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ABSTRACT: Traditionally Irish early medieval genealogies were seen as the product of oral tradition, recorded at an early period by monastic writers. This is mistaken. No doubt there was an oral genealogical knowledge, but the genealogical record is modelled on the Old Testament genealogies.

KEYWORDS: genealogy, early medieval Ireland, orality, Old Testament, Isidore of Seville, Lebor Gabála

Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Department of History, University College, Cork

Chronicon 1 (1997) 2: 1-32
ISSN 1393-5259

1. Mr Chairman, Sir, ladies and gentlemen.
I am very honoured to have been invited to give the first Carroll Lecture. Irish history has found in Mr Carroll a singular and munificent benefactor, and in expressing my admiration for what he has done he will be aware that I speak for all who are interested in Irish history and culture. My subject, for the most part, is the genealogical record of early and medieval Ireland. As a historical source genealogy has had an indifferent reception. Léopold Genicot, in his valuable essay on the subject, offers little comfort: `In the middle ages, genealogy was a minor genre. Its products are not numerous and appear to-day of little interest: short, miserly about detail, stereotyped---in sum, incapable, at first sight, of contributing much to history'.1 When Arno Borst came to consider the Irish genealogical materials he wrote querulously of `the proliferating, endlessly complicated and muddled tribal sagas and genealogies' of the early Irish, a people `wrapt in dreams and introverted'---rather like Jakob Burchhardt's pre-Renaissance man, they lay dreaming and half awake.2 I shall try to give reasons why we should modify such judgements about a society whose historiography that expressed itself, to a large extent, in genealogy and dynastic legend. It did, of course, produce the early and detailed medieval annals,3 extensive legal texts4 and copious documentation of other kinds. These have attracted much more attention from scholars than the genealogical material that is, perhaps, more revealing of the way in which early Irish writers perceived themselves and their society.

2. For over a thousand years, from about the seventh to the seventeenth century, Irish learned men devoted much energy to genealogical and historical literature. The very earliest of the surviving genealogical manuscripts is Bodleian Library manuscript, Rawlinson B 502, now firmly identified as the Book of Glendalough.5 It dates from 1130 and has an excellent text of much early genealogical material. The next in point of age is the Book of Leinster, formerly Lebor na Nuachongbála, now preserved in Trinity College, Dublin. It is a twelfth-century manuscript which Mr O'Sullivan very pointedly describes as `the last fling of the learned ecclesiastics of the unreformed Irish church'. It dates from the 1150s and 1160s.6 Two other great medieval codices may be mentioned: the Book of Ballymote, a patron's book which is the work of three scribes---Mac Sithigh, Ó Droma and Ó Duibhgennáin---and the genealogical portion of the book was written in the period 1383-977---and the Book of Lecan, written in the reign of Ruaidri Ua Dubda, king of Uí Fiachrach (d. 1417), by a professional historian, Gilla Ísa Mac Fir Bhisigh and three scribes working under his direction.8 These are, so-to-speak, the high lights. Many more manuscripts lie between these and the last great genealogical collection, Dubaltach Mac Fir Bhisigh's Great Book of Genealogies begun in the College of St Nicholas in Galway in 1650 and completed about 1664. My concern will be with the early period---the seventh to the twelfth centuries.

3. The attention paid to the genealogies in the last two centuries has varied greatly. John O'Donovan devoted much of his scholarly energy to their elucidation and publication9 but others paid them little or no attention. Robert Atkinson, in his list of contents prefaced to the facsimile of the Book of Ballymote, does not bother to list genealogies---`a wilderness of names from which it would be vain to expect any light' is Mac Neill's sardonic comment on his attitude.10 He was not alone. Standish O'Grady almost ignores genealogy in his great catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the British Library.11 Attitudes changed in the early years of this century, fresh scholarly editions began to appear,12 and Eoin Mac Neill,13 Paul Walsh14 and other scholars began to draw on the genealogies as historical sources. The publication of Michael O'Brien's austere edition of the genealogies in Rawlinson B 502 and the Book of Leinster in 1962 marked a new stage and the early texts have begun to get the attention they deserve.15

4. The early corpus is very extensive. The published genealogies of the twelfth century and before contain the names of about 12,000 individuals. But this is not all. If we add the materials in unpublished tracts the total should come to about 20,000. This covers the prehistoric/mythological period, proto-historic times and the historic period proper which begins about AD 550. Well over two-thirds of the individuals named in the corpus are historical. Thus for about 650 years (roughly 21 generations) we have about 12,000 persons whose names, family connections and dynasties are given in the tracts. When we turn to collectives---families, dynasties, names of local communities---the genealogies record about 2,500 names---and this is a conservative estimate. It may be useful to indicate the degree of detail. For the Corcu Modruad (who held something less than 400 square miles of Co Clare, principally the baronies of Corcomroe and Burren) we have the names of some 290 individuals and 94 collectives. For the Ciannachta (divided into three groups, Ciannachta Glinne Gemin, Ciannachta Midi and Ciannachta Breg, and a somewhat unimportant people) there are 100 individuals and 8 lineages. For the Uí Bairrche, an important south Leinster dynasty whose monastic houses included Cell Auxilii, Slébte, Glenn Uissen, Banba Mór, Cell Mo Lappóc and Tech Mo Shacro, 200 individuals and 80 lineages are listed. For the Ciarraige who held something over 700 square miles of territory, principally in the north of Co Kerry, there are about 166 lineages. For the tiny Meath kingdom of Loegaire (about 70 square miles principally in the baronies of Navan, Co Meath) we have the names of 552 individuals (amongst them some abbots of Trim and their wives) and 44 lineages. The record varies enormously from dynasty to dynasty and from time to time, and it varies greatly in quality. However, it does provide an exceptional historical workshop for testing genealogical and other historical hypotheses. This `hard-core' is set in a wider context of origin-legend, saga and derivative literature---a complex area where one genre flows into another.16 There are significant problems of historical criticism.

