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With regard to the first two, we have (as O'Beirne Crowe' points out) authentic evidence of the fact in contemporary Roman writers, and as to the latter, the ever-faithful and very ancient Irish documents are equally clear on this point.
In the feast of Bricriu, Loegaire Buadach's horses and chariot are thus described by Find-abair (Bright-beam) to her mother, Medb, queen of the Connachta:
“ I see, indeed," says Find-abair,“ the two horses which are under the chariot—two horses ardent, speckled grey: of like colour, of like form, of like goodness, of like victory. ... A wood-band, withe-y chariot. Two black, adjusted wheels: two beautiful entwining reins: steel, sword-straight shafts: a splendid body of strong joinings. A ridgy, strong-bright yoke."
The same lady describes Conall Cernach's chariot thus:
“A wood-band, withe-y chariot. Two bright, brazen wheels: a bright pole of much-silver: a very high, noisy body. A ridgy, strong-proud yoke: two wreath-y, strong-yellow reins."
Again, after describing the horses, as before, Find-abair describes the chariot of the hero Cu Chulaind thus:
“A withe band chariot of witheing. Two very yellow, iron wheels: a pole with a witheing of findruine. A tin body of slopejoinings. A ridgy, strong-golden yoke: two wreath-y, strongyellow reins.”
From these and other descriptions it is evident that the body (cret, our “ crate '') of the chariot was always of wood, that is, well-wrought wicker-work on a strong timber frame. In our third quotation the body is said to be made of tin; elsewhere it is described as “ a very high, noisy body, and
J. O'Beirne Crowe, “Siabur-Charpat Con Culaind,” Journ. Roy. Hist. and Arch. Assoc., Ireland (Kilkenny Arch. Soc.), vol. i. (4th ser.), 1870, p. 413. “The Irish Chariot."
? Sullivan translates this name “ Fair-browed " (loc. cit., cccclxxxi).
it of tin, of slope-joininglets.” Now, decorating chariots with tin was a favourite practice among the ancient Celts. Thus Pliny (lib. xxxiv., cap. 17) says that the Gauls were in the habit of adorning their vehicles with tin. Behind the chariot were, according to O'Beirne Crowe, two removable shafts, for in the Book of Leinster we read: “Let the shaft of my carriage be reached me, that I may try the ford before the horses.” In front was the pole, most probably of wood, and overlaid with silver; but still we are told several times it was made of silver, one version being, “ a bright pole of bright-silver, with a witheing of find-ruine." To this a single yoke for the two horses was attached. It had two wheels only, sometimes all of iron or bronze; when of wood, which we presume to have been the case where the material is not specified, these wheels always had an iron tire. There is reason to believe that the Celtic chariotwheel was relatively very small.
In the Sculptured Stones of Scotland, ii. (1867), p. lvi. (Spalding Club), Stuart makes the following statement:
"Occasionally fragments of chariots have been found in British sepulchres. About 1815, a barrow, near Market-Weighton, in Yorkshire, was opened, in which was a cist containing the skeleton of a man. . . . On each side had been placed a chariotwheel, of which the iron tire and ornaments of the nave have alone remained. The wheels had been about two feet eleven inches in diameter."
In a neighbouring tumulus the wheels were about two feet eight inches in diameter.
Dr. Sullivan says' the wheels were made of bronze or of iron; the former was the older material, and seems to have been only traditionally remembered when the principal
W. K. Sullivan and E. O'Curry, On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, vol. i., Introduction, pp. cccclxxx-cccclxxxiii.
tales took their present form, the material then in general use being iron. The chariot-wheel was not a mere disc, but had spokes. He knew of only one passage from which the number of spokes can be inferred. The passage in question is the description of Cu Chulaind's chariot in the very ancient Irish manuscript, Siabur Charpat Conchulaind : “ The Phantom Chariot of Cuchulaind."
“ A stately Brog after that pair [of horses);
two firm black wheels;
The chariots (carpats) in the foregoing account appear to have been the ordinary war-chariots, as well as the vehicles which were used for travelling. Cu Chulaind and other warriors had, however, as Sullivan points out, a special warchariot, the Cath Carpat serda, or scythed battle-chariot. O'Beirne Crowe translates it the serrated war-chariot,“ because when fully furnished, every part of it available for attack or defence being closely spiked, presented the edgeappearance of a saw (Irish serr, Latin serra).”
These warriors of the heroic age, whether of Erin or Greece it matters not, took a laudable pride in their war accoutrements, and not least in the decoration of their chariots. These descriptions from Irish sagas recall to mind one from the great Greek saga:
“So Hera, the goddess queen, daughter of great Kronos, went her way to harness the gold-frontletted steeds; and Hebe quickly put to the car the curved wheels of bronze, eight-spoked, upon their axle-tree of iron. Golden is their felloe, imperishable, and tires of bronze are fitted thereover, a marvel to look upon; and the naves are of silver, to turn about on either side. And the car is plaited tight with gold and silver thongs, and two rails run round about it. And the silver pole stood out therefrom; upon
the end bound she the fair golden yoke, and set thereon the fair breaststraps of gold, and Hera led beneath the yoke the horses fleet of foot, and hungered for strife and the battle-cry." -Iliad, v. 730.
From gods and demi-gods we must descend to mortals, and from the inspiring times when the world was young we must pass to the fin-de-siècle.
Mr. Hamilton' states that in 1823, in the Brown Hall estate, in Donegal,
“carts they had none ; most of the carrying was done in creels on ponies' backs. Some superior farmers had what were called low-backed cars—a sort of platform with shafts, and under it a pair of solid block-wheels. One rich man had spoke-wheels, which were greatly admired. ... Crowds came to see the first cart that was turned out; but though it was voted “illegant,' it was declared useless. “For,' said a sage among the spectators, ‘who ever heard of a cart in this country ?' And his argument seemed to weigh much with his auditors. However, in a few years later the Scotchmen had at one time orders on hand for fifty carts.”
Spoke-wheel vehicles jostled block-wheel cars a century ago in Dublin, as they still do in parts of Ulster. The country carts with solid wheels are laggards from the early Bronze Age — possibly from Neolithic times; the spokewheel carts are perhaps the modified descendants of the war-chariot which the Gaelic-speaking Celts introduced into the British Islands. We have here, in the evolution of the wheel, another example of the stimulus to invention and improvement that war gives to technology, which improvements may be later introduced into the peaceful avocations of life.
Further investigations must decide whether the excentric J. Hamilton, Sixty Years' Experience as an Irish Landlord, 1894, P. 47.
spokes of the modern Basque and ancient Greek wheels were characteristic of the vehicles of the agricultural Mediterranean race, and whether the radiating spoke-wheels were invented, or introduced into Europe, by the mobile Aryan peoples.
A most interesting series of spoke-wheels can be seen, for example, at Dundonald, near Belfast, in County Down. The cart itself is of the same type as that associated with block-wheels; but there are two varieties of spoke-wheels. In that both the wheels are small-scarcely larger than the solid wheels; but in the one case they are placed within the shafts, and in the other case outside of them. Thus we get