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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Of The Miracles of Cairnech Here

Here is a chapter from my book on the early story of Mac Erca's triumphs over the Saxons, Britons, Franks and Irish etc. Following this story is the original tale from the Lebhor Bretnach - The Irish HB.

Of The Miracles of Cairnech Here.

The Lebhor Bretnach is the Irish version of the Historia Brittonum compiled in the eleventh century where Mac Erca's story forms part of the tale: Of the Miracles of Cairnech Here. The story tells the tale of Mac Erca’s victories over the British king Luirig/Lugaid/Lug/Lew and his further victories over the Franks, Saxons, Picts, Britons and Irish.

This tale of St. Cairnech, Mac Erca and Luirig appears to be of eleventh to fourteenth century hagiographical origin derived from an earlier lost life of St Cairnech compiled with other earlier material on Mac Erca that has been added to the Ballymote version of the Lebhor Bretnach and placed into the chronology of that work after the year 422 when the Romans had left Britain. Therefore, it was intended to cover the period from the Roman withdrawal to the mid sixth century. The earlier date for some of the material stems from the fact that the slaying of Lugaide by Mac Erca is mentioned in the Baile Chuin MS of the seventh to ninth centuries – “Fierce Lugaid of noble great drinking shall be approached: ordeal of battle. A glorious man upon him, Mac Ercéne.The details about some of Mac Erca’s triumphs may have come from a now lost story of his journeys.

This story of St Cairnech appears to be a composition utilising various sources. The first being genealogical, possibly of the tenth century or later, explaining the ancestry of the various characters; the second an earlier source detailing some of Mac Erca’s adventures and the third being material about St Cairnech himself. It is an interesting tale that does not appear to know of Mac Erca's connection with the fairy woman Sheen or of his mythical death at Cleitech, suggesting some essence of the tale may have pre-dated the later myth making of the tenth century onwards. It would seem inconceivable that a writer of a Vita about St. Cairnech would leave out the story of his involvement with Mac Erca’s death had it been known. In this story, Mac Erca’s sin is that he has taken the wife of Luirig, the British king whom he had defeated earlier, whereas in the story of his death his sin is that he takes on the concubine Sheen (Sin) and throws out his wife Duinsech. In this story there is no mention of the Danes or Vikings, instead it features the Franks, Britons, Picts, Irish and Saxons suggesting an early date for the parts about Mac Erca, possibly eighth century as discussed below.

In their 1848 publication of the Irish version of the Historia Brittonum, Todd and Herbert suggested this tale must be later than the year 1079 as this was when Pope Gregory the VII officially granted the primacy of the See of Lyons in writing. In the story, Cairnech makes a pilgrimage possibly to Lyon (Lien in story). However in reading Gregory’s letter confirming the primacy he states that it was already seen as such and also decreed by those who came before him:

“….by its appointment and authority, the church of Lyons is acknowledged for long to have held the primacy over the four provinces of Lyons, Rouen, Tours and Sens. Therefore we…wishing to follow the examples of the holy fathers and relying on their power, desire at due time to confirm the primacyof Lyons that they established and sanctioned by their decrees”

It is clear then that Lyons was considered the primary see of the area long before 1079, even if it was on pseudo decretals of Anecletus in the ninth century that Gregory based his decision. Therefore, some of this story of St Cairnech could indeed date from the ninth century and some of its sources to as early as the seventh and eighth centuries.

The story contains various clues as to the political situations prevalent when parts of it were written reflecting its pseudo-historical nature. Firstly Loarn is said to be king of Alba. Alba did not become a term for all of Scotland until the tenth century under Constantine II but the Irish had used the term since the ninth century, examples being in the Felire Oengusso, a list of Saints days. But here Loarn is not claimed to be a king of all Pictland, as it’s well known enough that he ruled only in Dal Riada. Therefore we can assume here that Alba here just means the Gaelic western parts of Scotland. So a post tenth century date is not required for this part of the tale.

