James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian









An Epic Poem.


Book I.




CAIRBAR, the ſon of Borbar-duthul, lord of Atha in Connaught, the moſt potent chief of the race of the Firbolg, having murdered at Temora, the royal palace, Cormac the ſon of Artho, the young king of Ireland, uſurped the throne. Cormac was lineally deſcended from Conar the ſon of Trenmor, the great grandfather of Fingal, king of thoſe Caledonians who inhabited the weſtern coaſt of Scotland. Fingal reſented the behaviour of Cairbar, and reſolved to paſs over into Ireland, with an army, to reeſtabliſh the royal family on the Iriſh throne. Early intelligence of his deſigns coming to Cairbar, he aſſembled ſome of his tribes in Ulſter, and at the ſame time ordered his brother Cathmor to follow him ſpeedily with an army, from Temora. Such was the ſituation of affairs when Caledonian invaders appeared on the coaſt of Ulſter.

The poem opens in the morning. Cairbar is repreſented as retired from the reſt of the army, when one of his ſcouts brought him news of the landing of Fingal. He aſſembles a council of his chiefs. Foldath the chief of Moma haughtily deſpiſes the enemy; and is reprimanded warmly by Malthos. Cairbar, after hearing their debate, orders a feaſt to be prepared, to which, by his bard Olla, he invites Oſcar the ſon of Oſſian, reſolving to pick a quarrel with that hero, and ſo have ſome pretext for killing him. Oſcar came to the feaſt; the quarrel happened; the followers of both fought, and Cairbar and Oſcar fell by mutual wounds. The noiſe of the battle reached Fingal's army. The king came on to the relief of Oſcar, and the Iriſh fell back to the army of Cathmor, who was advanced to the banks of the river Lubor, on the heath of Moilena. Fingal, after mourning over his grandſon, ordered Ullin, the chief of his bards, to carry his body to Morven, to be there interred. Night coming on, Althan, the ſon of Conachar, relates to the king the particulars of the murder of Cormac. Fillan, the ſon of Fingal, is ſent to obſerve the motions of Cathmor by night, which concludes the actions of the firſt day. The ſcene of this book is a plain, near the hill of Mora, which roſe on the borders of the heath of Moilena, in Ulſter.



THE blue waves of Erin roll in light. The mountains are covered with day. Trees ſhake their duſky heads, in the breeze. Grey torrents pour their noiſy ſtreams. Two green hills, with aged oaks, ſurround a narrow plain. The blue courſe of a ſtream is there. On its banks ſtood Cairbar 1) of Atha. His ſpear ſupports the king; the red eye of his fear is ſad. Cormac riſes in his ſoul, with all his ghaſtly wounds. The grey form of the youth appears in darkneſs. Blood pours from his airy ſide. Cairbar thrice threw his ſpear on earth. Thrice he ſtroked his beard. His ſteps are ſhort. He often ſtops. He toſſes his ſinewy arms. He is like a cloud in the deſert, varying its form to every blaſt. The valleys are ſad around, and fear, by turns, the ſhower! The king, at length, reſumed his ſoul. He took his pointed ſpear. He turned his eye to Moilena. The ſcouts of blue ocean came. They came with ſteps of fear, and often looked behind. Cairbar knew that the mighty were near! He called his gloomy chiefs.

The ſounding ſteps of his warriors came. They drew, at once, their ſwords. There Morlath 2) ſtood with darkened face. Hidalla's long hair ſighs in the wind. Red-haired Cormar bends on his ſpear, and rolls his ſidelong-looking eyes. Wild is the look of Malthos from beneath two ſhaggy brows. Foldath ſtands, like an oozy rock, that covers its dark ſides with foam. His ſpear is like Slimora's fir, that meets the wind of heaven. His ſhield is marked with the ſtrokes of battle. His red eye deſpiſes danger. Theſe and a thouſand other chiefs ſurrounded the king of Erin, when the ſcout of ocean came, Mor-annal, 3) from ſtreamy Moi-lena. His eyes hang forward from his face. His lips trembling, pale!

