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The Quarrel between Finn and Oisín

Author: [unknown]

File Description

Kuno Meyer

Electronic edition compiled by Beatrix Färber Proof corrections by Hilary Lavelle and Beatrix Färber

Funded by the HEA via PRTLI 4 and
the HEA via the LDT Project

1. First draft, revised and corrected.

Extent of text: 2750 words


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Distributed by CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.
Text ID Number: G303011

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    Manuscript sources
  1. London, British Library, Harley 5280, folio 35b1. For full details see Robin Flower and Standish Hayes O'Grady (eds.), Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the British Library [formerly the British Museum]; 3 vols. (London 1926; repr. Dublin 1992, revised by Myles Dillon) vol. 1, 298–323.
  2. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 23 N 10, page 53. For details see Richard Irvine Best (ed.), Ms. 23 N 10 (formerly Betham 145) in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy: with descriptive introduction (Dublin 1954) xiv; see also Kathleen Mulchrone, T. F. O'Rahilly et al. (eds.), Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin 1926–43), vol. 22, MS 967, pp. 2769–80.
  3. Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates' Library Collection of Gaelic Manuscripts, vol. 83, p. 251 alias Leabhar Caol; a transcript made by Ewen McLachlan from vellum no. 32 called Leabhar Cille Brighde. 'As appears from a colophon at the end of our piece, the scribe who wrote it was called Fithel mac Flaithrig mic Aedha.' (Meyer 23).
    Editions and translations
  1. See below.
  1. Ernst Windisch, L'ancienne légende irlandaise et les poésies ossianiques. Trad. E. Ernault, Revue Celtique 5 (1881) 70–93.
  2. Heinrich Zimmer, Anzeige von 'Essai d'un Catalogue de la littérature epique d'Irlande', Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen (1887) 169–175; 184–193.
  3. Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville, La littérature ancienne de l'Irlande et l'Ossian de Mac-Pherson, Bibl. de l'École des Chartes 41 (1888) 475–487.
  4. Alfred Nutt, A new theory of the Ossianic Saga, Academy 39 (1891) 161–163; 235.
  5. Heinrich Zimmer, Ossin und Oskar. Ein weiteres Zeugnis für den Ursprung der irisch-gälischen Finn (-Ossian-) Sage in der Vikingerzeit, Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum 35 (1891) 1–176.
  6. George Henderson, The Fionn Saga, Celtic Review 1–3 (1904–1906).
  7. Edmund Curtis, Age and Origin of the Fenian tales, Ivernian Society Journal 1 (1909) 159–168.
  8. Kuno Meyer, Fianaigecht [Introduction]. Todd Lecture Series 16 (Dublin 1910).
  9. F. Mezger, Finn mac Cumaill und Fingal bis zum 17. Jahrhundert, American Journal of Philology 48 (1929) 361–367.
  10. R. D. Scott, The Thumb of Knowledge in legends of Finn, Sigurd and Taliesin. Studies in Celtic and French literature (New York 1930).
  11. Roger Chauviré (tr.), Contes ossianiques (Paris 1949).
  12. Josef Weisweiler, Die Kultur der irischen Heldensage, Paideuma 4 (1950) 149–170.
  13. Gerard Murphy, Duanaire Finn. The Book of the lays of Fionn, part 3. Dublin 1953 (=ITS volume 43.)
  14. Gerard Murphy, The Ossianic lore and romantic tales of medieval Ireland (Dublin 1955; reprinted 1961; reprinted Cork, Mercier Press, 1971 with revisions.)
  15. Josef Weisweiler, Hintergrund und Herkunft der ossianischen Dichtung, Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch 4 (1963) 21–42.
  16. David Krause, The hidden Oisín, Studia Hibernica 6 (1966) 7–24.
  17. Seán Mac Giolla Riabhaigh, 'Ní bía mar do bá.' Scrúdú téamúil ar na laoithe Fiannaíochta, Irisleabhar Mhá Nuad (1970) 52–63.
  18. James MacKillop, Fionn mac Cumhaill: Celtic Myth in English Literature. Syracuse 1986. [With useful, well-structured bibliography on pp. 197–249].
  19. Daithí Ó hÓgáin, Fionn Mac Cumhaill: Images of a Gaelic Hero. Dublin 1988.
  20. Máirtín Ó Briain, Review of Ó hÓgáin, Bealoideas 57 (1989) 174–183.
  21. Donald E. Meek, Review of Ó hÓgáin, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 22 (Winter 1991) 101–103.
    The edition used in the digital edition
  1. Kuno Meyer, The Quarrel between Finn and Oisín in Fianaigecht. , Dublin, School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (1910) (1937) (1993) page 22–26


Project Description

CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

Sampling Declaration

The electronic text covers pages 22, 23 and even pages 24–26. The English translation is available in a separate file, T303011.

