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The Life of Fursa (Author: [unknown])


The Life of Fursa

The following Life, now for the first time published, forms part of the rich collection of biographies of Irish saints, preserved in the Royal Library, Brussels. The ms. is in the hand writing of Michael O'Clery, one of the Four Masters, who died about 1644, and the Life is said in the colophon to have been copied out of the Book of the Muinter Duinnín in the year 1629. The date of that book, and whether it still exists, I have been unable to ascertain.

The Life is a tolerably close version of chap. XIX of the third book of Baeda's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum.1 It seems worth publishing, first, as a further contribution to the eschatology of the Irish2, secondly, as being, in a Celtic shape, the earliest of the series of mediaeval visions3 which culminated in the Divina Commedia; and, lastly, as containing several words absent from Prof. Windisch's Wörterbuch.

Our saint's name appears in two forms, Fursa and Fursu.4 Fursa is a Middle-Irish corruption of Fursae, gen. Fursai, which occurs (as is proved by the rhyme) in the Martyrology of Oengus, Jan. 16. The latinised Furseus is from Fursae. The form Fursu is found in the Book of Leinster 349f, 372d, the Annals of Ulster, A.D. 647, and the Yellow Book of Lecan,


410d17, where a short collection of maxims (illegible in the facsimile) is headed ‘Apgiter crabaidh inso sis Fursu (Craibdigh)’5 ‘This below is the Alphabet of Piety of Fursu the Pious.’ Fursae and Fursu may come from a root *vort and be cognate with Lat. ‘versutus, vortere’, etc.

‘The Irish authorities’, says Mr Plummer (op. cit., II, 176) ‘differ widely as to Fursa's pedigree’; and indeed it is impossible to reconcile the genealogical statements in the Book of Leinster, p. 349f 38, with those in the same ms. p. 372d, and in the Martyrology of Donegal, p. 18, unless by the supposition that there were two or more saints of that name.6 Thus according to the Book of Leinster, p. 349f:

    {column 1}
  1. Fursu
  2. Mac Fintain
  3. Maic Findloga
  4. M Degrota
  5. M Luachain
  6. M Laga Lethain
  7. M Conaill Anglonnaig
  8. M Feic
  9. M Rosa
  10. M Fachtna
  11. M Senchada
  12. M Ailella
  13. M Cestaig
  14. M Rudraige
  15. Gelges ingen Aeda Find máthair Fursu.
  16. {column 2}
  17. Vel ita:
  18. Fursu
  19. Mac Fintain
  20. Maic Findloga
  21. M Conaill
  22. M Luachain
  23. M Lugdach Laga7
  24. M Eogain Moir qui et Mog Nuadat


And according to the Book of Leinster, p. 372d 60: ‘Brónach ingen Milchon maic Buain ca mbáe Pátric i ndáire, máthair Mochae Noendromma oc Loch Cuan, & Colmain Chomraire oc Uisniuch ocus Colmáin Mulind oc Daire Chaechain i nDal Riatai & epscuip Maic Erca o Domnuch Mór Maige Coba & Damnatan Slébe Betha & Fursu Craibdig in Perona.’

‘Brónach, daughter of Miliuc son of Búan, with whom Patrick was in bondage, (was the) mother of Mochoe of Noendruim at Loch Cuan, and of Colmán of the Casket at Uisnech, and of Colmán of the Mill at Daire Caecháin in Dalriada, and of bishop Mac Erca of Domnach Mór Maige Coba, and of Damnatán of Slíab Betha, and of Fursu the Pious in Péronne.’

According to the Martyrology of Donegal, (Jan. 16), Fursa's father was Lochín, of Dalaradia and his mother was Gelgéis (‘Bright Swan’), who was, according to one authority, daughter of Guaire Aidne, (ob. A. D. 662), and, according to another, daughter of Aed Finn.

The very modern appearance of the text is probably due to the transcriber, who seems to have substituted cc for g, cch for gh, tt for d, ff for bf, (i. e. eclipsed f), ao for oe, aoi for ói, in accordance with the spelling usual in the 17th century. The presence of the infixed pronouns, t and n points to the Middle-Irish period as the date of the translation. But the absence of deponents, and the occurrence of the preterite passive in -it (ro calmaigit) and the 2d pl. in -bair (fedabair), prove that it cannot be older than (say) the thirteenth or fourteenth century.