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ON THE "COMBAT AT THE FORD"


The episode translated in the foregoing pages is not only one of the famous examples on which Irish literature can fairly rest its claim to universal recognition, but it also affords an excellent instance of the problems involved when it comes to be studied critically. These problems, upon the solution of which must to some extent depend our estimate of the place of Irish in the general development of European literature) axe briefly dealt with in Mr. Leahy's Preface, as well as in his special Introduction (supra, pp. 114, 115), but may perhaps be thought worthy of somewhat more detailed examination.

The existence of two markedly different versions of the "Tain bo Cuailnge," one, obviously older, represented by the eleventh-century MS. Leabhar na h-Uidhri (L.U.), and the fourteenth-century MS. Yellow Book of Lecan (Y.B.L.); the other, obviously younger, by the twelfth-century Book of Leinster (L.L.), was pointed out by Professor Heinrich Zimmer twenty-seven years ago in his study of the L.U. heroic saga texts (Keltische Studien V.: Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung, vol. xxviii.). The conclusion that he drew from the fact, as also from the peculiarities disclosed by his analysis of the L.U. texts, is substantially that stated by Mr. Leahy: "On the whole it seems as if the compiler of the manuscript from which both the Leabhar na h-Uidhri and the Yellow Book of Lecan were copied, combined into one several different descriptions of the 'War,' one of which is represented by the Book of Leinster version." He furthermore emphasised a particular aspect of this compiler's activity to which Mr. Leahy also draws repeated attention; he (the compiler) was a man interested in the historical and antiquarian rather than in the literary side of the texts he harmonised and arranged: hence his preference for versions that retain archaic and emphasise mythical elements; hence his frequent interpolation of scraps of historical and antiquarian learning; hence his indifference to consistency in the conduct of the story, and to its artistic finish. Professor Zimmer urged that the "compiler" was no other than Flann, Abbot of Monasterboice, who died in 1047, and was regarded as the most famous representative of Irish learning in his day. There has come down to us under his name a considerable mass of chronological and historical writing, partly in prose, partly in verse, and it seems certain that he was one of the chief artisans in framing that pragmatic redaction of Irish myth, heroic legend, and historical tradition most fully represented by the two great compilations of the seventeenth century: the Annals of the Four Masters, emphasising its antiquarian, historical side; Keating's History, emphasising its romantic, legendary side.

Whilst Professor Zimmer's conclusion as to the personality of the L.U. compiler has been challenged, his main thesis has remained unshaken. On the whole, it can be asserted positively that the common source of L.U. and Y.B.L. goes back to the early eleventh century; on the whole, that this common source itself utilised texts similar to those contained in the Book of Leinster. Moreover, the progress of linguistic analysis during the past quarter-century has strengthened the contention that some of the elements used by Flann (or another) in compiling his eleventh-century harmony are as old, in point of language, as any existing remains of Irish outside the Ogham inscriptions; in other words, being as old as the earliest glosses, they may date back to the eighth or even seventh century. In particular the L.U.-Y.B.L. version of the "Tain bo Cuailnge" contains a large proportion of such elements and may, in the main, be treated as an eighth-century text.

It must, however, be pointed out, and for this reason I have italicised the qualifying "on the whole," "in the main," that this conclusion does not enable us to declare dogmatically (1) that all portions of the


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