The political situation that the story reflects concerning Loarn and that of a Pictish king called Saran/Taran and the Cenél Loarn being shown as taking a lead in Argyle affairs dates the composition of this material to the late seventh to the early eighth century when Taran was a Pictish King (692-696) and the Cenél Loarn were dominating Argyll under their king Selbach (698-723). By the mid eighth century the Picts were the dominant party in Argyll under their all conquering King Onuist (Oengus I 732-761). The reality of the sixth century was of Cenél Gabran dominating affairs in Argyle under Aedan Mac Gabran and his sons.

As discussed briefly above, the tale does not include the Vikings or Danes as enemies, placing it before these peoples attacked Ireland from 795 onwards. However the descendents of Loarn were once again powerful as the kings of Moray in the eleventh century when they took on the title King of Alba and so this is the time suggested by some scholars for the compilation of the story. This was the time of the Moray king Mac Bethad or Macbeth (1040-1057) as he is better known!

This story of Mac Erca’s triumphs interwoven within a vita of St Cairnech is an interesting problem. The tale includes two separate genealogical traditions. The first one, indicating the genealogy of Mac Erca descending from a mother called Erc is a late invention of the tenth to eleventh century when his name was re-interpreted as a matronymic, although some parts of the genealogy are original to the seventh century. In this genealogy Muiredach, Mac Erca’s father is made a son of Eoghan, son of Niall, which is an eighth century onwards innovation:

Sarran assumed the sovereignty of Britain after this, and established his power over the Saxons and Cruithnians. And he took to wife the daughter of the king of Alban, viz., Babona, daughter of Loarn, son of Erc. And it was not she that was married to him, but her sister, viz., Erc, daughter of Loarn, until she eloped with Muiredhach, son of Eoghan, son of Niall, to Eri,and she bore him four sons, viz. Muircheartach Mac Erca, and Fearadhach, and Tighearnach, and Maian. And Sarran had issue by Babona; and there were begotten by them five sons, viz., Luirig, and Cairnech, and Bishop Dallain, and Caemlach; and he i.e. Sarran died after victory and after triumph in the house of Martin.

This starts with Sarran a king Of Britain in the fifth century, father of St Carranog/Cairnech and Luirig/Lugaide - the next King of Britain (medieval Welsh Lew). Sarran seems to have ruled in north western Britain and Southern Scotland around Galloway as he was buried in Whitehorn according to this story.

The second is probably an earlier tradition and could be original to the eighth century:

and Mac Erca then committed an additional sin, that is, he took to himself the wife of Luirig, after many battles and conflicts with the king of France, to take his daughter from him, until at last the daughter fell into Mac Erca's hands, and she bare him four sons, viz. Constantine, and Gaedhal-Ficht (from whom descend the kings of Britain, and the kings of Britain-Cornn); Nellenn (a quo gens Nellan), and Scannal, the other son, a quo gens Scannail; it is in Eri the descendants of the two last are…

The first part of this tradition appears confusing. Mac Erca takes Luirig’s wife who appears to be the daughter of the king of France, ie of the Franks after defeating the Frankish king who can be no other than Clovis at this time. In this Mac Erca is made the progenitor through his marriage to Clovis’s daughter of all the major kings of all parts of Britain. The first son is Constantine, who is stated to be the progenitor of the British Kings. He appears to be the same as the Constantine mentioned by Gildas, the sixth century British historian. This is an interesting tradition to discover as it appears to be unique in its suggestion that Constantine had descendents who continued to rule parts of Britain in the early eighth century and indeed that his father was Mac Erca, the Irish Arthur. In twelfth century British tradition by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Constantine followed Arthur as King of Britain!

