Senchus Mor (5)

Laurence Ginnell

Of the nine nominal authors, the remaining three were the learned men who really did the work. They were men specially qualified from the legal and national point of view, all three being eminent in all the learning of the time; and specially qualified from Saint Patrick's particular point of view, all being converts to Christianity. For Saint Patrick's missionary method was first to make a bold attempt to convert the learned and powerful. Besides their personal qualifications, those three men being specially chosen on this solemn occasion for the performance of a task of the greatest national importance, they were assiduously provided with whatever manuscript or other material of the kind existed, and given every possible assistance in the performance of the undertaking. Dubhthach mac ua Lugair was at once the chief brehon and chief bard of the nation, a position to be reached only by means of the highest legal and literary attainments. He was a man celebrated for centuries after, on what grounds scholars still have some means of judging, for several fragments of his poetry are still extant, in the libraries of the Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College, and in some libraries on the Continent. A later Gaelic commentator on the Senchus Mor says, "Dubhthach mac ua Lugair put a thread of poetry around it for Patrick."

It was usual to state in ancient Irish manuscript books the Name of the Author, the Time of writing, the Place of writing, and the Occasion, Cause, or Object of writing. It was in accordance with this custom that the introduction to the Senchus Mor gave the information just noticed; and it goes on to tell in the following words where the compilers sojourned at the different seasons of the year while the work proceeded:—"The place of the Senchus Mor was Temhair in the summer and in the autumn, on account of its cleanness and pleasantness during those seasons; and Rath-guthaird, where the stone of Saint Patrick is at this day in Glenn-na-Mbodhur, near Nith nemonnach, was the place during the winter and spring, on account of the nearness of its firewood and its water, and on account of its warmth in the time of winter's cold." Temhair, genitive Teamhrac, pronounced Tara, is now so called [Gaelic words are frequently adapted to English in the genitive, speakers of modern English being generally ignorant of true declension]. Glennavohur has been satisfactorily identified as a lovely sheltered glen near Nobber, in Meath. A small stream called the Nith flows through it, and in this stream still stands the stone called Saint Patrick's stone.

The manuscripts of the Senchus Mor now existing are four in number:—

1. A comparatively full copy among the manuscripts of Trinity College, Dublin.

2. An extensive fragment in the British Museum.

3. A large fragment in Trinity College, Dublin.

4. Another large fragment in Trinity College, Dublin.

All these manuscripts were translated by Dr. O'Donovan, and afterwards collated in consultation with O'Curry and other Gaelic scholars, breaks and obscure passages in one being made up and illustrated respectively from the others, and everything done to render the translation as perfect as possible.