The Tallaght Martyrologies

Tallaght, early ninth century

Roughly a century after Laurentius copied his martyrology, two martyrologies were produced in the monastery of Tallaght. The first, known as the Martyrology of Tallaght, is an adaptation of an abbreviated version of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (‘Martyrology of Jerome’). Exactly by what route the Hieronymianum arrived in Ireland is disputed, as is its exact date of composition. We know from the second martyrology that the Martyrology of Tallaght must have been copied in Tallaght in the early ninth century, but additions were made to the text as late as the tenth century. The earliest surviving copy dates to the twelfth century and is preserved on ten leaves that were once part of the Book of Leinster (TCD MS 1339), now UCD-OFM MS A 3.

The compiler of the text as we now have it has combined name lists from both the ‘long’ and ‘abbreviated’ branches of the Hieronymianum – generating many duplicates – and has added many Irish names. The lists of names are copied in columns with the dates given in red and the capitals decorated in red and yellow. There is no emphasis on the computistical aspect of the text; rather the emphasis is purely on the collection of names itself.

UCD-OFM MS A3 p.3. © Reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership. Source: isos.celt.dias.ie
UCD-OFM MS A3 p.3. © Reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership. Source: isos.celt.dias.ie

An entry under March 11 gives the death of Óengus hua Oiblén, who is believed to be the author of the second Tallaght martyrology and likely also of the Martyrology of Tallaght.

The second Tallaght text, the Martyrology of Óengus (Félire Óengusso) is of a very different character. It is composed entirely in verse in Old Irish, and is the earliest of its kind.

Martyrology of Óengus, MS NLI G 10 p.33 Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
Martyrology of Óengus, MS NLI G 10 p.33 Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

The main part of the texts consist of 365 quatrains – one for each day of the year. Each quatrain gives the names of the saints or martyrs commemorated on that day. Since each quatrain is limited by the constraints of the metre, the number of saints included for each day is far less extensive than in the Martyrology of Tallaght, but on occasion we are given a brief description of the saints. Over time, a substantial collection of glosses and commentary built up around the text to clarify which saints were intended.

The text is preceded by a Prologue of 85 quatrains and followed by a Second Prologue (or Epilogue) of 141 quatrains, in which Óengus places his martyrology in a historical and eschatological context and provides it with a devotional framework. Important themes in the prologues are the everlasting fame of the saints who have deserved to go to Heaven, as opposed to the fleeting fame and power of the earthly world, and the benefits of reciting the Félire as a prayer or for the purpose of intercession or protection.

The text now survives only in manuscripts dating from fifteenth century or later. One of these is a sixteenth-century manuscript now in the National Library of Ireland, which preserves the calendrical aspect of the martyrology in its mise-en-page by recording the Dominical letters and the Golden Numbers in the margin, and including the solar and lunar days, the hours, and the zodiac for the each month (see also MS 78).