History of Ireland by Geoffrey Keating

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[The History of Ireland by Geoffrey Keating]

Translated by Edward Comyn and Patrick S. Dineen


GEOFFREY KEATING stands alone among Gaelic writers: he has had neither

precursor nor successor, nor, in his own domain, either equal or

second. His works show the fullest development of the language, and

his historical treatise, with which we are here concerned, marks an

epoch in our literature, a complete departure from the conventional

usage of the annalists. From the last and greatest of these, even from

his illustrious contemporaries, the Four Masters, he is, in his style

and mode of using his materials, as far removed as is Gibbon from

earlier English writers on European affairs. The period, however, with

which the English author deals is one for the history of which ample

authentic materials existed, and nothing remained for the writer but

to select and present the facts in his own style to the reader. But

our author has to give an account of a country apart from the general

development of European civilization, and to treat chiefly of remote

ages without the support of contemporary documents or monuments. In

this respect his field of inquiry resembles somewhat that of the

portion of Dr. Liddell's work relating to the Kings and early Consuls

of Rome, where the author, in a pleasing style, does his best with

scanty and unsatisfactory materials, not altogether throwing aside,

like the German critics, all data which cannot be confirmed by

inscriptions or authentic records, yet skilfully exercising his

discretion in the use of legend and tradition which had by earlier

writers been received as trustworthy evidence. It will be seen, in the

course of this work, that Keating, though often accused of being

weakly credulous, and though he was perhaps inclined to attach undue

importance to records which he believed to be of extreme antiquity,

while carrying on his narrative by their help (he had no other), yet

shows as much discrimination as writers on the history of other

countries in his time. He recounts the story, in his own happy manner,

as it was handed down in annals and poems, leaving selection and

criticism to come after, when they have a 'basis of knowledge' to work

upon. By this term he accurately indicates the contents of his

principal work, in which not merely history, but mythology,

archæology, geography, statistics, genealogy, bardic chronicles,

ancient poetry, romance, and tradition are all made to subserve the

purpose of his account of Ireland, and to increase the reader's

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