CELT document T400071

Anbthine mór ar muig Lir


Song of the Sea

Ascribed to Ruman mac Colmáin

In spite of the popularity which the poem here edited for the first time seems once to have enjoyed, 1 it has reached us, so  p.77 far as I am aware, in a single copy only. This is to be found in fo. 9b 2–10a 1 of the well-known Bodleian Codex Laud 610, a manuscript written in the fifteenth century. It is there ascribed to the celebrated Ulster poet Ruman mac Colmáin, whom the Book of Leinster calls the Homer and Vergil of Ireland. 2 But this attribution is erroneous. For, according to the Annals, Ruman died in A. D. 747, 3 while on linguistic evidence no higher age can be claimed for our poem than the eleventh century. The Old Irish neuter muir, “sea”, is in the third stanza used as a feminine (gusan glasmuir ngarglethain), assonating with anair and torcabair), a use of which I have no instance earlier than that century. Other phenomena that point to the same or a later period are: the use of the preposition dar with the dative dar a hardimlib, 1), the occurrence of the third person singular of the present indicative in -enn and -ann fris' funenn grían 3. co mbenann 6), the form torcabair (3) instead of torcabar, and the use of rócht as a monosyllable (9) instead of roächt, which is the form in the Saltair na Rann (e.g. line 6446), while Flann Manistrech, like our poet, has dorócht (LL. 181a 44). The mention in the fifth stanza of the craini gréine4 or Tree of the Sun, i.e. the chenar or Oriental plane, shows that the author was acquainted with the legend of Alexander, which was not introduced into Ireland before the tenth century.

The manuscript copy of our poem is followed by a late (fourteenth century?) prose account of the circumstances under which Ruman is said to have composed it. This prose has twice been edited and translated, by Petrie in his Essay on the Round Towers of Ireland, p. 353, online at https://archive.org/details/ecclesiasticalar00petruoft and by Zimmer in the Zeitschrift für  p.78 Dentsches Altertum, vol. 35, p. 100. 5 As neither edition is free from mistakes, I reprint this prose in extenso and add a version of my own. It is curious to find both Petrie and Zimmer believing in the authenticity of this late, confused, and on the face of it spurious account, and trying to reconcile its statements with historical facts, — Petrie, by giving to Gaill the unusual meaning “Saxons”; Zimmer, by boldly inventing a second poet Ruman as having lived during the Viking age.

Unfortunately, several words in the first stanza of the poem are no longer legible in the MS. As to the metre in which it is composed, see Thurneysen, Irische Texte, iii, p. 158.

Unknown author

Anbthine mór ar muig Lir

    1. Translation


    Rumunn, son of Colman, son of King Laegaire, of the race of Niall, royal poet of Ireland, 'tis he that made this song, and láid lúascach (see-saw song) is the name of the measure in which it was made. The reason, however, of his making it is this: — In a time of great famine he came on his pilgrimage to Rathen. The townspeople were the less pleased that he should come to the town, and they said to the master-wright, who was building the great oratory, that he should refuse admittance to the poet. So then the wright said to one of his people: “Go to meet Rumunn and tell him not to enter the town until he make a quatrain which shall contain the number of all the planks that are here for the building of the oratory.” And then it was that he made this quatrain:

    1. O My Lord: what shall I do
      About these great materials?
      When will these ten hundred planks
      Be a structure of compact beauty?
    That was the very number of planks there, viz. one thousand planks; and after that he could not be refused, since God had revealed to him, through his poet's craft, the number of planks which the architect had.


    Immediately afterwards he made a great poem for the Vikings of Dublin, and the Vikings said that they would not give him the price of his poem, whereupon he made the celebrated quatrain, when he said:

    1. To refuse me,
      If anyone so wishes, let him do it!
      And after that I will carry off
      The honour of the man that has done so.
    Upon this his own award was given him, and this is the award he made: a penny from every bad Viking, and two pence from every good Viking, so that there was not found among them a Viking who did not give him two pence, for none of them thought it right that he should be called a bad Viking. Then the Vikings told him to praise the sea, that they might know whether he possessed original poetry. Thereupon he praised the sea, he being drunk, and he said:
    1. A great tempest on the plain of Ler.

    However, he carried that wealth with him to Cell Belaig on the Plain of Constantine, for that church was one of the churches belonging to the Hui Suanaig, as well as the whole of the Plain of Constantine. For every plain and every land which Constantine had cleared belonged to Mochuta, and the plain is named after Constantine. At that time Cell Belaig had seven streets of Vikings in it, and {} 6 for its size. And Rumunn gave one-third of his wealth to it, and one-third to the school, and one-third he took with him to Rathen, where he died, and where he was buried in one grave with Hua Suanaig, on account of his great honour with God and men.


