derg
is situated in the west of Ireland, as the corresponding cave Avernus is
situated in the west of Italy."
Again, he remarks--"Somewhere, far away in the western ocean, there was
supposed by the ancient Irish to be a spiritual country, called generally The
Lands of the Living, and Traig Mar (great strand) and Tir
Tairngire (Land of Promise) of Christian origin, as in the Dind-senchus,
and Tir Mar (great land) as in another legend." Further--"The
Land of the Living was the happy spirit's home of the Irish pagans until after
the purification of all things by fire."
Parthalon was said in Irish legends to have come from Spain, not from the
country of the Dead. Tethra, conquered in the battle of Mag Tured, became King
of the Dead beyond the ocean. Chronos, also, reigned over the departed. The
plain where these infernal deities dwelt was the Irish Mag cetne.
As the son of Manannân-mac-Lir returned to earth again, so did the Ossianic
Find-mac-Cumaill, and Cailté; evidencing the Celtic belief in the soul's
According to some traditions, the Better-land of the, Druids floated in
Neamhagas, as the Trimurti of the East were said to do in Akass or celestial
ether. A bridge as. fine as a hair, like Mahometans believe to this day,
connects this world with that beyond, which they truly styled the Greater
Island. The inhabitants were robed in white at Murthemne, the flowery
Sepulchral rites were as essential to the comfort of the Irish in their Sheol
as to the Greeks in theirs. As burial of the body was required in the latter
case, so was the funeral song, feast, or cry over the corpse of the former--more or less
performed to this hour by their Christian descendants. There would otherwise be
dismal wanderings alone beside the Irish Styx, as with Homeric heroes.
The ghosts are variously described. The Ossianic ones appear indistinct and
mystic in cloudland, floating with the wind. Such phantoms were of the worst
sort, says O'Kearney; who adds--"Irish pagans never dreamed of spirits
after death having assumed any such forms, either in Tir-na-n-Og, Flaith-innis,
or any other happy abode of departed heroes. The spirits from Elysium always
appear in their proper shape, and spoke and acted as if they were still in
possession of mortal life."
There are many elements regarding ideas of the Dead which are common to both
Greeks and Irish, though not direct borrowings. Entrances to the nether world
were recognized in portions of the East; and Joyce tells us--"In my boyhood
day, the peasantry believed that the great limestone cavern near Mitchelstown,
in the county Cork, was one of the entrances to Tir-no-noge."
Dermat, in company with a wizard, or Knight of the Fountain, descended a
well, and came into a country of delightful flowers and trees, palaces and
castles. There a lady fair cured Dermat of the wounds he had received in battle,
besides entertaining him with music. In the Fate of the Children of Turem MS.,
we read of the Island of Fincara, which was sunk beneath the waves by a Druidic
spell long ago. Then, one Brian, in quite modern times, provided with a magic
water dress and crystal helmet, saw most charming-looking ladies. In the Voyage
of Maildun, also, a privileged person was enabled to behold the Mog-Mell
plains of pleasure, though these rather belonged to Fairydom.
In Plato, we have an account of banquets in Hades. In Irish MSS. are many
references to the good things below.
There was a lesser god, Miders, married to Etain, one of the goddesses. The
lady, tired of her situation, or company, came up, and obtained Eochaid-Airem,
King of Ireland, for a husband. Miders followed the faithless one; but she
declined any further connection with one "who has no genealogy, and whose
ancestors are unknown." The forsaken one engaged the king in a game of
chess, in which the loser was to grant the request of the winner. The king,
losing, was requested to give up his wife. This he refused to do. The
disconsolate one then turned to win over the goddess. He sang to her of the
Pleasant Plain, and invited her to return with him to a happier home than
Ireland could give. He would give her there more tasteful pork, sweeter milk,
and more intoxicating beer. There were rivers warm with hydromel, and even wine.
Youth never aged, and love was not forbidden. All this, and more, may be read in
the Lealhair na hllidlire.
It was to the mysterious realm of Tethra, beyond the sea, that the fabled
Fomorian race of Irish retreated, when finally vanquished by the next corners.
But the able Editor of the Irish Battle of Gabhra, has the following
story of the ancient emigrants, or conquerors, of Erin--
"The Firbolg and Fomorian races, being more or less sea-faring men,
placed their Elysium far out in the sea, and called it by various names, such as
Island of the Living, Island of Breasal, Island of Life,
&c. The Firbolgs are said to have lived under the waters of our lakes. The
Tuath de Danans, being devoted to civil and literary pursuits, and their Druids
having held their seminaries in caves and other secluded subterranean abodes,
fancied their Elysium placed under the earth, while the Milesians steered, a it
were, a middle course between both, and made their Elysium in a sort of
indescribable locality to which a subterranean passage led. This
they called Tir-na-n' Og, i. e. the country of
perpetual youth. In this they supposed the virtuous and brave to roam among
fields covered with sweet flowers, and groves laden with delicious fruits. Here
some, as the taste inclined, promenaded in happy groups, some reclined in
pleasant bowers, while others exercised themselves with hunting, wrestling,
running races, martial feats, and other manly exercises. No person ever grew old
in this happy abode, nor did the inhabitants feel tedious of enjoyment, or know
how centuries passed away."
