Rear Cover of Melisende Psalter

Rear cover of the Melisende Psalter (British Library, Egerton MS 1139), c. 1135.
Central section of the rear cover of the Melisende Psalter. Engraved frontispiece from The Coronation Ceremonial, London, 1911.

Frange esurienti panem tuum, et egenos vagosque induc in domum tuam; cum videris nudum, operi eum, et carnem tuam ne despexeris.

Isaias lviii, 7.

Siege of Enniskillen Castle

Depiction of the siege of Enniskillen Castle, 1594, by John Thomas; Cotton Augustus I. ii. 39, British Library.
Depiction of the siege of Enniskillen Castle, 1594, by John Thomas; Cotton Augustus I. ii. 39, British Library.

Your sheriff shall be welcome but let me know his eric, that if my people should cut his head off I may levy it upon the country. Hugh Maguire, Lord of Fermanagh.


¶1] Alas for him who looks on Enniskillen, with its glistening bays and melodious falls; it is perilous for us, since one cannot forsake it, to look upon the fair castle, with its shining sward.

¶2] Long ere ever I came to the white-walled rampart amongst the blue hillocks it seemed to me if I could reach that house I should lack nothing.

¶3] I heard, alas for me that heard it, such repute of the fairy castle of surpassing treasure, and how my beguilement was in store, that it was impossible to turn me back from it.

¶4] This was the saying of each man regarding the splendid dwelling of the lion of the Erne—no man in Banbha ever saw a dwelling to equal it.

¶5] And they used to say moreover, whosoever should see the bending wood or the verdant slope, the level beach or the green field, would not take one step away from it.

¶6] After hearing its description when I had slept for a while I beheld no other vision save the splendor of the noble spacious dwelling.

¶7] I proceed on my way, I reach Enniskillen of the overhanging oaks; through the fair plain of bending, fruit-laden stems I was in no wise loth to approach it.

¶8] Ere I arrived beside the place I was startled at the tumult; the baying of their lively hounds and their hunting-dogs driving deer from the wood for them.

¶9] The strand beside the court, on the fairy-like bay of murmuring streams, was crowded with such groves of tapering ship-masts that they concealed the beach and its waves.

¶10] And hard by that enclosure I see a lovely plain of golden radiance, the moist-surfaced lawn of the bright-hued castle, the soil of Paradise, or else its very counterpart.

¶11] Thus did I find the green of the castle—upturned by the hooves of steeds; from the prancing of horses competing for triumph no herb flourishes in the soil of the outer yard.

¶12] The horses of the castle (were) running in contest, again I see them coursing one by one, until the surrounding hills were hidden, no mist upon them save an expanse (?) of steeds.

¶13] I make directly for the coupled fortress of the branch of Lie; those whom I found in the fair mansion— a wondrous content of a mansion were they.

¶14] I found the nobles of the race of Colla in the thronged court distributing treasure, and those who exposed the recondities of the genealogy of the Grecian Gaels.

¶15] I found, moreover, throughout the fortress plenty of poets and minstrels, from one bright, white-surfaced wall to the other—happy the dwelling in which they find room!

¶16] In the other division I found plenty of slender-lipped, satin-clad maidens, weaving wondrous golden fringes in the sportive (?) rampart with fair, sleek hounds.

¶17] All through the house is an abundance of soldiery, reclining by the side walls; their edged weapons hanging above the fighters, warriors of fruitful Druim Caoin.

¶18] A mighty band of elfin youth, either from the Fairy-mound of Bodhbh or from Lear’s Hostel, such that eye dared not regard them because of their splendor, were on the battlements of the bright, wooded rampart.

¶19] A company of artificers binding vessels, a company of smiths preparing weapons; a company of wrights that were not from one land at work upon her—fair pearl of babbling streams.

¶20] Dyeing of textures, polishing of blades, fitting of javelins, exercising of steeds; captives in surety, drawing up of conditions, scholars surveying the list of kings.

¶21] Taking of hostages, releasing of hostages; healing of warriors, wounding of warriors; continual bringing in and giving out of treasure at the wondrous, smooth, comely, firm, castle.

¶22] Part of that day they spent in talking of exploits, in meditating on battle; and a while would be spent by the host of Ushnagh in feasting, in listening to music.

¶23] Thus till supper-time we spent the whole of the fair day in the bright, green-swarded, fertile enclosure; as one hour in length did that day seem to us.

¶24] All began to seat themselves by the smooth walls of the white rampart; hardly in any hostel is there a number to equal the party that was therein.

¶25]  Cú Chonnacht Óg, son of Cú Chonnacht, supple form to which smoke clings, when all that were in his hostel have sat down he seats himself on his regal seat.

¶26] I sat on the right hand of the champion of Tara till the circling of goblets was over; though it had its due of nobles the king’s elbow never disdained me.

¶27] After a while, when it was time for those in the castle to take their rest, beds of down were prepared for the noblest of the alert, instructed host.

¶28] Ere day overtook the people of the hostel a band of them were fitting spears; at daybreak horse-shoes (?) were being fitted within and men were going to catch steeds.

¶29] Shortly after sleep I see around the hawk of Síoth Truim the picked ones of all in panoply of battle, in the gloomless, stone-built, firmly-standing court.

