An Edition of In Lebor Ollaman
Dr. Roisin McLaughlin
School of Celtic Studies
Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
This project entails the edition of a medieval Irish text known as In Lebor Ollaman ‘The Ollam’s Book’. An ollam (the Modern Irish equivalent of which is ollamh ‘professor’) was the highest ranking professional poet in early Ireland, holding the same social and legal status as a king and a bishop. The text is written mainly in Middle Irish, the standard written language dated to approximately 900-1200. A date of composition towards the end of the Middle Irish period can be established on the basis of certain linguistic features and the identification of citations from earlier Irish and Latin souces.
In Lebor Ollaman takes the form of a series of questions and answers on topics dealt with in another important early Irish pedagogical text known as Auraicept na nÉces 'The Poets' Primer'. The latter formed part of the curriculum for the student poet and would have been studied as part of his professional training in the poetic schools. The contents of In Lebor Ollaman are wide ranging and include theories on topics as diverse as the number of Adam and Eve’s children, the motif of the tres linguae sacrae ‘three sacred languages’ (Hebrew, Greek and Latin), the invention of the Irish language and the alphabets of Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Irish and the value of certain characters in the Irish alphabet. A particularly interesting aspect of its teachings is the fact that it presents alternative versions of theories found in Auraicept na nÉces, thus hinting at the existence of other schools of thought on linguistic theory and providing an insight into the compilation and interpretation of didactic texts in early Ireland. Some of these alternative theories are introduced by phrases such as ní cóir danó sin ‘that is not right’ and míchorp sin ‘that is an incorrect text’ (the word míchorp is unattested elsewhere).
Despite its many interesting features, In Lebor Ollaman has never before been edited or translated and is currently available only in manuscript form. An important aspect of my work in preparing a critical edition has been the identification of eight copies of the text in vellum and paper manuscripts written from the late fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. In seven manuscripts it is immediately followed by Auraicept na nÉces, illustrating the close relationship between the two texts in the manuscript tradition and suggesting that In Lebor Ollaman functioned as a teaching aid or exegetical text to be read in conjunction with the Auraicept. This in itself provides a valuable insight into how didactic texts were read, interpreted and transmitted in the poetic schools.
One of the earliest copies of the text is that found in the Book of Ballymote (Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta; Royal Irish Academy Manuscript 23 P 12), a late fourteenth century vellum manuscript named after Ballymote in County Sligo. Unlike most of the manscript copies of the text, the scribes of which are anonymous, we can identify the scribe of this section of the Book of Ballymote as Solamh Ó Droma. Digital images of this and many other Irish manuscripts are available online via the Irish Script On Screen (ISOS) website of the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (https://www.isos.dias.ie). The image above shows the opening section of In Lebor Ollaman from the Book of Ballymote, beginning on page 299 (column b, line 30) with the Prologue, a section of which states (lines 42-44): Incipit do seancaidecht filedh i(n) popal Padraic 7 beannacais Padraic a ngina arna habraidis gai i ndlighed seancaidhechta conid ann at-bertadar so sis… ‘Here begins the historical lore of the poets [assembled] in Patrick’s tent and Patrick blessed their mouths so that they would not pronounce a falsehood in the law of senchas (historical lore), so that they said this below…’. The main body of the text then begins on line 44 with the heading Incipit don Lebor Ollam ‘In Lebor Ollaman begins’. An illuminated capital C marks this as a significant section. As is standard practice in Irish manuscripts, many of the words are abbreviated in order to save vellum. The text is preceded in the manuscript by other material relating to the training of poets, such as metrical tracts and a short treatise on satire beginning on column A, line 6 with the words Cis lir fodla aire? ‘How many divisions of satire are there?’
Having identified all the manuscript copies of the text, the next stage in the project was to analyse their relationship and establish a stemma or family tree of manuscripts descended from a common original. Transcriptions were then made and, since the text had never been edited before, punctuation and capital letters were added. It was also divided into paragraphs and the spelling was standardised. Other editorial tasks included the provision of an introduction setting the text in its historical and literary context, an English translation and notes dealing with linguistic and other matters.
An The Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship has enabled me to prepare a critical edition and translation of In Lebor Ollaman which will make this important text available for the first time to scholars of early Irish, history, linguistics and related disciplines and will also add greatly to our knowledge of the teaching of language and linguistic theory in early Ireland.
MANUSCRIPT IMAGE: Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta, The Book of Ballymote. Royal Irish Academy Manuscript 23 P 12 (536), page 299. The text of In Lebor Ollam begins on column b, line 30.