The story of Ferdiad, a boy of Ireland in the time of High King Brian Boru, when the Danes were pillaging the Irish countryside. How his foster-father Angus becomes poet to the High King and how Ferdiad himself recovers a lost treasure. Gives a glimpse into the customs and social life of the Celts, with special emphasis on their artistic achievements, including the Book of Kells and the stories of Cuculain.
of the Child Heart
LUCY CLARKSON TORR
To the Boys and Girls
Ages and ages ago, so far back that the world has almost forgotten about it, the Celtic people had a great empire spreading over a large part of Europe. Then, after a long while, something happened to break up this empire; nobody knows exactly what, but most probably they fought among themselves or with other people, or both, or perhaps some stronger race swept into their country and swept them out. At any rate, by and by it came about that all that was left of the empire of the Celts was that part of it which we now call France and the British Isles; they called them Gaul and Britain and Ireland.
Meantime the great city of Rome had been growing more and more powerful and sending her conquering armies everywhere till at last she brought most of Europe under her sway. And the Celtic people, whose proudest boast had been that once upon a time they had captured the great city, now found themselves under her dominion and soon beginning to have Roman ideas about things. For no nation could be ruled by Rome and be just the same as before. There was one part of the Celtic lands, however, that did not change, and this was Ireland. Far off to the west, for some reason she was never visited by the Roman soldiers and so managed to keep her affairs all to herself.
Thus several centuries passed; and then, as you perhaps know from your histories, Rome herself, with all her pride and splendor, was conquered and overwhelmed by the wild tribes to the north of her, and Europe, which had been growing more and more civilized, sank back into ignorance and barbarism which it took hundreds of years to shake off.
But all the while Ireland, off there in the western ocean, kept to herself. Just as she was not conquered by Rome, neither was she overwhelmed by the barbarians when Rome fell, but kept right on living her Celtic life and doing things her own Celtic way clear down to the time when the rest of Europe began to rouse up and learn things again. Indeed, the Celtic people did much to help wake up Europe; for though they had not been conquered by the Romans, nevertheless the Celtic scholars had been wise enough to study the best books written by them and by the Greeks, and these, together with much other knowledge which they gained for themselves, they kept from being forgotten by the world.
Though it is true that a hundred years after the time of our story the Norman race invaded Ireland and in the centuries that followed her people have gradually changed in many ways from the Celts of long ago, yet still the Celtic blood and the Celtic spirit so lives in Ireland that when to-day we speak of the Celts we most often mean the Irish rather than those other descendants of the old race who still are scattered through many parts of Europe and even Asia.
Now the Celts have always been an interesting people, and those of long ago left many things for us to admire and treasure. Though they did not build great and beautiful temples and palaces whose ruins still speak of past glory, as did other races of the old world, yet in the more delicate handicrafts no one ever did finer work, as is proved by the innumerable beautiful objects of gold and silver still to be seen in Irish museums. The lovely chalice of Ardagh, the Tara brooch, the cross of Cong and the bell-shrine of St. Patrick, these are famous beyond Ireland; while as for the painted books made by the old-time Celtic artists, of the many of surpassing beauty one was so marvelous—but, no, I must not tell you about it now, for it is part of our story!
But besides these things which we of to-day can see and touch, the Celts of long ago left a great deal more. They left to the world an inheritance of beautiful myths and romantic stories and poems and fairy tales, some of which you have perhaps already read as you surely will read more of them by and by. These belong to every one; but to their own children and ever-so-great-great grandchildren, down through the centuries, the Celts of long ago left an inheritance of delight in beauty, of joy in the loveliness of the lovely world about us, in the blue sky and the green earth, joy in bright and beautiful colors, a love of poetry and fairy stories, and, best of all, a way of losing themselves in wonderful dreams, dreams sometimes tinged with a wistful sadness, perhaps, yet always beautiful. It is this inheritance that so marks the Celtic people to-day, wherever they may chance to live, that when we know someone who specially loves all these things, we say he must have in his veins a strain of Celtic blood; and very likely he has.
But it is high time to get to our story, which has been waiting all this while. Our little Celtic cousin, Ferdiad, is ready to meet you in the first chapter and take you back to the long ago, and I hope you and he may become very good friends.