Book of Invasions
The Irish book of Invasions was compiled in the 12th century and alludes to several successful waves of mythical invasions of Ireland The narrative assembled under the title “Lebor Gabala Erenn” meaning The Book of the Taking of Ireland or the Book of Invasions are the literary embodiment of Ireland’s own impressions regarding the history of her population. For the early Irish they served somewhat the same functions as the accounts of the wandering of Aeneas did for the Romans.
To say, as some have done, that THE BOOK OF INVASIONS is a collection of Irish mythology is to give an entirely wrong impression of its contents. Some of the characters, it is true, may be rationalized gods, but the stories as they now stand belong rather to pseudo-history than to mythology. For example, Emer, Eber, and Eremon, though represented in the narrative as ancient kings, are in fact merely fictitious personages with names made up from the ancient name for Ireland, spelled in the earliest manuscripts as ériu. Modern students of early Irish history are inclined to see underlying these obviously fictitious narratives a substratum of fact, and to regard the account as reflecting in a general way an historical record of early population groups.
The version of BOOK OF INVASIONS presented in Cross and Slover’s ANCIENT IRISH TALES is preserved only in rather late manuscripts, but the ancient origin of at least some parts of it is convincingly supported by comparison with the early forms of the British-Latin HISTORY OF THE BRITONS (HISTORIA BRITONUM). The selections presented in that work are not continuous, but they form tolerably unified sections, describing the arrival of three different groups of immigrants. The first of the divisions there given is preceded in the complete text by the account of the arrival of Partholon and his people. The book sets out to be the history of Ireland. It states that there were five invasions of Ireland before the advent of the Gaels, these were:
1. Cessair, or Cesair
4. Fir Bolg
5. Tuatha De Danann
Book of Leinster
The Book of Leinster is an Irish manuscript of the twelfth century. It has 187 nine-by-thirteen leaves; it dates to about 1160 and includes in its varied contents complete versions of ‘The Cattle Raid of Froech’, ‘The Labour Pains of the Ulaid’, ‘The Tale of Macc Da Tho’s Pig’ and ‘The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu’ as well as an unfinished and rather different ‘Intoxication of the Ulaid’ and a complete, more polished ‘Cattle Raid of Cuailnge’.
Book of the Dun Cow
Of the manuscrpts that have survived, one of the earliest and most important belong to the twelfth century. Lebor na huidre (The Book of the Dun Cow) is so called after a famous cow belonging to St Ciaran of Clonmacnois; the chief scribe, a monk named Mael Muire, was slain by raiders in the Clonmacnois cathedral in 1106. Unfortunately, the manuscript is only a fragment: though sixty-seven leaves of eigthby-eleven vellum remain, at least as much has been lost. Lebor na huidre comprises thirty-seven stories, most of them myths/sagas, and includes substantially complete versions of ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’, ‘The Birth of CuChulain’, ‘The Wasting Sickness of CuChulain’ and ‘Bricriu’s Feast’ as well as an incomplete ‘Wooing of Etain’ and acephalous accounts of ‘The
Intoxication of the Ulaid’ and ‘The Cattle Raid of Cuailnge’.
Book of Carmarthen
The Black Book of Carmarthen, famous in the literary history of Wales, belongs to the town of Carmarthen, a product of St John’s Priory. In it there is a collection of pieces of mediaeval Welsh writing in the sphere of legend and prophesy, with unique material connected with Merlin or Myrddin, and revealing the deeply devotional muse of the Welsh monks. Gwyn ap Nudd figures in a poem included in The Black Book of Carmarthen. As the name already indicates, The Black Book of Carmarthen has traditionally been connected with the ancient town of Carmarthen. It has been said to have been produced by one of the Welsh-speaking monks of the Augustinian Priory of St Johns in Carmarthen who was a bit of an amateur in the art of copying, but loved Welsh literature and wanted to anthologise poems with a Dyfed if not Carmarthen bias. He may have had to do this in an institution the members of which would have looked askance at his labour of love. What, Taffy, are you doing there? For the other monks were probably Normans and English. But then Welsh persons have had to further their beloved culturein alien institutional surroundings since then. Our Austin canon smiled and said, ‘Ah’ and went on copying. All we can say is that we are deeply grateful to him. Certain poems would never have survived if it were not for him. Nor would the graphic wonder of the Black Book be with us today. It may be amateurish, a bit of a manuscriptual mess according to the connisseur, what with differing scripts and letter sizes, but it is a feast to the eye, and certainly a literary beano.
Doubt has been thrown on the connection with Carmarthen. But why the book be given on conjecture to say Whitland when the only place it has been linked with is Carmarthen? When tradition has it and we have no proof otherwise then from Carmarthen it comes. Sir John Price of Brecon who did a lot of work collecting manuscripts at the time of the Dissolution said that it came from the Priory there. It got a black cover eventually and hence the name. Its contents too indicate strongly that the anthologist was from the area. The fact that the central portion of the manuscript is given up to long poems in the PERSONA of Myrddin corroborates the Carmarthen link.
The legend of Myrddin is said to be in part a fictional explanation of the name of the town. Of course he may simply have come from Carmarthen. We know that the name of Caerfyrddin is derived from the Roman name of the fortress, Moridunum. Myrddin as poet and prophet was known in Wales as early as the tenth century, for he is referred to in the prophetic poem Armes Prydain which was composed by a staunch supporter of the dynasty of Deheubarth (South-West Wales). The connection made between Myrddin, a poet from Northern Britain and a contemporary of Taliesin, and the town of Carmarthen was made at least as early as the time of the composition of Armes Prydain. There are numerous references to places in Dyfed in the Myrddin poems in the Black Book of Carmarthen and they reveal a striking and emotional loyalty to the Southern dynasty of Deheubarth. Dating the book is not without its problems, but it is generally accepted that it was produced around 1250. But a lot of material in it is far older than that. For our understanding of it we owe much to A. O. H. Jarman.