“Do the chiefs of Erin ſtand,” he ſaid, “ſilent as the grove of evening? Stand they, like a ſilent wood, and Fingal on the coaſt? Fingal, who is terrible in battle, the king of ſtreamy Morven!” “Haſt thou ſeen the warrior?” ſaid Cairbar with a ſigh. “Are his heroes many on the coaſt? Lifts he the ſpear of battle? Or comes the king in peace?” “In peace he comes not, king of Erin! I have ſeen his forward ſpear. 4) It is a meteor of death. The blood of thouſands is on its ſteel. He came firſt to the ſhore, ſtrong in the grey hair of age. Full roſe his ſinewy limbs, as he ſtrode in his might. That ſword is by his ſide, which gives no ſecond 5) wound. His ſhield is terrible, like the bloody moon, aſcending through a ſtorm. Then came Oſſian, king of ſongs. Then Morni's ſon, the firſt of men. Connal leaps forward on his ſpear. Dermid ſpreads his dark-brown locks. Fillan bends his bow, the young hunter of ſtreamy Moruth. But who is that before them, like the terrible courſe of a ſtream. It is the ſon of Oſſian, bright between his locks! His long hair falls on his back. His dark brows are half-incloſed in ſteel. His ſword hangs looſe on his ſide. His ſpear glitters as he moves. I fled from his terrible eyes, king of high Temora!”

“Then fly, thou feeble man,” ſaid Foldath's gloomy wrath. “Fly to the grey ſtreams of thy land, ſon of the little ſoul! Have not I ſeen that Oſcar? I beheld the chief in war. He is of the mighty in danger: but there are others who lift the ſpear. Erin has many ſons as brave, king of Temora of Groves! Let Foldath meet him in his ſtrength. Let me ſtop this mighty ſtream. My ſpear is covered with blood. My ſhield is like the wall of Thura.”

“Shall Foldath 6) alone meet the foe?” replied the dark-browed Malthos. “Are they not on our coaſt, like the waters of many ſtreams? Are not theſe the chiefs who vanquiſhed Swaran, when the ſons of green Erin fled? Shall Foldath meet their braveſt hero? Foldath of the heart of pride! take the ſtrength of the people: and let Malthos come. My ſword is red with ſlaughter, but who has heard my words?” 7)

“Sons of green Erin,” ſaid Hidalla, 8) “let not Fingal hear your words. The foe might rejoice, and his arm be ſtrong in the land. Ye are brave, O warriors! Ye are tempeſts in war. Ye are, like ſtorms, which meet the rocks without fear, and overturn the woods. But let us move in our ſtrength, ſlow as a gathered cloud! Then ſhall the mighty tremble; the ſpear ſhall fall from the hand of the valiant. We ſee the cloud of death, they will ſay, while ſhadows fly over their face. Fingal will mourn in his age. He ſhall behold his flying fame. The ſteps of his chiefs will ceaſe in Morven. The moſs of years ſhall grow in Selma.”

Cairbar heard their words, in ſilence, like the cloud of a ſhower: it ſtands dark on Cromla, till the lightning burſts its ſide. The valley gleams with heaven's flame; the ſpirits of the ſtorm rejoice. So ſtood the ſilent king of Temora; at length his words broke forth. “Spread the feaſt on Moi-lena. Let my hundred bards attend. Thou red-haired Olla, take the harp of the king. Go to Oſcar chief of ſwords. Bid Oſcar to our joy. To-day we feaſt and hear the ſong, to-morrow break the ſpears! Tell him that I have raiſed the tomb of Cathol 9); that bards gave his friend to the winds. Tell him that Cairbar has heard of his fame, at the ſtream of reſounding Carun. 10) Cathmor 11) my brother is not here. He is not here with his thouſands, and our arms are weak. Cathmor is a foe to ſtrife at the feaſt! His ſoul is bright as that ſun! But Cairbar muſt fight with Oſcar, chiefs of woody Temora! His words for Cathol were many: the wrath of Cairbar burns. He ſhall fall on Moi-lena. My fame ſhall riſe in blood.”

Their faces brightened round with joy. They ſpread over Moi-lena. The feaſt of ſhells is prepared. The ſongs of bards ariſe. The chiefs of Selma heard their joy. 12) We thought that mighty Cathmor came. Cathmor the friend of ſtrangers! the brother of red-haired Cairbar. Their ſouls were not the ſame. The light of heaven was in the boſom of Cathmor. His towers roſe on the banks of Atha; ſeven paths led to his halls. Seven chiefs ſtood on the paths, and called the ſtranger to the feaſt! But Cathmor dwelt in the wood, to ſhun the voice of praiſe!

Olla came with his ſongs. Oſcar went to Cairbar's feaſt. Three hundred warriors ſtrode along Moi-lena of the ſtreams. The grey dogs bounded on the heath: Their howling reached afar. Fingal ſaw the departing hero. The ſoul of the king was ſad. He dreaded Cairbar's gloomy thoughts, amid the feaſt of ſhells. My ſon raiſed high the ſpear of Cormac. An hundred bards met him with ſongs. Cairbar concealed with ſmiles the death that was dark in his ſoul. The feaſt is ſpread. The ſhells reſound. Joy brightens the face of the hoſt. But it was like the parting beam of the ſun, when he is to hide his red head in a ſtorm!