5. The patrilineal genealogies we encounter in Ireland (and elsewhere in Europe increasingly from the tenth century on)17 are biological records only in a very limited sense of the word. If one counts backwards, ego has 64 ancestors at the sixth generation, 128 at the seventh, 256 at the eighth, 512 at the ninth, 1024 at the tenth. This model shows the maximum number of possible ancestors and assumes that relatives do not intermarry---an impossible assumption of course---but this matters very little because, in a society of any size that practises exogamy, the numbers will be large in any case. The patrilineage also assumes an unprovable descent from males across many generations. The conclusion is inevitable: genealogies of patrilineages are a way of ordering the multifarious socio-political data of a given society and organising its structure---and of necessity they are ideological statements. They can tell us a good deal about a society and how its organisation is perceived by its members but we must remember that society is a spaghetti junction and the record allows us to trace only a few strings. To say, then, that one is proud to be an O'Brien, that is, a descendant of Brian Bóroime who died in 1014, may mean a lot to one: it is hardly a biological statement about attenuated nucleus DNA inherited from the eleventh century.

6. Neither may one take ideas such as `descent', `ancestor', `kin' too narrowly. There really is no conclusive evidence that the makers of the records understood these terms in a narrow biological sense, in a logical positivist way. Contiguity can be expressed in genealogical form. For example, in the twelfth-century genealogies and survey of Corcu Loígde, the eponyms of eight or more small land-owners form an ascending line in the genealogy of the Uí Flaind Arda. Clearly, what at first sight is a genealogy of Uí Flaind Arda is an aetiological construct to explain the relationship between a group of landowners and their overlord and this in a context in which there can be no doubt that the tract preserves a historical record of the land owning families at the time of writing.18 `Descent', `kinship' etc. can be metaphors for other processes: alliance, subjugation of one dynasty by another, dynastic replacement, contiguity, establishment of hierarchy or an order of precedence. There are examples of all these in the Irish genealogical corpus.19 Origins, then, are not simply origins. In the world of early medieval Irish historiography, an origin is the demand the present makes upon the past, not knowledge of the past for its own sake---a much more recent historical pretence. To treat these texts literally as raw data reporting simple historical descent is to blinker oneself and, worse, to patronise as primitives the makers of the historical discourse.

7. There has been a tendency amongst scholars to treat the makers of the text as more or less unthinking antiquarians, backward-looking and resistant to change. In Kelleher's view `it was the same increasingly reverent antiquarianism that preserved the documents through the later centuries, tinkering with them from time to time but not daring to alter them in any essential way, for, except as information, they no longer served any real purpose'.20 Antiquarianism that served `no real purpose' is an unlikely avocation of a professional cadre and the speed with which the genealogical makers of the past responded to political change, and cut their cloth accordingly, supports no argument for an antiquarianism oblivious of their present. Unlike the modern scholars who choose to comment severely on them, the makers of the genealogies were working in real time and in real life, broking in the title-deeds of real power, and making a good living from it. One thing is certain: their record of the past is not unconscious cultural baggage, a burden of the meaningless detritus of half-forgotten myth that only modern scholarship can decode.

8. The makers of the texts were professionals and like similar castes and lineage elders elsewhere constantly re-interpreted the past in the interest of the contemporary socio-political structures and power-holders21---and I hope to provide some examples of this presently. A twelfth-century monastic historian and poet, Gilla in Chomded Ua Cormaic, attached to the monastery of Tulach Léis, comments unusually frankly on the things that upset the genealogical record: four are social happenings, two professional misconduct:

Failet se muid sain mebair
cummaiscit craeb n[séimhiú]genelaig:
totinsma daerchland ic dul
i lloc saerchland re slonnud;

torrchi mogad---mod mebla---
& dibad tigerna;
serg na saerchland---etig uath---
la forbairt na n-athechthuath;

míscribend do gne eolais
do lucht uilc in aneolais;
nó lucht an eolais ní ferr
gníit ar muín miscribend.

`There are six ways of note that confound the branch of genealogy: (1) intrusion of base families taking the place and name of noble families; (2) the expansion of serfs, a shameful thing; (3) and the extinction of lords; (4) the withering away of the noble families, a dreadful horror, with the expansion of vassal folk; (5) mis-writing in the guise of learning by the ignorant of evil intent; (6) or the learned themselves, no whit better, who write what is false for gain'.

