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[IRISH LITERATURE
CELT

We must now step aside from pure literature and turn our attention to the various productions of the professional learned classes of Ireland during the middle ages. The range of subjects coming under this heading is a very wide one, comprising history, genealogies, hagiology, topography, grammar, lexicography and metre, law and medicine. It will perhaps be as well first of Professional literature. all to deal with the learned filid whose works have been preserved. Irish tradition preserves the names of a number of antiquarian poets of prehistoric or early medieval times, such as Amergin, one of the Milesian band of invaders; Moran Roigne, son of Ugaine Mór, Adna and his successor Ferceirtne, Torna (c. 400), tutor to Niall Nóigiallach, Dallán Forgaill, Senchán Torpéist, and Cennfaelad (d. 678), but the poems attributed to these writers are of much later date. We can only enumerate the chief of those whose works have been preserved. To Maelmura (d. 887) is attributed a poem on the Milesian migrations. About the same time lived Flanagan, son of Cellach, who wrote a long composition on the deaths of the kings of Ireland, preserved in YBL., and Flann MacLonáin (d. 918), called by the Four Masters the Virgil of Ireland, eight of whose poems have survived, containing in all about 1000 lines. Cormacan, son of Maelbrigde (d. 946), composed a vigorous poem on the circuit of Ireland performed by Muirchertach, son of Niall Glúndub. A poet whose poems are most valuable from an antiquarian point of view is Cinaed Ua h-Artacáin (d. 975). Some 800 lines of his have been preserved in LL. and elsewhere. Contemporary with him is Eochaid O’Flainn (d. c. 1003), whose chief work is a long chronological poem giving a list of the kings of Ulster from Cimbaeth down to the destruction of Emain in 331. A little later comes MacLiac (d. 1016), who celebrated in verse the glories of the reign of Brian Boroime. His best-known work is a lament over Kincora, the palace of Brian. Contemporary with MacLiac is MacGilla Coim Urard MacCoisi (d. 1023). To Cúán ua Lothcháin (d. 1024), chief poet in the reign of Maelsheachlainn II., are ascribed poems on the antiquities of Tara. Sixteen hundred lines of his have come down to us. A writer who enjoyed a tremendous reputation in medieval Ireland was Flann Mainstrech (d. 1056), who in spite of his being a layman was head of the monastery school at Monasterboice. He is the author of no fewer than 2000 lines in LL., and many other poems of his are contained in other MSS. His best-known work is a Book of Synchronisms of the kings of Ireland and those of the ancient world. We have also poems from his pen on the monarchs descended from Niall Nóigiallach and on the chronology of the high-kings and provincial kings from the time of Loigaire. Flann’s successor, Gilla Coemgin (d. 1072), gives us a chronological poem dealing with the annals of the world down to A.D. 1014. He also is the author of the Irish version of Nennius which contains substantial additions dealing with early Ireland. Minor writers of the same nature whose works have come down to us are Colmán O’Sesnáin (d. 1050), Néide ua Maelchonaire (d. 1136), Gilla na noem ua Duinn (d. 1160), Gilla Moduda O’Cassidy (1143). In the 13th century these historical poems become very rare. In the next century we again find antiquarian poets of whom the best-known is John O’Dugan (d. 1372). His most valuable composition treats of the tribes of the northern half of Ireland at the time of the northern conquest. This work, containing 1660 lines in all in debide metre, was completed by his younger contemporary Gilla na naem O’Huidhrin. From the beginning of the 13th century the official poets began to give way to the hereditary bards and families of scribes. Among the chief bardic families we may mention the O’Dalys, the MacWards, the O’Higinns, the MacBrodys and the MacDaires. We must here content ourselves with glancing at a few of the more prominent names. Muiredach Albanach (c. 1214-1240), whose real name was O’Daly, has left behind in addition to the religious verses a considerable number of poems in praise of various patrons in Ireland and Scotland. He is said by Skene to be the first of the Macvurrichs, bards to Macdonald of Clanranald. A number of his compositions are preserved in the Book of the Dean of Lismore. Gilla Brigde MacConmidhe was a contemporary of the last-mentioned bard. He wrote a number of poems in praise of the O’Neills and O’Donnells. We may next mention the name of an abbot of Boyle, Donnchad Mór O’Dálaig (d. 1244), a writer whose extant poems are usually of a religious character. Many of them are addressed to the Virgin. Most of them appear in late MSS., but some few are preserved in the Book of the Hy Maine. Donnchad Mór is said to be the greatest religious poet that Ireland has produced. Many other members of the O’Daly family belonging to the 14th and 15th centuries have left poems behind them, but we cannot mention them here. Angus O’Daly, who lived in the second half of the 16th century, was employed by the English to satirize the chief Gaelic families in Ireland. Two members of the O’Higinn family deserve mention, Tadg mór O’Higinn (d. 1315). and Tadg Óg O’Higinn (d. 1448), a voluminous writer who eulogized the O’Neills, O’Connors and O’Kellys. Tadg Óg also composed a number of religious poems, which enjoyed enormous popularity in both Ireland and Scotland. A duanaire was inserted into YBL., which contains some forty poems by him.