Cairbar riſes in his arms. Darkneſs gathers on his brow. The hundred harps ceaſe at once. The clang 13) of ſhields is heard. Far diſtant on the heath Olla raiſed a ſong of woe. My ſon knew the ſign of death; and, riſing, ſeized his ſpear. “Oſcar,” ſaid the dark-red Cairbar, “I behold the ſpear 14) of Erin. The ſpear of Temora 15) glitters in thy hand, ſon of woody Morven! It was the pride of an hundred 16) kings. The death of heroes of old. Yield it, ſon of Oſſian, yield it to carborne Cairbar!”

“Shall I yield,” Oſcar replied, “the gift of Erin's injured king: the gift of fair-haired Cormac, when Oſcar ſcattered his foes? I came to Cormac's halls of joy, when Swaran fled from Fingal. Gladneſs roſe in the face of youth. He gave the ſpear of Temora. Nor did he give it to the feeble: neither to the weak in ſoul. The darkneſs of thy face is no ſtorm to me: nor are thine eyes the flames of death. Do I fear thy clanging ſhield? Tremble I at Olla's ſong? No: Cairbar, frighten the feeble; Oſcar is a rock!”

“Wilt thou not yield the ſpear?” replied the riſing pride of Cairbar. “Are thy words ſo mighty, becauſe Fingal is near? Fingal with aged locks, from Morven's hundred groves!He has fought with little men. But he muſt vaniſh before Cairbar, like a thin pillar of miſt before the winds of Atha!” 17) “Were he who fought with little men, near Atha's haughty chief: Atha's chief would yield green Erin to avoid his rage! Speak not of the mighty, O Cairbar! Turn thy ſword on me. Our ſtrength is equal: but Fingal is renowned! the firſt of mortal men!”

Their people ſaw the darkening chiefs. Their crowding ſteps are heard around. Their eyes roll in fire. A thouſand ſwords are half unſheathed. Red-haired Olla raiſed the ſong of battle. The trembling joy of Oſcar's ſoul aroſe: the wonted joy of his ſoul when Fingal's horn was heard. Dark as the ſwelling wave of ocean before the riſing winds, when it bends its head near the coaſt, came on the hoſt of Cairbar!

Daughter of Toſcar! 18) why that tear? He is not fallen yet. Many were the deaths of his arm before my hero fell!

Behold they fall before my ſon, like groves in the deſert, when an angry ghoſt ruſhes through night, and takes their green heads in his hand! Morlath falls. Maronnan dies. Conachar trembles in his blood; Cairbar ſhrinks before Oſcar's ſword! He creeps in darkneſs behind a ſtone. He lifts the ſpear in ſecret; he pierces my Oſcar's ſide: he falls forward on his ſhield: his knee ſuſtains the chief. But ſtill his ſpear is in his hand. See gloomy Cairbar 19) falls! The ſteel pierced his forehead, and divided his red hair behind. He lay, like a ſhattered rock, which Cromla ſhakes from its craggy ſide, when the green-valleyed Erin ſhakes its mountains, from ſea to ſea!

But never more ſhall Oſcar riſe! He leans on his boſſy ſhield. His ſpear is in his terrible hand. Erin's ſons ſtand diſtant and dark. Their ſhouts ariſe, like crowded ſtreams. Moi-lena echoes wide. Fingal heard the ſound. He took the ſpear of Selma. His ſteps are before us on the heath. He ſpoke the words of woe. “I hear the noiſe of war. Young Oſcar is alone. Riſe, ſons of Morven: join the hero's ſword!”

Oſſian ruſhed along the heath. Fillan bounded over Moi-lena. 20) Fingal ſtrode in his ſtrength. The light of his ſhield is terrible. The ſons of Erin ſaw it far diſtant They trembled in their ſouls. They knew that the wrath of the king aroſe: and they foreſaw their death. We firſt arrived. We fought. Erin's chiefs withſtood our rage. But when the king came, in the ſound of his courſe, what heart of ſteel could ſtand! Erin fled over Moi-lena. Death purſued their flight. We ſaw Oſcar on his ſhield. We ſaw his blood around. Silence darkened every face. Each turned his back and wept. The king ſtrove to hide his tears. His grey beard whiſtled in the wind. He bends his head above the chief. His words are mixed with ſighs.

“Art thou fallen, O Oſcar! in the midſt of thy courſe? The heart of the aged beats over thee! He ſees thy coming wars! The wars which ought to come he ſees! They are cut off from thy fame! When ſhall joy dwell at Selma? When ſhall grief depart from Morven? My ſons fall by degrees: Fingal is the laſt of his race. My fame begins to paſs away. Mine age will be without friends. I ſhall ſit a grey cloud in my hall. I ſhall not hear the return of a ſon, in his ſounding arms. Weep, ye heroes of Morven! never more ſhall Oſcar riſe!”