The second son is Gaedhil Ficht, basically Irish Picts, who are said to be the rulers of an independent Cornwall. This is not out of the question as early medieval Irish links to the area are well known. The Saxons didn’t make any headway into Cornwall until the early ninth century when Ecgbert, the Wessex king invaded and made it a dukedom, placing again then, this part of the tale to no later than the late eighth century as it wouldn’t make sense any later than this as there were no Kings of Cornwall.

Another indicator of early origins comes from the term used for the Anglo Saxon parts of Britain in this story, i.e. 'Saxonland' instead of 'Angliam'. It wasn't until the late eighth century onwards that words such as Angliam, Anglie and Anglorum were used by the Irish to describe it. Hence the date in the Irish annals of Ulster for the arrival of the Saxons in Britain to AD 464 is a ninth century onwards interpolation as is the entry for 589 regarding Augustine.

The third son is Nellan, hence the progenitor of the Ui’Neill’s of northern Ireland and the fourth Scannal, progenitor of the Eogonachta of southern Ireland. The Eogonachta were powerful in southern Ireland between the seventh to tenth centuries but Scannell was a sept of some significance in the eleventh century as it is recorded that in 1014, Eocha, son of Dunadbach, Chief of Clann Scannail, and Scannail son of Cathal, Lord of Eóganacht Locha Léin, were killed at the Battle of Clontarf. Whether this is significant in dating this part is debatable. All these links then must be considered legendary. As both genealogies are dubious we are no closer to finding out exactly who Mac Erca was descended from except for what Adamnan tells us writing in the late seventh century; that Mac Erca’s father was called Muiredach and he had three sons, Baitan, Domnall and Forcus. Whether this Muiredach was the son of Eoghan son of Niall and hence of the Ui'Neill’s is unknown but it is what the Ui Neill’s promoted when they merged their ancestor Muircertach mac Muiredach with Mac Erca sometime in the late eighth to ninth century.

Of The Miracles of Cairnech Here then as discussed above appears to be a work composed of differing sources over different centuries pieced together to form the tale that has come down to us from the book of Ballymote. The earliest sources from the seventh century are the mention of Mac Erca’s father and children and his defeat of Lugaide / Luirig. The next oldest sources are the battles with the Franks, Saxons, Britons and those of the Orkneys. So the eighth to ninth century. Possibly here the mention of Alba could fall into this period as well as the genealogical material concerning the defeat of the Frankish king and the subsequent children – Nellan, Scannel, Constantine and Gaedel Ficht.

This tale was written up from these sources sometime after the tenth century when the name Mac Erca was reinterpreted as a metronymic and when Alba was synonymous with all of Pictland Scotland and Argyll. Much of the material concerning Mac Erc’s battles and conquests and mythical offspring appears to be of eighth century origin, before the Vikings had invaded and whilst Cornwall was still an independent polity; when the Eogonachta were still important in southern Ireland and when the Ui’Neill’s had become powerful in northern Ireland, i.e. the eighth century onwards.

Of The Miracles of Cairnech Here.

SARRAN assumed the sovereignty of Britain after this, and established his power over the Saxons and Cruithnians. And he took to wife the daughter of the king of Alban, viz., Babona, daughter of Loarn, son of Erc. And it was not she that was married to him, but her sister, viz., Erc, daughter of Loarn, until she eloped with Muiredhach, son of Eoghan, son of Niall, to Eri, and she bore him four sons, viz. Muircheartach Mac Erca, and Fearadhach, and Tighearnach, and Maian. And Sarran had issue by Babona; and there were begotten by them five sons, viz., Luirig, and Cairnech, and Bishop Dallain, and Caemlach; and he i.e. Sarran died after victory and after triumph in the house of Martin.
 
Luirig then succeeded to the throne, and he extended his power over the Saxons, and he forcibly built a fort within the precincts of the monastery of Cairnech his brother. Muircheartach Mac Erca happened to be at that time with the king of Britain, learning military science, after he was expelled from Ireland for having killed the Crossans, and after having been subsequently expelled from Alba, for having killed his grandfather, Loarn, king of Alba.

