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A Text Book of Irish Literature

A Text Book of Irish



Author of "Pagan Ireland," "Early Christian Ireland," etc.








Chap. I. The Early Mythology.
II. The Red Branch Tales.

III. The Tain bo Cuailnge : Its Mythology.

IV. The Tain bo Cuailnge : Its Literary Form.
V. Introductory Tales to the Tain.

VI. Tales Subsequent to the Tain.

VII. The Love Tales.

VIII. The Three Sorrows of Story-telling.

IX. Literary Summary of the Prose Romances.

X. Legends of the Kings.

XI. The Literature of Vision.

XII. Early Ecclesiastical Writings.

XIII. The Official Poets.

XIV. The Bards.

XV. Poetry of Nature.
Appendix The Old Books.



THIS text-book of Irish Literature, which has been
prepared at short notice to meet the requirements of
the students under the Intermediate Board, takes in,
generally, the period up to the early years of the sixteenth
century. There are. however, some portions of the
Literature which would fall chronologically under that
period that it has been found impossible to deal with
here. For a great part of the early literature no
chronological order can, for the present, at all events,
be followed. The earlier existing secular material
comes to us for the most part gathered into great vellum
compilations made by the assiduity of the scribes of the
twelfth and following centuries ; but the contents of
these volumes are of various ages ; and the actual date
of the composition of any particular piece can only be
approximately calculated either by casual allusions
contained in it to persons or events whose dates can be
verified from other sources, or by the language of the
piece itself. Often such calculations can only be fixed
within the wide limits of three or more centuries.

It has on this account been thought more satisfactory
to group the material under general heads even when
this does not indicate the precise chronological order of
composition. By this means the student can more
readily find any particular piece he may be in search of
under its own subject ; and a chronological table has
been added to help him as to dates, so far as these are
known. The chronology applies chiefly to the poets
and poetry and to the religious and historical materials


whose dates are to a large extent fixed ; the names and
dates of the story-tellers who helped to create and shape
the great mass of the romance literature must remain
for ever unknown.

The method that has been adopted has necessitated
the exclusion from this volume of some material which
actually comes to us from before the sixteenth century,
and which ought therefore, on chronological grounds,
to be found here. The Annals, the Ossianic Literature,
and the Classical tales, for example, many of which
might appropriately take their place in this volume,
have had to be postponed for a second part.

I have thought it inadvisable, in a text-book of small
size, to give a large number of footnotes and references ;
but I hope to compensate for this by adding a biblio-
graphy to the second volume, covering the material
dealt with in both Parts, so far as this material has
been already published.

I have to thank my friends, Mr. Alfred Nutt for kindly
reading through the proofs of the Prose Section, and
Dr. Douglas Hyde for looking over the chapters on the
Poetry ; also my cousin, Mr. J. D. Hendley, for help in


(The dates given are those of the deaths of the poets

GROUP I. Group of semi-mythical poets connected
with the traditions of the Milesian settlers in Ireland.
These are AMERGIN GLUNGEL, " White Knee," author
of three poems or incantations preserved in the Leabhar
Gabhala, or Book of Invasions. He is said to have been
son of Golamh or Milesius and brother to the three
Milesian princes, Heber, Heremon, and Ir.

LUGAIDH, son of Ith and nephew of Milesius. Lament

on the death of his wife.
OLLAMH FODHLA, law-giver and monarch of Ireland,

and reputed founder of a College for Law and

ROIGNE, or Royne the Poetic. Poem on the partition

of Ireland among the sons of Milesius.

GROUP II. Poets chiefly connected with Ulster during
the time of its power in the first century.

ADHNA, chief poet, father of Neidhe.

ATHAIRNE. He belonged to Benn Edair or Howth,
but fled into Ulster when the poets were pro-
scribed. Of his cruelty and avarice many
stories are told, and his tragic death forms the
subject of a separate tale.

FORCHERN. His work is unknown.

FERCEIRTNE. To him are ascribed the composition
of the Uraicept or primer of the learned, a


teaching book for the schools of the poets ; and
a poem on Ollamh Fodhla. It was between
Ferceirtne and the young poet NEIDHE that
the famous contest called the " Dialogue of
the Two Sages" took place for the appoint-
ment to the office of Chief Poet on the death
of Adhna.
MORANN. A law-giver and judge.

