CELT document T503001

The instructions of King Cormac Mac Airt: Tecosca Cormaic


Tecosca Cormaic: The Instructions of King Cormac mac Airt


AMONG the gnomic literature of ancient Ireland, the instructions given by princes to their heirs, by tutors to their disciples, or by foster-fathers to their sons form a group by themselves. The oldest among them are those ascribed to Morann mac Móin, addressed to his foster-son Nére to be delivered by him to King Feradach Finḋfechtnach, who, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, was King of Ireland from 15 to 36 A.D. They are known as Audacht, Auraicept, or Tecosc Morainn “The Bequest, Precept, or Instruction of Morann,” and to judge from their language were composed early in the eighth century. 1

The Instructions of Cúchulaind to his foster-son Lugaid of the Red Stripes, known as Bríatharthecosc Conculaind, form an episode in the tale called the Sickbed of Cuchulaind, edited by Windisch in his Irische Texte, vol. 1, p. 213-214. They have often been translated, by O'Curry in Atlantis, vol. 1, pp. 362-392, and vol. II, pp. 98-124; by Brian O'Looney in the Facsimiles of the National MSS. of Ireland; by D'Arbois de Jubainville in L'Épopée celtique en Irlande, pp. 186 -191; and by Miss E. Hull in her Cuchuilin Saga, pp. 231-234.

A third collection of precepts and wise sayings is ascribed  p.vi to the poet Fíthel or Fíthal, who is said to have lived at the court of King Cormac mac Airt in the third century. They are addressed to his son, and are known as Senbríatha or Senraite Fíthail. 2 Some of them are in the form of question and answer, like Tecosca Cormaic, a circumstance which has led many scribes to a confusion of the two. Some extracts from them will be found in Hardiman's Minstrelsy, vol. II, p.396. Like Tecosca Cormaic, I would ascribe them to the ninth century.

Certain sayings of Fíthel are in some MSS. attributed to Flann Fina mac Ossu, by which name Aldfrid the son of king Osuiu (Oswy) of Northumberland was known in Ireland. Thus the strings of proverbs beginning respectively Atchota soichell saidbrius, Ba faitech ar ná ba fiachach, Descaid cotulta freslige, Tosach eoluis imchomairc, Ferr dán orba are ascribed to him in 23 N 10 and 23 D 2. Both these MSS. also attribute to him a number of sayings which begin like paragraph 15 of my edition of Tecosca Cormaic, and continue Dligid fí fortacht, dligid gó a cairiugud, &c. Under the heading Flann Fí beos 23 D 2 further assigns to him the following interesting piece, which, as I have never come across it in any other manuscript, I will print and translate in extenso:

  • Cia féighe rángais? Fir Mhuighi Féine ⁊ gaoth.
  • Cia hannsa rángais? Araidh Cliach ⁊ archoin.
  • Cia solmha rángais? Osraighe ⁊ deamhnae.
  • Cia dana rángais? Corco Laeighde ⁊ ...
  • Cia tétem rángais? Na Déisi ⁊ miolchoin.
  • Cia heglaige rángais? Húi Líatháin ⁊ caoirigh.
  • Cia mesgamla rángais? Cíarraige ⁊ menntáin.
  • Cia húallcha rángais? Muscraige ⁊ coiligh fedha.
  • Cia gairbe rángais? Orbraige ⁊ aitend.
  •  p.vii
  • Caite as dech rángais? A n-as mesa do shíol Aodha Sláine ⁊ a n-as ferr díb-sein as fri hainglib nime at cosmaile.
  • Cia mesamh rángais? A n-as deach Glasraighe ⁊ a n-as mesa díb-sein as fri demnaibh at cosmaile.
  • Who are the keenest you have met? The men of Mag Féne and wind.
  • Who are the most troublesome you have met? The Araid Cliach and watch-hounds. 3
  • Who are the swiftest you have met? The men of Ossory and demons.
  • Who are the boldest you have met? The Corco Laeigde and {}
  • Who are the wantonest you have met? The Deissi and hounds. Who are the most timid you have met? The Húi Liatháin and sheep.
  • Who are the most drunken you have met? The men of Kerry 4 and titmice.
  • Who are the proudest you have met? The men of Muskerry and wood-cocks.
  • Who are the roughest you have met? The men of Orbraige 5 and furze.
  • Who are the best you have met? The worst part of the race of Aed Sláne; 6 and those who are best of them are like unto angels of Heaven.
  • Who are the worst you have met? The best part of the Glasraige; 7 and those who are worst of them are like unto demons.