And they did weep, O Fingal! Dear was the hero to their ſouls. He went out to battle, and the foes vaniſhed. He returned, in peace, amidſt their joy. No father mourned his ſon ſlain in youth; no brother his brother of love. They fell, without tears, for the chief of the people is low! Bran 21) is howling at his feet: gloomy Luäth is ſad, for he had often led them to the chaſe; to the bounding roe of the deſert!

When Oſcar ſaw his friends around, his heaving breaſt aroſe. “The groans,” he ſaid, “of aged chiefs: the howling of my dogs: the ſudden burſts of the ſong of grief, have melted Oſcar's ſoul.” My ſoul, that never melted before. It was like the ſteel of my ſword. Oſſian, carry me to my hills! Raiſe the ſtones of my renown. Place the horn of a deer: place my ſword by my ſide. The torrent hereafter may raiſe the earth: the hunter may find the ſteel and ſay, “This has been Oſcar's ſword, the pride of other years!” “Falleſt thou, ſon of my fame! ſhall I never ſee thee, Oſcar? When others hear of their ſons; ſhall I not hear of thee? The moſs is on thy four grey ſtones. The mournful wind is there. The battle ſhall be fought without thee. Thou ſhalt not purſue the dark-brown hinds. When the warrior returns from battles, and tells of other lands: ›I have ſeen a tomb,‹ he will ſay, ›by the roaring ſtream, the dark dwelling of a chief. He fell by car-borne Oſcar, the firſt of mortal men.‹ I, perhaps, ſhall hear his voice. A beam of joy will riſe in my ſoul.”

Night would have deſcended in ſorrow, and morning returned in the ſhadow of grief. Our chiefs would have ſtood, like cold dropping rocks on Moi-lena and have forgot the war; did not the king diſperſe his grief, and raiſe his mighty voice. The chiefs, as new-awakened from dreams, lift up their heads around.

“How long on Moi-lena ſhall we weep? How long pour in Erin our tears? The mighty will not return. Oſcar ſhall not riſe in his ſtrength. The valiant muſt fall in their day, and be no more known on their hills. Where are our fathers, O warriors! the chiefs of the times of old? They have ſet like ſtars that have ſhone. We only hear the ſound of their praiſe. But they were renowned in their years: the terror of other times. Thus ſhall we paſs away, in the day of our fall. Then let us be renowned when we may; and leave our fame behind us, like the laſt beams of the ſun when he hides his red head in the weſt. The traveller mourns his abſence, thinking of the flame of his beams. Ullin, my aged bard! take thou the ſhip of the king. Carry Oſcar to Selma of harps. Let the daughters of Morven weep. We muſt fight in Erin, for the race of fallen Cormac. The days of my years begin to fail. I feel the weakneſs of my arm. My fathers bend from their clouds, to receive their grey-hair'd ſon. But, before I go hence, one beam of fame ſhall riſe. My days ſhall end, as my years begun, in fame. My life ſhall be one ſtream of light to bards of other times!”

Ullin raiſ'd his white ſails. The wind of the ſouth came forth. He bounded on the waves toward Selma. I remained in my grief, but my words were not heard. The feaſt is ſpread on Moi-lena. An hundred heroes reared the tomb of Cairbar. No ſong is raiſed over the chief. His ſoul had been dark and bloody. The bards remembered the fall of Cormac! what could they ſay in Cairbar's praiſe?

Night came rolling down. The light of an hundred oaks aroſe. Fingal ſat beneath a tree. Old Althan 22) ſtood in the midſt. He told the tale of fallen Cormac. Althan the ſon of Conachar, the friend of car-borne Cuthullin. He dwelt with Cormac in windy Temora, when Semo's ſon fell at Lego's ſtream. The tale of Althan was mournful. The tear was in his eye, when he ſpoke

“The ſetting  23) ſun was yellow on Dora. 24) Grey evening began to deſcend. Temora's woods ſhook with the blaſt of the unconſtant wind. A cloud gathered in the weſt. A red ſtar looked from behind its edge. I ſtood in the wood alone. I ſaw a ghoſt on the darkening air. His ſtride extended from hill to hill. His ſhield was dim on his ſide. It was the ſon of Semo. I knew the warrior's face. But he paſſed away in his blaſt; and all was dark around. My ſoul was ſad. I went to the hall of ſhells. A thouſand lights aroſe. The hundred bards had ſtrung the harp. Cormac ſtood in the midſt, like the morning-ſtar when it rejoices on the eaſtern hill, and its young beams are bathed in ſhowers. Bright and ſilent is its progreſs aloft, but the cloud, that ſhall hide it, is near. The ſword of Artho 25) was in the hand of the king. He looked with joy on its poliſhed ſtuds: thrice he attempted to draw it, and thrice he failed; his yellow locks are ſpread on his ſhoulders; his cheeks of youth are red. I mourned over the beam of youth, for he was ſoon to ſet!”

