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Texts

Comrac Líadaine ocus Cuirithir‘The meeting of Líadan and Cuirithir’

  • Early Irish
  • prosimetrum, prose, verse
  • Early Irish poetry, Medieval Irish literature about poets, Lyric
Prosimetric story about the tragic love relationship between two professional poets, Líadain, a poetess of the Corcu Duibne, and Cuirithir, a Connachtman.
Scope
entire text
Author
Anonymous
Language
  • Early Irish
Date
c. 875 (Murphy)
Form
prosimetrum, prose, verse (primary)

Classification

Early Irish poetry Medieval Irish literature about poets
 Lyric

Subject tags

LíadainLíadain (supp. fl. 7th century) – a professional female poet (ban-éices) of the Corcu Duibne in the tragic love story known as Comrac Líadaine ocus Cuirithir.
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Cuirithir mac DoborchonCuirithir mac Doborchon (supp. fl. 7th century) – A professional poet (éices) of the Connachta in the tragic love story known as Comrac Líadaine ocus Cuirithir.
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Cummíne FotaCummíne Fota – early Irish saint, patron of Clonfert (Clúain Fertae)
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Contents

The wooing of Líadain

Summary:
(prose) Líadain, a poetess (ban-éices) of the Corcu Duibne, makes a circuit around Ireland. When business brings her to Connacht, she meets the Connacht poet Cuirithir mac Doborchon, who invites her to an ‘ale-feast’ (cuirm) and suggests that they should come together to produce a child. Although she agrees to unite with him, she tells him to meet her later at her house. The occasion must wait until she has completed her tour.
» People: Corcu Duibne

Cuirithir visits Líadain

Includes verse: A tech mór
Summary:
(prose) Cuirithir goes south to meet Líadain. He travels in disguise, wearing a poor man’s clothes and being in the company of one servant, while his poet’s garment and spearheads are kept in a bag. When he arrives at the well by her house, he puts on the purple cloak and brandishes his spears. He is met there by Mac Dá Cherda, chief poet and fool (óinmit) of Ireland, who is here identified as a son of Máel Ochtraig, son of Dínertach, of the Déisi Muman, and who is said to go across land and sea with his feet still dry.

(prose) When Mac Dá Cherda has identified himself, Cuirithir asks him to go to Líadain on his behalf and persuade her into a meeting by the well. Mac Dá Cherda, whose presence goes unnoticed initially, enters the house and sits down near Líadain and other women in her presence.

He utters a poem (5 qq, beg. A tech mór), in which he speaks in riddles in order to communicate his message to Líadain without being found out by others in the same room. In this poem, he addresses her as a banscál (laywoman?), whose wisdom/intelligence is not matched among women ‘under a veil’ (fo chailliu). There are punning allusions to the protagonists: to Líadain, in the literal sense of ‘The grey one’, and to Cuirithir, by reference to his father’s name.

» Comments: For a discussion of the word banscál in the sense of ‘laywoman’ and its occurrence in the text, see Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha, ‘The semantics of banscál’, Éigse 31 (1999). » People: Comgán Mac Dá Cherda

Speaking through a wall

Includes verse: Cuirithir int athéces
Summary:
Líadain agrees to join Cuirithir. They accept the soul-friendship (anm-chairde) of Cummíne Fota son of Fíachna, who confronts the couple with a choice: either to look at or to talk to each other. Since Cuirithir chooses the latter, they resort to speaking through a wall: whenever Cuirithir goes around the burial-place (martra) to visit her, her house is closed and he remains outside to converse with her; and likewise, when Líadain visits Cuirithir in turn.

A poem, beg. Cuirithir int athéces, follows, in which both Líadain (4 qq) and Cuirithir (1 q) sadly reflect on their unrequited longings for each other. In doing so, Líadain reveals that Cuirithir, now a former poet (ath-éices) without a companion by his side and without cattle, frequents a stone south of the oratory (dairthach) after Mass.

In a final quatrain, in which Líadain addresses Cummíne Fota, the brink of Loch Se(i)ng (?) and Cell Conchinn are identified as the homes of Cuirithir and Líadain respectively.

» Comments: On the concept of ‘soul-friendship’ (anm-chairde), see Westley Follett, ‘Women, blood, and soul-friendship: a contextual study of two anecdotes from the Tallaght Memoir’ in Gablánach in scélaigecht... (2013). The poem beg. Cuirithir int athéces is separately edited and translated by David Greene • Frank O'Connor, ‘The ex-poet’ in A golden treasury of Irish poetry, A.D. 600 to 1200... (1967). » People: Cummíne Fota » Places: Loch Seing • Cell Conchinn

The ordeal (sleeping with a novice in between)

Includes verse: Másu óenadaig atbir
Summary:
Cummíne allows Líadain and Cuirithir to sleep together in the same bed, but with a student (léignid becc) between them to prevent them from folly (an-esba). In two verse quatrains (both beg. Másu óenadaig atbir), Cuirithir and Líadain say that they are content to see one another in this way even if it is for a single night. When that night has passed, Cummíne takes the boy to confession and threatens to kill him if he conceals the truth. The boy is in a tight spot, because Cuirithir threatens to kill him if he reveals what has happened. The outcome is that he (Cuirithir) is transferred to another church (cell).
» Comments: Poem: ed. and tr. David Greene • Frank O'Connor, ‘Ordeal by cohabitation’ in A golden treasury of Irish poetry, A.D. 600 to 1200... (1967)

