Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The History of Ireland (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 10


Columcille came to Ireland having a cerecloth over his eyes, so that he might not see the soil of Ireland. For he was forbidden to look at the soil of Ireland from the time that Molaise imposed as penance on him to go to Alba and not to see the land of Ireland till death, and it was for this reason that he kept the cerecloth over his eyes while he was in Ireland until his return to Alba; and it is to relate Columcille's fulfillment of this penance that Molaise composed this stanza:

    1. Though Colum came from the east
      In a bark across the great sea,
      He saw nothing in noble Ireland
      On his coming to the convention.

Now the reason why Molaise imposed on Columcille the penance of going to Alba was that Columcille caused three battles to be fought in Ireland, to wit, the Battle of Cuil Dreimhne, the Battle of Cuil Rathan, and the Battle of Cuil Feadha. The cause of the Battle of Cuil Dreimhne, according to the old book called Uidhir Chiarain, was this: Diarmaid, son of Fearghus Ceirrbheoil, king of Ireland, held a Feis of Tara, and a nobleman was slain at that feis by Cuarnan, son of Aodh, son of Eochaidh Tiormcharna; and the reason why Diarmaid slew this Cuarnan was that he had slain the nobleman at the feis in violation of the law


and sanctuary of the feis. And before Cuarnan was slain he put himself under the protection of the two sons of Mac Earca, to wit, Fearghus and Domhnall, and they put him under the protection of Columcille, and Diarmaid slew him in violation of Columcille's protection for having transgressed the law of Tara, and the result of this was that Columcille assembled clanna Neill of the north (on account of his own protection and that of the children of Mac Earca having been violated), and the Battle of Cuil Dreimhne was fought against Diarmaid and the men of Connaught, and they were defeated through the prayer to Columcille.

The Black Book of Molaga gives another reason why the Battle of Cuil Dreimhne was fought, to wit, through the unjust judgment Diarmaid gave against Columcille, when he secretly copied the Gospel from Fionntain's book, and Fionntain claimed for his own the copy which was written from his own book. Accordingly, both sides chose Diarmaid as a judge between them; and the judgment Diarmaid gave was that to every cow belonged her calf and that to every book belonged a copy of it; and that was the second reason why the Battle of Cuil Dreimhne was fought.

The reason why Columcille caused the battle of Cuil Rathan to be fought against the Dal nAruidhe and the Ultonians was because a contention had arisen between Columcille and Comghall, when the Dal nAruidhe showed themselves partial in the contention.

The reason why Columcille had caused the Battle of Cuil Feadha to be fought against Colman, son of Diarmaid, was to avenge the affront given him in the murder of Baodan, son of Ninnidh, king of Ireland, at Leim an Eich by Coman, son of Colman, in violation of Colum's protection.

Now Colum, with his holy clerics, proceeded from Alba to Ireland, as we have said, and when he was approaching the convention the queen, Aodh's wife, told her son, Conall,


not to show any reverence to the heron-cleric or to his company. And when Colum was informed of this before he arrived at the place he said: ‘It is my will that the queen and her handmaid, in the shape of two herons, be over that ford below until Doom.’ Here is a proof from the Amhra repeating the words of Colum in this stanza:
    1. Let her become a heron,
      Said the cleric in a great rage,
      And let her handmaid exactly be
      A heron in her company.

And the reason why he ordered that the handmaid become a heron together with the queen was that it was she who came with a message from the queen to Conall, telling him not to show any reverence to the heron-cleric or to his company. And I hear from many people that ever since two herons are usually seen on the ford which is beside Drom Ceat.

As to Columcille, when he arrived at the convention the party of Conall, son of Aodh, son of Ainmire, was the nearest to him in the assembly, and when Conall saw the clerics he incited the rabble of his party against them, thrice nine their number, and they pelted them with clods of clay, and they bruised and hurt the clerics. And Colum asked who were thus beating them. Colum was told that it was Conall, son of Aodh, who was inciting them to do this deed, and he ordered that thrice nine bells be rung on the spot against Conall, whom he cursed and deprived of royalty, of authority, of senses, of memory, of his understanding. And from these bells that were rung against him he is called Conall Clogach.

