Open main menu


O'LOTHCHAIN, CUAN (d. 1024), Irish historian, was Primheices or chief man of learning to Maelsechlainn II [q. v.] After the death of that king in 1022, the ‘Annals of Clonmacnoise’ state that Cuan O'Lothchain and Corcran Cleirech governed Ireland. Tighearnach, who may have known some of O'Lothchain's contemporaries, records his death in 1024. He was slain by some men of Teffia, co. Westmeath. He probably lived near Dun-na-sciath, Maelsechlainn's chief residence in Westmeath. He wrote an account of the rights of the king of Tara, in the eleventh century the title of the king of Ireland, and of Tara itself, beginning ‘Teamair toga na tulach’ (‘Tara, choice of hills’), of which there is a copy in the ‘Book of Ballymote,’ a fourteenth-century manuscript, fol. 351, column A, line 47. The library of Trinity College, Dublin, has a copy (numbered H. 3.3), which Dr. Petrie states is more ancient (Tara Hill, p. 143), and other good copies exist. The poem begins by stating the rights of the king, then describes the several roads, ramparts, wells, and raths, and the past history of each landmark, with some account of Cormac MacAirt and other famous dwellers at Tara, which ceased to be a royal residence in the sixth century. The concluding lines give a lively picture of the following of a king of Ireland in the eleventh century: the lesser king and the ollav next to him, the learned man, the physician, the cup-bearer, the smith, the administrator of the law, the builder of earthworks, the maker of shields, the soldier, who had all a right to be in the king's house, ‘do ibdis corm’ (‘to drink liquor’); then follow the sorcerer, the chess-player, the buffoon, the piper, and many others, all entitled to entertainment. A poetical account of the origin of the name of the river Shannon, which forms part of the ‘Dinnsenchus’ in the ‘Book of Lecan,’ is attributed to him in that manuscript. In the ‘Book of Leinster,’ a twelfth-century manuscript, this passage is not attributed to any separate author, but (fol. 151) there is a long poem, undoubtedly by him, on the origin of the name of the hill of Drumcree, co. Westmeath. The direct statement of authorship in a manuscript written within one hundred and fifty years of the death of Cuan O'Lothchain is supported by the internal evidence of the poem. The name of the hill is derived from the fate of the sons of Eochu Feidlech, and the poem concludes by connecting the history of the hill with Maelsechlainn II, O'Lothchain's patron, and tracing Maelsechlainn's descent from Eochu Feidlech through Colman MacDiarmada, Cairpe Liphechar, Feradach Fechtnach, and other kings. A prose treatise ascribed to him, ‘Geasa agus buadha riogh Eireann’ (‘The restrictions and prerogatives of the kings of Ireland’), is contained in the ‘Book of Lecan,’ and has been printed and translated by O'Donovan.

[Book of Leinster, facsimile, 1880; Book of Ballymote, facs. 1887; Leabhar na ‵Ceart, ed. O'Donovan, Celtic Society, Dublin, 1847; George Petrie's History and Antiquities of Tara Hill, 1839, in Trans. of Royal Irish Academy; Annala Rioghachta Eireann, ed. O'Donovan, vol. ii.; O'Curry's Lectures on Manuscript Materials of Irish History; Whitley Stokes's The Bodleian Dinnshenchas in Folk Lore, vol. iii. No. 4, where the text with translation of the article on the Shannon in the Bodleian manuscript Rawlinson B. 506 is printed.]

N. M.