The History of Ireland - IV.

IV.

Now when the Seanchus had been purified in this way the nobles of Ireland decreed that the charge of it should be entrusted to the prelates of Ireland, and these prelates ordered that it should be copied in their own chief churches. And some of the old books are still extant, or the copies made from them, such as the Book of Ard Macha, the Psalter of Cashel, the Book of Gleann da Loch, the Book of Ui Congmhala, the Book of Cluain Mic Nois, the Book of Fiontan of Cluain Eidhneach, the Yellow Book of Moling and the Black Book of Molaga, and the rest of the chief books of Ireland where the Seanchus was preserved without doing injustice to any one Irish noble as against another.

Moreover, there was a summary of the records in all these books in the Psalter of Tara, and they used to be approved every third year at the Feis of Tara, as we have said above in treating of the reign of Cormac. But in the pagan period the following were the chief authors of the Seanchus from age to age, to wit, Aimhirgin Gluingheal, Sean son of Aighe, Bridhe an authoress, from whom is the expression Briathra Bridhe (the sayings of Bridhe), Connla Caoinbhriathrach a Connaught sage, Seancha son of Cuil Claon, Fachtna his son, Seancha son of Oilill, Morann son of Maon, Fearghus Fiannaithe from the country of Ciarraidhe Luachra, Feircheirtne File, Neidhe son of Adhna, Aithirne, Amhnas, Fearghus File son of Aithirne, Neara son of Fionncholl from Siodha, Seadhamus son of Morann, Fearadach Fionn Feachtnach chief author for skill in Ireland, Fitheal, Fearghus File, Ros son of Trichim, and Dubhthach son of Ua Lughair, and it was this last trio who brought the Seanchus to Patrick to be approved and purified.

Now in Pagan times in Ireland no professor of seanchus could rank as an ollamh or author in seanchus who had been known once to falsify historical truth. Moreover, no one could hold the rank of breitheamh who had given a partial judgment; and besides some of them were bound by geasa in the Pagan times. First, when Sean, son of Aighe, delivered a partial judgment, blisters grew on his right cheek, and when he delivered a just judgment they did not grow.

Connla Caoinbhriathrach never delivered an unjust judgment, for he was a virtuous truly upright man according to the light of nature; Seancha son of Cul Claon never gave judgment without having fasted the night before. When Fachtna, his son, delivered an unjust judgment, if it was in the autumn he delivered it, the fruit fell to the ground that night in the country in which he was. But when he delivered a just judgment, the fruit remained in full on the trees; or if in the spring he delivered an unjust judgment, the cattle forsook their young in that country. Morann son of Maon gave no judgment without having the Morann collar round his neck, and when he gave an unjust judgment the collar grew tight round his neck, and when he gave a just judgment the collar stretched out over his shoulders, as we have said above. And so it was with several Pagan authors, they were subject to geasa, preventing them from partiality in history or judgment. From what we have said, the Irish records are to be believed like the records of any other country, seeing that they are borne witness to by the writings of old Pagan authors and by their having been approved by the holy clerics and prelates of the Irish Church.

Laoghaire, son of Niall, convened the Feis of Tara to renew the customs and the laws of Ireland, as the kings who went before him were wont to do at that Feis. Now when the nobles and the ollamhs of Ireland came together in that assembly the high king of Ireland and his party had a separate chief residence, to wit, the Teach Miodhchuarta. Each provincial king in Ireland had also a chief residence, to wit, the king of Munster had the Long Mhuimhneach; now long means house, as the poet says:

Not more inhospitable is Donn Cuan
With a bad house for his people than with a full house;

and hence a village where people dwell is called a longphort, that is, the port or embankment of the houses; and the king of Leinster had the Long Laighneach, and the king of Connaught the Coisir Chonnachtach, and the king of Ulster the Eachrais Uladh. There were besides three other residences at Tara at that time, to wit, Carcair na nGiall, where the hostages or captives of the king were kept. The second was called Realta na bhFileadh, where the brehons and bards of Ireland assembled to fix a tax on those who violated the laws and customs of the country. The third house was called Grianan na nInghean, where the provincial queens dwelt, each of these queens with her female attendants having a separate place in the dwelling. But when the entire assembly sat for the purpose of determining and completing the laws and customs of the country, the great Teach Miodhchuarta was their hall of public debate.

