Saltair of Tara

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter VII

The compilation of the Saltair of Tara, as we mentioned previously, is attributed to this monarch. Even in Christian times his praises are loudly proclaimed. The poet Maelmura, who lived in the eighth century, styles him Ceolach, or the Musical, and Kenneth O'Hartigan, who died A.D. 973, gives a glowing account of his magnificence and of his royal palace at Tara. O'Flaherty quotes a poem, which he says contains an account of three schools, instituted by Cormac at Tara; one for military discipline, one for history, and the third for jurisprudence. The Four Masters say: "It was this Cormac, son of Art, also, that collected the chronicles of Ireland to Teamhair [Tara], and ordered them to write [6] the chronicles of Ireland in one book, which was named the Saltair of Teamhair. In that book were [entered] the coeval exploits and synchronisms of the kings of Ireland with the kings and emperors of the world, and of the kings of the provinces with the monarchs of Ireland. In it was also written what the monarchs of Ireland were entitled to [receive] from the provincial kings, and the rents and dues of the provincial kings from their subjects, from the noble to the subaltern. In it, also, were [described] the boundaries and mears of Ireland from shore to shore, from the provinces to the cantred, from the cantred to the townland, from the townland to the traighedh of land."[7] Although the Saltair of Tara has disappeared from our national records, a law tract, called the Book of Acaill, is still in existence, which is attributed to this king. It is always found annexed to a Law Treatise by Cennfaelad the Learned, who died A.D. 677. In an ancient MS. in Trinity College, Dublin (Class H. L. 15, p. 149), it is stated that it was the custom, at the inauguration of Irish chiefs, to read the Instructions of the Kings (a work ascribed to Cormac) and his Laws.

There is a tradition that Cormac became a Christian before his death. In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, one of his eyes was thrust out by a spear, and he retired in consequence to one of those peaceful abodes of learning which were so carefully fostered in ancient Erinn. The high-minded nobility of this people is manifest notably in the law which required that the king should have no personal blemish; and in obedience to this law, Cormac vacated the throne. He died A.D. 266, at Cleiteach, near Stackallen Bridge, on the south bank of the Boyne. It is said that he was choked by a salmon bone, and that this happened through the contrivances of the druids, who wished to avenge themselves on him for his rejection of their superstitions.


[6]  Write.—Professor O'Curry well observes, that "such a man could scarcely have carried out the numerous provisions of his comprehensive enactments without some written medium. And it is no unwarrantable presumption to suppose, that, either by his own hand, or, at least, in his own time, by his command, his laws were committed to writing; and when we possess very ancient testimony to this effect, I can see no reason for rejecting it, or for casting a doubt upon the statement."—MS. Materials, p. 47. Mr. Petrie writes, if possible, more strongly. He says: "It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive how the minute and apparently accurate accounts found in the various MSS. of the names and localities of the Attacottic tribes of Ireland in the first century, could have been preserved, without coming to the conclusion that they had been preserved in writing in some work."—Essay on Tara Hill, p. 46. Elsewhere, however, he speaks more doubtfully.

[7] Land.—Four Masters, p. 117.