For all the glorious ancient Irish tomes that have survived the years, a large number have been lost to our turbulent history. How do we know we are missing some if we don’t have them? Good question. We know we’re missing some because they’re mentioned in tomes that we do have. A list was compiled of the texts that we hope, somehow, some day, will come to light and be found. I’ve highlighted three of the books below that I believe are of particular interest to Irish society.
The Cuilmenn (Quil-men) is referred to in the Book of Leinster – known for having the most substantial version of The Táin. In fact, it’s the story of The Táin where the Cuilmenn is mentioned:
“The filés [bards] of Erinn were now called together by Senchan Torpéist [about A.D. 580], to know if they remembered the Táin bó Chuailgné in full; and they said that they knew of it but fragments only. Senchan then spoke to his pupils to know which of them would go into the countries of Letha to learn the Táin which the Sai had taken ‘eastwards’ after the Cuilmenn. Eminé, the grandson of Nininé, and Muirgen, Senchan’s own son, set out to go to the East.”
This shows us a few things. It doesn’t just mention the Cuilmenn manuscript, it also points to the fact that, even in these ancient times, Irish manuscripts were being taken to the Continent with Irish scholars. ‘Letha’ is the name by which Italy and, what are now called the Papal States, were designated by the Irish writers.
The Saltair of Tara
The Saltair of Tara is a book attributed to Cormac Mac Art, one of Tara’s most famous kings. His reign is dated to have taken place between the 2nd and 4th century and to have existed alongside the mythical Fionn mac Cumhaill. It is mentioned in both The Book of Ballymote, and the Yellow Book of Lecan:
“A noble work was performed by Cormac at that time, namely, the compilation of Cormac’s Saltair, which was composed by him and the Seanchaidhe [Historians] of Erinn, including Fintan, son of Bochra, and Fithil, the poet and judge. And their synchronisms and genealogies, the succession of their kings and monarchs, their battles, their contests, and their antiquities, from the world’s beginning down to that time, were written; and this is the Saltair of Temair [Tara], which is the origin and fountain of the Historians of Erinn from that period down to this time. This is taken from the Book of the Uachongbhail.”
The oldest reference to this book is found in a poem on the site of ancient Tara, by Cuan O’Lochain. He was a distinguished scholar, and native of Westmeath, who died in the year 1024. The quotation given below is taken from the Book of Ballymote, a volume compiled in the year 1391, now in possession of the Royal Irish Academy:
Temair, choicest of hills,
For possession of which Erinn is now devastated,
The noble city of Cormac, son of Art,
Who was the son of great Conn of the hundred battles:
Cormac, the prudent and good,
Was a sage, a filé, a prince:
Was a righteous judge of the Fené-men,
Was a good friend and companion.
Cormac gained fifty battles:
He compiled the Saltair of Temur.
In that Saltair is contained
The best summary of history;
It is that Saltair which assigns
Seven chief kings to Erinn of harbours;
They consisted of the five kings of the provinces.
The Monarch of Erinn and his Deputy.
In it are written on either side,
What each provincial king is entitled to,
From the king of each great musical province.
The synchronisms and chronology of all,
The kings, with each other [one with another] all;
The boundaries of each brave province,
From a cantred up to a great chieftaincy.
If he’d known it was going to disappear, he might have made two. If he could find the time.
The Saltair of Cashel
I mention the Saltair of Cashel mainly due to what is believed to be contained within it – if indeed it still exists somewhere. It was compiled by Cormac Mac Cullinan, King of Munster, and Archbishop of Cashel (died 903). It is believed that the ancient tome “Cormac’s Glossary”, was compiled from the interlined gloss (so basically the notes) of The Saltair of Cashel. And based on Cormac’s Glossary it looks like The Saltair contained information on our ancient history, laws, mythology and social customs. It is a treasure trove of ancient lore. A copy was in existence in 1454 and indeed there is a copy of this in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Laud, 610). It is not a full copy, however, only a copy of portions that could be deciphered at the time.
So keep an eye out for it, lads.
The List of Lost Books:
The Saltair of Tara
The Saltair of Cashel
The Cin Droma Snechta
The Book of St. Mochta
The Book of Cuana
The Book of Dubhdaleithe
Leabhar buidhe Slaine, or Yellow Book of Slane
The original Leabhar na h-Uidhre
The Books of Eochaidh O’Flannagain
A certain book known as the “Book eaten by the poor people in the desert”. (Please find this book.)
The Book of Inis an Duin
The Short Book of St. Buithe’s Monastery (or Monasterboice)
The Books of Flann of St. Buithe’s Monastery
The Book of Flann of Dungeimhin (Dungiven, co. Derry)
The Book of Dun da Leth Ghlas (or Downpatrick)
The Book of Doiré (Derry)
The Book of Sabhall Phatraic (or Saull, co. Down)
The Book of the Uachongbhail (Navan, probably)
The Leabhar dubh Malaga, or Black Book of St. Molaga
The Leabhar buidhe Moling, or Yellow Book of St. Moling
The Leabhar buidhe Mhic Murchadha, or Yellow Book of Mac Murrach
The Leabhar ruadh Mhic Aedhagain, or Red Book of Mac Aegan
The Leabhar breac Mhic Aedhagain, or Speckled Book of Mac Aegan
The Leabhar fada Leithghlinne, or Long Book of Leithghlinn, or Leithlin
The Books of O’Scoba of Cluain Mic Nois (or Clonmacnois)
The Duil Droma Ceata, or Book of Drom Ceat
The Book of Clonsost (in Leix, in the Queen’s County)