GROUP III. About the year 266 died King Cormac
mac Airt of Tara, about the time of whose reign
nourished Fionn mac Cumhaill, Oisin, Oscur, Caoilte,
and Fergus finbel, warriors and poets under whose
names a large quantity of prose and verse continued to
be composed for several centuries. Fionn was son-in-law
to Cormac by his marriage with Grainne ; and Oisin
and Fergus finbel were sons of Fionn ; Oscur was his

TORNA, called, like many other poets, by the official
title of Eigeas or the " Learned," was poet and
fosterer to Niall of the Nine Hostages (d. 423).
To him are ascribed three poems written to
mediate between Niall himself and Core,
Prince of Cashel, in Munster. The ascription
is doubtful. These poems are prefixed to
those written by the bards of the seventeenth
century in the poetic contest known as the
" Contention of the Bards."

GROUP IV. Writers of the Early Christian Period.
In the reign of Laeghaire, or Laery (c. 450) three
princes, three poets, and three law-givers or Brehons
were appointed to revise and compile the Laws of


Ireland. The bishops engaged in the task were St.
Patrick, St. Benen. and St. Cairnech ; the poets, Dubh-
tach, Rossa, and Fergus ; and the princes, Laery him-
self, Core, King of Munster, and Daire, King of Ulster.

d. 461. ST. PATRICK. He wrote the Confession, the
Epistle to Coroticus, and the Hymn called the
Lorica or Breastplate of St. Patrick.
ST. SECUNDINUS, or Sechnall, nephew to St.
Patrick, wrote a Hymn to St. Patrick and (?)
a Communion Hymn.

467-8. ST. BENEN, Bishop of Armagh. To him are
ascribed parts of the Book of Rights, but the
ascription is doubtful.

499. ST. CAILIN, Bishop of Down. A book bearing

his name contains prophecies and poems
addressed to the heads of several tribes
regarding their race and the tributes due to
himself from them. Doubtful.

500. ST. FIACC, Bishop of Sletty. Poem on St.

Patrick ascribed to him.
525. ST. BRIGIT, Abbess of Kildare. A hymn is

ascribed to her.

570. ST. ITA. Poem on the Infant Jesus.
597. ST. COLUMCILLE, Abbot of Hi or lona. A large

number of hymns and poems in Latin and

Irish are ascribed to him.
596. DALLAN FORGAILL, or Eochadh Dalian. Wrote

the Amra in praise of St. Columcille and odes

to Aodh mac Duach on his shield and weapons,
b. 543. ST. COLUMBANUS. (Date of death uncertain.)

Latin poems on various subjects.


647. SENCHAN TORPEIST of Connaught. Lament
over the dead body of Dalian, his predecessor ;
poem on the battles of Fergus. To him is
ascribed the recovery of the tale called the Tain
bo Cuatlnge. Contemporary with Guaire of
Connaught and Senchan Torpeist was MARBHAN
the poet, half brother of Guaire, a recluse, who
wrote a poem in praise of woodland scenery.

656. ST. ULTAN. Irish hymn to St. Brigit attributed
to him.

661. ST. CUMMINE fada, " the Tall" Bishop of Clonfert.
Religious poem.

678. CIXNFAELADH the Learned, son of Olioll, or
Ailell. Poems on the Miodhchuarta, or
Banqueting Hall ("mead-hall") of Tara, and
on the travels of Milesius. He revised the
Uraicept, or teaching-book of the Learned.

704. ST. ADAMNAN, Ninth Abbot of Hi or lona.

Works (a) Life of Columcille, (6) Book of the
Holy Places, (c) The Vision of Adamnan bears
his name, but is probably later.
707. ROMAN MAC COLMAIN, the " Homer and Virgil
of Ireland." Song of the Sea.

705. FLANN FIONN, or King Alfrid of Northumbria.

Recalled to his Kingdom 685. Poem on the
beauty and attractions of Ireland.