It happened that he was at that time getting his arms consecrated by Cairnech, the son of his mother's sister; then Cairnech said to him, ‘Thou shalt be king of Eri and of Britain for ever, and shalt go to heaven after, provided thou canst but prevent Luirig from exercising his power against the Church.’ Then Mac Erca went to the king, and after he came he told his message, viz.: ‘Build not thy city’ (said he) ‘in the precincts of Cairnech the bishop.’ ‘As God is my judge,’ says Luirig, ‘I think more of the power of the pet wild fawn he has, than of his own power, or of the power of the Lord God whom he adores.’ Mac Erca returned to Cairnech, and told him the result. Great wrath suddenly seized Cairnech, et dixit, ‘My prayer to my Lord, to my God, is, that that very fawn may be the cause of his death, and by thy hand, O Mac Erca!’

Cairnech then commanded Mac Erca to go forth and destroy his brother, and he Mac Erca immediately took upon himself to fight him; and he went forth at the command of Cairnech to destroy the king. And God worked a great miracle there for Cairnech, viz. he sent a wild fawn out of the mountain into the king's assembly, and the host all went in pursuit of it except the king himself and his women. Et dixit Mac Erca, ‘If you had been just, my Lord, towards your cleric, it is certain that it would give increased happiness to have the royal robe on Luirig.’ Then Mac Erca thrust his battle staff into the king's side, so that it was balanced: and he returned to his cleric, and the head of the king with him, as a token; et dixit, ‘Lo, here is thy brother's head for thee, O Cairnech.’ Et dixit Cairnech, ‘Leave me the bone, and eat thou the marrow, and every third coarb shall be thine for ever, here and in Eri.’

Then he (Mac Erca) took the hostages and the power of the district into his own hands, conjointly with Cairnech, for seven years, as also the supreme sovereignty of Britain, and Cat, and Orc, and Saxonland. And Mac Erca then committed an additional sin, that is, he took to himself the wife of Luirig, after many battles and conflicts with the king of France, to take his daughter from him, until at last the daughter fell into Mac Erca's hands, and she bare him four sons, viz. Constantine, and Gaedhal-Ficht (from whom descend the kings of Britain, and the kings of Britain-Cornn); Nellenn (a quo gens Nellan), and Scannal, the other son, a quo gens Scannail; i. e. it is in Eri the descendants of the two last are. 

Now a great synod of the clergy of Europe was made at Tours of Martin, viz., three hundred and thirty-seven bishops, with the coarb of Peter, to meet Cairnech, Bishop of Tours and Britain-Cornn, and of all the British, to cast out every heresy, and to reduce every country to the discipline of the Church. And the chieftainship of the martyrs of the world was given to Cairnech, because martyrdom was his own choice. And Cairnech found thrice fifty bishops who made it also their choice to accompany Cairnech in pilgrimage, and that number went to Lien in pilgrimage for the sake of Mac Erca and Muiredhach. Cairnech then set out to the Britons of Cornn or Carnticeon, and a city was built by him under ground, in order that he might not see the earth, nor the country, nor the sky; and he increased the strength and sovereignty of Mac Erca for a year, and he (i.e. Cairnech) came to Eri before him, so that he was the first bishop of the Clann-Niall and of Temhar (Tara), and he was the first martyr and the first monk of Eri, and the first Brehon of the men of Eri also.

Now, after this the Franks and the Saxons made war against Mac Erca, and he destroyed their country and their cities after a long contest; and the country and the power of the territories adjacent to him were also destroyed by the greatness of his power and of his strength; and after this he came with a large fleet to take the sovereignty of Eri. He landed at Fan-na-long on the Boyne, where he burned his ships, from which circumstance comes the name of Fan-na-long; and he killed the provincial kings of Ireland afterwards, and took their sovereignty by right for ever, for himself and for his descendants. And then the power and strength of Britain was destroyed after him.