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A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 18


In Mr. Armstrong's library, I have found great entertainment, not only from the books, but from some antique curiosities, found in the neighbouring bogs; and from a catalogue of others, not now in his possession. These are of such importance to the forming just ideas of the ancient state of Ireland, that I would transmit you a catalogue of them, only I find governor Pownall has published, from the same original I have seen, a copy in the miscellaneous tracts of the Antiquarian Society11.

I send you, however, a sketch of a little crown of silver, lately found near Cashel; the diameter of which is 2 1/2, and the height 3 1/2 inches. It must, I conjecture, have belonged to some image of the virgin,


or rather child, either in the cathedral, or some of the monasteries of Cashel.

I give you also, by way of illustration, a rough draft of a tumulus near this town, amidst hillocks nearly of the same shape, and overhanging a glassy lake. These tumuli are mounds of earth thrown up, as sepulchral monuments, in form of a truncated cone; and of dimensions different, I presume, according to the dignity of the deceased,

    1. — fuit ingens monte sub alto
      Regis Dercenni terreno ex agere bustum.

Such monuments could be raised only for persons of the first quality. And from a line in Lucan one would think they were appropriated to kings.

    1. Et regum cineres extructo monte quiescunt.

But Plutarch, relating the death of Demaratus, the Corinthian, upon a visit he paid to Alexander the Great, says, ‘That he had a most magnificent funeral, the whole army raising him a monument of earth, four-score cubits high, and of a vast circumference.’

These monuments are vulgarly called Danes-mounts. Yet, wherever they have


been opened, urns have been found in them; a circumstance, which alone disproves their being Danish. For the practice of burning the dead was disused long before the Danes possessed themselves of Ireland, or rather of the maritime towns; for I do not find that their dominion extended to the internal parts.

Had these mounts been thrown up by the Danes; from the odium in which, even to this day, the memory of those invaders is held, the Irish would not have failed to demolish such memorials of their own disgrace, as soon as they had expelled the authors of it. But, so far are they from destroying them, that they hold them in veneration, and it would be difficult to find a labourer hardy enough to violate the sacred earth, with a spade.

Herodotus speaking of the tombs, raised by the Scythians for their kings, says, ‘they laboured to raise as high a mount of earth for them as possible.’14 These artificial hills then must be attributed to the Scythian origin of this people. I was surprised to find the ingenious Mr. Molineux ascribing them to the Danes, especially


as he mentions two coins of the emperors Theodosius and Valentinian, being found in that famous Tumulus, at New Grange, near Drogheda. This, though not a decisive evidence, is certainly a presumptive one, that these sepulchres were anterior to the Danes in Ireland; and the rather, as those coins are described to be sharp and unworn.

Such mounts, however, are not peculiar to Ireland: I have seen some of the same kind in Scotland, and there are no less than six in a line, within a mile or two south of the little village of Stevenage in Hertfordshire.

I send you as exact a drawing as I could make, of a brass sword, found in a bog near Cullen, which is twenty-six inches in length, and weighs near two pounds. Mr. Armstrong says, he has seen twenty-two others of nearly the same construction, found in the same place. The catalogue, to which I have referred you, mentions that above 300 have, from time to time, been found in this quarter.

What makes these brazen swords such a valuable remnant to the Irish antiquarian, is, they serve to corroborate the opinion,


that the Phoenicians had footing in this kingdom. For the sword-blades so lately-found upon the plains of Cannae, were of the same metal and construction; and being used by the Carthaginians, who were originally Tyrians, they establish the certainty, that these brass weapons were Phoenician also. Consequently, somewhat more than presumption arises, that Ireland had its arts, and letters, from the country of Cadmus; as her traditions uniformly report.