746. ST. CUCHUIMNE. Hymn in praise of the Virgin.

800. ST. ANGUS the Culdee " Ceile De." Compiled
a Calendar of Saints, or Felire. To him is
ascribed also the poem called Saltair na Rann,
or Psalter of the Verses.

807. The writing of the Book of Armagh was com-
pleted in this year by Ferdomnach the Scribe
(d. 845).


860. SEDULIUS Scotus, or " the Irishman," Abbot of
Kildare, 820, Principal of the Royal School of
Liege. He wrote Latin poems to the Emperor
Lothaire ; also a Dialogue between the rcses
and lilies, and other occasional poems.


876. FOTHADH " of the Canon " or " Law." Odes to
Aedh Finnliath, monarch of Ireland ; he is
called " Fothadh of the Law " because he
secured the passing of an ecclesiastical canon
exempting the clergy from warfare.

884. MAOLMURA OF FATHAN. Historical and genea-
logical poems on (i) the Origin of the Gael,
(2) on the Acts of King Tuathal, or Toole the
Legitimate (reigned 130-160), (3) on the Kings
of Ireland up to Flann Sionna, his contem-
porary monarch (reigned 879-914). He is
called by the Four Masters " a well-taught,
skilful poet and intelligent historian."

908. CORMAC MAC CUILEANAN, King and Abbot of
Cashel. He was killed in the battle of Bealach
Mughna (Ballymoon, Co. Kildare), fought
against Flann Sionna, monarch of Ireland.
To him are ascribed (a) A Glossary of old and
rare words, known as Cormac's Glossary (Sanas
Cortnaic) ; (b) The Compilation of the Saltair
Chaisil, or Psalter of Cashel ; (c) Poems. The
Annals called Chronicum Scotorum describe
Cormac as "a most excellent bishop, scribe
and anchorite, and the wisest of the Gael."

919. QUEEN GORMFLAITH, or Gormliath, d. of Flann
Sionna and wife of Cormac mac Cuileanan.


She was afterwards married to his enemy,
King Cearbhal, or Karval, of Leinster, and to
Niall Glundubh, who became monarch of
Ireland in 914. In her old age she fell from
her high estate, and was forced to " beg her
bread from door to door." She wrote many
" learned and pitiful ditties " on the death of
her son, which seem to be lost, but a poem on
her second husband, Cearbhal, and a touching
appeal after his death to Niall Glendubh, are

918. FLANN MAC LONAIN, poet to the O'Brien family,
and predecessor of Mac Liag as chief poet of
Munster. He was a native of South Connaught
and lived during the lifetime of Lorcan, the
grandfather, and Cenneide, or Kennedy, the
father of Brian Boru, at their palace of Kincora,
near Killaloe, on the Shannon. He is called
by the Four Masters the " Virgil of the race of
Scotia." He was killed by the Decies of
Munster. His death is twice recorded by
them under the years 891 and 918. The latter
date (or a still later one) is probably correct, as
one of his poems is an Elegy on the death of a
Prince of Tirconnell who died in 902. He was
still living when Mac Liag was poet to the
O'Kellys as a young man. Among Mac
Lonain's remaining poems are (i) Two in praise
of Lorcan, his patron, King of W. Munster ;
(2) a poem on Kincora (Ceann-Coradh, or the
" head of the weir ") ; (3) a poem on the topo-
graphy of the Clare Hills addressed to Mac
Liag. He wrote in a romantic and allegorical


946. CORMACAN, or Cormac, son of Maelbrigid, chief
poet to Muirchertach, or Murtough, son of Niall
Glundubh (" Black-knee ") of Ulster. Poem
describing the " Circuit of Ireland " made by
that monarch, from which he gained the title
of " Murtough of the Leather Cloaks."

graphical poems preserved in the Dindsenchns
on " Rath Essa " in Meath ; on " the Hill of
Acaill," or the Hill of Screen in Meath ; on
" Brugh mac-an-Oig " on the Boyne ; on the
" Origin of Tara," on places called after cele-
brated women, etc. (b) Historical poems on
the deaths of Irish kings and warriors ; on
the origin of the stone called the " Pillow of
St. Buite " at Monasterboice in Meath ; on
the death of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

