Áed Ua Crimthainn

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Folio 53 of the Book of Leinster

Áed Ua Crimthainn (fl. 12th century), also called Áed mac Crimthainn, was abbot and coarb of Terryglass (Tir dá Glas), near Lough Derg in County Tipperary, Ireland.[1] He was the principal scribe of the Book of Leinster (in Irish Lebar na Núachongbhála, the Book of Oughaval, an important Middle Irish medieval illuminated manuscript, and is also believed to have been its sole compiler.[2][3][4][5]

Áed signed himself Áed Ua Crimthainn.[4]

Life and work[edit]

Áed was a scholar and a descendant of an old ecclesiastical family of County Laois who were the comarbai (heirs) of Colum moccu Loigse,[6] the 6th century founder of the religious house of Terryglass and a friend of Colum Cille.[2] He was the temporal, if not the spiritual, head of Terryglass, succeeding Finn mac maic Chélechair Ui Cheinnéidig, who died in 1152. It seems that Áed himself had no successor and was the last coarb, as Terryglass was burned down in 1164 and was then dissolved by reforms later in the century.[4]

Áed was a friend of Finn mac Gussáin Ua Gormáin, bishop of Kildare and abbot of Newry, who sometimes collaborated with him.[3][4][7][8] Both Finn and Gilla na Náem Úa Duinn assisted Áed with compiling the Book of Leinster.[5][9]

According to a note in the Book of Leinster "Áed Ua Crimthainn wrote the book and collected it from many books". It is a literary compendium of stories, poetry, and history, and it appears from annals included in it that it was written between 1151 and 1201, although largely completed by the 1160s.[8] The last entry in the manuscript in Áed's hand which can be dated appears to belong to the year 1166.[4] Gerald of Wales saw the book when he accompanied his cousin Strongbow on his invasion of Ireland and said of its illuminations that they were "the work of Angels".[10]

Áed was probably the court historian of Diarmait Mac Murchada. In the Book of Leinster he was apparently the first scholar to create the concept of the rí Érenn co fressabra, the "king of Ireland with opposition", later more widely adopted. This described Diarmait's ambitions and the achievements of his great-grandfather Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó. Áed's description of the period between the death of Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill and the rise of Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó was misread by Conall Macgeoghegan when he compiled the so-called Annals of Clonmacnoise in the 17th century, leading to the inclusion of poet Cuán Ua Lothcháin and abbot Corcrán Clérech in some old lists of High Kings of Ireland.[11]

A letter from Bishop Finn to Áed was copied into the Book of Leinster, at folio 206, by one of the other hands of the manuscript.[7] This has been called the oldest surviving personal letter to have been written in Ireland,[12] although this ignores earlier correspondence between Irish bishops and the archbishops of Canterbury.[5] The letter reads:

Life and health from Find bishop to Áed son of Crimthainn, man of learning of the high king of Leth Moga, coarb of Colum son of Crimthainn,[13] and chief scholar [fer léiginn] of Leinster as regards acuteness, information, cultivation of books, research and knowledge, and let the end of this tale be written for me. You may be certain, o keen Áed, o man of great beauty, whether I be a long or a short time without you I would like you to be with me. Let the poem book of Mac Lonáin be brought to me so that we may study the meanings of the poems that are in it, et vale in Christo.[7]

Áed respected Irish tradition, even when it offended his religious beliefs or his educated sense of reason.[1] However, at the end of the Book of Leinster, the writer added this reservation:

But I, who have written this history, or rather fable, give no credence to the various incidents related in it. For some things in it are the deceptions of demons, others poetic inventions; some are probable, others improbable; while still others are included for the delight of fools.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Lydon, James F., The Making of Ireland: From Ancient Times to the Present (London: Routledge, 1998, ISBN 978-0-415-01348-2) pp. 42–43 at google.co.uk
  2. ^ a b Breen, Aidan, Áed Ua (or Mac) Crimthainn in Duffy, Seán, Ailbhe MacShamhráin & James Moynes, Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia (CRC Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-415-94052-8) pp. 4–5 at books.google.co.uk
  3. ^ a b O'Neill, Timothy, The Irish Hand: Scribes and Their Manuscripts from the Earliest Times to the Seventeenth Century with an Exemplar of Irish Scripts (Dublin: Dufour Editions, 1984, ISBN 978-0-85105-411-7)
  4. ^ a b c d e Follett, Westley, Céli Dé in Ireland: Monastic Writing and Identity in the Early Middle Ages (London: Boydell Press, 2006, ISBN 978-1-84383-276-8) pp 129–130 at books.google.co.uk
  5. ^ a b c Flanagan, Marie Therese, Irish Royal Charters (Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-19-926707-1) p. 122 & footnote 71
  6. ^ otherwise Colum mac Crimthainn
  7. ^ a b c O'Sullivan, William, 'Notes on the scripts and make-up of the Book of Leinster', in Celtica 7 (1966) pp. 1–31
  8. ^ a b Kelleher, Margaret, and Philip O'Leary (eds.) The Cambridge History of Irish literature – Volume 1 to 1890 (Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 33 & 36
  9. ^ Bhreathnach, Edel, 'Two contributors to the Book of Leinster: Bishop Finn of Kildare and Gilla na Náem Úa Duinn' in Michael Richter and Jean-Michel Picard (eds.) Ogma: essays in Celtic studies in honour of Próinséas Ní Chatháin (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2002) pp. 105–111
  10. ^ The Irish Sagas at macdonnellofleinster.org
  11. ^ Byrne, Francis John (2005), "Ireland and her neighbours, c.1014–c.1072", in Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí, Prehistoric and Early Ireland, A New History of Ireland I, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 862–898, ISBN 978-0-19-922665-8  at pp. 869–870.
  12. ^ Forste-Gruppe, S., 'The Earliest Irish Personal Letter', Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium ( 27–30 April 1995), 15 (1995) pp. 1–11
  13. ^ viz. Colum moccu Loigse, founder of Terryglass