“Althan” he ſaid with a ſmile, “didſt thou behold my father? Heavy is the ſword of the king; ſurely his arm was ſtrong. O that I were like him in battle, when the rage of his wrath aroſe! then would I have met with Cuthullin, the car-borne ſon of Cantéla! But years may come on, O Althan! and my arm be ſtrong. Haſt thou heard of Semo's ſon, the ruler of high Temora? He might have returned with his fame. He promiſed to return to-night. My bards wait him with ſongs. My feaſt is ſpread in the halls of kings.”

I heard Cormac in ſilence. My tears began to flow. I hid them with my aged locks. The king perceived my grief. “Son of Conachar!” he ſaid, “is the ſon of Semo 26) low? Why burſts the ſigh in ſecret? Why deſcends the tear? Comes the car-borne Torlath? Comes the ſound of red-haired Cairbar? They come! for I behold thy grief. Moſſy Tura's chief is low! Shall I not ruſh to battle? But I cannot lift the ſpear! O had mine arm the ſtrength of Cuthullin, ſoon would Cairbar fly; the fame of my fathers would be renewed; and the deeds of other times!”

He took his bow. The tears flow down, from both his ſparkling eyes. Grief ſaddens round. The bards bend forward, from their hundred harps. The lone blaſt touched their trembling ſtrings. The ſound 27) is ſad and low. A voice is heard at a diſtance, as of one in grief. It was Carril of other times, who came from dark Slimora. He told of the fall of Cuthullin. He told of his mighty deeds. The people were ſcattered round his tomb. Their arms lay on the ground. They had forgot the war, for he, their fire, was ſeen no more.

“But who,” ſaid the ſoft-voiced Carril, “who come like bounding roes? Their ſtature is like young trees in the valley, growing in a ſhower! Soft and ruddy are their cheeks! Fearleſs ſouls look forth from the eyes! Who but the ſons of Uſnoth, 28) chief of ſtreamy Etha? The people riſe on every ſide, like the ſtrength of an half-extinguiſhed fire, when the winds come, ſudden, from the deſert, on their ruſtling wings. Sudden glows the dark brow of the hill; the paſſing mariner lags, on his winds. The ſound of Câthba's 29) ſhield was heard. The warriors ſaw Cuthullin 30) in Nathos. So rolled his ſparkling eyes! his ſteps were ſuch on heath! Battles are fought at Lego. The ſword of Nathos prevails. Soon ſhalt thou behold him in thy halls, king of Temora of groves!”

“Soon may I behold the chief!” replied the blue-eyed king. “But my ſoul is ſad for Cuthullin. His voice was pleaſant in mine ear. Often have we moved, on Dora, to the chaſe of the dark-brown hinds. His bow was unerring on the hills. He ſpoke of mighty men. He told of the deeds of my fathers. I felt my riſing joy. But ſit thou at the feaſt, O Carril! I have often heard thy voice. Sing in praiſe of Cuthullin. Sing of Nathos of Etha!” 31)

Day roſe on Temora, with all the beams of the eaſt. Crathin came to the hall, the ſon of old Gelláma. 32) “I behold!” he ſaid, “a cloud in the deſert, king of Erin!” a cloud it ſeemed at firſt, but now a crowd of men! One ſtrides before them in his ſtrength. His red hair flies in wind. His ſhield glitters to the beam of the eaſt. His ſpear is in his hand. “Call him to the feaſt of Temora,” replied the brightening king. “My hall is the houſe of ſtrangers, ſon of generous Gelláma! It is perhaps the chief of Etha, coming in all his renown. Hail, mighty 33) ſtranger! art thou of the friends of Cormac? But Carril, he is dark, and unlovely. He draws his ſword. Is that the ſon of Uſnoth, bard of the times of old?”

“It is not the ſon of Uſnoth” ſaid Carril. “It is Cairbar thy foe. Why comeſt thou in thy arms to Temora? chief of the gloomy brow. Let not thy ſword riſe againſt Cormac! Whither doſt thou turn thy ſpeed?” He paſſed on in darkneſs. He ſeized the hand of the king. Cormac foreſaw his death; the rage of his eyes aroſe. “Retire, thou chief of Atha! Nathos comes with war. Thou art bold in Cormac's hall, for his arm is weak.” The ſword entered the ſide of the king. He fell in the halls of his fathers. His fair hair is in the duſt. His blood is ſmoking round.