The early Christian preachers tried hard to dispel these images of the
heathen paradise, and that by details of a terrible Hell--the Avernus
of the pagan Orientals. When, however, St. Patrick told Oisin, as is recorded,
that the hero Fingal was roasting in hell, the old Fenian cried out--"If
the children of Morni, and the many tribes of the clan Ovi, were alive, we would
force brave Fingal out of hell, or the habitation should be our own."
In the early ecclesiastical writings of Ireland, there is the same strange
medley of old pagan superstitions and supposed scriptural ideas, to be found in
other lands of the period. But this is also mixed up with the Babylonian horrors
that found their way into the Talmud, making the Jewish idea of the Future so
different from that of the Prophets in Scripture. We have but to read of the
so-called Purgatory of St. Patrick for an apt illustration.
The entrance to this Purgatory was that known to the heathen Irish as leading
to the Nether World. But the application came centuries after the usually
recognized date of the Saint, and was unknown to such writers as Nennius and
Probus. Irish tradition preserved the notion of descent into the lower regions,
as with Oisin and others. Ecclesiastics, in like manner, record visits to St.
Patrick's Purgatory, Lough Derg.
Henry of Saltrey, in the twelfth century, spoke of the Saint hearing there
the cries of those in Purgatory. The Knight Owain, in King Stephen's time, went
down, and saw the horrors. Some were fastened down by their hair, to be bitten
by fiery snakes; others were in molten metal, rivers of pitch, or lakes of cold.
A wall of glass afforded sufferers a view of the joys of Paradise.
One monk, writing in the thirteenth century, affirms that any doubts as to
Purgatory would be at once dispelled by going to Lough Derg. Froissart knew one
who had been there. William Staunton, 1409, saw "orrible bastes"
tormenting men. Yet the Pope, in 1497, ordered the cave to be closed up, upon
the report of a Dutch monk that there was no truth in the stories circulated
concerning the locality.
Notwithstanding the papal authority, the superstition still exists, and vast
numbers of pilgrims frequent the scene of St. Patrick's Purgatory. The descent
into hell by Istar, Orpheus, Hercules, &c., yet lives in the stories of
Irish visitants to the lower regions.
In the ancient Book of Lismore is the following
narrative--"Howbeit the devil there revealed the gates of hell to Brenaina.
And Brenaina beheld that rough, hot prison, full of stench, full of flame, full
of filth, full of the camps of the prisoners' demons, full of wailing, and
screaming, and hurt and sad cries, and great lamentations, and moaning and
hand-smiting of the sinful folks; and a gloomy, sorrowful life in cores of pain,
in prisons of fire, in streams of the rows of eternal fire, in the cup of
eternal sorrow, and death without limit, without end."
The Irish traveller beheld there demons torturing men and women,
"monsters yellow, white, great-mouthed; lions fierce, greedy, dragons red,
black, brown, demoniac--a place wherein there are streams frozen, bitter, ever
stinking swift, of full fire," &c., &c. Altogether, a disagreeable
contrast to the happy Land beyond of Irish pagans.
They might have had no clearer vision than Homer's Greeks of the fate of the
Dead, though their lively fancy pictured a pleasant home. They had some
glimmerings of light beyond the deepening shadows, while conceiving the ghosts
of the departed as conscious of the past, and not unmindful of beloved ones left
Some wild roamers on the rock-bound shores of Erin had a dim perception of a
Better Land. The heart of the purer, the intelligence of the nobler, dreamed,
however faintly, of a realm of peace beyond, of a scene of tranquil beauty, of a
restful time in the fabled Isles of Happy Ones, where storms would be unknown,
where never-withering flowers would greet the grateful eye, and where the
Blessed West foretold repose.
We may fancy some white-haired sage of Erin, feeling the sands of life slowly
but surely sinking, who would seat himself on the tempest-tossed cliffs beside
the Atlantic, watching a sunset in those western waters, where the gradually
lessening glow foreshadowed his own departure. There he might recall the friends
of his youth, the deeds of manhood, and the lessons of age. There, too, he might
weep at the recollection of loved ones gone before, and yet smile at the
prospect of re-union in the country of Everlasting Youth. Such a man, at such a
time, may well have imagination quickened to a perception of the Onward and
Upward in the Inner Life of poor Humanity.