Acallam na Senórach

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Acallam na Senórach (Modern Irish: Agallamh na Seanórach, whose title in English has been given variously as Colloquy with the Ancients, Tales of the Elders of Ireland, The Dialogue of the Ancients of Ireland, etc.), is an important prosimetric Middle Irish narrative dating to the last quarter of the 12th century[citation needed]. It is the most important text of the Fenian Cycle and at about 8,000 lines is the longest surviving work of original medieval Irish literature. It contains many Fenian narratives framed by a story in which the fianna warriors Oisín and Caílte mac Rónáin have survived long enough to relate the tales to Saint Patrick.


Set several hundred years after the death of Finn mac Cumaill, the frame story follows two aged Irish heroes as they travel Ireland with a newly arrived Saint Patrick.[1][2] The pagans are Caílte mac Rónáin, Finn's nephew, and Oisín, Finn's son, both members of the famous warrior band the Fianna.[1] For most of the narrative Caílte is the more important informant of the two, regaling Patrick with tales of Finn and his men and explaining place names they encounter in the manner of another Irish work, the Dinsenchas.

The stories reiterate the greatness of Finn and his departed age of heroes, often focusing on the rivalry between Finn's family and that of his enemy Goll mac Morna, which threatened the stability of the island. Other stories record the Fianna's relationship with the Otherworld and the Tuatha Dé Danann, while those involving Patrick often stress the importance of integrating the values and culture of pre-Christian Ireland with the new ways of the Church. Some of the individual tales may predate their inclusion in Acallam na Senórach, though the authors adapted them with an eye towards narrative unity.

Acallam na Senórach survives in five late manuscripts. Three are from the 15th century: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Miscellaneous 610; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B 487; and the Book of Lismore. The fourth is Dublin, University College, OFM-A4 (what Stokes called the Franciscan manuscript, formerly kept at Killiney), which dates to the 16th century.[a][3][4] The fifth witness is a copy of OFM-A4, namely Dublin, University College, OFM-A20(a).

Editions and translations[edit]

Acallam na Senórach. (Late Middle-Irish text, c 1775-1200). Several modern editions exist. The work was edited, with an accompanying English translation entitled Colloquy with the Ancients by Standish O'Grady (1892), using the Book of Lismore version as the base text.[5]

Whitley Stokes later printed an edition of Acallamh na Seanórach in Irische Texte IV, using the Laud Misc. 610 as base and drawing on Rawlinson B. 487, Book of Lismore, and the fourth copy.[3] Stokes also provided a partial translation of the work to complement O'Grady's translation, filling the lacunae in the Book of Lismore.[6]

The first complete English translation was that of Ann Dooley and Harry Roe, Tales of the Elders of Ireland, published by Oxford University Press in 1999.[7] Maurice Harmon (2009) published another translation, entitled The Dialogue of the Ancients of Ireland.[8]

Other related Acallam texts are:

Agallamh na Senórach, or 'Agallamh Reeves' (RIA MS 24 P 5 (93) only extant copy formerly owned by Bishop Reeves. "A different Agallamh from any that were hitherto known" according to Douglas Hyde (1920)[9]. Edited by Nessa Ní Shéaghdha, 1942-45 in 3 vols. There is no English translation (2012).

Acallam Bec, extant in The Book of Lismore only (15th-century)


Composer Tarik O'Regan has adapted the narrative into a one-hour musical setting for solo guitar and chorus, performed under the title Acallam na Senórach.[10] The work was premiered on 23 November 2010 in Dublin by the National Chamber Choir of Ireland and Stewart French (guitar) under the direction of Paul Hillier.[11]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Stokes refers to the fourth copy as one owned by Franciscans in the Merchant's Quay, Dublin.


  1. ^ a b Nagy (2006), p. 8.
  2. ^ MacKillop, James (1998). "Acallam na Senórach". Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford. ISBN 0-19-860967-1.
  3. ^ a b Stokes (1900), pp. x–xi.
  4. ^ Dooley & Roe (1999), p. xxxi.
  5. ^ O'Grady (1892), p. x.
  6. ^ Stokes (1900), p. xi.
  7. ^ Dooley & Roe (1999), p. i.
  8. ^ Harmon (2009), passim..
  9. ^ *Hyde, Douglas. "The Reeves Manuscript of the Agallamh na Senorach." Revue Celtique 38 (1920): 289-95.
  10. ^ Chester Novello publisher site for Acallam na Senórach
  11. ^ Wallace 2010.


Texts and translations
  • Harmon, Maurice (2009). The Dialogue of the Ancients of Ireland: A New Translation of Acallam na Senórach. Seán Ó Coileáin (preface). Dublin: Carysfort Press. ISBN 978-1-904505-39-6.

Secondary and tertiary sources