After this Colum went to the party of Domhnall, son of Aodh, and Domhnall went to meet him and bade him welcome, and kissed his cheek and seated him in his own place. Colum gave his blessing to Domhnall, son of Aodh, and prayed God that he might attain the sovereignty of


Ireland; and it happened ultimately that he held the sovereignty of Ireland for thirteen years before he died.

Colum, accompanied by Domhnall, proceeded thence to the king's party, and when he had come into the king's presence the latter welcomed him—the king dreaded him greatly on account of what he had done to Conall, to the queen, to her handmaid, as we have said. ‘My welcome is compliance with my wish,’ said Colum. ‘It shall be granted thee,’ said the king. ‘Then,’ said Colum, ‘what I wish is this: I make three requests of thee, namely, to keep the filés whom thou art banishing from Ireland, and to free Scannlan Mor, son of Ceannfaolaidh, king of Osruighe, from the bondage in which thou keepest him, and not to go to impose a tribute on the Dal Riada in Alba.’ ‘I do not wish to keep the filés,’ said the king, ‘so unjust are their demands and so numerous are they. For there are usually thirty in the train of an ollamh, and fifteen in that of an anroth, and so on for the other grades of the filé down to the lowest.’ Each of them used to have a separate train of attendants according to his degree, so that nearly the third of the men of Ireland followed the bardic profession.

Columcille said to the king that it was right to set aside many of the filés, as they were so numerous. But he advised him to maintain a filé as his own chief ollamh after the example of the kings who went before him, and that each provincial king should have an ollamh, and, moreover, that each lord of a cantred or district in Ireland should have an ollamh, and Columcille proposed this plan and Aodh assented to it; and it was to celebrate this benefit which Columcille conferred on the filés that Maolsuthain composed this stanza:

    1. The filés were saved by this means
      Through Colum of the fair law;
      A filé for each district is no heavy charge.
      It is what Colum ordained.


From this regulation, which was made by Aodh, son of Ainmire, and Columcille, it followed that the king of Ireland and every provincial king and every lord of a cantred had a special ollamh, and that each of these ollamhs had free land from his own lord, and, moreover, the lands and worldly possessions of each of these ollamhs enjoyed general exemption and sanctuary from the men of Ireland. It was also ordained that a common estate should be set apart for the ollamhs where they could give public instruction after the manner of a University, such as Raith Cheannait and Masruidhe Mhuighe Sleacht, in Breithfne, where they gave free instruction in the sciences to the men of Ireland, as many as desired to become learned in seanchus and in the other sciences that were in vogue in Ireland at that time.

The ardollamh of Ireland at that time was Eochaidh Eigeas, son of Oilill, son of Earc, and it was he who was called Dallan Forgaill, and he sent out ollamhs and set them over the provinces of Ireland, namely, Aodh Eigeas over the district of Breagh and over Meath, Urmhaol chief eigeas over the two provinces of Munster, Sanchan, son of Cuairfheartach, over the province of Connaught, and Fear Firb, son of Muireadhach, son of Mongan, in the ollamhship of Ulster; and, moreover, an ollamh in every cantred in Ireland under these high ollamhs, and they were to have free land from their territorial chiefs, as well as sanctuary, as we have said; and each of them was to get certain rewards for their poems and compositions.

The second request Colum asked of Aodh was to set Scannlan Mor, king of Osruighe, free, and let him go to his own country. This the king refused. ‘I shall not press it further,’ said Colum, ‘if it be God's will may Scannlan untie my thongs or take off my shoes to-night when I am at matins.’

‘The third request I make of thee,’ said Columcille, ‘is to grant a respite to the Dal Raida and not to go to


Alba to plunder them with a view to laying a tribute on them, for you have a right only to a head-rent from them and a levy of forces on land and sea.’ ‘I shall not grant them respite, but shall pay them a visit,’ said Aodh. ‘Then,’ said Colum, ‘they will have a respite from thee for ever,’ and so it was.

Thereupon Columcille, with his clerics, took leave of the king and of the convention, and the Book of Glendalough states that Aodhan, son of Gabhran, son of Domhanghurt, king of Alba, was at that convention, and that he took his leave of the king and of the assembly along with Columcille. The same book says that the convention of Drom Ceat sat for a year and a month instituting laws and regulating tributes and forming friendly alliances between the men of Ireland.