Графични страници
PDF файл

Many specimens of the enormous antlers of this gigantic variety of deer have been sent to this country, as presents, to adorn the ancient halls of our nobility. In 1597, the Archbishop of Dublin sent Sir Robert Cecil a stag's head “ of rare greatness," dug up near that city, This noble head and horns is perhaps still to be seen at either Hatfield or Burghley, and may have given occasion to the witty passage in Beaumont and Fletcher's comedy of “ The Scornful Lady," in which, on the hero picking up Abigail's glove, dropped by her as a lure, he exclaims : “What to do with it, beside nailing it up among heads of Irish deer, to show the mightiness of her palm, I know not !” The palm of an antler is, of course, the flat part at the end, so called from its resemblance to the palm and fingers of a human hand. In the museum at York there is a skeleton of one of these giants of the deer tribe, towering above all others of its species. Living examples of this splendid animal are said to still roam in the Siberian forests of the Demidoff family, and, if so, some exertion on the part of the Zoological Society might result in importing a pair, that would begin a breed, in this country, of these sylvan fourfooted Titans, under encouragement such as the late noble owner of Knowsley Park would have zealously given.

Hunting, necessarily the first care of the savages who soonest settled in the British Islands, was, of course, carefully taught to their sons ; and, indeed, there is a passage in Froissart, whence it may be conjectured that noble youth among the Gael of Ireland were regularly trained, from the age of seven years, to cast the javelin, the original use of which was, doubtless, like that of the bow and arrow placed into a Spartan boy's hands, viz. to empower him to kill something for dinner. Such an education closely resembled that given to his son by the old warrior, celebrated in the ballad of " The Welshmen of Tirawley," who,

As ever the bright boy grew in strength and size,
Made him perfect in each manly exercise;

The salmon in the flood,
The dun deer in the wood,
The eagle in the cloud,

To surprise.

On Ben Nephin,
Far above the foggy fields of Tirawley:
With the yellow-knotted spear-shaft, with the bow,
With the steel, prompt to deal shot and blow,

He taught him from year to year,
And trained him, without a peer,

For a perfect cavalier. The Gael seem to have often been compelled to eat the produce of the chase uncooked. How, it may be asked, did they obtain fire, in their dank forests and dark ignorance of lucifers, and in the difficulty of transferring a Promethean spark from a flint-and-steel tinder-box to leaves and sticks moist with fog and rain ? It is well known that the Scottish, or northern Irish, continued, even in Queen Elizabeth's time, whenever they could procure fire and water, “to lap their meat in a raw cow's hide, and seeth it in a hollow tree,” by setting this primitive boiler over a fire.* The process by which raw venison was rendered eatable is minutely


described in the romance of “ Perceforest,” where a Scottish knighterrant, having slain a deer, asks his companion if he will eat some.“ If we can make a fire,” was the reply. “By the soul of my father!" swore the northern warrior, “I will dress some for you after the manner of my country.” He then drew his sword, cut off the branch of a tree, bent it in two, and placing a leg of the deer between, fastened the ends of the bent branch with his horse's halter, which he then drew so tightly that the blood was squeezed out of the flesh, and the meat became dry and sweet. Then, taking some salt, with pepper and ginger, from under his saddle, he powdered the venison with these condiments, and, after he had rubbed them well in with his hand, presently fell to with such zest on the ham thus summarily prepared, that his companion, who was suffering from hunger, could no longer restrain his appetite. “Sir," quoth the Scottish knight, “ when I am in a certain desert in Scotland of which I am lord, I sometimes hunt for a week or a fortnight, without entering either castle or house, or seeing either fire or living thing, except wild animals, which I eat dressed in this manner, and am better pleased with, than I should be with the dishes set before an emperor. Come,” continued he, “let us now drink some water from this spring, which the Creator has provided for all, and which I prefer to all the ales of England.”

There is a charming simplicity in this description of ancient life in a Highland forest, especially in the knight-errant's preference for pure water from a woodland well. Perhaps the ales of his time were not so good as now, for one would be glad of a draught of Bass's palest beer, or even of “the mildest ale,” as Christopher Sly says, after a meal on that rude kind of deer ham.

