The Annals of Ulster


The Annals of Ulster ("Annála Uladh", pronounced "Ah-nay-la Oo-loo", in Irish) are an amazing chronicle of medieval Ireland. The entries span the years between AD 431 and AD 1540. The entries up to AD 1489 were compiled and transcribed in the late 15th century by Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín (Rory O’Lunney) on the island of Innishmore (Belle Isle) in Lough Erne in County Fermanagh.  Five hundred years later, there are still many Lunney’s in nearby Enniskillen and Derrylin; and the old Lunney church and cemetary are located in Kinawley only a short distance from Belle Isle.

I took these photos at Belle Isle in 2004.  The "castle" house dates from the 17th century, over 100 years after Rory O’Lunney’s time there.  The estate is now owned by the Duke of Abercorn and his family.  I had the opportunity to meet the genial Duke of Abercorn at Baronscourt, his principal residence and ducal seat at Newtownstewart County Tyrone.  The Belle Isle Estate is now operated as a meeting and tourist venue.  It is very beautiful and offers a wide range of tourist accommodations:  Belle Isle Estate Website

The Annals of Ulster were written in the Irish language, with some entries in Latin. Because the scribe of the Annals copied its sources verbatim (from sources such as the daybooks from abbeys and churches throughout Ulster), the Annals are useful not just for historians, but also for linguists studying the evolution of the Irish language. Earler written annals dating as far back as the 6th century were also used as sources for the Annal of Ulster’s entries prior to AD 1489,  including the now-lost Armagh continuation of the The Chronicle of Ireland.  Later entries (after AD 1489) were added by other scribes, including Rory’s son and grandson.  A century later, the Annals of Ulster would itself become an important source for the authors of the "Annals of the Four Masters".

The Library of Trinity College Dublin now possesses much of the original manuscript of The Annals of Ulster written by Rory O’Lunney, although the Bodleian Library in Oxford has a contemporary copy which fills some of the gaps in the original. There is usually at least one page of the original manuscript on display in the Book of Kells exhibit room at the Library of Trinity College in Dublin.  When I saw an original page of the Annals for the first time, it looked oddly familiar to me.  You may recognize the beautiful caligraphy of Rory O’Lunney as the inspiration for the "Elvish" script in the Lord of the Rings movie.

There are two main modern English translations of the Annals — Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill (1883) and MacCarthy (1893). I purchased the special 4-volume leather-bound edition reprint of the 1893 version from deBurca Rare Books in Dublin and donated it to the library of the Maine Irish Heritage Center in Portland, Maine. That edition is especially valuable to genealogists because of its thorough indices of family names and place names.  As far as I know, it is the only copy of that version in North America.

A new English translation of the Annals of Ulster is available on-line for free, courtesy of the University of Cork at the following link:

Annals of Ulster

If you are looking for a very worthy organization to benefit from your charitable giving, the Maine Irish Heritage Center is certainly deserving of your support.  There is no national Irish heritage center in the United States.  Someday the MIHC could become that national center. Visit their website at the following link:

Maine Irish Heritage Center

Slainte,  Tim Lunney





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