Annals of Clonmacnoise
NEW EDITION OF THE ANNALS OF CLONMACNOISE
Based on BL Add. MS 4817, with some variants from TCD MS 673). Together with a remnant of ‘Annals of Leacán’, AD 1443-68 translated by Dubhaltach Mac Fhir Bhisigh, AD 1666. Edited by Nollaig Ó Muraíle. Dublin: De Búrca, 2022. Quarto. pp. 679. Green buckram, titled in gilt on spine, covers blind-stamped.
The so-called Annals of Clonmacnoise – an inaccurate title bestowed in the 17th century by Sir James Ware – are a collection of Irish annals that purport to extend from the earliest times (Adam and Eve!) down to the year AD 1408. The text – an English translation completed in 1627 – is the work of Conall Mag Eochagáin, a Gaelic gentleman from Lismoyny, County Westmeath.
The early portion of the text (about one-sixth of the whole) is based on the medieval work of pseudo-prehistory called Lebar Gabála Érenn (the Book of the Taking of Ireland, the so-called ‘Book of Invasions’), while much of the remainder is closely related to other collections of Irish annals, especially those of Ulster, Loch Cé and Connacht. The Irish text from which Mag Eochagáin worked is now lost, as indeed is the original manuscript of his translation. The entire work survives in a number of manuscript-copies penned in the later 17th century, as well as in some later copies. The only edition produced to date, that by Fr Denis Murphy, SJ, was published 120 years ago and is a sadly inadequate production, being based on one of the less satisfactory manuscripts. Among its many shortcomings is the deletion/censorship by the editor of some passages he deemed ‘offensive’.
A new edition has long been called for, and this Nollaig Ó Muraíle has now undertaken. The edition is based on a manuscript which is deemed to be superior to the other surviving manuscripts, BL Additional MS 4817. This was written in 1661 by a native of Tralee, Domhnall Ó Súilleabháin. (Occasional words, and sometimes longer phrases, omitted by Ó Súilleabháin have been inserted from TCD MS 673 – the manuscript on which Murphy based his edition.)
In accordance with modern historical practice, the text of the annals (running to approximately 100,000 words) has been modernised, in terms of both orthography and punctuation – except in the case of proper names (both people and places). (Nothing is gained by preserving the very irregular early 17th-century spelling, erratic capitalisation, etc., which make Murphy’s edition so frustrating to use.) As is the norm with modern editions of Irish annals’ collections – such as those published over the past seven decades by the School of Celtic Studies, DIAS – the various entries are divided into numbered paragraphs under the appropriate year. (Admittedly, the rather erratic chronological arrangement of these annals rendered this difficult in a number of instances.) Where an entry has a parallel in one of the other annalistic collections, this is inserted after the appropriate paragraph. Also inserted after each paragraph are the correct Irish forms of the proper names aforementioned – so many of which are quite unrecognisable in their often quite bizarre anglicised forms. Those Irish forms – using the standard Classical Irish spelling – will also facilitate the provision of a ‘user friendly’ series of indices.
The publication of this new edition will be welcomed by scholars, who have all too often tended to ignore this intriguing text because of the difficulties of handling Murphy’s now obsolete work.