With Mr. Baker, I saw eleven old coins, lately found at Marseilles, which, though in no wise relative to this country, yet being somewhat curious to me, a mere novice in medals, I cannot help giving you some account of them. They have each a Diana's head, and on the reverse, a bull in the act of butting. The legend under the bull is MASSALIHTWN. Thus far they all agreed, yet they had been all struck from different dies, and at different periods; for some were very neat, and others in a very coarse manner; which seems to point out a regular gradation of refinement in the arts, from the striking of the first to the last. Each of them has




different figures over the Bull; one a blazing star, another a bow, a heart, a wreath of laurel, a crescent, &c. And there was a Mercury, on the wing, exceedingly well executed.

But I had almost forgot to mention to you a circumstance relative to the brass sword: Lord Townshend liked its form so much, that he told Mr. Armstrong he would adopt it in his regiment of artillery. For you must know, that when this nobleman was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he took a tour to learn the state of the country, and passing this way, he outrode his suite, and overtook Mr. Armstrong. They fell into conversation, and our worthy parson hearing that the representative of Majesty was to sleep at Tipperary, lamented the badness of the inn; and that he could not presume to offer a bed to so great a guest. But, Sir, says he, taking him for an Aid-de-camp, I shall be happy in giving you a bed and supper too, when you can disengage yourself from your attendance on his Lordship. I live not far from the town, and any body will shew you the house of


Mr. Armstrong the minister of the parish.

This adventure must have been doubly pleasing to our facetious viceroy, when he alighted at Tipperary, and had a prospect of the wretched entertainment, to which he must have submitted in a dirty ale house. He, however, finessed no longer, but sent down his compliments to Mr. Armstrong, with a message, that Lord Townshend would take a bed with him. And so well pleased was he with his host, that he took the first opportunity of promoting his son, who was an officer in the army. This I relate to the mutual honour of both parties.

In this neighbourhood lives the descendant of him who gave the last and fatal stroke to the unhappy Charles. He had been a common dragoon in Cromwell's army; and for this service, the usurper rewarded him with a captain's double debenture.

I spend my evenings still more pleasantly than my mornings. Mr. Baker, and Mr. Armstrong live so near each other, that we


are always together; and the latter, having a very large family of daughters and nieces, I have been prevailed on to play at cards. The game, however, is one which requires neither skill nor attention, and is rather a supplement to the pauses of chat, than an interruption to cheerful conversation.

As the events of chance were never important enough to engage my attention, I used to hate cards; I never could see any amusement in being plundered by my adversary, brow-beat by my partner, and laughed at by the standers-by. But now I am grown very fond of them; and such excellent lessons do the ladies give, that I flatter myself with becoming an adept.

Though Mr. Hoyle has laid down no rules for the game we play, it is worth all he ever taught put together. It is of so very social a kind, that the number of players is limited only by the number of cards in the pack. It does not impose silence like whist, but affords a pleasant exercise for the tongue, and is more philosophical than even that Pythagorean game; for the initiated may


see in it, as in a mirror, an exact image of the great play of life.

As in our game, one only can get the pool; so in the world one only can arrive at the pinnacle of fortune, in the same line of ambition, quia plures excellere nequeunt.

As at each deal one must lose, and another win, the utmost skill being sometimes useless, whilst a total want of it proves successful; so in life, some are born to large estates, or obtain them without diligence or address, whilst others toil on unsuccessfully, and are baffled at last, in spight of all the efforts of human wisdom.

Again, it often happens that a junto of young people who sit together, play into one another's hands, and of course one of them wins the pool; so in life, friends and relations, by mutual partialities, lead one another to fortune's goal, whilst the best laid schemes, of those who stand single and play fair, turn out abortive: something like an invincible necessity prevailing to determine, in all cases, the winnings and the losings, and to reprobate the maxim, quisque suae fortunae faber.


To-morrow I shall set out for Cork, where I hope to find a letter from you, I with pleasure tell you that air and exercise have dispelled that dejection of spirits which was wont to oppress me; and the society I have enjoyed here, hath so attached me to the place, that I shall not leave it without reluctance: I already sigh at the thoughts of parting with such friends, whom I shall probably never see, or perhaps hear of more.