An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800 eBook

Mary Frances Cusack
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 779 pages of information about An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800.
we may conclude, that chariot-races preceded horse-races in ancient Erinn, and that the Curragh has been used as a place of public amusement for the last 2,000 years.  It would appear that every province in Ireland possessed an Aenach or “fair-green,” where the men assembled to celebrate their games and festivals.  In an old list of Irish Triads, the three great Aenachs of Ireland are said to have been Aenach Crogan, in Connaught; Aenach Taillten, in Meath; and Aenach Colmain, the Curragh.  The last would appear, however, to have been frequented by persons from all parts of Ireland; and it is not a little strange that it should still be used in a similar manner as a place of public amusement.  Ireland in the tenth century and Ireland in the nineteenth form a painful contrast, notwithstanding the boasted march of intellect.  The ancient forests have been hewn down with little profit[272] to the spoiler, and to the injury in many ways of the native.  The noble rivers are there still, and the mountains look as beautiful in the sunsets of this year of grace as they did so many hundred years before; but the country, which was in “God’s keeping” then, has but little improved since it came into the keeping of man; for the poor tenant, who may be here to-day, and to-morrow cast out on the wayside, has but substituted ill-fenced and ill-cultivated fields for wide tracts of heather and moorland, which had at least the recommendation of attractive scenery, and of not suggesting painful reflections.

[Illustration:  HEADS OF IRISH WOLF DOGS.]

The most formidable, if not the largest, of the carnivora in this island, was the brown bear.  The wolf lingered on until the beginning of the last century; and the Irish greyhound has passed with it also.  The gigantic Irish elk, Cervus megaseros, belongs more to the palaeontologist than to the historian, as it is supposed to have existed only in pre-historic times.  A smaller variety has been found in peat overlaying the clay, from which it is inferred that some species may have been contemporary with the human race.  The horse co-existed with the elephant.  The red deer was the principal object of chase from an early period.  The wild boar found abundant food from our noble oaks; and the hare, the rabbit, the goat, and the sheep supplied the wants of the Celt in ancient as in modern times.  But the great wealth of Ireland consisted in her cows, which then, as now, formed a staple article of commerce.  Indeed, most of the ancient feuds were simply cattle raids, and the successful party signalized his victory by bearing off the bovine wealth of the vanquished enemy.

It is impossible exactly to estimate the population of Ireland at this period with any degree of reliable exactitude.  The only method of approximating thereto should be based on a calculation of the known or asserted number of men in arms at any given time.  When Roderic and his allies invested the Normans in Dublin, he is said to have had 50,000 fighting men.  Supposing this to include one-fourth of all the men of the military age in the country, and to bear the proportion of one-fifth to the total number of the inhabitants, it would give a population of about a million, which would probably be rather under than over the correct estimate.

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An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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