984. EOCHAEDH FLOINN, or O'FLYNN. Chiefly chrono-
logical poems on the legendary colonizations
of Ireland, most of them of great length and
tediousness. (i) Poem on the Invasion of
Partholan ; (2) on the coming of Cessair and
Partholan ; (3) on the division of Ireland be-
tween the four sons of Partholan ; (4) on
Partholan's druids and artizans ; (5) on the
destruction of Conaing's Tower (Tory Island,
Co. Donegal) ; (6) on the time which elapsed
between the creation of Adam and the coming
of Cessair, Partholan and Nemedh. This
poem has a gloss between the lines. (7) On the
Invasion of the Tuatha De Danann ; (8) on
the sons of Milesius ; (9) on the partition of
the Island between the two princes ; (10) on the


Invasion of the Milesians ; (n) on the building
of the Palace of Emain Macha ; (12) on the
Kings of Ulster ; (13) on Ugaine Mor, monarch
of Ireland ; (14) on the Creation, the Deluge,
and the settlement in Egypt of Niul, son of
Fenius Farsaidh. Many of Eochaidh's poems
are incorporated into the Leabhar Gabhdla, or
" Book of Invasions."

1015. MAC LIAG, Chief Poet and Secretary to Brian
Boru. His real name seems to have been
Muirchertach, or Murtough mac Choncher-
taigh, and he belonged to the Corann country
of Mayo and Sligo. He was first attached to
the family of the O'Kellys of Hy Maine, on the
Shannon, and several of his poems are addressed
to them, but he eventually succeeded Flann
mac Lonain as poet to the O' Brians at Kincora.
Both historical pieces and poems are ascribed
to Mac Liag, but several of the ascriptions are
doubtful. Of the historical works (a) it is
likely that a good part of the " Wars of the
Gall and Gael," or " Wars of the Foreigners
and Irish," may be by his hand. O'Reilly
also thinks that he wrote the Leabhar Oiris, or
Annals of the Wars and Battles of Ireland, but
this seems to be rather later. A life of King
Brian is said to have been written by him, but
if this was the case it is now unknown. Of
his poems (b) several are extant. (i) On the
Sons of Cas, from whom are descended the
Dal Cais of Thomond ; (2) on Brian and his
brothers, sons of Kennedy ; (3) on the Fall of
Brian at Clontarf and the desolation of Kincora,


beginning " O Kincora, where is Brian ? "
(4) poem on the Battle of Clontarf, the account
of which was brought to him by Mac Coise.
It is in the form of a dialogue between the two
poets, beginning " From the East has come the
news of Brian's fall." (5) Accounts of the
Tributes (Boromha) received by Brian at
Kincora and from which he took his title ; (6)
Lament on the fall of Kincora, written from
Innse Gaill Duibh, the Island of the Black
Foreigners, in the Shannon, after his retire-
ment to that place. Other poems are (7) on
the history of Carn Conaill ; (8) two poems in
praise of Tadhg 0' Kelly ; (9) on the death of
Tadhg O' Kelly at Clontarf. Some of these
poems to the O'Kellys must have been written
in Mac Liag's early days. They are preserved
in the Leabhar Ui Maine, or Book of the

1023. URARD, or ERARD MAC COISE, Chief Poet to
Maelseachlann II. (called Malachy II.), the
monarch of Ireland who was deposed by Brian.
He was present among Maelseachlann' s hosts
at Clontarf and brought the account of the
battle to Mac Liag at Kincora. He wrote
several good poems (i) in praise of the monarch
who was his patron and some of his contem-
poraries ; (2) dialogue with Mac Liag about
Clontarf and the fallen princes ; (3) in praise
of a son of Tadhg of the Tower, King of Con-
naught ; (4) on the death of Fergal O'Ruaire,
or O'Rorke, who was killed in East Meath in
964 ; a curious prose piece, in which he describes


under the form of an allegory the destruction
of his castle at Clartha (Co. Westraeath) by
the O'Neills of Ulster, and demands redress.
This piece he recited before Donnell O'Neill
at Aileach in Donegal and gained his purpose
in obtaining restitution for his losses. Mac
Coise died at Clonmacnois.