9. At this point one may pose the central question: where do the genealogies come from? Are they oral tradition inherited from pagan times and then written down? Did the genealogical tradition remain essentially oral? Is there a constant oral tradition of which the manuscript record is a sampling taken from time to time? The answer will determine our general judgement about the historical value of the texts. Genicot offers a suggestion: genealogies, he says, `were more precocious and more numerous in the Celtic regions and in the entourage of Germanic kings. And the earliest of them manifestly perpetuate the structures, concepts and spirit of these two peoples. It would also be difficult not to see in the genre a product of barbarian "traditions", rather than something derived from Rome, a derivative from the bible or a creation ex nihilo'.23 Dr David Dumville attempts to remain cautiously unaligned, but he tends towards orality: `Yet we know genealogy to have been an orally cultivated profession throughout the Gaelic middle ages. The problem which afflicts the whole study of early Irish literature---that of the varying relationships between the oral and the written---is relevant to our present concern, for the genealogies sit on the border between that which constitutes documentary record and that which is essentially part of the oral culture'.24 The appeal to barbarian spirit and orality is, I think, mistaken. The genealogies are historical sources wholly based on a written tradition, there is no convincing evidence to show that any of these texts are oral materials later committed to writing, and they and related documents were produced and preserved by clerical scholars, often masters of monastic schools.

10. The record preserved in the manuscripts is not identical with the genealogical knowledge (complete or partial) possessed by members of the learned class about their contemporaries at any given time. Neither is it identical with the general genealogical knowledge (one might call it `unlearned' knowledge) possessed by persons, noble and otherwise, about their contemporaries at any given time. Rather, the genealogical record is a work of scholarship, a cultural artifact that forms part of a system much wider than itself. Genealogies are not raw data but socio-cultural instruments devised to serve social ends: title, inheritance, status in church and in secular society.

11. For example, one gathers from the contemporary law tracts that genealogies had legal validity. According to the legal text Urchuillti Bretheman among the characteristics of a bad judge are:

Acht beith cen aichne cen dechsain coimgne na comaimserada na geinelach ceniuil athar & senathar na craobh coibnesta ri & ruirech & epscop & ollaman & aircinnech `But to be ignorant, without inspecting historical records or synchronism or genealogies of the family of father and grandfather or family trees of kings and overkings and bishops and masters and abbots'.25

And one notes here, that genealogies are inspected (déchsain, earlier déicsiu `look at, inspect, examine') as written texts.i.e. looked at i.e. read. And the different types of document mentioned in this list (synchronism, pedigree, family tree of kings and clerics) occur abundantly in the genealogical record that survives in the manuscripts. Occasionally, genealogists tell us explicitly that they consult written documents:

Da mac dec immorru la Bec Bairche .i. Dub da Braine, Dubthach, Eterscel, Aed Roin, Cellach, Conchobar, Oengus: secht meic Conchainne inda rígna in sin. Cu Rui immorru, Cacht ingen Maile Fuataig a mathair side. Cernach dano & Rimid da mac Lethainne insin. Duos autem alios filios habuit ac nomina eorundem non reperi scripta (vl. quorum nomina scripta non repperi).26

`Bécc Bairche had twelve sons i.e. Dub Dá Braine, Dubthach, Eterscél, Áed Rón, Cellach, Conchobar, Óengus (these are the seven sons of Conchenn the queen). Cú Ruí then: Cacht daughter of Máel Fuataich was his mother. Cernach, however, and Rímid were the two sons of Lethann. However, he had two other sons and I do not find their names in writing'.

Bécc Bairche was king of Ulaid. He abdicated in 707 and died in 718. His son Áed Rón was also king of Ulaid and died 735. We can conclude, therefore, that the genealogist was dependent on a written record made in the first half of the eighth century.

12. If the earliest surviving genealogies were oral in origin, one would expect certain characteristics of oral record to occur, notably mnemonic devices that should survive as skeumorphs of oral design. Apparently, these are rare or non-existent. One can take the example of the following text:

Cóic meic Éogain: Do Brio, Anblomath, Echuid Munfota, Fergus, Fochaille.
Corpri mac Echdach Muinfotai.
Fínán mac Cairpri.
Mael Achdaen mac Fínáin.

This belongs to the oldest passages in the genealogies of the Déisi, and important people in the south-east of Ireland. Three things point to the age of the text, two linguistic and a third historical. Do Brio, the rare secular hypocorism of Briön (ancestor of the Uí Briúin of the Déisi) is very likely to be early, and the pre-syncope form Anblomath (ancestor of the Uí Brigte, of the Déisi) certainly is, and should point to a date not much later than the middle of the seventh century. Historically, the Éogan (also called Éogan Brecc is at a nodal point of the segmentation of a leading line of the Déisi into Uí Brigte and Uí Briúin. These latter were extremely powerful in the middle third of the seventh century, and again in the ninth century and after. The lineage recorded above was evidently out of power by c. AD 600 and their last representative, Mael Achdaen, is imagined by the genealogist to have flourished about the middle of the sixth century. It is likely, therefore, that this record is not much later than 600 or thereabouts. If one excludes the first line, the following three lines are structured in chain-form: B son of A, C son of B, D son of C. This could be taken to be a simple mnemonic device. In the case of the first line, the list of five sons can, possibly, be broken into three roughly isosyllabic lines partly linked by alliteration but the opening Cóic meic Éogain points to a straightforward prose record. One is hard put, then, to find possible non-verse examples of oral recitation written down as they might be presumed to be. We have no proof that the few passages like that cited above are oral-formulaic in a significant way, namely, that they represent oral-formulaic procedure recently committed to writing from a continuing oral-formulaic tradition, and not the continuation in writing (because of literary conservatism) over many generations of a form that originally was an oral-formulaic device.