Editorial Declaration


Text has been proof-read twice.


The electronic text represents the edited text. The editor's annotations are integrated into the markup and numbered sequentially. Meyer made corrections to materials edited in 'Fianaigecht' in ZCP 8, 599, but none of these refer to the present text. Expansions are marked. Letters supplied by the editor are marked sup resp="KM". In two cases in the variants cited the manuscript identifiers seem erroneous; these have been noted.


There is no direct speech tagged; within the poem speech has been marked by sp and speaker.


When a hyphenated word (hard or soft) crosses a page-break, the page-break is marked after the completion of the hyphenated word (and punctuation).


div0=the tale; page-breaks are marked pb n=""/; manuscript foliation is marked mls unit="MS folio" n="".


Names are not tagged.

Profile Description

Created: By Irish monastic scribes; though the manuscripts are not earlier than 16th century, the prose and poetry is Old Irish. Date range: ninth century.

Use of language

Language: [GA] The text is in Old Irish.
Language: [LA] One word in Latin occurs.
Language: [EN] English appears in the editor's introduction and notes.

Revision History

Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition: G303011

The Quarrel between Finn and Oisín: Author: [unknown]

List of witnesses


The Quarrel between Finn and Oisín

The story of the combat between father and son has touched almost every nation which has produced an epic, or ballads of an epic character, or as in the case of the Irish, epic tales. That particular version of the story, which in Old-Irish literature is embodied in the tale of the fight between Cúchulinn and his son Conla1 is ultimately derived, both in its main features and in all important details, from the Persian story of Rustem and Sohrab. This occurs in an episode in the Shah Nameh of Firdausi, a poet of the tenth century, who worked up older legends. Long before his time, however, it had found its way from Persia westward. It must have reached the Goths in their migrations, from whom it passed into the literature of several older Germanic tribes. For the Old-High-German poem of the combat between Hildebrand and Hadubrand has a Low-German origin; we meet the same motive in the Norse Thidrek-saga, and find traces of it in Anglo-Saxon literature. It seems most likely that it was the Anglo-Saxons who handed it on to the Irish some time during the seventh or early eighth century.

In Old-Irish literature the legend was naturally incorporated in the chief cycle of story-telling at that time, attaching itself to the hero whose adventures most resembled those of Hildebrand. Like Rustem and Hildebrand, Cúchulinn had spent his youth in foreign lands. There he begot the son who was to fall by his hand.

The discovery of another Irish setting belonging to the Ossianic cycle will cause little surprise to those who know that this later cycle modelled many of its stories on those of the older heroic cycle. It is true, the legend of Finn and Oisín did not lend itself well to the introduction of the new motive. For in all the stories of the cycle Finn and his son are throughout on amicable terms and closely associated in their exploits and adventures. We shall see how the narrator gets out of the difficulty by inventing a quarrel between Finn and Oisín, during which the latter absents himself for a whole year. Again, the tragic issue was not adaptable to the Ossianic


saga. So a humorous and burlesque treatment is substituted, such as we find occasionally in the literature of other nations who have introduced the motive. Here the combat is merely a bit of rough horse-play or wrangle of words. This is the case, e.g., in a thirteenth-century French epic called Macaire, in which a peasant returning home at the close of a war meets his two sons walking along with their backs bent under a heavy load of wood. He does not recognize them, they behave rudely to him, and a quarrel of words ensues, in the course of which recognition is brought about.2 This is the form chosen by the Irish story-teller.

