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Topographical poems of Seaán Mór Ó Dubhagáin and Giolla na Naomh Ó hUidhrín

Seaán Mór Ó Dubhagáin (d.1372) was a professional historian in Gaelic society. He was ollamh to the O’Kellys of Uí Mhaine in the mid-fourteenth century. When he died, he was described in the Annals of Ulster as ‘aird senchaid na hÉireann’ (chief historian of Ireland). He is best known for his long topographical poem, Triallam timcheall na Fódla (Let us pass around Fódla), which contained about 220 stanzas. The poem described the Gaelic lordships and lineages of the northern half of Ireland and of the province of Leinster, before the coming of the Normans.

Giolla na Naomh Ó hUidhrín (d.1420), who lived slightly later than Ó Dubhagáin, continued the story by composing another long topographical poem, Tuilleadh feasa ar Éirinn óigh (Additional knowledge about virginal Ireland). Ó hUidhrín’s poem concentrated on the Gaelic lordships and lineages of the southern half of Ireland.

These topographical descriptions of Ireland focus exclusively on Gaelic lordships. Because they ignore the presence of the Normans, their historical accuracy is doubted. As Donnchadh Ó Corráin observed, ‘the Invasion and its consequences are wholly ignored. This is a political statement, couched in historicist terms and directly linked to the Gaelic cultural and political revival that had begun in the later thirteenth century and continued in the fourteenth.’

The poets relied in part on older genealogical sources when compiling their poems. Prose summaries are also found in some manuscripts.

These two topographical poems were still popular with historians and genealogists working in the seventeenth century and some of the best Irish historians from that era made copies of them. They were of particular interest to the Ó Cléirigh historians who compiled the Annals of the Four Masters.

RIA, MS C ii 1. Topographical poems

RIA, MS C ii 1 (catalogue no. 1084, paper, 18cm x 13.5cm, 16 folios), is a mid-seventeenth-century copy of the topographical poems of Seaán Mór Ó Dubhagáin and Giolla na Naomh Ó hUidhrín. The manuscript is in the hand of Cú Coigcríche Ó Cléirigh, a particularly talented scribe who was active from the 1630s to the 1660s. It is neatly and legibly written, although the paper is now discoloured and the edges are worn. The manuscript is bound in vellum.

In the early nineteenth century this manuscript was acquired by the Duke of Buckingham for his library at Stowe. It came to the Royal Irish Academy in 1873 along with other Irish manuscripts from the Stowe Ashburnham collection.

RIA, MS 23 N 28. Topographical poems

RIA, MS 23 N 28 (catalogue no. 137, paper, 19cm x 14cm, 40pp), was once the end part (ff.132-50) of another manuscript. The first part is now preserved separately in the National Library of Ireland, MS G 131, where the principal scribe is Cú Coigcríche Ó Cléirigh. Nessa Ní Shéaghdha has observed that folios 124-31 of NLI, MS G 131, which would have immediately preceded the material in 23 N 28, are lost, but those lost leaves may have been blank. The older folio numbers, 132-150, are still visible on MS 23 N 28. The manuscript is bound in calf, blind tooled.

The part of the manuscript that now survives as MS 23 N 28 was acquired by a collector, Edward O’Reilly, probably in the second decade of the nineteenth century. O’Reilly also acquired other manuscripts that were the work of the same scribe. Our manuscript had already become separated from NLI, MS G 131 by that time.

RIA, MS B iv 2

RIA, MS B iv 2 (catalogue no. 1080) is the work of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, OFM (d.1643) and contains fragments of the topographical poems, along with other historical extracts in poetry and prose that he copied from older manuscripts. The genealogist Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh included some of the work of Seaán Mór Ó Dubhagáin and Giolla na Naomh Ó hUidhrín in his major genealogical compilation. Mac Fhirbhisigh’s original manuscript, dated to 1649-50, is now in University College Dublin. Additional Irish MS 14. It includes a copy of Giolla na Naomh Ó hUidhrín’s poem in the hand of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, bound into the manuscript. The section containing Ó hUidhrín’s poem was once part of Ó Cléirigh’s notebook, RIA, MS B iv 2. Ó Cléirigh recorded that he had transcribed the poem in Cork in 1629, from a manuscript by Seaán Ó Maolchonaire.

Latin summary of Topographical poems

John Lynch, Cambrensis eversus seu potius historica fides in rebus Hibernicis Giraldo Cambrensi abrogata (St Malo, 1662) [printed work, RIA, 23 K 57] included Latin epitomes of both topographical poems. This book was intended for an international readership in the seventeenth century. Revd John Lynch’s book was republished with an English translation by Matthew Kelly in the mid-nineteenth century.

RIA, MS C vi 1, Book of Knockninny

In the early eighteenth century, Séamus Mag Uidhir made a copy of the topographical poems of Ó Dubhagáin and Ó hUidhrín, and they are preserved in a manuscript usually known as the Book of Knockninny (RIA, MS C vi 1, catalogue no. 936). This manuscript, dated 1718, also contains a prose epitome of Ó Dubhagáin’s poem. The same scribe was among the contributors to another early eighteenth-century copy of these poems, now among the texts preserved in RIA, MS 23 K 45 (catalogue no. 481).

Further reading

  • James Carney (ed.), Topographical poems by Seaán Mór Ó Dubhagáin and Giolla-na-Naomh Ó hUidhrín (Dublin: DIAS, 1943).

  • John O’Donovan (ed. & trans.), The topographical poems of John O’Dubhagain and Giolla na Naomh O’Huidrin edited in the original Irish from MSS in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, with translation, notes, and introductory dissertations (Dublin: Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society, 1862).

  • Matthew Kelly (ed. & trans.), Cambrensis eversus seu potius historica fides in rebus Hibernicis Giraldo Cambrensi abrogata [by John Lynch] (3 vols, Dublin: Celtic Society, 1848-52).

  • Aidan Breen, ‘Ó Dubhagáin, Seoán Mór, d.1372’, in Dictionary of Irish Biography.

  • Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Clavis litterarum Hibernensium (3 vols, Turnhout: Brepols, 2017), item 1259.

  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (28 fasc, Dublin: RIA, 1926-70).

  • Nessa Ní Shéaghdha, Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the National Library of Ireland. Fasciculus IV (Dublin: DIAS, 1977), no. 131, pp 151-6.


May 2020

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