In 23 N 27, p. 33, a set of sayings beginning Maith dán ecna dogní ríg do bocht is attributed to Flann Fíona mac Cosa (sic). The Instructions of Cormac have not before been published or translated in their entirety. A few selections from the text of the Book of Ballymote were translated by  p.viii Hardiman l.c. O'Donovan's edition and translation from the Book of Lecan in the Dublin Penny Journal of December, 1832, and January, 1833, are well known; but the text which he followed is both incomplete and faulty, and his renderings can now be much improved upon. The following edition is based upon a comparison of all available MSS. which I will briefly characterize.

L, i.e. the Book of Leinster, a MS. of the twelfth century, pp. 343-345. In spite of its age and fine penmanship this MS. does not, as I have repeatedly pointed out, supply us with accurate and trustworthy texts. The copy of Tecosca Cormaic contained in it has many faulty readings, such as ríglach (p. 343b 40) for riaglach (paragraph 3, 10), ales (p. 343b21) for ata lais (paragraph 2, 24), imtholta (p. 345, 17) for imscoltad (paragraph 22, 10), cátingud (ib. 25) for cathugud (ib.17), éthech (p. 345c) for etech (paragraph 31, 9), trebar (ib.) for trebad (ib. 10), forus (ib.) for árus (ib. 11), fuacht (ib.) for fuchacht or fuichecht (ib. 14) &c.

B, i.e. the Book of Ballymote, a MS. of the fourteenth century, pp. 62a-65a. Like L, it mixes up Tecosca Cormaic with Bríathra Fíthail, passing suddenly from Cormac dixit fri Coirpre (p. 65a13) to ol a mac fri Fíthul (ib.32). The text, though good on the whole, is never quite reliable, the scribe often blundering in an almost incredible manner. 8 Several sections are left out.

Lec, i.e. the Book of Lecan, a MS. of the fifteenth century, fo. 420a-422a, and pp. 179-180 in the codex H. 2. 17 (Trin. Coll.), with which some of the leaves of the Book of Lecan are now bound up. Neither a complete nor very accurate version.


N1, i.e. the MS. marked 23 N 10 (R.I.A.) containing in its vellum portion from p. 1-6 a large fragment of our text. 9 A careful and trustworthy copy on the whole.

N2, i.e. the paper MS. marked 23 N 17 (R.I.A.) written in 1714 by Domhnall Ó Duind mac Eimuinn. Here on fo. 7b-32b is a carefully written and heavily glossed copy of the Tecosca. In 1828 O'Donovan made a transcript of it which, numbered 23 O 20, is preserved in the library of the Royal Irish Academy.

D, i.e. a small paper octavo marked 23 D 2 (R.I.A.). Though written in the seventeenth century it contains in a remarkably neat hand both the most complete and by far the best copy of the Tecosca.

H1, i.e. the paper MS. numbered H. 1. 15 (Trin. Coll.), written in 1745 by Tadhg Ua Neachtain. Under the title Teagasg Riogh it contains on pp. 140-174 a fairly complete and on the whole pretty accurate copy of our text.

H2, i.e. the eighteenth-century paper manuscript numbered H. 1. 9. (Trin. Coll.) pp. 59 to the end, a poor copy, of which I have hardly made any use.

H3, i.e. the paper MS. numbered H. 4. 8. (Trin. Coll.), copied in the latter half of the seventeenth century by Dr. Joannes Beaton from a vellum manuscript. It once belonged to the Welsh antiquary Edward Lloyd, entries in English and Welsh by whom are found at the beginning of the volume. This copy also has so many defects that I have but rarely used it.

K, i.e. the sixteenth-century vellum marked VII, No. 3 in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh. It contains from fo. 9 a1-9b2 an imperfect, but fairly good copy of our text. It breaks off with paragraph 18 of my edition.


Lastly, the paper MS. No. II among the Gaelic MSS. in the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh contains on ten pages an incomplete and faulty copy of our text written in the seventeenth century. I have not used it. 10 Nor have I thought it worth while to collate throughout a copy in the Book of Húi Maine, fo. 182a-182b, as it is identical with that of B.

