The Destruction of Tiernmas and His People


Patrick Weston Joyce

Prefatory Note

In early youth I was a diligent student of English style; and in order to select or form a style for myself I read the best authors:—Addison, Steele, Swift, Johnson, Goldsmith, &c. I wrote the following little story at intervals while reading Rasselas; and now after a lapse of more than sixty years, I am greatly amused to observe in it a palpable reflection of Johnson's symmetrical style and balanced sentences. Johnson dazzled me for a time—especially in Rasselas; but I soon found out that he is not a desirable model to follow—so far as style is concerned—and I gave up imitating him. In the end indeed—though after much time and labour—which I think were not wasted—I ceased to imitate anyone, and struck out for myself.

For fifty years I have worked on this plan. My constant endeavour has been to write pure English— simple and direct and easy to understand; so that a person reading with ordinary attention picks up the sense with ease as he goes along.

When reading any book, if you have to turn back often in order to catch up the drift, be sure there is something faulty in the style. Let the young writer avoid big, or learned, or unusual words, and long sentences. Above all let him avoid—so far as possible—these two hateful words former and latter, which are always irritating to a reader, as he has to cast his eyes back—sometimes even four or five lines or more—to see which is which. And even this often leaves him in doubt on account of the clumsy construction of the sentence: which is the breaking point of patience.

[We have in our old manuscript books a very ancient legend that King Tiernmas, who reigned many centuries before the Christian era, and a multitude of his people along with him, were destroyed in some mysterious way while worshipping the great pillar-stone idol Cromm Cru on the eve of Samain (Samain being the 1st November). This idol god stood on the plain of Magh Slecht in the present County Cavan; and of him and his worship an account will be found in my Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland, p. 118. The following short story is merely an expansion of the legend. I wrote it at a period of my life when I had more enthusiasm than knowledge; so that I will not answer for the accuracy of all the details given here of the pagan observances. That may be easily remedied however by a glance through the chapter on Paganism in the book mentioned above.]