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Fragmentary Annals: Manuscript History

Source: Joan Newlon Radner (ed. & trans.)
Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, Dublin: DIAS 1978, vii–ix

Very little is known about the text from which the Fragmentary Annals in Brussels MS 5301–5320 survive. Most of the scanty evidence about the manuscript history of the text is contained in the annals themselves. The Brussels MS is the only copy of the text known to exist. Its source, according to the headnote and to notes within the text, was a transcription (now lost) made by Dubhaltach Mac Fir Bhisigh in 1643 (see his dated signature in entry FA 388) for Dr. John Lynch, from a vellum manuscript (also now lost) of Giolla na Naemh (Lat. Nehemias) Mac Áedhagáin Senior, a member of the Ormond legal family in whose school Dubhaltach is known to have studied. If this Giolla na Naemh was the writer or the most famous owner of the manuscript, rather than simply its owner at the time Dubhaltach used it, he may, as Professor Pádraig S. Ó Riain has suggested, be the same as the Giolla na Naemh Mac Áedhagáin whose son of the same name died in 1443 (see AFM 1443.11); thus Dubhaltach's exemplar may possibly be dated no later than the beginning of the fifteenth century.

Of the Mac Áedhagáin manuscript Dubhaltach tells us only (see FA 366, p. 134), that it was kept in a broken book; this is attested by the fact that entries for 662–704 A.D. follow those for 716–735 in the transcription, and by the large and small gaps throughout the text. (The disconinuities between Sections are obvious: small breaks in the text occur chiefly in Sections IV and V, for example, in FA 338, 349, 365, 366, 377, 387, 423, 429.) The Mac Áedhagáin book is not given a name in the text of the Fragmentary Annals, and indeed it may have been so broken that Dubhaltach did not know its name, but there are in other seventeenth-century sources some hints that it may have been—or may at least have been a copy of or extracts from—the Book of Cluain Eidnech.

In Foras Feasa ar Éirinn Keating lists a Leabhar Fionntain Chluana hEidhneach among the books of senchus of which the originals or copies still existed in his time (see Vol 3 p. 32), and he tells the story of the battle of Belach Mugna in nearly the same words as the Fragmentary Annals, stating that his account comes from a "sein-leabhar annalach Cluana hEidhneach Fionntain i Laoighis." (see Vol. III p. 212). The content and some features of the text of the Fragmentary Annals make it seem quite possible that the Annals were copied and preserved for some time at Cluain Eidnech. If the Book of Cluain Eidnech did contain this text, however, it is not likely that Keating ever had access to the book itself, since he made so little use of it. Of the material in the Fragmentary Annals, he reproduces only the Cath Belaig Mugna story, though it is reasonable to suppose that many of the other stories—particularly those concerning kings of Tara—would have been of interest to him. Most probably Keating had copies of only a few selections from the book. His other two extracts from it provide clues to the book's nature and history. He mentions Leabhar Cluana Eidhneach as the source of his accounts for the Synod of Ráith Breasail (A.D. 1111) and the Synod of Kells (A.D. 1152). A MS collection made for Sir James Ware gives a Latin account of the Synod of Kells almost identical to Keating's, headed "Ex Ms. Libro vetust. D. Flannani mac Ægain" (in BL Add. MS 4783, f.34.; I am grateful to Professor F.J. Byrne for this reference.)—again, a vellum MS in Mac Áedhagáin possession is linked to Cluain Eidnech, and there is a high probability, then, that the Fragmentary Annals that Dubhaltach copied from the Mac Áedhagáin vellum came ultimately from the Book of Cluain Eidnech. That book seems to have been a collection of various texts dealing with secular and ecclesiastical history. Considering their dates, content, and style, it seems likely that the lengthy and technical accounts of the two synods originated from a different text from the Fragmentary Annals. And it is probable, too, that the Book of Cluain Eidnech, when it came into the possession of the Mac Áedhagáins, contained a copy of a third text, the Bóroma, as well.

Although the text in the Brussels manuscript is the only known copy of the Fragmentary Annals, we do have access still to versions of two of the sources that were incorporated into the FA compilation. One of these sources is represented by the other existing texts of Irish annals for the pre-Norman period; the relationship between these and FA will be discussed at length later. The other source is a fragmentary chronicle containing many of the same tales as the earlier portion of FA; it survives in British Museum MS Egerton 1782, ff. 56a-65a, written in 1517 A.D., and was edited as Mionannala by Standish H. O'Grady in Silva Gadelica. The Mionannala seem to be copied from a text that was an important source for FA; comparison of the form of Mionannala with that of FA provides valuable information concerning the process of compilation of the text from which the Fragmentary Annals survive.

Copyright © Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1978 –
extract reproduced on the CELT website by kind permission of the copyright owner.

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