“Art thou fallen in thy halls?” ſaid Carril. “O ſon of noble Artho? The ſhield of Cuthullin was not near. Nor the ſpear of thy father. Mournful are the mountains of Erin, for the chief of the people is low! Bleſt be thy ſoul, O Cormac! Thou art darkened in thy youth!”

His words came to the ears of Cairbar. He cloſed 34) us in the midſt of darkneſs. He feared to ſtretch his ſword to the bards, 35) though his ſoul was dark. Long we pined alone! At length the noble Cathmor 36) came. He heard our voice from the cave. He turned the eye of his wrath on Cairbar.

“Brother of Cathmor,” he ſaid, “how long wilt thou pain my ſoul? Thy heart is a rock. Thy thoughts are dark and bloody! But thou art the brother of Cathmor; and Cathmor ſhall ſhine in thy war. But my ſoul is not like thine: thou feeble hand in fight! The light of my boſom is ſtained with thy deeds. Bards will not ſing of my renown. They may ſay, ›Cathmor was brave, but he fought for gloomy Cairbar.‹ They will paſs over my tomb in ſilence. My fame ſhall not be heard. Cairbar! looſe the bards. They are the ſons of future times. Their voice ſhall be heard in other years; after the kings of Temora have failed. We came forth at the words of the chief. We ſaw him in his ſtrength. He was like thy youth, O Fingal! when thou firſt didſt lift the ſpear. His face like the plain of the ſun, when it is bright. No darkneſs travelled over his brow. But he came with his thouſands to aid the red-haired Cairbar. Now he comes to revenge his death, O king of woody Morven!”

“Let Cathmor come,” replied the king. “I love a foe ſo great. His ſoul is bright. His arm is ſtrong. His battles are full of fame. But the little ſoul is a vapour that hovers round the marſhy lake. It never riſes on the green hill, leſt the winds ſhould meet it there. Its dwelling is in the cave, it ſends forth the dart of death. Our young heroes, O warriors! are like the renown of our fathers. They fight in youth. They fall. Their names are in ſong. Fingal is amid his darkening years. He muſt not fall, as an aged oak, acroſs a ſecret ſtream. Near it are the ſteps of the hunter, as it lies beneath the wind. ›How is that tree fallen?‹ he ſays, and, whiſtling, ſtrides along. Raiſe the ſong of joy, ye bards of Morven! Let our ſouls forget the paſt. The red ſtars look on us from clouds, and ſilently deſcend. Soon ſhall the grey beam of the morning riſe, and ſhew us the foes of Cormac. Fillan! my ſon, take thou the ſpear of the king. Go to Mora's dark-brown ſide. Let thine eyes travel over the heath. Obſerve the foes of Fingal: Obſerve the courſe of generous Cathmor. I hear a diſtant ſound, like falling rocks in the deſert. But ſtrike thou thy ſhield at times, that they may not come thro' night, and the fame of Morven ceaſe. I begin to be alone, my ſon. I dread the fall of my renown!”

The voice of bards aroſe. The king leaned on the ſhield of Trenmor. Sleep deſcended on his eyes. His future battles aroſe in his dreams. The hoſt are ſleeping around. Dark-haired Fillan obſerves the foe. His ſteps are on a diſtant hill. We hear, at times, his clanging ſhield.





Cairbar, the ſon of Borbar-duthul, was deſcended lineally from Lathon the chief of the Firbolg, the firſt colony who ſettled in the ſouth of Ireland. The Gaels were in poſſeſſion of the northern coaſt of that kingdom, and the firſt monarchs of Ireland were of their race. Hence aroſe thoſe differences between the two nations which terminated, at laſt, in the murder of Cormac, and the uſurpation of Cairbar, lord of Atha (Lough Neagh), who is mentioned in this place. 


Mór-lath, great in the day of battle. Hidalla, mildly looking hero. Cormar, expert at ſea. Máth-os, ſlow to ſpeak. Foldath, generous.

Foldath, who is here ſtrongly marked, makes a great figure in the ſequel of the poem. His fierce, uncomplying character is ſuſtained throughout. He ſeems, from a paſſage in the ſecond book, to have been Cairbar's greateſt confidant, and to have had a principal hand in the conſpiracy againſt Cormac, the uſurping king of Ireland. His tribe was one of the moſt conſiderable of the race of the Firbolg. 


Mór-annal, ſtrong-breath; a very proper name for a ſcout. 


Mór-annal here alludes to the particular appearance of Fingal's ſpear. If a man, upon his firſt landing in a ſtrange country, kept the point of his ſpear forward, it denoted in thoſe days that he came in a hoſtile manner, and accordingly he was treated as an enemy; if he kept the point behind him, it was a token of friendſhip, and he was immediately invited to the feaſt, according to the hoſpitality of the times. 


