Writing Irish History

A medieval member of the Mhuintir Luinigh is featured in an on-line exhibition sponsored by the Irish Franciscans, the Royal Irish Academy, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín (Rory O’Lunney) of Innismore (Great Island) in Loch Erne in County Fermanagh, was the principal seanchaidh (historian and scribe) of Annála Uladh (the Annals of Ulster). This medieval chronicle, one of the regional Irish annals, covers events that occurred in the northern half of Ireland between the years 431 and 1504 AD.  They record the deaths of important churchmen, the reigns of kings and other significant persons and events. Pages from Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín’s original handwritten manuscript are on display at Dublin in the Trinity College Library, and are one of Ireland’s greatest historical treasures.

Some scholars believe that Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín’s beautiful script (shown above) inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Elvish” caligraphy in his Lord of the Rings novels.

Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín, who died in 1528, was a member of a famous learned family, the hereditary historians to The Maguire’s of Fermanagh. Historians like Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín were members of the courts of the medieval Irish aristocracy. They sustained important schools of learning, were the hereditary keepers of medieval churches and lands, and possessed extensive lands and other wealth in their own right as a consequence of their profession and the nobility that it conferred.

Practitioner of seanchas, like Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín, were known as a seanchaidh (professional historian), and continued many of the scholarly roles once performed by the druidic poets of pre-Christian Ireland.  Briefly defined, seanchas was the narrative memory of Irish history, as preserved and written from the early medieval period of Ireland. Seanchas recorded the many important traditions of the Irish, their origins and genealogies and their leaders and political landscape.

Link to the on-line exhibit: Writing Irish History

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