I have already stated that N2 is copiously glossed. Occasionally glosses are also found in B and in some of the other MSS. These glosses, like those of the Triads, were written at a time when Old-Irish was no longer understood, and are therefore of hardly any value. Besides, some of them are not explanatory, but etymological, such as ilach (paragraph 10, 4 in my edition) .i. imat focul. Many of them were collected for the purpose of forming a glossary of Old-Irish words, 11 and are to be found under the title Incipit din Tecusc Rig budesta in H. 3. 18, col. 539a. A few samples will characterise them sufficiently: — argrinn goit (paragraph 2, 8) .i. tabach. airiti dála (paragraph 6, 39) .i. aentugud. turchomrac (paragraph 3, 4) .i. tinol. clandad dligid (paragraph 2, 11) .i. sadad nó cur. forsmaltaib (paragraph 2,21) .i. caithem. foltaib (paragraph 2, 2;1) .i. acra. athcomarc (paragraph 3, 6) .i. fiarfaide. diubairt (paragraph 3, 30) .i. lethtrom. deide (paragraph 1, 6) senchasa .i. damachtain nó fulang. rob sobraid (paragraph 6, 4) .i. soabraid. rop  p.xi sognasaig12 (paragraph 6, 17) .i. gnai uais. tochus (paragraph 6, 43) .i. ealada. suilid (paragraph 7, 10) .i. sofulaing. duilid (paragraph 7, 10) .i. dofulaing. meilcend (paragraph 7, 17) .i. tabartus. cuire. (paragraph 8, 5) .i. uir. riancobra (paragraph 11, 5) .i. rianocobrach .i. saithech. teiti (paragraph 10, 10) .i. slighi. suanach (paragraph 13, 12) .i. conaich. solom (paragraph 13, 34) .i. soluam. gabail (paragraph 14, 1) .i. tinol ut dixit (leg. dicitur) Lebar Gabála. turrtugud (paragraph 14, 27) .i. timpud. tirfochraic13 (paragraph 14, 27) .i. cennach. toimdinach (paragraph 15, 2) .i. dochusach. crinnach14 (paragraph 15, 5) .i. crin. disgir (paragraph 15, 17) .i. diaisc. itfaide (paragraph 16, 17) .i. saithech. resca (paragraph 16, 81) .i. grasta. forcomat (paragraph 16, 87) .i. rogabat. faenbleogan (paragraph 16, 106) .i. cendsugad, &c.

Some of the glosses were evidently made on a text occasionally differing from ours, e.g. déide senchasa instead of dethide senchasa paragraph 1, 6. Here déitiu, the O.-Ir. verbal noun of damur or daimim (Middle-Ir. daimthiu), is rightly glossed by .i. damachtain no fulang.

I think there can be no doubt that Tecosca Cormaic in the form in which it has come down to us was compiled during the Old-Irish period of the language, and, so far as I can judge, not later than the first half of the ninth century. The numerous verbal forms which it contains seem to point to that time. The later forms of the infixed pronouns which Strachan has pointed out in Ériu III, p. 158, such as -das- or -dos-, do not appear in our text.

A tendency is occasionally apparent to link some of the lines of each paragraph together by alliteration in such a way that the initial sound of the last word in one line is repeated at the beginning of the next, e.g. paragraph 14, 4:

  1. luge ria mbreith,
    bretha díana,
    dúscud ferge
    folabra gúach &c.


Professor O. J. Bergin and Dr. Whitley Stokes have had the kindness to read proofs of the text and translation, to point out mistakes and to suggest the emendations, for which I desire to express my best thanks to them.

K. M.


Edited by Kuno Meyer




“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is best for a king?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “Best for him

  1. Firmness without anger,
    Patience without strife,
    Affability without haughtiness,
    Taking care of ancient lore,
    Giving truth for truth,
    Hostages in fetters,
    Hosting with reason,10 
    Truth without addition,
    Mercifulness with consolidation of law,
    Peace to tribes,
    Manifold sureties,
    True judgments,15 
    Fasting upon neighbouring territories,
    Exalting privileged persons,
    Honouring poets,
    Worshipping great God,
    Fertility during his reign20 
    Taking cognizance of every wretch,
    Many alms,
    Mast upon trees,
    Fish in river-mouths,
    Earth fruitful,25 
    Inviting barks into harbour,
    Importing treasures from over sea,
    Forfeiture of sea-waifs, p.5
    Silken raiment,
    A sword-smiting troop to protect every tribe,30 
    Raids across borders,
    Let him attend to the sick,
    Let him benefit the strong,
    Let him possess truth
    Let him chide falsehood,35 
    Let him love righteousness,
    Let him beat down fear,
    Let him crush criminals,
    Let him give true judgments,
    Let him foster every science,,40 
    Let him consolidate every peace,
    Let him buy treasures,
    Let him improve his soul,
    Let him make known every clear judgment,
    Abundance of wine and mead,45 
    Let him utter every truth,
for it is through the truth of a ruler that God gives all that.”