As a pendant to this picture of wild life there is one of a mode of existence followed for some time by a famous rebel Anglo-Irish knight, Sir John of Desmond, who is described as living, during the year 1580, upon the mountain of Slieve Bloom, “in a manner worthy of a true plunderer, for he slept but upon couches of stone or earth, he drank but of the pure cold streams, and that from the palms of his hands or from his shoes, and his only cooking utensils were the long twigs of the forest, for dressing the flesh-meat carried away from his enemies."*

Although we know that a knight named Barry, a brother of Giraldas Cambrensis, was the first to man a hawk in Green Erin of Streams, the question as to the dates at which the first horse and hound were imported into that island will certainly remain unsolved. The employment of cavalry in war there does not appear to be of very antique date. Certainly, horses are frequently mentioned in “The Book of Rights," a compilation made circa 908; but it is also noticeable that there are several allusions in that volume to the superior value of “noble French steeds,” which, with other passages, implies that the best horses of the time were imported. Indeed, the indigenous breed was probably little superior to the wild ponies of Wales and the New Forest. ` Englishmen, who were philhippists, or lovers of horses, from early ages, did not condescend to allow the name of horse to Irish and Scottish varieties of the equine race, but denominated them “hobbies”—a term I shall by-and-by commentate on. The above-quoted curious record of the “rights” of Irish kings states

• Annals of the Four Masters.

that a certain chief in Connaught was entitled to be presented with “three hounds for his forest hunting-shed.” The Gaelic term for this but is durmha a-n-dairibh-i.e. a shed in an oak wood, which was a shealing, or temporary cabin, such as the Highlanders were also accustomed to erect. So recently as a hundred years ago, Lord Altham, whilst hunting in the counties of Wexford and Kilkenny, used to remain out for weeks in the open field, with his huntsmen and hounds, sheltered only by tents.

Before the Green Isle was conquered by the Normans, its monarch, or, in fact, its chief of the strongest clan, which was almost as nomad as a Scythian horde, appears to have been regarded in the light of a king of herdsmen; and we may reasonably suspect, note withstanding later bardic effusions about Tara's halls, that his best house was little better than a large hunting bothy. However this was, his mode of chasing the deer was, doubtless, on the same grand scale that prevailed until recently with the cognate Gael of Scotland. The Celtæ, we are informed by Pausanias, surrounded whole mountains and plains with their toils ; from which we understand that entire clans joined in encircling a district so as to hem in the herd of deer it contained. Indeed, the Irish word for hunting, tinchoil, signifying a circuit or circle, demonstrates the mode in which the prey was secured; and the French word chasse, still in use, shows that the chased animals were actually driven en masse, as when Earl Percy " drove the deer with hound and horn.” Hunting, says an Erse proverb, is a good help, but a poor livelihood ; and in times when it was practised for the sake of obtaining food, its objects were not allowed law. When a multitude of the Irish Gael assembled for a general slaughter of the fourfooted dun denizens of their country, they first encompassed the herd, and then, advancing on all sides with loud cries, enclosed the animals in a small space, and, presently, left them an outlet at some favourable preconcerted spot, where the chieftain and his party were stationed. This manner exactly resembles a Spanish batida, an assemblage of hundreds of men, who collect and drive the game through a defile, in which a hut, or arbour of boughs, has been constructed for the king and his attendants, to protect them from the rush of the deer, and whence he may shoot at them as they pass. A grand battue of this sort, in which Fionn M'Coule, the archetype of " Fingal,” stood apart, with his famous hounds, Bran and Sgeolan, whilst his warriors beat up some vast Irish wood, has been recently brightly described in Dr. Drummond's spirited translations of Ossianic poems:

Thence wide dispersed our venturous bands were seen
In forest glade or torrent's dark ravine,
Prepared, with bended bow and ready aim,
To wing their arrows on the flying game.
When sprang the startled deer with rapid bounds,
We on them slipt a hundred eager hounds,
And as far as eye its circling glance could throw,

Lay many a wounded hart and bleeding roe. The Irish and Scottish small breed of horse, anciently called a hobby, undoubtedly gave origin to the term “hobby-horse,” signifying an agreeable pursuit

, since our present phrase, that a man is on his hobby, means that he is pleasantly mounted and pursuing his favourite object. In this

view, I incline to fancy that the description of horse in question was much esteemed for hunting and hawking, especially by the fair sex, as we shall presently see, and also by gay prelates and sporting abbots, who took after Dan Chaucer's lordly “ Monk,”

An out-rider, that loved venerie;
A manly man, to ben an abbot able,

Ful many a dainte hors hadde he in stable. The word “hobby" seems to derive from hopping and hobbling, ambling, or moving irregularly. I have met with no description of the horse of the Scottish borders, on which the “hobblers," or irregular cavalry of that district, were mounted ; but Holinshed describes the Irish variety as “easy, ambling, strong hackeys, and very swift runners." In fact, the hack in question was proverbially, as a “hobby-horse,” easy of pace.

When Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, came over as lord-lieutenant in 1449, among the presents by which the native chieftains endeavoured, in their fashion, to propitiate this popular prince, were two hobyes for my lady the duchess,” sent by Bernard, chief of the O'Byrnes of Wicklow. Besides this gallant gift, the Irish lord also presented his royal highness, who was extremely beloved, and who was received, say the native analists, with a great honour, glory, and pompe," with a more profitable benevolence, in the shape of four hundred " beeves," or fat COWS, “ for the use of his kitchen.” From another record of the same period we obtain a notion of the money value of a similar nag.

