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    Sources for the Irish language

Old Irish
Middle Irish
Internet resources

Old Irish documents

1) Turin palimpsest A piece of parchment whose text was erased so that it could be used again. The old text consisted of 29 Irish glosses on the second letter of St.Peter and was rendered readable by chemical treatment of the manuscript.
2) Adamhnan glosses Three manuscripts of Adamhnan (625-704) with Irish glosses. The Cáin Adamhnáin ‘The law of Adamhnán’ is the draft of a law for the protection of civilians in time of war. The Vita Sancti Columbae ‘The life of St.Columbus’ contains reports about the early Irish church. De Locis Sanctis ‘On holy places’ tells about a pilgrimage of the Gallic bishop Arculf to the Holy Land.
3) Würzburg glosses Glosses on the Latin text of the Pauline letters by two glossators from the mid 8th century. Some of these glosses can be traced back to around 700. The language of the second glossator shows later forms. The purpose of the glosses is to explain expressions and stretches of text to the Irish reader.
4) Cambrai manuscript A short Irish homily with interspersions in Latin from between 763 and 780 which was transcribed by a continental scribe who did not know any Irish. It is putatively the oldest Irish manuscript.
5) Félire Oengusso mac Oengobann ‘The calendar of Oengus the son of Oengoban’ was written between 797 and 808 and provides information about the saints of each day.
6) Milan glosses A somewhat careless glossing of a Latin commentary on the psalms which was probably prepared in Ireland in the first half of the 9th century by a man called Diarmait. It was transported from the monastery of St.Columbanus in Bobbio to the Ambrosian library in Milan. The language of the Félire and of the Milan glosses is quite similar.
7) Turin glosses Glosses on two fragments of a Latin commentary on the gospel according to St.Mark from the end of the 9th century. The scribe is the same as the Milan glosses.
8) Leabhar Ard-Macha ‘The Book of Armagh’ was compiled around 807 by a scribe called Feardomhnach (died 845). It contains Latin versions of the confessions of St. Patrick from the 5th century. There are also biographies of saints in the book, for instance of St. Martin of Tours and St. Patrick of Tírechán, notes by Muirchiu maccu Machthen as well as a copy of the new testament. The texts contain archaic and later forms.
9) St. Gall glosses Glosses on Priscian’s grammar of Latin. These are archaic and of considerable lexical value. They furthermore contain lengthy passages of commentary on the Latin text. They have been dated to the mid-9th century and are probably the work of two scribes.
10) Karlsruhe glosses Glosses on St.Augustine’s Soliloquia and Bede De rerum natura ‘On the nature of things’.
11) Manuscript of St. Paul This is from Lavantal in Carinthia and contains four Irish poems and a magic formula in language of a somewhat later date. This was written by an Irish scribe on the continent in the second half of the 9th century.
12) Vienna glosses Glosses on St.Augustine’s Enchiridion ‘Handbook’ and Bede’s De temporum ratione ‘On calculating time’.

The Würzburg Glosses

The photograph on the left shows the original containing the glosses on the Latin text. The book is in the library of the University of Würzburg, Germany. Permission to reproduce this here was given to the author of the website by Prof. Hildegard L. C. Tristram, University of Freiburg.

Kavanagh, Seamus 2001. A lexicon of the Old Irish glosses in the Würzburg Manuscript of the Epistles of St. Paul. Edited by Dagmar S. Wodtko. Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Middle Irish documents

1) Saltair na Rann ‘The psalter of the staves’. This contains 150 poems on biblical themes and was compiled in 987. The manuscript dates from the 12th century.
2) Vita Tripartita Sancti Patricii ‘Three part life of Saint Patrick’ a prose work written between 895 and 901. The manuscripts date from the 15th and 16th centuries.
3) The Annals of Tighernach These were processed by Comáin, alias Tighernach in Clonmacnoise. Born in Munster in 1020 and died in 1088. The annals contain a chronology which covers a time span from 431 to the beginning of the 8th century and contains many translations of Latin phrases.
4) Tochmarc Ferbe ‘The wooing of Ferb’. This is a tale in prose and verse from the Ulster cycle. It dates from the 10th century.
5) Liber Hymnorum ‘Hymn book’. This text from the late 9th or early 10th century contains Latin and Irish material. The manuscript is in the Fransiscan monastery in Tallaght.
6) Passions and Homilies These date from the late 11th century and the beginning of the 12th century; they represent good examples of Middle Irish prose.
7) Acallamh na Sénorach ‘The dialogue of the elders’. This was compiled in the mid 12th century. It contains an account of Irish toponymy in prose and verse.
8) Martyrology of Gorman A document dating from the 12th century.