13. There are, of course, early genealogies in verse, notably the older Leinster poetry. Carney has claimed for this poetry a venerable antiquity---some to the `pagan period' which he understands generally to be AD 450 or before.28 This would imply oral composition and oral transmission for perhaps a century or more. There are, however, serious objections to such an early dating. One poem that he sees as dating from c. AD 450, `Nuadu Necht ní dámair anfhlaith',29 has evident signs of literate scholarship---including reference to five passes in the Western Alps (§28), which may derive ultimately from Varro, and at least two learned borrowings (orddaigsius from Latin ordo and bar from Aramaic bar `son'). This should place it firmly in a Latin literate context. Two other poems, the short `Eochu, art ara-chridethar cathroí',30 and the lengthy `Énna, Labraid, lúad cáich'31 are again dated by Carney to the mid-fifth century. The first is an encomium of Eochu son of Énna Cennselach (the eponym of Uí Chennselaig) and the second is a versified pedigree of énna Cennselach. These poems are more likely to belong to the early years of the seventh century when the descendants of énna Cennselach were kings of Leinster. Two other pieces, equally dated by Carney to the mid-fifth century, are superficially pagan but betray, to my mind, christian concepts of the deity and the afterlife. `Móen óen ó ba nóed',32 has as its final stanza:

Ór ós gréin/ gelmair/ gabais for doíne domnaib/ sceo dee/ dia oín/ as Móen mac Áine/ oínrí

`Gold more shining than the bright sun, there seized the lands of humans and of gods the one god who is Moín, son of Áine, the one king'.

14. This is the language of christian monotheism applied in retrospect to an imagined pagan world, and is in no sense a pagan survival. The first stanza of `Mál ad-rúalaid íathu marb'33 reads:

Mál ad-rualaid/ íathu marb/
macc soír/ Sétne
selaig sratha/ Fomaire/
fo doíne/ domnaib

`A prince who went to the land of the dead, the noble son of Sétne, struck the meadow-lands of the Fomoire beneath the worlds of men'

Here, too, is a learned and non-traditional concept of the Otherworld that can scarcely derive from oral pre-christian tradition.34

15. In the case of the early surviving genealogies there is a significant relationship between the age of the text and the amount of Latin in it: the older the text the more Latin. Take the following text on the descendants and relationships of the druid Mug Ruith, ancestor of Fir Maige Féne in the genealogical schema and associate of Simon Magus in some genealogical texts.35


Mathair da macc Moga Ruith & mathair Cairpri Lifeachair da fier de Chorco Bardene o Dun Cermnai. Is airi do-llotar Marthene co Dal Moga Ruith. Gabsat orbba leo.
Der Draigen mathair da mac Moga Ruith.
Tri meic Buen meic Laegaire Birn: Mo-Corb, Druida, Cailte, tri meic sethar Moga Ruith & tri daltai ...
Sunt qui dicunt Mug Ruith & Delbaeth da mac Roddae Roth meic Lucci meic Cuirccni quorum tertius Maug Rib ut alii dicunt.
Maug Manach mac Fir Ailche meic Buen meic Moga Ruith, non ut alii mac Glaschaich meic Buen.
Dron ingen Lariene de hErnaib cetmunter Moga Ruith mathair Buen & Fhir Corb.
Aemne ingen Oengusa Tirich ben Forgo meic Buen. Hinc rogab a cenel tir lea mathre. Is de Dal Moga Ruith i crich na nDesa Tuaiscirt.
Cerb ingen Chontim siur Causain ben Chiara mathair .iiii. macc do Chiara .i. Me-Chon, Aemrit, Áine, Coindiu.
Mo Chatu Rathin do indarbu de urbe36 Lis Moir do Faelbricc. Faelbec aue Cuirithir da mac Beonaisci hoc indicauit. Sunt qui dicu[n]t Mug Ruith & Delbaeth.

THE DESCENDANTS OF MUG ROITH. The mother of the two sons of Mug Ruith and the mother of Cairpre Lifechair were two sisters of Corcu Bardéne from Dún Cermnae. That is why the Mairtine went to the descendants of Mug Ruith. They took an inheritance amongst them.
Der Draigin was the mother of the two sons of Mug Ruith.
The three sons of Buan son of Lóegaire Bern: Mo Corb, Druida, Cailte, three sons of the sister of Mug Ruith and his three foster-sons. ...
There are those who say that Mug Ruith and Delbaeth were two sons of Roddae (?) Roth son of Lucci son of Cuirccne of whom a third was Maug Ríb as others say.
Maug Manach son of Fer Ailche son of Buan son of Mug Ruith, not as other [say] son of Glaschach son of Buan.
Dron daughter of Láréne of the Érainn was the principal spouse of Mug Ruith, mother of Buan and Fer Corb.
Aemne daughter of Óengus Tírech was wife of Forgo son of Buan. Hence they took land in right of mother-kin. Hence Dál Moga Ruith in the territory of the Déis Tuaiscirt.
Cerb daughter of Contim and sister of Causán was wife of Ciara, mother of the four sons of Ciara i.e. Me Chon, Aimrit, Áine, Coindiu.
Mo Chatu of Raithen was expelled from the monastery of Lismore by Fáelbrecc. Fáelbrecc grandson of Cuirithir revealed this to the son of Beonasc. There are those who say [it was?] Mug Ruith and Delbaeth.

