I get shivers down my spine looking at images like this. I’m unlikely to be ever in a position to touch a document that’s almost 400 years old, but even seeing it on the screen is amazing. Now this isn’t the copy that Céitinn wrote himself, but it is dated from 1641 – 1646 from dates in the manuscript (thank you, Royal Irish Academy!!) And it shows the text was popular straight away, being copied so soon after Céitinn’s 1634 (ish) original.
Why am I looking at it? Well, one of Céitinn’s major sources for his work was the good old Lebor Gabála Érenn, which I’ve been doing a lot of reading about. And yes, they have copies of some of the books that contain the LGe as well – see the image below from the Book of Fermoy.
The earliest part of the Book of Fermoy? Pages 1-16, the bits with the LGE in it, date from the 14th century. That’s 13XX. 700 years ago! I mean… doesn’t the history of this just hit you sometimes?
OK, the LGE is getting me really excited right now and I’ve gone down So. Many. Rabbitholes!!! But it’s been worth it to look at our cultural and literary heritage. As well the the uses to which that heritage has been put. It’s been used to both support and deny the “Irish are savages” propoganda (Started by Giraldus of Wales, let’s not forget, and no he doesn’t deserve anything more than a Wikipedia entry, not matter how good it is!! Even his Wiki entry says his writings show a “great deal of prejudice against foreign people”) Now Giraldus was writing a 100 years again before Céitinn, but they are writing from two very different view points!
Some of the stories recorded by Céitinn, were used by some of the independence movements in Spain, as well as our own Daniel O’Connell (the Great Orator, not the singer.) There’s been revisionist stuff all over the place as well, with the Tudors using the stories to show their “rights” to Ireland by adding in a new character, to the Scots using the stories and changing a few details about who moved where first… Basically, they’re popular stories with many uses.
But it gives just really excites me to think of these manuscripts, which were written down by professional historians of the time, who passed those skills down through the family, recording the stories and tales and histories and genealogies (sounding like at least a part-successor to the fili of earlier times) continuing the traditions… Yeah I know – I need to get out more!!
Anyway, Céitinn won’t be featuring too much in the upcoming class on Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, although he will be mentioned, which is why I feel alright about gushing about him here. I’m trying to hold myself back on the stuff actually in the class a bit so you won’t be disappointed when you sign up! But isn’t it just amazing? His Foras Feasa ar Érinn is heavily sourced from the LGE, and we can still see original manuscripts of both! And as well – Céitinn was a bit of a best seller of his day, with over 30 manuscripts of his work surviving today, from a time when each copy was copied out by hand…
I’m off to swoon some more over the whole thing…