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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 6/134 -

XV The "Exodus" and its Effects

XVI Moral Force all-sufficient for the Resurrection of Ireland


The Celtic Race.

Nations which preserve, as it were, a perpetual youth, should be studied from their origin. Never having totally changed, some of their present features may be recognized at the very cradle of their existence, and the strangeness of the fact sets out in bolder relief their actual peculiarities. Hence we consider it to our purpose to examine the Celtic race first, as we may know it from ancient records: What it was; what it did; what were its distinctive features; what its manners and chief characteristics. A strong light will thus be thrown even on the Irish of our own days. Our words must necessarily be few on so extensive a subject; but, few as they are, they will not be unimportant in our investigations.

In all the works of God, side by side with the general order resulting from seemingly symmetric laws, an astonishing variety of details everywhere shows itself, producing on the mind of man the idea of infinity, as effectually as the wonderful aspect of a seemingly boundless universe. This variety is visible, first in the heavenly bodies, as they are called; star differing from star, planet from planet; even the most minute asteroids never showing themselves to us two alike, but always offering differences in size, of form, of composition.

This variety is visible to us chiefly on our globe; in the infinite multiplicity of its animal forms, in the wonderful insect tribes, and in the brilliant shells floating in the ocean; visible also in the incredible number of trees, shrubs, herbs, down to the most minute vegetable organisms, spread with such reckless abundance on the surface of our dwelling; visible, finally, in the infinity of different shapes assumed by inorganic matter.

But what is yet more wonderful and seemingly unaccountable is that, taking every species of being in particular, and looking at any two individuals of the same species, we would consider it an astonishing effect of chance, were we to meet with two objects of our study perfectly alike. The mineralogist notices it, if he finds in the same group of crystals two altogether similar; the botanist would express his astonishment if, on comparing two specimens of the same plant, he found no difference between them. The same may be said of birds, of reptiles, of mammalia, of the same kind. A close observer will even easily detect dissimilarities between the double organs of the same person, between the two eyes of his neighbor, the two hands of a friend, the two feet of a stranger whom he meets.

It is therefore but consistent with general analogy that in the moral as well as in the physical faculties of man, the same ever-recurring variety should appear, in the features of the face, in the shape of the limbs, in the moving of the muscles, as well as in the activity of thought, in the mobility of humor, in the combination of passions, propensities, sympathies, and aversions.

But, at the same time, with all these peculiarities perceptible in individuals, men, when studied attentively, show themselves in groups, as it were, distinguished from other groups by peculiarities of their own, which are generally called characteristics of race; and although, according to various systems, these characteristics are made to expand or contract at will, to serve an _a priori_ purpose, and sustain a preconcerted theory, yet there are, with respect to them, startling facts which no one can gainsay, and which are worthy of serious attention.

Two of these facts may be stated in the following propositions:

I. At the cradle of a race or nation there must have been a type imprinted on its progenitor, and passing from him to all his posterity, which distinguishes it from all others.

II. The character of a race once established, cannot be eradicated without an almost total disappearance of the people.

The proofs of these propositions would require long details altogether foreign to our present purpose, as we are not writing on ethnology. We will take them for granted, as otherwise we may say that the whole history of man would be unintelligible. If, however, writers are found who apply to their notion of race all the inflexibility of physical laws, and who represent history as a rigid system of facts chained together by a kind of fatality; if a school has sprung up among historians to do away with the moral responsibility of individuals and of nations, it is scarcely necessary to tell the reader that nothing is so far from our mind as to adopt ideas destructive, in fact, to all morality.

It is our belief that there is no more "necessity" in the leanings of race with respect to nations, than there is in the corrupt instincts of our fallen nature with respect to individuals. The teachings of faith have clearly decided this in the latter case, and the consequence of this authoritative decision carries with it the determination of the former.

According to the doctrine of St. Augustine, nations are rewarded or punished in this world, because there is no future existence for them; but the fact of rewards and punishments awarded them shows that their life is not a series of necessary sequences such as prevail in physics, and that the manifestations or phenomena of history, past, present, or future, cannot resolve themselves into the workings of absolute laws.