16. This is an extremely complex text and only some aspects of it can be addressed here. Mo Chatu died in 637, shortly after the foundation of Lismore. This gives us a terminus post quem. The earliest dated personages amongst Dál Moga Ruith (or Fir Maige Féne) are three kings of the branch known as Uí Chúscraid who descend, in the genealogical schema, from Fer Ailche son of Buan, mentioned above. These are Cáelchíne (d. 631), his sons Cuanu (d. 646) and Cumscrad (fl. 678 x 683). Some linguistic features indicate that the text is early38 and there are historical grounds that support that judgement. Peoples like Mairtine, Érainn and Corcu Bardéne had become quite unimportant by the eighth century or earlier. Fáelbrecc who belongs to Uí Chausáin is represented as the person who outraged Mo Chatu---a convenient way to damn a rival line, and this will indicate a period when their rivals, Uí Chúscraid, had come to power. The origin proposed from the Ciarraige is unusual. They are made to descend from four sons of Ciara (the eponym) and of woman of the Fir Maige Féne viz. Me Chon, Aimrit, Áine and Coindiu and the implication is that the segments Uí Me Chon, Uí Aimrit, Uí Áine and Uí Choinden descend from these. However, the genealogies of the Ciarraige are quite differently arranged and by the period 678 x 683 the Uí Ferbba in the person of Rechtabra mac Maíle Tuile were dominant in Ciarraige and remained so. Therefore one would expect Ferbb (in the Ciarraige genealogies he is son of Imchad son of Aimrit) amongst the lineage ancestors. His absence will indicate that the text was produced before the rise to power of Uí Ferbba and will suggest a terminus ante quem of the last quarter of the seventh century, and the text probably belongs to the middle third of the seventh century.

17. It was written by a person who had received scholarly training in Latin and in Old Irish in the ecclesiastical schools. One notes the scholastic nature of the text---`ut alii dicunt', `non ut alii'. This type of discourse is common in the genealogies: `ut alii, ut alii dicunt (putant, aiunt), sunt qui dicunt, secundum quosdam, imperiti dicunt' occur frequently and are borrowed from the standard techniques of disputation in Latin scholarship. The mixture of Latin and Irish and the extreme conciseness are characteristic. This text comes from a scholarly and literary ecclesiastical milieu in which Irish history and poetry were cultivated. Moreover, it is a professional document, to be read within the scholarly circle, an organisation's internal memorandum, and something altogether different from what would be offered for public consumption, as royal encomium for example.

18. The next two texts I cite have even closer links with the church; each records the early genealogy of a saint and monastic founder.

Airtgen & Boindia da mac Airt meic Cuinn quos genuit per ebrietatem de filia sua quorum unus proiectus est i mBoinn & alter a subulco eius proiectus ad lupum sed ut morientur. lechsini (?) hoc factum est. .ii. familie Corco Artgein uenerunt o Gabar Liphi de Ualle Ailgedan ex quibus una i nAird Fedig, altera i rRos Tuaiscirt; tertia familia i nAird Corco Artgein cui praefuit Amniuc drui a quibus Barrfind mac Amargein.39

`Artgen and Boindia were two sons of Art son of Conn whom he fathered through drunkenness on his own daughter. One of them was cast into the Boyne and the other was thrown to the wolf by his swineherd. ... this was done. Two families of Corcu Artgein came from Gabar Liphi from Vallis Ailgedan of whom one settled in Ard Fedig, another in Ros Tuaiscirt. A third family settled in Ard Corco Artgein of whom Amniuc the druid was head. From these Barrfind son of Amargein is descended'.

Barrfind mac Amargein is none other than St Finnbarr, the founder and patron saint of the monastery of Cork. Over time, Finnbarr was fitted out with several different genealogies, each reflecting changing historical circumstances and associations.40 This, which links him with Corco Artgein and ultimately with the Uí Néill, is I think, the earliest we have. Evidently, this piece of genealogical material remained in the files (perhaps at his principal foundation, Cork), for the motif of the two sons born of incest reappears in the twelfth-century Life of St Finnbarr, as does the information that his father's name was Amargein.41

19. The second is a genealogical snippet that deals with a saint from the same region.

Rothrige .i. Eochaid Rothan mac Moga Nuadat & Oengus Catta da brathair; dia ceniul Mac Lenini & Mac Duinich hi Fer[aib] Cherda de Araib Cliach42

`Rothrige: Eochaid Rothán son of Mug Nuadat and Óengus Catta were two brothers. Of their race is Mac Léníni and Mac Duinich in Fir Cherda [or Cerdrige] in Ára Cliach'.

St Colmán (d. 604) mac Léiníne was a poet (several fragments of his poetry survive) who became a monk and a great church founder---his most important monastery was Cloyne, a centre amongst other things of the study of Irish law.43 This genealogy shows him in transition from the obscure Rothrige to being affiliated to the preeminent dynastic group in Munster---the Eoganacht. In the later saints' genealogies he is represented as being descended through seven generations from Mug Nuadat, ancestor of the Eoganacht.44 The early historico-genealogical text known as `Conall Corc and the Corcu Loígde', and dated to c. AD 700 has a good deal to say of Colmán's role amongst the Eoganacht.45

Coirpri mac Crimthain do-bert Cluain hUama do Dia & do Cholman mac Colcen qui et Mac Lenine & Aired Cechtraige & Cell Naile. Inde regnum mundi meuerunt

`Coirpre mac Crimthainn it was who gave Cloyne to God and to Colman mac Colcon who is also called Mac Lénéne and Aired Cechtraige [parish of Erry, barony of Middlethird, diocese of Cashel] and Cell Náile [parish of Killenaule, barony of Ardagh, diocese of Cashel]. Because of this they [the Eoganacht Glendamnach] are entitled to secular rule.

