The Voice of the Stone of Destiny. 31
Whether as a matter of fact the stone ever was consulted with this object is another question. It is enough at present to know that Irish tradition asserted this use of the oracle. In a semi-civilised community a disputed suc- cession is of frequent occurrence. To prevent a dispute, and to settle it when it arises, various means are adopted. The usual Irish plan seems to have been the custom of Tanistry. " During the lifetime of a chief," Sullivan tells us, " his successor was elected under the name of Tanaiste ; and on the death of the former the latter succeeded him. The Tanaiste was not necessarily the son of the chief : he might be his brother or nephew ; but he should belong to his Fine,^' or family.^
That this mode of election was not always successful we may easily believe. That it was the gradual outcome of the experience of a long series of generations is probable. Where for one cause or another it failed, how would the succession be determined ? The most obvious means would be either conflict or divination. According to the legends, divination was sometimes actually used to determine the appointment of king. On one occasion in the days of Conchobar, the famous King of Ulster, the monarchy of Ireland had been vacant for seven years. This state of things being found intolerable, a general assembly was held at Tara to choose a king. The royal houses of Con- naught, South Munster, North Munster, and Leinster were there, but the Ulstermen were absent ; for there was bitter feud between Ulster and the rest of Ireland, and they would
screamed under thy feet. The number of its screams is the number of kings that shall come of thy seed for ever ; but I may not name them." In this passage the stone is said to have come from the Island of Foal to abide for ever in the land of Tailtin. Nutt, The Voyage of Bran, vol. i. (1S95), p. 187, summarising O'Curry's translation.
' O'Curry, On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish (three vols., London, 1873), '^ol- i- (Sullivan's Introduction), p. clxxxiii. Spencer, View of the State of Ireland, says that the Tanist is "the eldest of the kmne." Ancient Irish Histories (Dublin, Hibernia Press, 1809), vol. i., p. 12.