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Notes and References
so that it is likely that even the present form of the legend is pre-Christian—i.e. for Ireland, pre-Patrician, before the fifth century.
The tale of Connla is thus the earliest fairy tale of modern Europe. Besides this interest it contains an early account of one of the most characteristic Celtic conceptions, that of the earthly Paradise, the Isle of Youth, Tir na n-Og. This has impressed itself on the European imagination; in the Arthuriad it is represented by the Vale of Avalon, and as represented in the various Celtic visions of the future life, it forms one of the main sources of Dante's Divina Commedia. It is possible too, I think, that the Homeric Hesperides and the Fortunate Isles of the ancients had a Celtic origin (as is well known, the early place-names of Europe are predominantly Celtic). I have found, I believe, a reference to the conception in one of the earliest passages in the classics dealing with the Druids. Lucan, in his Pharsalia (i. 450–8), addresses them in these high terms of reverence:
Et vos barbaricos ritus, moremque sinistrum,
Sacrorum, Druidæ, positis repetistis ab armis,
Solis nôsse Deos et cœli numera vobis
Aut solis nescire datum; nemora alta remotis
Incolitis lucis. Vobis auctoribus umbræ,
Non tacitas Erebi sedes, Ditisque profundi.
Pallida regna petunt: regit idem spiritus artus
Orbe alio: longæ, canitis si cognita, vitæ
Mors media est.
The passage certainly seems to me to imply a different conception from the ordinary classical views of the life after death, the dark and dismal plains of Erebus peopled with ghosts; and the passage I have italicised would chime in well with the conception of a continuance of youth (idem spiritus) in Tir na n-Og (orbe alio).
One of the most pathetic, beautiful, and typical scenes in Irish legend is the return of Ossian from Tir na n-Og, and his interview with St. Patrick. The old faith and the new, the old order of things and that which replaced it, meet in two of the most characteristic products of the Irish imagination (for the Patrick of legend is as much a legendary figure as Oisin himself). Ossian had gone away to Tir na n-Og with the fairy Niamh under very much the same circumstances as Condla Ruad; time flies in the land of eternal youth, and when Ossian returns, after a year as he thinks, more than three centuries had passed, and St. Patrick had just succeeded in introducing the new