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is the true right of a king?”

“Not hard to tell. The right that rules upon the surface of the earth, I have it, let me make it known to you,” said Cormac to Carbre.

  1. Let him restrain the great,
    Let him slay evildoers,
    Let him exalt the good,
    Let him put down robbers,
    Let him check theft,
    Let him adjust relationship, p.710 
    Let him consolidate peace,
    Let him plant law,
    Let him check unlawfulness,
    Let him enslave criminals,
    Let him set the innocent free,15 
    Let him protect the just,
    Let him bind the unjust,
    Let him proclaim robbers,
    Full forfeiture for every hand with fines,
    Composition (?) with full fines where there was knowledge, with half fines where there was ignorance,20 
    With due respect for a king,
    With due exactions (?) for a lord,
    Let him perfect the proper due of every man, of whatever is his on sea and land,
    With just substances to the tribes which are his, for crimes of hand,25 
    Walking about of feet,
    Looking of eyes, for crimes of mouth,
    With hearing of ears,
    With tests of conscience,
    Let him study the right of every chief,30 
    Let him bring each one under law —
for those are the duties of a lord towards tribes


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is best for the good of a tribe?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. A meeting of nobles,
    Frequent assemblies,
    An enquiring mind, p.9
    Questioning the wise,
    Quelling every evil,
    Fulfilling every good10 
    An assembly according to rules,
    Following ancient lore
    A lawful synod,
    A lawful lord,
    Righteous chieftains,15 
    Not to crush wretches,
    Keeping treaties,
    Mercifulness with good customs,
    Consolidating kinship,
    Weaving together synchronisms,20 
    Fulfilling the law,
    Legality of ancient alliances,
    A covenant without curtailment,
    Warrior-bands without overbearing,
    Manliness against foes,25 
    Honesty towards brothers,
    Just sureties,
    Full compensations,
    Righteous judgments,
    Honest witnesses,30 
    Keeping a bargain without detriment,
    Interest on detriment,
    Evenly balanced substances,
    Ready hiring,
    Hostages for honour,35 
    Lending without stint,
    Acceptable loans,
    An equivalent for every good, p.11
    A dignified response,
    Legitimate measure,40 
    Learning every art,
    Knowledge of every language,
    Skill in variegated work,
    Pleading with established maxims,
    Passing judgment with precedents,45 
    Giving alms,
    Mercy towards the poor,
    Pledges for (carrying out) judgments,
    Honest guarantees,
    Listening to elders,50 
    Turning a deaf ear to the rabble,
    Guarding the frontier against every evil,
    Let him not be smooth-faced where the good of the tribe is concerned,
    Let him not be greasy in the mead-court house —
that is best for the good of a tribe.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what are the dues of a chief and of an ale-house?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. Good behaviour around a good chief,
    Lights to lamps,
    Exerting oneself for the company,
    Settling seats,
    Liberality of dispensers,
    A nimble hand at distributing,10 
    Attentive service,
    To love one's lord,
    Music in moderation,
    Short story-telling,
    A joyous countenance, p.1215 
    Welcome to companies,
    Silence during a recital (?),
    Harmonious choruses
“those are the dues of a chief and of an ale-house” said Cormac to Carbre.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “whence is chieftaincy taken over tribes, and clans, and races?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “By virtue of shape and race and knowledge, through wisdom and rank and liberality and honesty, by virtue of hereditary right and eloquence, by the strength of fighting and an army it is taken.”