Reflections (verse)

Includes verse: Di chíanaib
Summary:
Cuirithir (1 q beg. Di chíanaib) complains that time goes by slowly since he has been cut off from any contact with Líadain. Líadain (1 q) imagines what a bewildered impression Cuirithir must now leave on scholars (rétairi) who are unaware of his situation. Cummíne (1 q) protests, saying that Cuirithir has never been mad (mer). Líadain then recalls (1 q) that what happened that Friday (i.e. the night when they slept together) was not “camping on honey-pastures / on the fleece of her white couch / in Cuirithir’s arms” (tr. Meyer).
» Comments: See also Brian Ó Cuív, ‘A quatrain from ‘Liadain and Cuirithir’’, Éigse 5 (1948)

Líadain’s lament

Includes verse: Cen áinius
Summary:
Cuirithir leaves for Cell Letrech, in the land of the Déisi, in order to go on a pilgrimage. When Líadain is looking for him, she utters a sad poem (10 qq) beg. Cen áinius. She recalls the happy time when they kept each other company; realises too late that that her ‘bargain’ (caingen) has tormented her lover and ultimately pushed him away from her.
» Comments: Ed. and tr. Kuno Meyer, Liadain and Curithir: an Irish love-story of the ninth century (1902): 22–25. The poem beg. Cen áinius has been frequently edited, e.g. James P. Carney, Medieval Irish lyrics (1967): 24ff (with English translation); David Greene • Frank O'Connor, ‘Líadan’ in A golden treasury of Irish poetry, A.D. 600 to 1200... (1967) (with English translation); Gerard Murphy, ‘Anonymous: Líadan tells of her love for Cuirithir’ in Early Irish lyrics... (1956) (with English translation); Julius Pokorny, A historical reader of Old Irish: texts, paradigms, notes and a complete glossary (1923): 16–17. For philological discussions of individual passages, see Anders Ahlqvist, ‘Note: A line in Líadan and Cuirithir’, Peritia 1 (1982), where an emendation of line 3 is suggested, and M. A. O'Brien, ‘Etymologies and notes’, Celtica 3 (1956): no. 9. » Places: Cell Letrech

Prose epilogue

Summary:
Some of the narrative allusions in the poem are given an explanation in prose: the act by which Líadain has tormented her lover is said to be her quick acceptance of the veil (caille). Despite having learned that Líadain has arrived from the west, Cuirithir steps into his coracle to go on a pilgrimage. Líadain dies on the stone (lecc) on which she used to pray and she is buried under the same (head)stone.

Sources

Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

For editions of individual poems, see also the contents description.
[ed.] [tr.] Meyer, Kuno [ed. and tr.], Liadain and Curithir: an Irish love-story of the ninth century, London: Nutt, 1902.
CELT – edition: <link> CELT – translation: <link> Celtic Digital Initiative: <link>, <link> Internet Archive: <link>
[ed.] [tr.] Greene, David, and Frank O'Connor [Michael O'Donovan], A golden treasury of Irish poetry, A.D. 600 to 1200, London: Macmillan, 1967.
Edition of three poems
[ed.] [tr.] Murphy, Gerard [ed. and tr.], “Anonymous: Líadan tells of her love for Cuirithir”, in: Murphy, Gerard [ed. and tr.], Early Irish lyrics: eighth to twelfth century, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956. 82–85, 208–211.
CELT – edition: <link>
Edition, with translation, of the last poem, beginning Cen áinius direct link
[tr.] Henry, P. L., Dánta ban: poems of Irish women, early and modern, Cork: Mercier Press, 1991.
52–59 English translation
[tr.] Draak, Maartje, and Frida de Jong (trs.), Van helden, elfen en dichters: de oudste verhalen uit Ierland, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1979.
212–218 Dutch translation

Secondary sources (select)

Larson, Heather Feldmeth, “The veiled poet: Líadain and Cuirithir and the role of the woman-poet”, in: Nagy, Joseph Falaky, and Leslie Ellen Jones (eds.), Heroic poets and poetic heroes in Celtic tradition. A Festschrift for Patrick K. Ford, CSANA Yearbook 3, 4, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005. 263–268.
Clancy, Thomas Owen, “Women poets in early medieval Ireland”, in: Meek, Christine, and Katharine Simms (eds.), ‘The fragility of her sex’? Medieval Irishwomen in their European context, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996. 43–72.
Clancy, Thomas Owen, “Fools and adultery in some early Irish texts”, Ériu 44 (1993): 105–124.
Clancy, Thomas Owen, “Saint and fool: the image and function of Cummíne Fota and Comgán Mac Da Cherda in early Irish literature”, PhD thesis: University of Edinburgh, 1991.
Edinburgh Research Archive: <link>
195–210
Ahlqvist, Anders, “Note: A line in Líadan and Cuirithir”, Peritia 1 (1982): 334.
Henry, P. L., “Líadan and Guðrún: an Irish-Icelandic correspondence”, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 27 (1958–1959): 221–222.
Carney, James, Studies in Irish literature and history, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1955.
189–242 [‘The Irish affinities of Tristan’]
Savage, John J., “An Old Irish version of Laodamia and Protesilaus”, in: Jones, Leslie Webber [ed.], Classical and mediaeval studies in honor of Edward Kennard Rand, presented upon the completion of his fortieth year of teaching, New York City: Leslie Webber Jones, 1938. 265–272.
Contributors
David Stifter,Dennis Groenewegen
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