Aside from a few days off for family events, I’ve been pounding away on materials for the Battle of Brunanburh book I’ve been working on. It goes very well overall.
The past few days have been admittedly frustrating, though, largely because I’ve been working on the so-called Annals of Clonmacnoise. It’s a fascinating text, and a very important one for understanding Brunanburh. It’s also tremendously difficult to deal with. Why? Glad you asked…
The Annals of Clonmacnoise survives in only a couple of manuscripts. These are by no means original, however. They are instead copies of a translation into Early Modern English of a now-lost and then-partially-destroyed medieval Gaelic manuscript of uncertain origin and provenance that was made in Ireland by a man named Conell Mageoghagan in 1627.
Got that? Let me hit it again: All we have are a few copies of a 1627 translation into difficult English from difficult Old Irish from what was a very old, partially destroyed, and very difficult-to-read manuscript that came from we-don’t-know-where and was written by we-don’t-know-who.
What does this mean? Well, it means lots of headaches. Here’s the passage I’ve been working on, which appears to be about Brunanburh:
The Danes of Loghrie, arrived at Dublin. Awley with all the Danes of Dublin and north part of Ireland departed and went over seas. The Danes that departed from Dublin arrived in England, & by the help of the Danes of that kingdom, they gave battle to the Saxons on the plaines of othlyn, where there was a great slaughter of Normans and Danes, among which these ensueing captaines were slaine, vizt. Sithfrey and Oísle ye 2 sones of Sithrick, Galey, Awley ffroit, and Moylemorrey the sonn of Cosse Warce, Moyle Isa, Gebeachan king of the Islands, Ceallagh prince of Scottland with 30000 together with 800 captives about Awley mcGodfrey, and abbot of Arick mcBrith, Iloa, Deck, Imar, the king of Denmarks owen son with 4000 souldiers in his guard were all slaine.
So let’s say you (like me) are trying to figure out who all the folks listed here are. A couple of them are pretty obvious, of course, like Awley mcGodfrey. That’s undoubtedly Olafr Guthfrithson, who was king of the Hiberno-Norse at Dublin in 937 and led the anti-English alliance to the field at Brunanburh. But clarity here is the exception, since this is the only significant list of this kind for the battle, and most of these folks are such bit players that they’re otherwise unknown to history. Plus, it’s terribly difficult to even figure out what names one should look for in the records we have of the period.
Take “Iloa, Deck,” for instance. Are these names supposed to represent Gaelic originals? Some of the other names are, like Moylemorrey (probably Gaelic Mael-Muire, meaning “Servant of Mary”). They could also be Norse, though, like the aforementioned Awley. It isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that they are Medieval Welsh or Old English since there were people from across the whole north of Europe fighting at Brunanburh. Just to add trouble, it’s even possible that “Iloa, Deck” is not two people, but one. In that case, it might be the garbled up Norse name Illugi (which is common enough), along with an epithet meaning “the Stout” (which probably doesn’t narrow things down too much when it comes to Vikings).
I love these kind of puzzles, which send me flipping through dozens of old sources in a number of different languages, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make my head hurt. They’ll even haunt my dreams a bit, as my unconscious brain continues trying to work them out.
That said, I’m glad to say that I’m basically done with the puzzles in the Annals. It’ll be good to get my brain on something else for a bit!