Book The First
Of My Ancestors
Genus antiquum terrae
A.M. 1.—A.D. 1172
Antiquity of the Rocks.—Reign of Ollam Fodlah, Dubhlachtha, Flabhertach, &c..—Moran’s Collar.—Chief Justice Bushe.—Beautiful Young Lady.—Revolution among the Letters of the Irish Alphabet.—Name of Rock, whence Derived.—The Irish Proved to be Jews.—Moral Character of the Rocks.
The Rocks are a family of great antiquity in Ireland; as old, at least, as the ‘ancient family of the Wrongheads’ in England. That we had made some noise, even before the memorable period, when Pope Adrian made a present of Ireland to Henry II, there is every reason to believe; but under such wise monarchs as Ollam Fodlah, Dubhlachtha, Flabhertach, Brian Boromhe, &c., whose laws, as Mr. O’Halloran assures us, were models of perfection, it was difficult even for the activity of the Rocks to distinguish itself. Accordingly, for the first 1,100 years of the Christian era, we hear but little or nothing of the achievements of the family.
There is, indeed, one remarkable circumstance, connected with the administration of justice in those times, which may account for the tranquillity and good order which, we are told, prevailed. The Chief Judge, on all solemn and interesting occasions, had a kind of collar placed round his neck,* which possessed the wonderful power of contracting or relaxing, according to the impartiality of the sentence pronounced by him, and which pinched most inconveniently when an unjust decision was uttered. The use of this collar has been since discontinued, on account of the risk of strangulation to which it exposed many honourable judges, and the collar itself was supposed to be lost; but, to the inexpressible joy of all lovers of Irish curiosities, it was again discovered a short time since, and is at present, I understand, worn on all occasions by the Chief Justice of Ireland, with the greatest possible ease and comfort to himself.
*Called, from the name of one of their most just judges, ‘Moran’s collar’. Even to this day (says O’Halloran), in litigations between people, by the judgment of Moran’s collar is a most solemn appeal.
We may imagine how dull my ancestors must have found those times, when a beautiful young lady, (as Dr. Warner tells us) adorned with gems, and in a costly dress, having only a wand in her hand, and a rich gold ring at the top of it, could travel from one end of the kingdom to the other, without the least chance of robbery, or even abduction, on the way. So excellent was the police of Brian Boromhe, and, still better, so moral and well-behaved were his subjects!
The only thing that seems to have been out of order among the ancient Irish was their alphabet, in which the letter A had been unaccountably deposed from its supremacy to make way for B.* Whether the Rocks had any hand in this revolutionary movement among the letters does not appear; but Hutcheson (in his Defence, &c.) in a great degree exculpates them from such a suspicion, being of the opinion that the colony which first imported the alphabet into Ireland, had come away with it from Phoenicia rather in a hurry, before the point of precedence between A and B was properly settled.
With respect to the origin of the family name, Rock, antiquarians and etymologists are a good deal puzzled. An idea exists in certain quarters that the letters of which it is composed are merely initials, and contain a prophetic announcement of the high destiny that awaits, at some time or other, that celebrated gentleman, Mr. Roger O’Connor, being, as they fill up the initials, the following awful words: Roger O Connor, King!
Others perceive in the name an indication of the design of the Papists to establish their own religion in Ireland, through the instrumentality of Captain Rock, and quote in support of this conjecture the sacred text: ‘On this Rock I will build my church’; while others, not less learned, are persuaded that the name has some connection with the Saxum Jacobi, or Stone of Jacob, which (according to Mr. Hamilton, who has written to prove that the Irish are Jews) was brought from Egypt to Ireland, some time before the general Exod under Moses, by a portion of the tribe of Joseph, called Eranites, and is now under the coronation chair, in Westminster Abbey.**
*It appears, however, from Mr. O’Halloran, that St. Patrick acted the part of General Monk to the alphabet, and that the restoration of A to its birthright is one of the chief achievements for which we are indebted to him.
**‘This marble chair was lent by the monarch of Ireland to Fergus, King of Scots, and it remained at Scone until the year 1296, when it was, with other regalia, carried to England by the first Edward.’—O’Halloran. It is said to make a remarkable noise when any of the true descendants of Milesius sit upon it.
In support of this hypothesis (namely, that the Irish are Jews) Mr. Hamilton has produced some very striking proofs. Thus, he shows that the fine linen, mentioned in Revelations as worn by those personages who are to gain a victory over the Beast, is an evident allusion to the staple manufacture of Ireland; while the ‘harps’ which they bear are, no less evidently, intended to represent the provincial arms of Leinster, which have been (as Mr. O’Halloran tells us) a harp, or, strung, argent, in a field vert, ever since the landing of Heber and Heremon in Ireland, on the 17th day of Bel, or May, in the year of the world, according to the Hebrew computation, 2,736.12 The Irish being thus indisputably proved to be Jews, it is to be hoped that the Irish country gentlemen (now that their estates are beginning to illustrate the doctrine of Evanescent Quantities) will, when forced to take refuge in the arms of their brethren of Israel, find them considerate and compassionate, if it were for nothing but old consanguinity’s sake. With respect to the moral character of my ancestors in the times of Ollam Fodlah and Brian Boromhe, there is no doubt that, however suppressed or modified, it must have been pretty much the same that it is at present. The Great Frederick used to say, that while the French fight for glory, the Spaniards for religion, and the English for liberty, the Irish are the only people in the world who fight for fun; and, however true this may be of my countrymen in general, there is no doubt of its perfect correctness as applied to the Rock Family in particular. Discord is, indeed, our natural element; like that storm-loving animal, the seal, we are comfortable only in a tempest; and the object of the following historical and biographical sketch is to show how kindly the English Government has at all times consulted our taste in this particular, ministering to our love of riot through every successive reign, from the invasion of Henry II down to the present day, so as to leave scarcely an interval during the whole six hundred years in which the Captain Rock for the time might not exclaim
Quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris?
or, as it has been translated by one of my family:
Through Leinster, Ulster, Connaught, Munster,
Rock’s the boy to make the fun stir!