Folk-Lore/Volume 29/Review/Side-Lights on the Tain Age and other Studies

Folk-Lore/Volume 29. Volume 29
Number 2 (September).
Review: Side-Lights on the Tain Age and Other Studies
by Josef Baudiš
Side-Lights on the Tain Age and Other Studies. By M. E. Dobbs. Price 2s. 6d. net. Dundalk. 1917.

This book is to be welcomed because it approaches seriously some difficult questions of Irish pre-history and gives a careful collection of the materials, especially from Mac Firbis (MacFir Bisigh). It deals with Clanna Dedad, Conganchnes, Eochu Mac Luchla, Etar and Cóir Anmann; to these are added two interresting studies (Orgain Dind Ríg or Chariot Burial; the Black Pig's Dyke) which are reprints from the Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie.

Miss Dobbs' researches are to be encouraged because the questions she deals with are often discussed with little or no method; yet a careful collection of materials is the only method possible. She gives a good collection of facts, and moreover quotes her sources in full so that everybody can judge for himself. A good feature of her papers is the fact that she does not rely on the genealogies alone, but also derives her information from the sagas. This is very important, because the sagas, especially in cases where a personage is inseparably connected with a saga motive, etc., cannot be so easily altered as a genealogy could be and often was.

Miss Dobbs seems to overrate the importance of the agreement of the Irish tradition, e.g. she says (p. 22), "Taking all the traditions about Clanna D[edad] as a whole they are consistent and rational. There are contradictions in details . . . The Irish records acknowledge this . . . Where they speak decidedly, therefore, they must have good ground for believing their statements to be founded on fact. The references to Clanna D. come from over twenty different MSS. It is impossible they could be drawn from one source." Yet the case seems somewhat different: There was an early Irish tradition, but this represents already a redaction of certain local sources, and this tradition was a standard for later generations, divergent local traditions being carefully (or not carefully) adapted to this standard. If we find that all the traditions agree about a certain subject, it is little wonder; yet the inconsistencies in traditions are far more important, because they may represent a local tradition which may be more valuable than the current literary tradition.

The statement that Clanna Dedad were a powerful tribe until the time of Mog Nuadat contradicts the statement that Clann Dedad was exterminated by the Clann Rury (Rudraige) (see L.U. 22b).[1] The fact that the enemies of Clanna D. (Síl Ebhir) relate that Clanna Dedad had once overthrown their ancestors is not so decisive as it seems. It may be a fiction intending to represent the ruling race, Síl Ebhir, i.e. descendants of Ebher, as reinstalled in a sovereignty which they really did usurp.

Miss Dobbs quotes a passage suggesting the Érna ware Fir Bolg[2] (see also Hogan Onomasticon Gaedelicum, sub "Erna" and sub "Clanna Dedad"), yet this name means often a stratum of population and not a race, and so the people designed as Fir Bolg may be racially quite different from Fir Bolg[3] as a tribe.

As regards Conganchnes, it must be remembered that he is a mythical personage, brother of the quite mythical Cú Roí, and so it is perhaps too much to conclude that he was a real Munster settler (or representative of Munster settlers) in Ulster. His supposed Munster origin might as well indicate that the Conganchnes saga belonged to a tribe deriving their origin from the same stock as Ptolemy's Ivernii Ir. Érnae, but residing somewhere near[4] or in Ulster, i.e. kinsmen of Érnae but not their descendants.[5]

Finally, it would be good if Miss Dobbs paid more attention to the Irish language.

These remarks, however, are not intended to discuss the merits of Miss Dobbs' book; it is a useful book, and everybody should welcome further studies in this branch of Irish philology.


  1. A West Munster people.
  2. But note also Keating's statement (ii. 230), “it was in the time of Duach Dallta Deaghaidh that the Earna came to Munster: and according to Cormac in his Psalter it was the Clanna Rudhruighe who banished them to Munster." The statement that Dedu expelled the Fir Bolg (Dobbs, p. 20) does not prove anything, but it does not corroborate that Ernae were Firbolg. (The statement that the Picts banished the remnants of Fir Bolg from Islands is an interesting analogy.)
  3. So Fir Bolg of Badbgna were probably a real Fir B. tribe. These were probably related to Fir Domnan of Irros Domnann, for we find them (L.U. 21b) helping the latter. On the other hand Gaileoin (perhaps of Brythonic or Gaulish origin; cpr. Ptolemy's Menapii) are regarded by some as Fir Bolg (but in the Ulster saga Gaileoin are simply Leinstermen).
  4. C. Z. iii. 41–42 says that Eraind (Érna.) occupied a territory as far as Uisnech Mide.
  5. Dál Fiatach, Dál Riada derived their origin from the ancestors of the Érnae, and so did also Conaille of Murthemne who were, however, according to other traditions, Picts, viz. J. MacNeill, Early Ir. Population Groups, § 121.