This was the famous ſword of Fingal, made by Luno, a ſmith of Lochlin, and after him poetically called the ſon of Luno: it is ſaid of this ſword, that it killed a man at every ſtroke, and that Fingal never uſed it but in times of the greateſt danger. 


The oppoſite characters of Foldath and Malthos are ſtrongly marked in ſubſequent parts of the poem. They appear always in oppoſition. The feuds between their families, which were the ſource of their hatred to one another, are mentioned in other poems. 


That is, who has heard my vaunting? He intended the expreſſion as a rebuke to the ſelf-praiſe of Foldath. 


Hidalla was the chief of Clonra, a ſmall diſtrict on the banks of the lake of Lego. The beauty of his perſon, his eloquence, and genius for poetry, are afterwards mentioned. Clonra has ſunk into oblivion. 


Cathol the ſon of Maronnan, or Moran, was murdered by Cairbar, for his attachment to the family of Cormac. He had attended Oſcar to the war of Iniſthona, where they contracted a great friendſhip for one another. Oſcar, immediately after the death of Cathol, had ſent a formal challenge to Cairbar, which he prudently declined, but conceived a ſecret hatred againſt Oſcar, and had beforehand contrived to kill him at the feaſt to which he here invites him. 


He alludes to the battle of Oſcar againſt Caros, king of ſhips, who is ſuppoſed to be the ſame with Carauſius the Roman uſurper. 


Cathmor, great in battle, the ſon of Borbar-duthul, and brother of Cairbar king of Ireland, had, before the inſurrection of the Firbolg, paſſed over into Inis-huna, ſuppoſed (but erroneouſly) to be part of South Britain, to aſſiſt Conmor king of that place againſt his enemies. Cathmor was ſucceſſful in the war, but, in the courſe of it, Conmor was either killed, or died a natural death. Cairbar, upon intelligence of the deſigns of Fingal to dethrone him, had deſpatched a meſſenger for Cathmor, who returned into Ireland a few days before the opening of the poem.

Cairbar here takes advantage of his brother's abſence to perpetrate his ungenerous deſigns againſt Oſcar; for the noble ſpirit of Cathmor, had he been preſent, would not have permitted the laws of that hoſpitality, for which he was ſo renowned himſelf, to be violated. The brothers form a contraſt: we do not deteſt the mean ſoul of Cairbar more than we admire the diſintereſted and generous mind of Cathmor. 


Fingal's army heard the joy that was in Cairbar's camp. The character given of Cathmor is agreeable to the times. Some, through oſtentation, were hoſpitable; and others fell naturally into a cuſtom handed down from their anceſtors. But what marks ſtrongly the character of Cathmor is his averſion to praiſe; for he is repreſented to dwell in a wood to avoid the thanks of his gueſts, which is ſtill a higher degree of generoſity than that of Axylus in Homer: for the poet does not ſay, but the good man might, at the head of his own table, have heard with pleaſure the praiſe beſtowed on him by the people he entertained. 


When a chief was determined to kill a perſon already in his power, it was uſual to ſignify that his death was intended by the ſound of a ſhield ſtruck with the blunt end of a ſpear, at the ſame time that a bard at a diſtance raiſed the death ſong. 


Cormac, the ſon of Arth, had given the ſpear, which is here the foundation of the quarrel, to Oſcar, when he came to congratulate him upon Swaran's being expelled from Ireland. 


Ti' mòr-i (Tigh-mhor-Righ), the houſe of the great king, now Connor the name of the royal palace of the ſupreme kings of Ireland. 


Hundred here is an indefinite number, and is only intended to expreſs a great many. It was probably the hyperbolical phraſes of bards that gave the firſt hint to the Iriſh Senachies to place the origin of their monarchy in ſo remote a period as they have done. 


Atha, ſhallow river, the name of Cairbar's ſeat in Connaught. 


Malvina, the daughter of Toſcar, to whom is addreſſed that part of the poem which related to the death of Oſcar, her lover. 


The Iriſh hiſtorians place the death of Cairbar in the latter end of the third century: they ſay he was killed in battle againſt Oſcar the ſon of Oſſian, but deny that he fell by his hand, or in the manner here narrated.

It is, however, certain that the Iriſh bards diſguiſe, in ſome meaſure, this part of their hiſtory. An Iriſh poem on this ſubject, which, undoubtedly, was the ſource of their information, concerning the battle of Gabbra, where Cairbar fell, is juſt now in my hands. As a tranſlation of the poem (which, though evidently no very ancient compoſition, does not want poetical merit) would extend this note to too great a length, I ſhall only give the ſtory of it in brief, with ſome extracts from the original Iriſh.