A certain “whighte palfraye,” which a chieftain named M-Mahon agreed to give the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, in consideration of favour shown him in procuring terms of peace from the viceroy, was, according to the agreement, if it were not delivered, be recompensed for by the payment of twenty kine, at 6s. 8d. each.* Now by this computation we learn the ordinary value of cows, and that this palfrey was valued at 61. 13s. 4d. Let us say that, if these cows, which were of a black and inferior breed, would be worth twenty-fold now, the hackney in question would now be worth 1331. 6s. 8d. If it had not been that such presents as these were, according to Gaelic custom, ordinarily made by the native chiefs to the viceroy, we should be inclined to think they savoured of bribery, rank and gross as that the poet wrote of :

Oh! that such bulky bribes as all might see,
Still, as of old, encumber'd villany!
A statesman's slumbers how this speech would spoil!
Sir, Spain has sent a thousand jars of oil;
Huge bales of British cloth blockade the door;

A hundred oxen at your levee roar. According to various archæologic anecdotes, Irish horses and hounds in mediæval times were so enviable, that lordly neighbours of their owners were sometimes tempted to break the spirit of the tenth commandment, to the extent of not only coveting, but carrying off such goods. One instance of these breaches of divine and human laws will suffice for the present. It seems that, in 1495, a young northern chief, named Con O'Donnell, was informed that a certain Scoto-Irish lord, called M'Eoin (whose un-Gaelic title was Baron Bissett, of the Glynns of Antrim), pos

* History of Farney, co. Monaghan. By E. P. Shirley, Esq., M.P.

sessed “the finest wife, steed, and hound, in his neighbourhood."* Young Con had long before set his mind upon the said steed, which was so famous as to be known by a name, viz. Dubhacoite, i.e. Blackfoot, and which he had arrogantly demanded of the owner, by sending messengers expressly for it, but which Lord Bissett, confiding in his remoteness from the covetous and powerful warrior, had refused to surrender. O'Donnell also desired to set eyes on his neighbour's fine wife, but, to do him justice, he appears to have observed the gradation laid down in the commandment, seeming to have cared to have, not M.Eoin's house, but his horse, rather than his wife. Thus incited, and being evidently provoked that any one man should possess three objects so superior and desirable, he mustered a little band, consisting of twelve score axe-men, or galloglasses, and about sixty horse, and, marching rapidly, surprised M'Eoin's house by a night attack, “and,” says the chronicle, “immediately made himself master of M'Eoin's wife, his steed, and his hound, together with all his other wealth ; for he found the famous steed, and sixteen other horses, in the house on that occasion.” Subsequently, relenting somewhat, the rapacious chief restored the plundered wife, but not the horse: such was this Irishman's preference for the equine race over the fair sex. Second in fame to this steed was a celebrated horse that belonged to the renowned Shane O'Neill, and which was long remembered by its romantic name of “ The Son of the Eagle.”

At the time the Earl of Sussex, the great nobleman introduced in the romance of “ Kenilworth" as the powerful rival of the haughty favourite, Leicester, was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, the latter, then Lord Robert Dudley, and master of the horse to the young Queen Elizabeth (hope of her Protestant subjects), addressed the following letter to the viceroy, desiring his assistance to procure her majesty some Irish hobbies. This interesting epistle, as yet inedited, shows the esteem in which this class of horse was held. If the date I assign, 1561, be correct, the young huntress queen was then twenty-eight years of

age, and the day on which her careful master of the horse wrote was her birthday. By other original letters, it seems that he succeeded in obtaining several of these horses for her majesty's use.

LORD ROBERT DUDLEY TO THE EARL OF SUSSEX. “MY GOOD LORD, -For lack of messenger I use my Lord of Kildare's servant to bring your lordship, with my good lady and sister, my most harty comendations, and many thanks for your good remembrances of me; I trust you—both make accompt of me to be ready to my power to doe you all the pleasure and frendships I can, wherein I wyll not fayle you as oft as you prove me.

"The quene's maiestie, thanks to God, is in very good health, and is now become a great huntresse, and doth followe yt dayly from morning tyll nyght: she doth minde out of hande to sende into that countrey for some hobbyes for her owne saddell, especyally for stronge hardie gallopers, which are much better than her geldings, whom she spareth not to trye as fast as they can goe, and I fear them much; but yet she will prove them, for your lordship doth knowe the maner of ambling geldings' gallopp, both hard and uneasye ; in this matter she must have your lord* Annals of the Four Masters.

† Cotton MS. Titus, B. xiii. 15.

« ПредишнаНапред »