Closely connected with the compositions of the official poets are the works of native topography. Most of the sagas contain a number of explanations of the origins of place-names. The Dindsenchus is a compilation of such etymologies. But its chief value consists in the amount of legendary matter it contains, adduced in support of the etymologies given. The Dindsenchus has come down to us in various forms both in prose and in verse. Irish tradition ascribes it to Amergin MacAmalgaid, who lived in the 6th century, but if the kernel of the work goes back as early as this it must have been altered considerably in the course of the centuries. Both prose and verse forms of it are contained in LL. A kindred compilation is the Cóir Anmann (Fitness of Names), which does for personal names what the Dindsenchus does for geographical names. We further possess a versified compendium of geography for educational purposes dealing with the three continents, from the pen of Airbertach MacCosse-dobráin (10th century).

No people on the face of the globe have ever been more keenly interested in the past of their native country than the Irish. This will already have been patent from the compositions of the filid, and now we may describe briefly History. the historical works in prose which have come down to us. The latter may be divided into two classes, (1) works containing a connected narrative, (2) annals. Closely allied to these are the sagas dealing with the high-kings. Even in the serious historical compositions we often find the manner of the sagas imitated, e.g. the supernatural plays a prominent part, and we are treated to the same exaggerated descriptions. The earliest of these histories is the wars of the Gael and Gall (Cogad Gaedel re Gallaib), which gives an account of the Viking invasions of Ireland, the career of Brian Boroime and the overthrow of the Norsemen at the battle of Clontarf. This composition, a portion of which is contained in LL., is often supposed to be in part the work of MacLiac, and it is plain from internal evidence that it must have been written by an eye-witness of the battle, or from materials supplied by a person actually present. Numerous shorter tracts dealing with the same period exist, but as yet few of them have been published. Caithreim Cellacháin Caisil treats of the conflicts between the Vikings and the Irish, and the Leabhar Oiris gives an account of Irish history from 979 to 1027. Compilations relating to local history are the Book of Fenagh and the Book of Munster. Another ancient work also partly preserved in LL. is the Book of Invasions (Leabhar Gabhála). This deals with the five prehistoric invasions of Ireland (see Ireland: Early History) and the legendary history of the Milesians. The most complete copy of the Leabhar Gabhála which has been preserved was compiled by Michael O’Clery about 1630. The Boroma or History of the Leinster Tribute contained in LL. belongs rather to romance. Another history is the Triumphs of Turlough O’Brian, written about the year 1459 by John MacCraith, a Munster historian (edited by S.H. O’Grady, Camb. Press). This inflated composition is an important source of information on Munster history from the landing of the Normans to the middle of the 14th century. We also possess