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Foras Feasa Ar Éirinn

RIA MS 24 P 23: Cat. No. 43 c. 1641-46 Paper: 26.5cm x 16.5cm 414pp

Geoffrey Keating [Seathrún Céitinn] wrote much of his history of Ireland in the late 1620s and it was certainly complete by 1634-5. However, Keating’s autograph copy of his history of Ireland does not survive. This manuscript is among the earliest copies of Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn in existence.

Keating’s Foras feasa comprised a history of Ireland in two parts, the first from earliest times to the coming of Christianity, and the second from the time of St Patrick in the fifth century to the coming of the Normans to Ireland in the late twelfth century. It was preceded by a persuasive preface in defence of the honour of Ireland. The story of Ireland was presented in a manner that allowed the various peoples of Ireland, whether of Gaelic or Anglo-Norman ancestry, to be part of a shared origin legend. Keating placed particular emphasis on the value of the Irish language as a repository of knowledge about the Irish past. As a Catholic priest, he also regarded Catholicism as one of the defining characteristics of the Irish people. Drawing these strands together, his history popularised a particular combination of myth, religion and history that became widely accepted from the seventeenth to the twentieth century as part of the cultural definition of Irishness.

The earliest surviving dated copy of Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn is British Library, Egerton MS 107, finished on 17 October 1638, while University College Dublin, Franciscan [UCD-OFM], MS A 14, is thought to pre-date 1637 although the scribes do not actually date their transcript.

Some of the very earliest manuscript copies of the text, notably British Library, Egerton MS 107, UCD-OFM, MS A 14, and Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Fonds Celtique MS 66, contain a shorter version of the text and may represent the earliest version to have gone into circulation. Of the 17th-century manuscripts to contain the more complete version of the text, as known from the published edition, two strands survive. The first strand is preserved in the very earliest manuscripts, including RIA, MS 24 P 23 and UCD-OFM, MS A 15, and is believed to reflect Keating’s orthography more closely than later copies. The second, and ultimately more popular strand, based on the work of the Ó Maoil Chonaire scribes, contains more precise orthography.

A scholarly edition of the full Irish text of Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, derived from a range of early manuscript copies, was published together with English translation and notes, by the Irish Texts Society in 1902-14. A digitised version of a different manuscript transcript of this text (UCD-OFM, MS A 14) is available to view on Irish Script on Screen.

Select Bibliography

  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1926), Fasc. 1: pp 124-5.
  • Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn: the History of Ireland, ed. David Comyn and P.S. Dinneen (4 vols, 1902-14) [Published edition, based on several different manuscripts].
  • Bernadette Cunningham, The world of Geoffrey Keating: history, myth and religion in seventeenth-century Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000: reprinted in paperback 2004).

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