Now they were arranged in that hall in this manner. First the king of Ireland himself sat in his royal chair in the very middle of the hall facing westwards, with the king of Munster to the south of him, for the ends of the house looked east and west, the king of Lenister opposite to him, and the king of Connaught behind him, and the ollamhs of Ireland behind the king of Connaught, and the king of Ulster to the north of him at his right hand, while each king had a party of real nobles of his own province beside him. Here is a pithy account by the seancha of these rules of precedence observed in the hall of Tara:

The Munstermen on the south side,
Without falsehood, without injustice;
And the Leinstermen, sufficient in strength,
Face to face with the high king.

The Connaughtmen behind the king,
To preserve history truly;
The under king of Aruidhe near him
In a special high seat,

On the right of the king of mighty Tara,
Without falsehood, without churlishness,
The Oirghialla, a defence were they,
Without overlapping, without strife.

It was against Laoghaire that the Leinstermen and Criomhthann, son of Eanna, fought the Battle of Ath Dara, wherein Laoghaire was made prisoner by them, and he gave the sun and moon and stars as sureties that he would fulfil his promise not to exact the Boraimhe from them; but he did not fulfil this promise in their regard. However, to avenge this falsehood Laoghaire was soon afterwards killed by a lightning flash at Greallach Dabhaill beside the Lithfe, as the poet says:

Laoghaire, son of Niall, died
Beside Lithfe, green its land,
The elements of God whose guarantee he had violated
Inflicted the fate of death on the king.[487]

Anghus, daughter of Tasach, king of Ui Liathain, was Laoghaire's wife and the mother of Lughaidh, son of Laoghaire, and, unlike Laoghaire, she received the faith from Patrick. Now, on a certain day when Patrick went to visit the queen she bade himself and his company of clerics welcome, and ordered food to be prepared for them; and Lughaidh, son of Laoghaire, her son and heir, set to eating the meal with them greedily, and a portion stuck in his throat which choked him, and he died on the spot. The queen gave a start, and committed the youth to Patrick's protection. Patrick went into an unoccupied house and ordered the child's body to be brought to him, and prayed to God with fervour, and continued thus in constant prayer without food or sleep for three days, and at the close of the third day Michael the Archangel, in the form of a dove, appeared before him in the house in which he was, and he greeted Patrick and said it was God's will that the child be brought back to life through Patrick's intercession. Upon this, as the child lay on his back with his mouth open, the Archangel, who was in the form of a dove, went and put his bill into the child's throat and took out the morsel, and thereupon life came to him at once. And immediately on this the angel became invisible to them, and the child Lughaidh arose. And when the queen heard that the child was alive, she came joyfully to meet Patrick and cast herself on her knees before him, and proceeded to thank him for bringing her son back to life. "O princess," answered he, "it is not I whom thou shouldst thank for thy son, but Michael the Archangel, by whom he was brought back to life." And he told her the story in substance as we have given it. When the queen heard that it was Michael the Archangel who brought back her son to life, she bound herself to give a sheep out of every flock she possessed each year and a portion of every meal she should take during her life to the poor of God in honour of Michael the Archangel; and, moreover, she enjoined this as a custom throughout Ireland on all who received baptism and the Faith from Patrick, whence is the custom of the Michaelmas sheep and the Michael's portion in Ireland ever since.

Oilill Molt, son of Dathi, son of Fiachraidh, son of Eochaidh Muighmheadhon, of the race of Eireamhon, held the sovereignty of Ireland twenty years. Uichtdhealbh, daughter of Aonghus, son of Natfraoch, was the wife of Oilill Molt, and he was called Oilill Molt because of a craving for wether's flesh that his mother Eithne, daughter of Oraidh, felt when she was pregnant with Oilill; and a lady who was with her named Fial, daughter of Eochaidh Seideadh, called him by the name of Oilill Molt after he was born. It was in the reign of Oilill that Amhalghuidh, son of Fiachraidh, son of Eochaidh Muighmheadhon, who was king of Connaught twenty years, died, and there died also Muireadhach Muindearg, son of Feargna, son of Dallan, son of Dubhthach, son of Mianach, son of Lughaidh, son of Aonghus Fionn, son of Fearghus Duibhdheadach, son of Iomchaidh, son of Fionnchaidh, son of Oghamhal, son of Fiatach Fionn, a quo Dal bhFiatach, who was twelve years king of Ulster.

Previous Next