20. The Coirpre mac Crimthainn who endowed Colmán, also known as Coirpre Cromm mac Crimthainn Sreim, was king of Munster and belonged to the lineage of Eoganacht Glendamnach and died according to the annals in 579/80. Cenél Fiachnai, the descendants of Coipre's brother are deprived of lordship because of their ill-treatment of Colmán mac Léníne:

Máel hUmai gabais laim Cholmain meic Léneni a Maethalaig & hac causa cum fratribus priuatar regno `Máel Umai expelled Colmán mac Léníne from Maethalach and on that account he and his brothers are deprieved of rule'.

This text, which associates Colmán closely with the Eoganacht kingship of Cashel and records land-grants to Cloyne within that kingdom and the patronage of the dominant lineage in the royal dynasty is dated on linguistic and historical grounds to AD 700 or a little before.46 It is possible that the genealogical snippet under discussion is somewhat earlier since Colmán retains his older and humbler association with the Rothrige. Both are likely to have been preserved in a monastery founded by Colmán, perhaps Cloyne, and `Conall Corc and the Corco Luigde' may have been written, or at least edited, in its scriptorium in the later seventh century.

21. Another genealogical text is linked with a known circle of distinguished seventh-century scholars.

Ceat mac Aililla meic Matach alta Deaghad mac Sin. Do-bert Ailill do Deghad la Ceat o Fig Cedmaissi fo-deas co Luimnech. Fir Bolg robadar fair. Ro-s-cart Deagad de co mbatar ic Sleib Smoil i tirib Laigen. & do-lotar siar iterum & is dib Crecraigi & Earcraige & Sen-Cineoil Corca M'Druag in Indais & Sen-Cineoil hi crich Ua Maine. A tir so do-allath de ?is creapthoir? & do Feraib [Bolg] acht is dia fein rug breath fair. Is de fig (vl. fechta) cath Boirind eter Deagad & Fir Bolg & Maca Magach do Laighnibh timceall ar muir bothuaig co ngabsat aniar a Maig Glae. Is de fig cath nGlae. Is de Ath Laigen & meabaig for Feraib Bolg. Is de do-cear Aengus mac Umoir ri Fer mBolc & fechta Cath Cairnn Fearadaig. Hinc Bicgu abb sruithe Cluana meic Nois prespiter & scriba sanctus senex audtor (vl. auditor) Mo Laigi (vl. Mo Luggae) meic Buith Bannaig & Marcan (vl. Marcain) screabtra totharraith.

CONCERNING THE LEGENDS OF THE CONNACHTA OF MUNSTER. Cett son of Ailill mac Mátach fostered Dedad mac Sin. Ailill granted to Dedad, with Cett, the land from Fid Cedmaissi southwards to Limerick. Dedad cleared them out of it and they were at Slíab Smóil in the lands of the Leinstermen. And they returned westwards again and from them descend Creccraige and Ercraige and Sen-Chineóil of Corcu Modruad Ninussa and Sen-Chineóil in the territory of Uí Maine. This land was taken from ... and from Fir Bolg but he awarded it to himself. It was on that account that the battle of Bairenn was fought between Dedad and Fir Bolg and the sons of Mágu who came from Leinster around northwards by sea and they came from the west into Mag Glae. On that account the battle of Glae was fought. Hence Áth Laigen [is so called] and Fir Bolg were defeated. It is because of that that Óengus mac Úmóir, king of Fir Bolg, fell and the battle of Carn Feradaig was fought. Hence [descend] Bicgu abbot of the seniors of Clonmacnoise, priest, scribe, saintly senior, teacher of Laidcend mac Buíth Bannaig and of Marcán who comprehended scriptures.

22. Laidcend (Laidggnen sapiens) mac Buith Bannaig of Clonfertmulloe was a distinguished scholar who died in 661 and the author of Egloga de Moralibus in Job and Lorica Gildae.48 There are several possible emendations of the text that would bring it more closely into the circle of biblical and legal scholars of which Laidcend was a member but these will not be discussed here because what is explicit in the document as it stands is sufficient for our purposes in that it shows that, in the seventh century, the worlds of genealogy and tribal legend on the one hand and christian Latin scholarship on the other were closely associated. This circle of scholars became acquainted from c. 650 with the works of Isidore of Seville. Michael Herren has argued cogently that Laidcend's poem, known as Lorica Gildae, has direct evidence of Isidorian influence. This acquaintance with Isidore was to have a profound influence on the turn the Irish genealogical learning now took. The Irish adopted the Isidorian schema of the origins of the races of the descent of the European peoples from Japhet, and incorporated it into the higher levels of their genealogies.

23. The Irish did not get the idea of being descended from Japhet son of Noah from Orosius (i 2): he does not know about this.49 It was Isidore who made the great equation Japhet = Europe = christendom, and set it on its triumphant way as an explanation of the races. He made the Galli descend with the Galates from Gomer son of Japhet, the Goths with the Scythians from Magog---two modernisations of ideas that had been around for a long time.50 `For Isidore, the division of humanity into races and languages is a matter of nature and history; it is part of being human; it is ordained and ordered by God; but it has no religious significance and none in the hereafter'.51 Isidore's listings of the races of the world in Books IX and XIV also provided a model and a stimulus for the Irish. If a great christian scholar could devote his attention to such matters on the macro-scale, so could the Irish christian scholar on the micro-scale. Here is the justification for the elaboration of the histories of the different political groups and kingdoms amongst the Irish and, after the model of Isidore, the need to link them together as a single people of God. These ideas supplemented the clerics' practical need to know, to establish the church's title deeds and the dignity of its saints in a lineage society where its own church lineages (most often discards of the great dynasties) were major property holders.52

