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Int én bec

Int én bec
ro·léic feit
do rind guip
fo·ceird faíd
ós Loch Laíg
lon do craíb

The Blackbird of Belfast Lough

The little bird
lets a whistle go
from the point of a beak,
bright yellow:
throws out a cry
above Loch Laíg,
a blackbird from branch
(a cairn of yellow).

As a special treat, a translation into Modern Irish:

An t-éan beag
a lig fead
de rinn ghoib
caitheann [sé] faí
os Loch Laoi
lon de chraobh

-Nollag Ó Muiríle (2007)

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Acher in Gaíth

Is acher in gaíth innocht,
fu·fúasna fairggae findḟolt:
ni·ágor réimm mora minn
dond láechraid lainn úa Lothlind.

Detail from "The Viking Terror" by Denis Brown

Sharp the Wind

The wind is sharp tonight,
it tosses the white hare of the ocean:
I fear not the coursing of the clear sea
by the fierce warriors from Lothlainn.

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It is difficult to write on the topic of my thesis. The political history of 7thC northern Britain is complicated, with threads of alliances marking the map in my mind’s-eye like one of those webs spiders spin when on hallucinogens. Whenever I try and explain one piece of the puzzle, I find I must explain some half a dozen other items first- but in order to explain those, I must start with the first.

The human mind evolved to eat gazelle and flee lions, not think about things. Sheesh. This post is therefore awfully rough, and kept briefer than I’d like, stripped of my precious footnoes and the bibliography left to squint in the sunlight without any historiography to give the nuance. Questions would be helpful.

It has been some time since I wrote, so as a reminder: my thesis on the raid sent in 684 by Ecgfrith of Northumbria to Ireland- specifically, his soldiers raided the area called Mag Breg, a túath within the territories of the Southern Úi Néill. The month appears to have been June. The leader of the army/raiding party/gang of violent thugs was a chap called Berht whom I have mentioned previously. This raid is fascinating, not least because it is the first such recorded attack on Hibernia prior to Strongbow, but because we don’t know why. Bede just says that it was unprovoked and the Irish never did nothin’ to nobody.

A few scholars seem to suspect Ecgfrith’s successor and older half-brother Aldfrith. Certainly he had very close ties with Ireland -son of an Irish princess- and one could, as some have, make an argument that he was plotting against Ecgfrith and so the king sent troops into Ireland to take captives for use as hostages. Certainly the swift movement of Aldfrith from Iona to Northumbria to be crowned, after Ecgfrith’s death in (modern) Scotland is supicious.

The problem with this hypothesis lies in Aldfrith’s supposed connection to the area laid waste by the English swords. Mag Bega lay within the overlordship of the Southern Úi Néill, a group of people who claimed descended from Nial of the Nine Hostages. Aldfrith’s mother’s people, on the other hand, were among the Northern Úi Néill. Specifically, theCenél nEógain.

While in exile amongst the Irish, the father of Ecgfrith and Aldfrith, Oswiu (the famous ‘Synod of Whitby’ Oswiu) fathered a son on a daughter of the Northern Úi Néill king, Colmán Rimíd. The specific evidence for this must be considered very carefully, as the genealogies of royal families are suspect to tampering and this is particularly true when the king in question (i.e., Aldfrith) is famous. The specific genealogy in question reads as follows:

Cōic meic Bāetāin meic Muirchertaich .i. Fergus a quo Clann Fergusa, Forannān a quo Hūi Fairennāin, A[i]lill pater Cind-fāelad, Māel-huma in rīgfēinnid. Colmān Rīmid athair Fīna, māthair īside Flaind Fina meic Ossu regis Saxonum.

[Five sons of Báetán son of Muichertach; that is Fergus from whom [comes] Clann Fhergusa; Forannán from whom [comes] the Uí Fhorannáin; Ailill the father of Cenn Fáelad; Máel Umai rígféinnid. Colmán Rimíd the father of Fína, the mother of Flann Fína son of Ossu king of the Saxons.]1

Flann Fína is the Irish name for Aldfrith, and the two are specifically conflated in his obit in the Annals of Tigernach:

Altfrith mac Ossa .i. Fland Fína la Gaedhelu, echnaid, rex Saxonum.