Race, in our opinion, is only one of those mysterious forces which play upon the individual from the cradle to the grave, which affect alike all the members of the same family, and give it a peculiarity of its own, without, however, interfering in the least with the moral freedom of the individual; and as in him there is free-will, so also in the family itself to which he belongs may God find cause for approval or disapproval. The heart of a Christian ought to be too full of gratitude and respect for Divine Providence to take any other view of history.

It would be presumptuous on our part to attempt an explanation of the object God proposed to himself in originating such a diversity in human society. We can only say that it appears He did not wish all mankind to be ever subject to the same rule, the same government and institutions. His Church alone was to bear the character of universality. Outside of her, variety was to be the rule in human affairs as in all things else. A universal despotism was never to become possible.

This at once explains why the posterity of Japhet is so different from that of Sem and of Cham.

In each of those great primitive stocks, an all-wise Providence introduced a large number of sub-races, if we may be allowed to call them so, out of which are sprung the various nations whose intermingling forms the web of human history. Our object is to consider only the Celtic branch. For, whatever may be the various theories propounded on the subject of the colonization of Ireland, from whatever part of the globe the primitive inhabitants may be supposed to have come, one thing is certain, to-day the race is yet one, in spite of the foreign blood infused into it by so many men of other stocks. Although the race was at one time on the verge of extinction by Cromwell, it has finally absorbed all the others; it has conquered; and, whoever has to deal with true Irishmen, feels at once that he deals with a primitive people, whose ancestors dwelt on the island thousands of years ago. Some slight differences may be observed in the people of the various provinces of the island; there maybe various dialects in their language, different appearance in their looks, some slight divergence in their disposition or manners; it cannot be other wise, since, as we have seen, no two individuals of the human family can be found perfectly alike. But, in spite of all this, they remain Celts to this day; they belong undoubtedly, to that stock formerly wide-spread throughout Europe, and now almost confined to their island; for the character of the same race in Wales, Scotland, and Brittany, has not been, and could not be, kept so pure as in Erin; so that in our age the inhabitants of those countries have become more and more fused with their British and Gallic neighbors.

We must, therefore, at the beginning of this investigation, state briefly what we know of the Celtic race in ancient times, and examine whether the Irish of to-day do not reproduce its chief characteristics.

We do not propose, however, in the present study, referring to the physical peculiarities of the Celtic tribes; we do not know what those were two or three thousand years ago. We must confine ourselves to moral propensities and to manners, and for this view of the subject we have sufficient materials whereon to draw.

We first remark in this race an immense power of expansion, when not checked by truly insurmountable obstacles; a power of expansion which did not necessitate for its workings an uninhabited and wild territory, but which could show its energy and make its force felt in the midst of already thickly-settled regions, and among adverse and warlike nations.

As far as history can carry us back, the whole of Western Europe, namely, Gaul, a part of Spain, Northern Italy, and what we call to-day the British Isles, are found to be peopled by a race apparently of the same origin, divided into an immense number of small republics; governed patriarchally in the form of clans, called by Julius Caesar, "Civitates." The Greeks called them Celts, "Keltai." They do not appear to have adopted a common name for themselves, as the idea of what we call nationality would never seem to have occurred to them. Yet the name of Gaels in the British Isles, and of Gauls in France and Northern Italy, seems identical. Not only did they fill the large expanse of territory we have mentioned, but they multiplied so fast, that they were compelled to send out armed colonies in every direction, set as they were in the midst of thickly-peopled regions.

We possess few details of their first invasion of Spain; but Roman history has made us all acquainted with their valor. It was in the first days of the Republic that an army of Gauls took possession of Rome, and the names of Manlius and Camillus are no better known in history than that of Brenn, called by Livy, Brennus. His celebrated answer, "Vae victis," will live as long as the world.

Later on, in the second century before Christ, we see another army of Celts starting from Pannonia, on the Danube, where they had previously settled, to invade Greece. Another Brenn is at the head of it. Macedonia and Albania were soon conquered; and, it is said,

Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 6/134

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