IT was in Ireland's 'Golden Age' that the vikings fell upon Erin. Not only in wealth, but in learning and in intellectual vigour, was the country rich, and as steadily as Christianity with its softening of old barbarisms had won its way into the hearts of the people, firing them with its doctrines of concord and charity, so there had arisen a sense of Irish solidarity, and a respect for law and the security that law can give, that, though it may have had but little flavour of real nationalism, had nevertheless raised the Irish state to a high position in the van of the civilized countries of north-western Europe.
The island was a heptarchy. Connaught, Munster, and Leinster (though not with exactly the present boundaries of these provinces), were three of the kingdoms, the fourth was Meath (the northern part of modern Leinster), and the other three were in Ulster, namely Ailech in the west, Ulaidh in the east, with Oriel (Airgialla) between them. But this heptarchy was not a chaos of seven quarrelsome and suspicious states, though, in truth, there were still wars enough in Ireland; for the control of the whole country belonged to but two kings, those of Tara (Meath) and Cashel ( Munster), the other sub-kings existing for the most part upon the favour of these two great chieftains. There was, therefore, a primary division of Ireland, not into seven kingdoms, but into two confederacies of kingdoms, that of the South, looking to the Cashel king as its overlord, and that of the North, which was ruled from Tara. Nor was this all, for the Tara king was more than the head of the northern states, being nothing less than the titular 'King of Ireland', high-king of the commonwealth of both the northern and southern confederacies. No doubt his authority depended rather upon common consent than the sanction of his might, for he possessed no constitutional powers in the kingdoms that were not his own; but for all that he was acknowledged as first in rank in the country, being, potentially at any rate, the chosen head of a united people.
Yet Ireland, for all these advantages of learning, law, and a