  1. A great tempest upon the plain of Ler7
    bold across its high borders
    Wind has arisen 8
    fierce winter has slain us,
    it has come across the sea
  2.  p.81
  3. The work of the plain — the great plain of Ler —
    has brought trouble upon our great host.
    Save something greater than all, no less,
    what is there more marvellous than
    the incomparable great story? 9
  4. When the wind sets from the east,
    the spirit of the wave is roused,
    So that it desires to go past us westward
    to the land where sets the sun
    To the rough and broad green sea.
  5. When the wind sets from the north,
    it urges the dark 10 fierce waves
    Towards the southern world,
    surging in strife against the white sky,
    Listening to the {} 11 song.
  6.  p.82
  7. When the wind sets from the west
    across the salt sea of swift currents,
    It desires to go past us eastward
    to the sun-tree {} 12
    Into the broad long distant sea.
  8. When the wind sets from the south
    across the land of Saxons of mighty shields,
    The wave strikes the Isle of Scit, 13
    it has gone to the point of Caladnet 14
    And pounds the grey-green mouth of the Shannon.
  9. The ocean is in flood, the sea is full,
    delightful is the home of ships,
    The sandy wind has made whirls
    around the River-mouth of the Two Showers, 15
    Swiftly the rudder cleaves the broad sea. 16
  10.  p.83
  11. This is not cosy, a rough sleep ... ,
    with fierce triumph, with angry strife,
    The swan's colour 17 covers
    the son of Mil 18 with his people
    The tresses of Manannan's wife 19 are tossed about.
  12. The wave has tumbled with mighty force
    across each dark broad river-mouth.
    Wind has come, white winter has slain us,
    around Cantire, around the land of Alba 20
    Sliab-Dremon 21 pours forth a full stream.
  13. Son of God the Father, with vast hosts,
    save me from the horror of fierce tempests!
    Righteous Lord of the Feast, 22
    only save me from the horrid blast, 23
    From Hell with high tempest! 24

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Title statement

Title (uniform): Anbthine mór ar muig Lir

Title (translation, English Translation): The Song of the Sea

Responsibility statement

Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

Funded by: University College, Cork and Professor Marianne McDonald via the CURIA Project.

Edition statement

2. Second draft.

Responsibility statement

Proof corrections by: Beatrix Färber

Extent: 2863 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2014

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T400071

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Source description

Manuscript sources

  1. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 610, folio 9vb–10ra18 (the text is preserved only in this manuscript. For a description of the manuscript see R. I Best, Bodleian MS. Laud 610, Celtica 3 (1956) 339; Myles Dillon, Laud Misc. 610, Celtica 5 (1960) 64–76; 6 (1963) 135–55)).
  2. Extract from the metrical tracts.
  3. Extracts from the metrical tracts.


  1. George Petrie, Essay on the round towers of Ireland (Dublin 1845) 353–54 (prose only).
  2. Heinrich Zimmer, Keltische Beiträge III, Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum 35 (1891) 100 (prose only; and inaccurate).
  3. Kuno Meyer, Stories and songs from Irish manuscripts, IV (Song of the sea, ascribed to Ruman mac Colmáin), Otia Merseiana 2 (1900–01) 76–83 (first edition of poem; only reliable edition of the prose).
  4. David Greene, Frank O'Connor, A golden treasury of Irish poetry A.D. 600 to 1200 (London 1967; repr. Dingle 1990) section 29, 126–29 (poem only, under the title The Tempest; with silent, radical, even creative, emendation).


  1. George Petrie (cited above) 354–55 (prose only).
  2. Heinrich Zimmer, Keltische Beiträge III, Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum 35 (1891) 100 (prose only).
  3. Meyer (cited above) 78–83 (prose and verse).
  4. Alexander Bugge, Nordisk sprog og nordisk nationalitet i Irland, Aarboger Nord Oldkyndighed Hist 15 (1905) 294–95 (part translation, part paraphrase in Norwegian, based on Zimmer's German translation, and not accurate).
  5. Greene and O'Connor (cited above) 128–29 (a literary translation of a highly emended text).

Sources, comment on the text, and secondary literature

  • Alexander Bugge, Nordisk sprog og nordisk natonalitet i Irland, Aarboger Nord Oldkyndighed Hist 15 (1905) 294–97.

The edition of the digital edition.

‘Song of the sea, ascribed to Ruman mac Colmáin: Stories and songs from Irish manuscripts 4’. In: Otia Merseiana‍ 2. Ed. by John Sampson, pp. 76–83.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  editor 	 = {Kuno Meyer},
  title 	 = {Song of the sea, ascribed to Ruman mac Colmáin: Stories and songs from Irish manuscripts 4},
  journal 	 = {Otia Merseiana},
  editor 	 = {John Sampson},
  volume 	 = {2},
  address 	 = {London},
  publisher 	 = {Th. Wohlleben},
  date 	 = {1900–01},
  pages 	 = {76–83}


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Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

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The text is based on Meyer's edition; and his corrections have been retained. The Irish text of the poem is available in a separate file, G400071.

