Caithreim Cellachain Caisil

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Alexander Bugge
J. C. Gundersens bogtrykkeri, 1905 - Ireland - 171 pages
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Authors have reached different conclusions about the historical accuracy (as opposed to the entertainment value) of this saga. It would probably make a great Hollywood movie, but is it history? Here are two examples of people with different opinions:
(1)"The Saga of Cellachan of Cashel must be historical like "The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill". It cannot be the fabrication of an Irish author of the 12th or 13th century . . ." Professor Alexander Bugge (1905:x).
(2)"There is, as we have seen, good reason to believe that the writer's purposes was to produce a saga glorifying Cellachan and thus his descendants. The purpose of the exercise is political propaganda and, if such is to be effective, it must be credible in one way or another. Yet the text is full of the wildest chronological errors and the grossest blunders. However, these notions derive from our ideas of history and there is no good reason to believe that they ever crossed the mind of the compiler of CCC [Caithreim Cellachain Caisil] . . . we can say of CCC that it is a humble and perhaps not ineffective example of its genre and if it can teach us nothing about the tenth century it contains valuable information about the twelfth." Professor Donnchadh O Corrain (1974:63-4,69).
Opinions thus vary widely in the secondary materials from one scholar to the next about the legacy of Ceallachan of Cashel and the saga written about him. This is probably not to be entirely unexpected since historians frequently disagree with each other. Being human, all historians occasionally make mistakes, and an adversarial dialogue helps as a check on information and often generates new ways of looking at things. New information also may develop over time.
On the positive side of the continuum regarding the historicity of Caithreim Cellachain Caisil are earlier authors like Geoffrey Keating and Alexander Bugge who viewed Caithreim Cellachain Caisil as basically historical or based on historical events. In the middle of the contiunuum is perhaps A. Walsh (1922), and on the negative side are authors like Peter and Fiona Somerset Fry, John Ryan, and Donnchadh O Corrain. The latter has described this genre of saga writing which includes Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaih, The War of the Gaidhil with the Gaill, or the invasions of Ireland by the Danes and other Norsemen (regarding Brian Boru), and the Fragmentary Annals which includes material from an Osraige chronicle, as "dynastic propaganda texts" (O Corrain 1998:443).
Francis John Byrne began his chapter on "The Kingship of Tara" with the following interesting cautionary tale about another Irish saga (unrelated to the saga of Ceallachan):
"The earliest reliable historical traditions in Ireland concern the warfare between the Ulaid and the Connachta. These traditions are, it is true, enshrined in legend and saga rather than historically documented. Furthermore, the sagas were written in the eighth and ninth centuries by men acquainted with the new learning of the monasteries, and they continued to be retold and embellished in each succeeding generation as much for literary enjoyment as for antiquarian interest. The twelfth-century scribe who laboriously filled 50 pages of the Book of Leinster with the latest version of the Tain Bo Cuailnge commented sourly:
But I who have written this history or rather fable, do not give credit to much of it. For some things in it are tricks of demons and others the figments of poets; some things are plausible, others not; and some are there for the entertainment of fools." (Byrne 1973:48).
The unmistakable impression from the saga of Ceallachan is that whomever wrote or commissioned the saga (King Cormac III, King of Munster according to Peter Beresford Ellis) described Ceallachan positively and presumably that sentiment was not too far out of keeping with what the 12th century audience for the text would have understood of their own past from the poets and storytellers. It may also perhaps tell us what they wanted

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