Manuscript collections (books)

The notion of the ‘book’ (Irish sg. leabhar, pl. leabhair) is important in the history of Middle Irish literature. These books are collections of manuscripts, often in ornate binding, which were kept in monastaries and sometimes by wealthy families as a kind of library. A book can be very mixed in contents and language, both by containing Latin and Irish material and by displaying different stages of the Irish language. Some of the books contain material which is known under a separate name so that it is important to distinguish between a book as a manuscript collection and the works it contains which are labelled according to author, theme, language/period or a combination of these features. Furthermore, a book can be divided into sub-sections which have names of their own or there can be significant overlapping between books. For instance, parts of the Leabhar Gabhála are also parts of the Leabhar Laighneach ‘Book of Leinster’. Lastly, different books may house different versions of the same work, a situation of value to later editors. This is the case with the Táin Bó Cúailnge which exists in two recensions (revised versions of a text). One consists of a partial text in Leabhar na hUidre (see below) and a partial text of the same version in Leabhar Buí Leacan (see below). The second recension is in Leabhar Laighneach (see below) which represents an attempt to merge previous versions in later, more ornate language. There are also fragments of the Táin in later manuscripts.

1) Leabhar Breac ‘The speckled book’. This was compiled by the MacEgan family about 1400 and contains the Passions and Homilies and legal material. It is in the library of the Royal Irish Academy.
2) Leabhar Gabhála ‘Book of invasions/land-taking’. This recounts the mythological story of the early conquest of Ireland. It was compiled around the middle of the 12th century. It spans the history of Ireland from Noah up to the date at which the story was arranged as a prose version of several historical poems by Giolla Caemáin. Some of these poems go back to 1072.
3) Leabhar Laighneach ‘Book of Leinster’. This is an anthology which was written down by Aodh Mac Criomhthainn (1120-1160) in Terryglas near Clonmacnoise and later written again by Fionn Mac Gorman, Bishop of Glendalough. The manuscripts are in Trinity College Dublin and in the Fransiscan monastery in Tallaght.
4) Lebor na hUidhre ‘The Book of the Dun Cow’. This is the oldest collection of exclusively Irish manuscripts and was compiled in the 11th and 12th centuries. It contains both secular and religious material in a language which harks back to the 6th to 8th centuries. The main scribe was Mael Muire Mac Cealachair (d. 1106). Flann of Monasterboice prepared a recension of the book. The collection is in the library of the Royal Irish Academy.
5) Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta ‘Book of Ballymote’. This contains an explanation of the Ogam alphabet and Irish translations of classical texts such as the Aeneid, as well as geneologies, grammatical and metrical instructions for bards and a section of the Leabhar na gCeart ‘Book of Rights’. It was compiled in 1390 in Sligo by a group under the leadership of Maghnus Ó Duibhgeannáin. The collection is in the library of the Royal Irish Academy.
6) Leabhar Mór Leacan, Leabhar Buí Leacan ‘Great Book of Lecan’ and ‘Yellow Book of Lecan’. These contain the oldest version of the Leabhar na gCeart ‘Book of Rights’ as well as well as genealogical material and a section of the oldest version of the Táin Cuailgne ‘The cattle raid of Cooley’. The collection is in the library of Trinity College.

Images of early Irish manuscripts

Internet resources

Celt – Corpus of Electronic Texts

Extract from the Mission Statement on the CELT website: “To bring the wealth of Irish literary and historical culture (in Irish, Latin, Anglo-Norman French, and English) to the Internet in a rigorously scholarly and user-friendly project for the widest possible range of readers and researchers. CELT (the Corpus of Electronic Texts) caters for academic scholars, teachers, students, and the general public, all over the world. Texts are accompanied by introductions, background information, graphics, translations where possible, and scholarly bibliographies.”

CELT website

Dictionary of the Old Irish glosses in Milan MS Ambr. C301

Extract from the Austrian Research Council website: “The so-called Old-Irish glosses (edited in W. Stokes and J. Strachan, Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, Cambridge 1901-3) are of the greatest significance for the study of the Irish language history since they are practically the only Old-Irish language remains surviving in contemporary manuscripts. Thus it is assured that the language of these texts shows no interference by the ensuing Middle and Modern Irish stages. The largest sub-corpus among the glosses are those of the Milan glosses (Thes. i 7-483), interlinear and marginal notes and translations to a Latin commentary on the psalter in the Milan codex Ambrosianus C 301. In the proposed project all of the language material of the Milan glosses is to be converted into a complete specialized dictionary, in order to make not only the text, but also the processed lexical material easily accessible.”

Website of project

Stiftsbibliothek, St Gallen

This library houses a number of old manuscripts which are invaluable for the study of earlier stages of European languages. Among its manuscripts is an Old Irish copy (item 904) of the Institutiones Grammaticae of Priscian (a 6th century Latin grammarian from Constantinople). Photographs of the facsimile can be seen on the website of the project Codices Electronici Sangallenses.

Website of the Stiftsbibliothek, St Gallen