[Aldfrith, son of Oswiu, called Fland Fína by the Gaels, a wise man, king of the Saxons.]2

Ossu is the Irish form of Oswiu, and can be verified by comparing Bede and the Annals of Ulster. Muirchertach can be traced back to the founder of the Cenél nEógain, Eógan, and thus to ancestor of the Uí Néill, Nial Noígiallach.5 While there is uncertainty about which túath Oswiu dwelled amongst while in exile, and therefore the specific political circumstances which led to the fathering of Aldfrith, this discussion is quite complicated enough. We can say with certainty that Aldfrith is descended on his mother’s side from a túath of the Northern Uí Néill, specifically the Cenél nEógain. Aldfrith therefore has close ties with the Northern Uí Néill.

Early Christian Ireland AD 400-700.

Taken from John Haywood, Atlas of the Celtic World, (Thames & Hudson: London, 2001), p.97.

It is tempting to conflate the Northern and Southern Uí Néill, but the two are titles claimed by overlordships. Connacht and Airgalla were also provincial overlordships, and one could not make this attempt to tie Aldfrith to them.

Túatha even within kingdoms were not completely unified, as the Cenél nEógain fought against their own cousins in the Northern Uí Néill during battle of Mag Roth (637). While there were alliances among the Uí Néill and people in (what is now) Scotland, all of these alliances -broken and otherwise- are among túatha of the Northern Uí Néill, not the Southern. Any connection between Aldfrith and the Irish of Scotland and Ireland does not lead us inevitably to Mag Breg.

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Fidbaidæ Fál

Dom·ḟarchai fidbaidæ fál,
fom·chain loíd luin -luad nad·cél-,
hūas mo lebrán ind línech
fom·chain trírech inna ṅ-én.

Fomm·chain coí menn -medair mass-
hi ṁbrott glas de dindgnaib doss.
debrath: nom· Choimmdiu ·coíma,
caín·scríbaimm fo roída r[oss].

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 904

Hedge of Trees

A hedge of trees overlooks me,
the lay of a blackbird sings to me -announcement I’ll not conceal!-
above my lined little book,
the trilling of the birds sings to me.

A clear-voiced cuckoo sings to me -beautiful joy-
in a grey cloak from the fortresses of bushes.
God’s Judgement: the Lord cherishes me,
I write well under the great forest of woodland.
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A Bé Find

A Bé Find, in raga lim,
i tír n-ingnad i-fil rind?
Is barr sobairche folt and;
is dath snechtai corp co ind.

Is and nád-bí muí ná taí.
Gela dét and; dubai braí;
is lí súla lín ar slúag;
is dath sion and cech grúad.

Is corcur maige cach muin;
is lí súa ugae luin;
cid caín déicsiu Maige Fáil,
annam íar ngnáis Maige Máir.

Cid caín lib coirm Inse Fáil,
is mescu coirm Tíre Máir.
Amra tíre tír as-biur;
ní thét oäc and ré siun;

Srotha téithmillsi tar tír,
rogu de mid ocus fhín,
doíni delgnaidi cen on,
combart cen peccad, cen chol.

At-chiam cách for cach leth,
ocus níconn-acci nech:
teimel imorbais Ádaim
dodon-aircheil ar áraim.

A ben, día rís mo thúaith tind,
is barr óir bias fort chind;
muc úr, laith, lemnacht la lind
rot-bía lim and, a Bé Find.

O Fair Lady

O Fair Lady, will you come with me
to the wondrous land where harmony is?
Hair is like the crown of the primrose there,
and the body is snow-coloured to the ends.

In that land mine and thine do not exist.
Teeth are white there; brows are black;
the number of our hosts is a delight of the eye;
every cheek there is the colour of foxglove.

The surface of every plain is purple;
the blackbird’s eggs are a delight to the eye:
though fair it is, seeing the Plain of Fál,
it is desolate after knowledge of the Great Plain.

Though you love the beer of the Ireland,
there in the Great Land beer is more intoxicating.
In the wonder of a land, the land of which I speak,
there the young do not go before the old.

Gentle sweet streams water the earth there,
the best of mead and wine is drunk,
fine and flawless are the dwellers of that land;
conception there is without sin or guilt.

We see everyone upon everyside,
and no-one sees us:
it is the darkness caused by Adam’s sin
which hides us from reckoning.

O lady, if you should come to my proud folk,
a crown shall be upon your head;
fresh pork, ale, milk and drink
shall you have there with me, O Fair Lady.
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May 2018
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