24. The earliest working out of the Isidorian schema is to be found in the higher genealogical reaches of two historical poems on the Leinster dynasties, already referred to: (i) `Nuadu Necht ní dámair anfhlaith' and (ii) Énna, Labraid, lúad cáich'. These parts of the poems deal with the ascent of the Leinstermen from the common ancestor, to an ancestor of all the Irish (Míl of Spain) and thence to Japhet, Noah and Adam. While most of the fifty or so names in the line of ascent are common to both poems, there are some important differences---they do not agree about the name of the son of Gomer, son of Japhet, from whom the Irish descend; one has Gáedel Glas (eponymous ancestor of the Goídil `the Irish'), the other not; the one knows nothing of Fóenius Farsaid and Nél, two important figures in the subsequent development of the origin-legend. These are very unlikely to be the work of a single author. Rather, they represent variants of a broad historical construct in the making in the monastic schools, in the late seventh century. One of the nodal characters in this legend is Míl of Spain, a transparent literary invention (= Miles Hispaniae, `Soldier of Spain'). It was believed that the Irish discovered Ireland from Brigantia in Spain. As Rolf Baumgarten has recently shown, the source of this legend is a reading of Orosius (I ii 71 and 80) in the light of Isidore (Etymologiae XIV vi 6).53 There is a further connection with Isidore in `Énna, Labaraid, lúad cáich', §§41-50, where a `Table of the peoples' is inserted into the genealogies between Japhet and Noah. There has been some scholarly argument about this, but this table is mostly drawn from Isidore's description of the world (Book XIV) and his explanation of the biblical list of peoples in Book IX is also drawn upon.

25. From these beginnings a noteworthy and broadly based scholarly construct, undertaken as an explanation of Irish history in the context of sacred history, began to take shape in the monastic schools. There is evidence in the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries of its development, and it received its definitive form in the third quarter of the eleventh century, under the title Lebor Gabála.54 In Scowcroft's words, `Its purpose from the beginning however was not to collect native traditions as such but to find a place for Ireland in the biblical history of the world, for her inhabitants among the descendants of Noah, and for her many nations and dynasties in an immense genealogical schema that subsumed their pedigrees and claims under those of the kingship of Tara'.55 It became the sheet anchor of the genealogical tracts, a vast web of kinship, binding together all the dynasties of Ireland and linking them with the great of past times, with all the nations of the earth, and tracing them in an unbroken line of descent from Adam.

26. Some scraps of genealogy not linked to the Isidorian schema and very likely reflecting earlier structure survive in the later medieval manuscripts.

Aithechta m. Mail Anfaid m. Suibne m. Diarmota m. Seltaim m. Gnai m. Meic Eircc m. Daigri m. Luchta m. Neamongein m. Aimirgin m. Neamongen m. Oirding m. Uaithnig m. Luignig Fear Tri m. Fiachach m. Roibni m. Roibind m. Moraind (gl. is e fein Morann mac Main) m. Lir.56

This early genealogy of the Corcu Trí ends with three interesting elements. Fiachu---Roibne---Roibend remind one of the mythical figure, Fiachu Srobtene in the pre-history of the Uí Néill.57 Morand `sea-white' is to be connected with the mythical judge, Morann mac Maín (as the text states) and Ler means `sea'. The genealogy, then, ends with mythical personages, perhaps even the a sea-god. When it next appears (Lec 102vb47), it is fitted fully into the Isidorian scheme:

Aitheachda m. Mail Anfaid m. S[punctum delens]uibni m. Diarmata m. Seoltuim m. Deran m. Eirc m. Daigri m. Luchta m. Neamongen m. Orduich m. Uaithnich m. Lugna F[séimhiú]ir Tri m. F[séimhiú]othaig m. F[séimhiú]iacha Raeda m. Fiacha Suigdi.58

27. The descent of Fiachu Suigde from Míl of Spain and thus from Noah and Adam is clear in the Isidorian scheme.59 However, we are not to take the earlier genealogy ending in Morand m. Lir as a pagan survival for there is nothing pagan about ending a genealogy with a pagan hero/god for an ancestor, as indeed does Bede in 731: Hengist et Horsa ... erant autem filii Uictgisli, cuius pater Uitta, cuius pater Uecta, cuius pater Uoden, de cuius stirpe multarum prouinciarum regium genus originem duxit `Hengist and Horsa ... were the sons of Wihtgisl, son of Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden, from whose stock the royal families of many kingdoms claimed their descent'.60 It took the English a while longer to get behind Woden, but they were well on the way by the ninth century and with Asser they had made it back to Adam.61