Oſcar, ſays the Iriſh bard, was invited to a feaſt, at Temora, by Cairbar king of Ireland. A diſpute aroſe between the two heroes concerning the exchange of ſpears, which was uſually made, between the gueſts and their hoſt, upon ſuch occaſions. In the courſe of their altercation, Cairbar ſaid, in a boaſtful manner, that he would hunt on the hills of Albion, and carry the ſpoils of it into Ireland, in ſpite of all the efforts of its inhabitants. The original words are:

Briathar buan ſin; Briathar buan

A bheireadh an Cairbre rua',

Gu tuga' ſe ſcalg, agus creach

A h' ALBIN an la'r na mhaireach.

Oſcar replied that, the next day, he himſelf would carry into Albion the ſpoils of the five provinces of Ireland; in ſpite of the oppoſition of Cairbar.

Briathar eile an aghai' ſin

A beeirea' an t' Oſcar og, calma

Gu'n tugadh ſealg agus creach

Do dh' ALBIN an la'r na mhaireach, etc.

Oſcar, in conſequence of his threats, began to lay waſte Ireland; but as he returned with the ſpoil into Ulſter, through the narrow paſs of Gabhra (Caoil ghlen Ghabhra) he was met by Cairbar, and a battle enſued, in which both the heroes fell by mutual wounds. The bard gives a very curious liſt of the followers of Oſcar, as they marched to battle. They appear to have been five hundred in number, commanded, as the poet expreſſes it by five heroes of the blood of kings. This poem mentions Fingal as arriving from Scotland before Oſcar died of his wounds. 


Moi-lena is ſtill the name of a part of the heath of Lena, and extends from the mountain to the banks of Lough Neagh, the Lake of Roes of Oſſian, near Antrim. From this deſcription, I preſume that the narrow paſs of Gabhra is that opening or valley between the hills above Belfaſt to the ſouth-weſt which leads to Antrim and Moi-lena. – This conjecture is borne out by the context. – Erin fled over Moi-lena. 


Bran was one of Fingal's dogs. Bran ſignifies a mountain ſtream. 


Althan, the ſon of Conachar, was the chief bard of Arth king of Ireland. After the death of Arth, Althan attended his ſon Cormac, and was preſent at his death. He had made his eſcape from Cairbar by the means of Cathmor, and coming to Fingal, related, as here, the death of his maſter Cormac. 


Althan ſpeaks. 


Dora, the woody ſide of a mountain; it is here a hill in the neighbourhood of Temora. 


Arth, or Artho, the father of Cormac, king of Ireland. 


Cuthullin is called the king of Tura from a caſtle of that name on the coaſt of Ulſter (Carrickfergus), where he dwelt, before he undertook the management of the affairs of Ireland, in the minority of Cormac. 


That prophetic ſound, mentioned in other poems, which the harps of the bards emitted before the death of a perſon worthy and renowned. It is here an omen of the death of Cormac, which, ſoon after, followed. 


Uſnoth, chief of Etha, a diſtrict on the weſtern coaſt of Scotland, had three ſons, Nathos, Althos, and Ardan, by Sliſſáma the ſiſter of Cuthullin. The three brothers, when very young, were ſent over to Ireland by their father, to learn the uſe of arms under their uncle, whoſe military fame was very great in that kingdom. They had juſt arrived in Ulſter when the news of Cuthullin's death arrived. Nathos, the eldeſt of the three brothers, took the command of Cuthullin's army, and made head againſt Cairbar, the chief of Atha. Cairbar having, at laſt, murdered young king Cormac, at Temora, the army of Nathos ſhifted ſides and the brothers were obliged to return into Ulſter, in order to paſs over into Scotland. The ſequel of their mournful ſtory is related, at large, in the poem of Darthula. 


Caithbait was grandfather to Cuthullin; and his ſhield was made uſe of to alarm his poſterity to the battles of the family. 


That is, they ſaw a manifeſt likeneſs between the perſon of Nathos and Cuthullin. 


Nathos the ſon of Uſnoth. 


Geal-lamha, white-handed. 


From this expreſſion, we underſtand that Cairbar had entered the palace of Temora, in the midſt of Cormac's ſpeech. 


That is, himſelf and Carril, as it afterwards appears. 


The perſons of the bards were ſo ſacred, that even he, who had juſt murdered his ſovereign, feared to kill them. 


Cathmor appears the ſame diſintereſted hero upon every occaſion. His humanity and generoſity were unparalleled: in ſhort, he had no fault but too much attachment to ſo bad a brother as Cairbar. His family-connection with Cairbar prevails, as he expreſſes it, over every other conſideration, and makes him engage in a war of which he does not approve.