1016. (?) MAC GIOLLA CAOIMH, or Keeffe, a Munster poet
who wrote poems in lamentation after the
death of Brian and on the deserted condition
of the palaces of the South of Ireland. Date
of death uncertain.

1024. CUAN O'LocHAiN, appointed joint Regent of
Ireland with Corcran Cleireach, or the " Cleric "
of Lismore, after the death of Maelseachlann in
1022. He did not long survive to enjoy this
dignity, for he was slain by the men of Teabhtha,
or Teffia, two years afterwards (1024), an act
which brought that tribe into great disrepute.
The interregnum lasted eighteen years after
his death, during part of which time Corcran
continued to act as Regent.

In the Annals of Clonmacnois Cuan is said to
have been a great chronicler, and one to whom,
on account of his capabilities, the causes of
Ireland were committed to be examined and
ordered. The O'Lochains, or O'Lothchains,
were a distinguished family of Meath with
whom also the O'Garas and O' Haras of Sligo
are connected. His extant poems are (i)
Poem on Tara in the reign of Cormac mac Airt
(d. 266) ; (2) on the Prerogatives and Prohibi-
tions of the monarchs of Erin ; (3) Topo-


graphical Poem on the Shannon ; (4) on the
history of the hill of Druim Criaich (Drumcree,
in Co. Westmeath) ; (5) in praise of Tara under
Niall of the Nine Hostages ; (6) on the Hill of
Taillte (Teltown, in Meath), and the assem-
blies and sports celebrated there.

1038. MAEL-!SU, grandson of Brolcan of Deny. The
real name of the author of the short and sweet
religious poems ascribed to " Mael-Isu " is
unknown ; his adopted name means " Servant
of Jesus," or literally, " Tonsured of Jesus."

1056. FLANN MAINISTREACH, or Flann of the Monastery.
Fear-leighinn, or Principal of the School of
Monasterboice (Mainister-Buite, or Monastery
of St. Buite), in Co. Louth. Compiler of
synchronisms and historical poems (i) on the
burial-places of the Tuatha De Danann ; (2)
on the deaths of the Pagan Kings of Tara ;
(3) the same, on the Christian Kings ; (4) on
the names of the persons who composed the
" Great Bardic Company " in the seventh
century ; (5) on the Christian Kings of Mun-
ster ; (6) on the Kings of Erin descended from
Niall of the Nine Hostages ; (7) two poems on
the origin and history of Aileach, which form
part of the Dindsenchus ; (8) on the household
of St. Patrick ; (9) an abstract of universal
history. These are only some of the com-
positions of this laborious and voluminous

1072. GIOLLA CAOIMHGHIN (Keevin). His poems
are of a similar character to those of Flann
Mainistreach and are also of great length.


They deal with the Christian and Pagan Kings
of Ireland, whose names are given in chrono-
logical order ; the ancestors of the Gaels, etc.
These verses are merely aids to memory com-
posed for the use of the schools.

1088. TIGHERNACH, the Annalist, Abbot of Clonmac-
nois and Roscommon. A learned and widely-
read man, as is shown by the numerous and
careful citations from foreign authors found
in his works. His Annals are the earliest
historical compilations that have come down
to us in Ireland. They are in mixed Latin
and Irish, like many of the compilations and
notes of Irish ecclesiastics, and include the
period from the earliest times to his own date.
They were continued by Augustin M'Grath to
the year 1405.

1 100. In this year the compilation called the Leabhar
na h-Uidhre, or Book of the Dun, was completed
at Clonmacnois. See Appendix.

1136. TANAIDHE O'MuLCONAiRE, orO'Mulconry. Poems
on the Firbolg and the Tuatha De Danann.

1143. GIOLLA MODHUDA O'CASSIDY, called Dall Clairi-
neach, Abbot of Ardbraccan, in Meath. Poem
giving a catalogue of the Christian Kings of
Ireland, beginning " Sacred Erin, Isle of Saints,"
368 verses ; and two other poems on similar

1160. GIOLLA-NA-NAOMH O'DuNN, chief bard of
Leinster. Poems (i) on the tribes sprung
from Milesius, 392 verses ; (2) on the tombs of
the Kings of Leinster ; (3) a catalogue of the
Kings of Connaught, and other effusions on
similar subjects.