28. The bible was the model of the Irish genealogists. In Malamat's words, `Biblical genealogies---especially the ethnographic tables in Genesis and the tribal genealogies assembled in the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles represent a unique historiographical genre within the literature of the ancient Near East'.62 Biblical genealogies are not simply lineal descents (or ascents), but are spread out horizontally to give full two-dimensional views of lineages, dynasties and whole tribes that reveal segmentation and mark nodal eponyms and founders of descent groups. This is precisely the structure of the early Irish genealogies (called by its makers senchas and in Latin, peritia). They have technical terms for the various kinds of text represented in the bible: genelach (Latin genelogia) is usually used for the descent of an individual, traced backwards in a single line of male ancestors to a nodal figure or dynastic founder; terms such as cráeba coibniusa, dúili slunti, míniugud senchasa and even senchas by itself (or its Latin equivalent, peritia) are used for the downward tracing through many generations of the descents of kindreds, in many lines, from a common ancestor; comuammand na ngenelach `stitching together of the genealogies' is used for listing the nodal ancestors at which lineages diverge. The bible is the only source-model for such bulky genealogical statements, and I feel sure that the early Irish concept of genealogy derives from it, and not from any barbarian proclivity to construct and record orally detailed two-dimensional statements of kinship. It is clear, too, that certain early Irish genealogical texts are modelled directly on Scripture. For example, Timna Chathaír Máir, which provides an origin-legend for the dynasties of Leinster descended from Cathaír Már, a prehistoric king, is closely modelled on, and plays the same genealogical role as, Jacob's blessing of his sons (Genesis 49) and the origin-legend of the Eoganacht is based on Pharaoh's dream and Joseph's interpretation of it (Genesis 41).63

29. The scriptures and especially the Old Testament provided a formal model for the arrangement and layout of the Irish genealogies. I simply set out some examples that can be compared.

I Par 6:1:
Filii Levi: Gersom, Caath et Merari.
Filii Caath: Amram, Isaar, Hebron, et Ozihel.
Filii Amram: Aaron, Moses, et Maria.
Filii Aaron: Nadab et Abiu, Eleazar et Ithamar.

Da mac la Suibne mac Aeda Guaire: Diucaill & Mael Bressail.
Oenmac la Diucaill .i. Moinach.
Tri meic Moinaich: Dunchad, Dungal, Murgal.
Tri meic Murgaile: Ruidgel, Baethallach, Muirthile.64

1 Ezras 7 (genealogy of Ezras):
Ezras filius Saraiae filii Azariae filii Helciae filii Sellum filii Sadoc filii Achitob filii Amariae filii Azariae filii Maraioth filii Zaraiae filii Ozi filii Bocci filii Abisue filii Finees filii Eleazar filii Aaron sacerdotis ab initio.

Fer Da Chrich mac Suibne meicc Crundmael meic Ronain meic Baetain meic Muiredaich meic Eogain meic Niallain meic Feicc meic Feidelmid meic Fiachrach Cassan.65

Numbers 26:28
Filii Ioseph per cognationes suas Manasse et Ephraim.
De Manasse ortus est Machir a quo familia Machiritarum.
Machir genuit Galaad a quo familia Galaaditarum.
Galaad habuit filios:
Hiezer a quo familia Hiezeritarum;
et Elec a quo familia Elecitarum;
et Asrihel a quo familia Asrihelitarum;
et Sechem a quo familia Sechemitarum;
et Semida a quo familia Semidatarum;
et Epher a quo familia Epheritarum.

Nathi mac Echach Timmine secht meic leis: Mac Mael a quo Uí Maelglais & Uí Andamaig.
Fedelmith a quo Uí Baetain & Uí Crunmael.
Conall a quo Uí Chommain.
Crimthan a quo Uí Buide.
Eogan a quo Uí Baetain.
Cormac a quo Uí Chuimni.
Bresal Tuathach a quo Uí Cruimthir Aeda.66

30. The role of the learned cadre that constructed these historical narratives and genealogies was one of social and political consequence. They were the custodians of the past, in church and in aristocratic society (they had little time or respect for the generality): they kept the royal pedigree, the dynastic genealogy, the origo gentis. They were the provers of pedigree and thus of claims to role and property. They were the makers of the past who shaped it and reshaped it in a sophisticated way to fit the needs of the present whilst keeping firmly within the wider context of biblical revelation and the history of salvation. They could say, ironically, with Croce: `all history is contemporary history'. Change, even dramatic change, could be accommodated though its management was a good deal more complex here than in pre-literate societies, however orally learned. The recording of genealogies and of historical narratives (and their elaboration as literary artifacts) did not inhibit political change---and brutal political change. At another level, the previous literary record did not prevent the custodians of the past from developing new myths and adjusting history to the new conditions.67

31. It would be wrong to convey the notion that the genealogies are conscious forgeries and their makers skilled liars. A very great deal of the material is independently verifiable and, given the difficulties of transmission, extremely accurate. Concerns other than historical recording make themselves felt at the global level where the relationship between the lineages are articulated and re-articulated in response to changing historical circumstances, where, for example, new dynasties are fitted into the established historical matrix and the order and continuity of society is re-asserted. At this level, the flexibility of the genealogists' approach has significant literary and socio-literary consequences. In their terms, the past can quite legitimately be subjected to the workings of the creative imagination and this leads to the imaginative re-creation of the past as conscious literary activity. Early Irish narrative literature is an outgrowth of the historical culture that produced the genealogies and it remains linked---somtimes loosely, sometimes tightly---to its source. Genealogical history is the starting-point of medieval Irish literature and historical and societal needs provided the stimulus.

32. The historical creations of the medieval Irish are neither alien nor bizarre nor were they shaped by a barbarian inheritance---dark, remote, even exotic---transmitted by an oral tradition, harking back to paganism and impervious to written culture. Their ambience was christian Latin scholarship (and the literate vernacular that they created), biblical history was their model, and Isidore their inspiration. Ideas like theirs' created and informed the European historical consciousness for well over a millennium that began with Isidore in the seventh century and had not quite ended by the Enlightenment.68 The images created by the medieval historian-genealogists remain potent.

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