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Creation: Translation by Kuno Meyer 1900–1901

Language usage

  • The translation is in English. (en)
  • Many words in the notes are in Irish. (ga)
  • A few words are in Latin. (la)

Keywords: ; poetry; medieval; nature

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(Most recent first)

  1. 2019-06-05: Changes made to div0 type. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2014-07-29: File parsed, SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2014-07-28: File proofed (2), structural markup applied. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2014-07-25: Text scanned in; converted to XML, proofed (1). TEI header created based on companion file. (text capture Beatrix Färber)

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G400071: Anbthine mór ar muig Lir (in Irish)

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  1. The sixth stanza of the poem is quoted as an example of the metre called from its swinging rhythm, lúasc, see-saw, or láid lúascach, in the metrical treatise edited by Thurneysen, Irische Texte iii, pp. 55 and 87; and the same stanza is cited in a glossary in H. 3. 18, p. 423, to illustrate the use of the word bras .i. móor. 🢀

  2. Ruman mac Colmáin in fili, diatá Síl Rumain i nAth Truim. Tri filid in domain .i. Homer ó Grécaib ⁊ Fergil ó Latinnaib ⁊ Ruman ó Gaedelaib. — LL. 354b (De generibus sanctorum Ceneóil Lugdach). 🢀

  3. Ruman mac Colmain, poeta optimus, quievit.Tigernach's Annals (RC 17, p. 249). 🢀

  4. This tree is mentioned by the same name in the Irish version of Marco Polo (see Stokes' edition, Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie, 1, p. 250, paragraph 11 online at CELT in file G305002.. In a poem on St. Brendan the Navigator in LL. 366 m. inf., the island of Taprofane (Ceylon) is said to rest on it as on a pillar:
    “i ti'r thall Taprofane,
    dianid áge crand gréne.”
    As to the notion of islands being supported on one or more pedestals, see the Voyage of Bran, p. 47. 🢀

  5. Zimmer's edition swarms with misreadings and misprints. Thus he has nifetad for nirofetad, nifiu for nirfiu, re Gallaib for re Gall dibh, fric for fris, Murchatu for Mucutu, on enleabad for a n-enleabaid, etc. But worse than these mistakes is the treatment to which he has subjected the stanza beginning M'éra-sa. He failed to recognize the metre in which it is composed, retained the late and faulty bérat-sa, made duine into dāine, and ended by incorporating part of the prose in his reconstruction, which will neither scan nor make sense! 🢀

  6. Something seems omitted here in the original. 🢀

  7. i. e. the sea. 🢀

  8. Cf. is fúar geimredh, adracht gáeth (<title type="book" TEIform="title">Silva Gadelica</title> 172, 4). 🢀

  9. Irish scél, “story”, is often used in the sense of “ event”. 🢀

  10. In the Laws. vol. i. p. 26, the colour of the north-east wind is given as temin🢀

  11. I cannot translate delech in delech-dúain🢀

  12. coresgeimh is obscure to me. 🢀

  13. Inis Scit seems, as Mrs. Mary A. Hutton points out to me, the old name for the Skiddy (i.e. Skidd-y) Island, a little to the south-east of the entrance to Castlehaven, not three miles west of the entrance to Glandore Harbour, which was the site of the famous Tonn Clidna of Irish mythology. (See O'Donovan, Four Masters, A. D. 1557, note.) 🢀

  14. Calad-net, 'Strong Nest,' not identified, but no doubt the ancient name of a prominent headland on the south-eastern coast of Kerry. 🢀

  15. Not identified. 🢀

  16. Literally “swift is the rudder against the broad sea.” 🢀

  17. i.e. the whiteness of snow. 🢀

  18. i.e. Ireland. 🢀

  19. Another epithet for the sea. 🢀

  20. i.e. Scotland. 🢀

  21. The name of a mountain, not identified. 🢀

  22. i.e. the Lord's Supper. 🢀

  23. The doubtful and probably corrupt rornanside seems to contain a word anside, “great blast”, which occurs in LB. 236 m. inf. in a similar context: Mairg na trí lucht a n-iffirn, úathmar anside:
    óes dogní dán, óes choilles grád, óes amsaine.

    Woe to the three folk in Hell, with horrible blast:
    The folk who practise poetry, the folk who violate their order, the soldier folk. 🢀

  24. Cf. Dín, a Dé, Aed húa Carthaig ar iffern co méit a anfaid!LL 199b 58. 🢀


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