Senchus Mor (4)

Laurence Ginnell

In other late commentaries, and also in other writings in which reference is made to the laws, so much importance is, by a pious exaggeration, attached to what Saint Patrick had done that the Senchus Mor itself is called the Cain Phadraig, or Patrick's law. The abandonment of paganism may have caused the discontinuance of some particular species of actions, and hence some omissions from the statement of the laws; the introduction and enthusiastic adoption of Christianity profoundly affected the moral and religious life of the people, producing eventually new causes and new law; some rules of Canon Law, or rather Church Law, introduced for ecclesiastical purposes, were quite novel and therefore striking, and the Christian spirit breathed through the whole law was important; but the actual changes were few, and substantially the laws remained the same as they had existed for centuries before.

The number of the authors of the Senchus Mor is preserved in one of the alternative names given to it in the introduction and in some of the commentaries. In the introduction it is said, "Nofis therefore is the name of the book, that is the knowledge of nine persons." And again it says, "Nine persons were appointed to arrange this book, namely, Patrick and Benen and Cairnech, three bishops; Laeghaire and Corc and Daire, three kings; Rossa mac Trechim, a Doctor of Bearla Feini, Dubhthach, a Doctor of Bearla Feini and a Poet, and Fergus the Poet." Benen, Latinised Benignus, was Saint Patrick's favourite disciple, and afterwards became a bishop and a saint. He was a Munsterman by birth, but was residing at Duleek at the time of Saint Patrick's arrival. Cairnech, who is said to have been a native of Cornwall, was also a follower of Saint Patrick. He, too, became a bishop and a saint, and is honoured as such in both the Irish and the English calendars. Laeghaire, as already stated, was ard-rig at Tara, and was a son of Niall the Great, known also as Niall of the Nine Hostages, who in his time had overrun Britain and Gaul in much the same fashion as the Danes of a later period overran those countries. It is believed that Laeghaire did not become a Christian. If he remained an infidel he must have been a very tolerant one, for the principal officers of his court appear to have become Christian like the rest of the nation; he gave his sanction to the convening of the assembly which ordered the preparation of the Senchus Mor, every facility for carrying out the work, and in no way opposed the modifications suggested by Saint Patrick; nor does he appear to have raised any obstacle to the propagation of Christianity. He died at Tara, and was buried in one of the mounds there, standing and fully armed, facing the south. Corc was the King of Munster and resided at Cashel. He also is said to have remained a pagan. He died in battle. Daire was the sub-king of a portion of Ulster, and chiefly from the fact that he afterwards gave the site of Armagh to Saint Patrick to found his see, it is inferred that he must have become a Christian.