¶30] Ere the coming of morn the valiant youth of the king’s court set out from us; a great, lengthy, dense, spear-armed mass, ignorant they of making treaties of peace.

¶31] It was not long until the gold-ringletted race of Colla rejoined us, after completely subduing every territory, happy the kingdom which is their homeland.

¶32] That day around Loch Erne there is many a stranger woman whose husband is no more; many figures of wounded hostages coming in after the conflict.

¶33] Precious treasures there were in that dwelling, which had not been theirs at the beginning of day: and hard by the place there were cattle which had not been near them the night before.

¶34] Then were the poets of the castle rewarded by Eachaidh’s descendant, who never shrank from combat: small harm was the dearness of their poesy, riches had been got beyond what he allowed to them.

¶35] I went with the school to take leave of Maguire; away from the lofty, brightly appointed court, alas that he suffered me to go.

¶36] When parting from me, he said, shedding tears down his brown cheek, even though I might not be near to the warrior, that he was not parting from me for good.

¶37] I remember that the day I turned my back on the household of the king’s dwelling, such sorrow lay upon them all that the grief of any one of them was not distinct.

¶38] None the better am I that that household is no more, would I had consumed the end of my days; lest I be longlived after they have gone, it is perilous to me that I shall survive.

¶39] Never have I heard of a household so noble as that in the castle—what excellence—under any that sprang from the Collas; that is the pronouncement of every poet regarding it.

¶40] Lifford of the bright lawns, none ever quits it of his own free will; since it beguiles to the place a man from every quarter—alas for him that beholds it.

— The bardic poems of Tadhg Dall Ó Huiginn (1550-1591), UCC Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition.

Continue reading “Siege of Enniskillen Castle”

As If He Were Still Alive

Illuminated manuscript of Bede's Life of St Cuthbert, XII century, showing the discovery of his incorrupt body; British Library MS 39943.
Illuminated manuscript of Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert, XII century, showing the discovery of his incorrupt body; British Library MS 39943.

Now Divine Providence, wishing to show to what glory this holy man was exalted after death, who even before death had been distinguished by so many signs and miracles, inspired the minds of the brethren with a wish to remove his bones, which they expected to find dry and free from his decayed flesh, and to put them in a small coffer, on the same spot, above the ground, as objects of veneration to the people. This wish they communicated to the holy Bishop Eadbert about the middle of Quadragesima; and he ordered them to execute this on the 20th of April, which was the anniversary of the day of his burial. They accordingly did so; and opening the tomb, found his body entire, as if he were still alive, and his joints were still flexible, as if he were not dead, but sleeping. His clothes, also, were still undecayed, and seemed to retain their original freshness and colour. When the brethren saw this, they were so astonished, that they could scarcely speak, or look on the miracle which lay before them, and they hardly knew what they were doing. As a proof of the uncorrupted state of the clothes, they took a portion of them from one of the extremities, — for they did not dare to take any from the body itself, — and hastened to tell what they had found to the bishop, who was then walking alone at a spot remote from the monastery, and closed in by the flowing waves of the sea. Here it was his custom to pass the Quadragesima; and here he occupied himself forty days before the birthday of our Lord in the utmost devotion, accompanied with abstinence, prayer, and tears. Here, also, his venerable predecessor, Cuthbert, before he went to Farne, as we have related, spent a portion of his spiritual warfare in the service of the Lord. The brethren brought with them, also, the piece of cloth in which the body of the saint had been wrapped. The bishop thanked them for the gift, and heard their report with eagerness, and with great earnestness kissed the cloth as if it were still on the saint’s body. “Fold up the body,” said he, “in new cloth instead of this, and place it in the chest which you have prepared. But I know of a certainty that the place which has been consecrated by the virtue of this heavenly miracle will not long remain empty; and happy is he to whom the Lord, who is the giver of true happiness, shall grant to rest therein.” To these words he added what I have elsewhere expressed in verse, and said,

” What man the wondrous gifts of God shall tell?
What ear the joys of paradise shall hear?
Triumphant o’er the gates of death and hell,
The just shall live amid the starry sphere,” &c.

When the bishop had said much more to this effect, with many tears and much contrition, the brethren did as he ordered them; and having folded up the body in some new cloth, and placed it in a chest, laid it on the pavement of the sanctuary.

— The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Chapter xlii, by the Venerable Bede.

St. Cuthbert Found Incorrupt

A miniature in the British Library, Yates Thomson MS 26, Bede’s Prose Life of St. Cuthbert, depicting the miracle where Cuthbert’s body is discovered incorrupt when translated at Lindisfarne in 698.

Corpus-Cotton Gospels: Folio 1 Recto

Folio 1 recto from Corpus Christi College, MS 197B (Otho-Corpus Gospels); the Eagle of St. John. The Otho-Corpus Gospels is a badly damaged and fragmentary 8th century illuminated manuscript. It was part of the Cotton library and was mostly burnt in the 1731 fire at Ashburnham House. The manuscript now survives as charred fragments in the British Library (MS Cotton Otho C V). Thirty six pages of the manuscript were not in the Cotton collection and survived the fire. They are now in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MS 197B).