1160. In this year the compilation of the Book of
Leinster was completed. See Appendix.

1100-1200. The Vision of Mac Conglinne, in the form
in which we have it, appears to date from the
twelfth century or earlier.

O' REGAN, a native of Leinster, was employed by Dermot
mac Morrough, King of Leinster, as his ambassador to
Strongbow and the Norman nobles of S. Wales to solicit
their aid in the recovery of his kingdom. O' Regan
wrote in Irish a history of the Anglo-Norman Invasion
as he himself witnessed it, from the year 1168 to the
Siege of Limerick in 1171.

circa 1224. MUIREADACH O'DALY, called Muireadach
Albanach, or " Murray the Scotchman," poet to
Mac William de Bergo of Connaught. In 1213
he killed O'Donnell's steward and fled to Scot-
land, where he became chief poet to the Mac
Donalds of Clanranald. He returned to Ireland
in his old age and died a monk in the Monastery
of Knockmoy. POEMS : (i) two to Cathal
O' Conor of the Red Hand, Prince of Connaught
(1156-1224), one of them written in the Levant ;
(2) poems to Murrough O'Brien and Donough
Cairbreach O'Brien, one of them disclosing his
name and saying that he was just home from
the Mediterranean ; (3) religious poems ; (4)
poetic dialogue with Cathal the Redhanded of
Connaught while they are shaving their heads
before retiring to the Monastery of Cnoc
Muaidhe (" Knockmoy ") built by Cathal. His
original home seems to have been on the shores



of Lake Berryvarra, Co. Westmeath. and he
calls himself O'Daly of Meath to distinguish
himself from O'Daly of Finnyvarra, Co. Clare ;
but he was living at Lisadill, Co. Sligo, when
O'Donnell's steward came to collect his cess or
tribute. In his old age he wrote some very
tender religious poems, several of which are
preserved in the Scottish Book of the Dean of
Lismore. He is styled " Chief Poet of Erin
and Alba."

1244. DONOGH MOR O'DALY. The Four Masters speak
of this writer as " an expert that in the exercise
of the poetic art never has been, nor ever will
be, surpassed." He is undoubtedly the
greatest member of the ua Dalaigh or O'Daly
family, the most important of all the families
of hereditary poets in Ireland. He lived at
Finnyvarra, in Co. Clare, and from him the
O'Dalys of that county are descended. He
died at Boyle, Co. Roscommon, and was buried
in the Norman Abbey there. From this fact,
and also from the devotional character of his
extant poems, a tradition grew up that he was
Abbot of Boyle, but this does not seem sup-
ported by evidence. O'Reilly gives the names
of more than thirty extant poems of his con-
taining over 4,200 lines, and there are others
in the British Museum not known to him.
Many of Donogh's poems are still familiarly
repeated in Ireland.

circa 1200-1260. GIOLLA BRIGHDE MAC CONMIDHE, or
Gilbride mac Namee, an Ulster poet and re-
tainer of the O'Donnells. O'Curry shows that


several poems addressed to the O'Donnells and
O'Neills supposed by O'Reilly to be the work
of Flann Mainistrech are really written by
Mac Namee. (i) Poem on the Battle of Down-
patrick, 1260 ; (2) to Hugh O'Conor, of Rath-
croghan ; (3) to a helmsman in the Levant ;
(4) to Rolfe mac Mahon of Oriel, a vision.
Mac Conmidhe is sometimes styled Giolla
Brighde Albanach from his frequent visits to
Scotland. The date given in O'Reilly (1350)
to this poet is erroneous.

1310. TORNA O'MuLCONAiRE, or Mulconry. Some of
the poems ascribed to Torna Eigeas were
possibly written by this poet. There is also
a poem extant by him on the inauguration of
Felim O'Conor on the hill of Carn Fraoch, in
Co. Roscommon.

1315. TADHG MdR O'HiGGiN. Poem addressed to the
young Manus O'Conor of Connaught.

1350. ANGUS ROE O'DALY of Meath. (i) Two poems
on the erection of a castle on the hill of Carn

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