The poem has come down to us, so far as I know, in three manuscripts only: H i.e. Harleian 5280, fo. 35b1; N i.e. 23 N 10, p. 53; and M i.e. Ewen McLachlan's transcript which he called Leabhar Caol, preserved in the Advocates' Library Collection of Gaelic MSS., vol. 83, p. 251. The vellum manuscript itself from which M'Lachlan made his transcript has for some time been missing from the Library. It was called Leabhar Cille Brighde, and bore the number 32. An account of its chief contents will be found in the Report of the Comittee of the Highland Society of Scotland, Edinburgh 1805.3 As appears from a colophon at the end of our piece, the scribe who wrote it was called Fithel mac Flaithrig mic Aedha.4 I am indebted to the kindness of Professor Donald Mackinnon for a most careful copy of M'Lachlan's transcript.

Though none of these three MSS. is earlier than the sixteenth century, the language both of the prose and poetry contained in the piece is pure Old Irish. Indeed, we have here another instance of an Ossianic text which may be confidently assigned to the ninth century. Short as both prose and poetry are—the latter only sixteen stanzas—there are enough old forms, particularly in the verb, that make it impossible to assign a later date. In syntax the position of the attribute before the noun on which it depends may be noted, as in fóibur frossae, aiss lomma. Unfortunately, the verses are badly handed down in all the MSS., being defective and corrupt in several places. My translation can therefore only be tentative and imperfect.


Bói Find úa Báiscne fo Erinn oc cuinchid a maic .i. Oiséne .

Bói Oiséne bliadain nícon fessa imthechta . Bói co n-ulcus menman fria athair . Fangaib Find iarum i ndíthrub már . Bói Oiséne oc fuiniu mucce. Famboith intít Find & tobert tress ndó. Gabais Oiséne a arm & a airimbert . Nínaithgiuin fochétóir. Is and asbert Find robad báeth dond óclaeich comrac frisin fer líath . Canait oblirach íarum .

Oisín dixit:

    1. Is derb lem-sae,
      cia domaimse in fer líath,
      nícon áithiu uig a gái,
      nícon ba letha a scíath.


    1. Cinip áithiu uig a gái
      is cinip letha a scíath,
      fri úair n-imbertae i cath
      bid foracal in fer líath.


    1. Is glé cid tressa a rig
      ocus cid letha a bil ,
      nícon cumaing ar asnu
      arumfosta i cridiu .


    1. Nícon messe as samail
      frisin ngamain ong ,
      fer líath rogoin rogonar
      rodaim do bath co mbí toll.


    1. Ó rogonar co fa thrí
      i ndorar for sithsligi 5,
      is olc a síanán trocha
      fri agaid ind ócbotha .


    1. Is éol dam-sa ind ócbud
      berte innurain nellaig ,
      ó rumbíät ... nicon rethid fuili§
      rethit fuili for remmaig .


    1. ed ón dogníät
      ó robíät i fedmaim ,
      ... taodhuit§; in t-óclig 6 elig ,
      benir senláech fri talmain.



    1. In fer comous§ cona sleig
      do chomruc frisin n-óclig ,
      is éol dam-sa a mbiäs de:
      dluge srónae óclaige.


    1. Ó foruban crith cech cnáim
      ní goirt in gái assa láim,
      óclig for topur thuli ,
      errach senduni.


    1. Ó rombíät immalle i clochur in garbslige ,
      fritecht fóibur ní cara,
      aiss lomma neich nacana.


    1. Is di álchaib ind fir léith
      labrad a cobraud a scéith,
      rosagat fóibur frossae ,
      fétat na senchossae .


    1. Nícon ralus ó rígluch
      geilt for fedaib i ndíthrub ,
      isin dorir toilge tóib
      gnáithi óclaig for rind cróib .


    1. In geilt for rith sunde tíar
      nícon óclaig , is fer líath,
      in friuch file for suidiu
      is é bís for senduniu.


    1. Noll a maic,
      ní maith a congairi-siu,
      cia nommera ní fuban,
      is am comman tairisiu .


    1. A senláich,
      dígnais etir ócbadu ,
      ní bu accobar do chrád
      manip ág ar óclachu .


    1. Inna hule immalle
      bu messa doïb de,
      dia mbem inar comardus
      ó ascomartmar ar nglé.7

    Is derb.

Tánic a muinter co Find & co Oisín íarum.