“Question, what are the proper qualities of a chief?” said Carpre. “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. Let him have good gessa,
    let him be sober,
    let him be an invader,
    let him have good desires,
    let him be affable,
    let him be humble,
    let him be proud,10 
    let him be quick,
    let him be steadfast,
    let him be a poet,
    let him be versed in legal lore,
    let him be wise,15 
    let him be generous,
    let him be decorous,
    let him be sociable,
    let him be gentle,
    let him be hard,20 
    let him be loving, p.15
    let him be merciful,
    let him be righteous,
    let him be keen,
    let him be persevering,25 
    let him be patient,
    let him be abstinent,
    let him raise up the weak by the strong,
    let him give true judgments,
    let him feed every orphan,30 
    let him quell every wrong (?),
    let him hate falsehood,
    let him love truth,
    let him be forgetful of wrong,
    let him be mindful of good,35 
    let him be attended by a host in gatherings,
    let him be attended by few in secret councils,
    let him be brilliant in company,
    let him be the sun of the mead-hall,
    let him be an entertainer of a gathering and assembly,40 
    let him be a lover of knowledge and wisdom,
    let him be a chastiser of wrong,
    let him be masterful to check every one that may be undutiful,
    let him judge every one according to his proper right,
    let him give his due to each,45 
    let him be a judge of every one according to his rank,
    let him be liberal to every one according to their degree and profession,
    let his covenants be firm,
    let his levies be lenient,
    let his judgments and decisions be sharp and light,
50  “for it is by those qualities kings and lords are judged,” said Cormac to Carbre.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what were your habits when you were a lad?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. I was a listener in woods,
    I was a gazer at stars,
    I was blind where secrets were concerned,
    I was silent in a wilderness,
    I was talkative among many,
    I was mild in the mead-hall,10 
    I was stern in battle,
    I was ready to watch,
    I was gentle in friendship,
    I was a physician of the sick,
    I was weak towards the strengthless,15 
    I was strong towards the powerful,
    I never was hard lest I be satirised,
    I never was feeble lest I should have my hair stript off,
    I was not close lest I should be burdensome,
    I was not arrogant though I was wise,20 
    I was not given to promising though I was strong,
    I was not venturesome though I was swift,
    I did not deride old people though I was young,
    I was not boastful though I was a good fighter,
    I would not speak about anyone in his absence,25 
    I would not reproach, but I would praise,
    I would not ask, but I would give,
“for it is through those habits that the young become old and kingly warriors.”



“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what were your deeds when you were a young man?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “

  1. I would slay a boar, I would follow a track when I was alone,
    I would march against a troop of five when I was one of five,
    I was ready to slay and wreck when I was one of ten,
    I was ready for a raid when I was one of twenty,
    I was ready to give battle when I was one of a hundred —
those were my deeds,” said Cormac to Carbre.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “What do you deem the worst thing you have seen?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “Faces of foes in a battle-field.”


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what do you deem the sweetest thing you have heard?”

  1. “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.
    A paean after victory,
    Praise after wages,
    A lady's invitation to her pillow.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “ what is best for me?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “If you listen to my teaching, do not give your honour for ale nor for food, for it is better to save one's fair fame than to save one's food.”

  1. Be not proud unless you be a land-owner,
    do not keep bridled steeds without (a stud) of horses,
    do not give banquets without (brewing) ale,
    be not prodigal of dairy-produce without kine,
    do not dress elegantly unless you possess sheep,
 p.21 for pride without husbandry,
  1. 10 luxury without horses,
    banqueting without ale,
    dairy-produce without kine,
    elegant dress without sheep
are a crime in the gatherings of the world.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is good for me?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “If you listen to my teaching,

  1. do not deride any old person though you are young,
    nor a poor one though you are rich,
    nor a naked one though you are well-clad,
    nor a lame one though you are swift,
    nor a blind one though you are keen-sighted,
    nor an invalid though you are strong,
    nor a dull one though you are clever,10 
    nor a fool though you are wise,
    be not slothful,
    be not fierce,
    be not sleepy,
    be not niggardly,15 
    be not feckless,
    be not jealous,
for every lazy, fierce, sleepy, niggardly, feckless, jealous person is hateful before God and men.”


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “how do you distinguish the race of Adam?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “I distinguish them all, both men, women, sons, and daughters.” “How is that?” said Carpre.

  1. Every steadfast person is wise,
    every generous person is righteous,
    every patient person is persevering,
    every studious person is learned, p.2310 
    every one who loves his kindred is gentle,
    every healthy person is joyous,
    every sleek person is sleepy,
    every boor is crabbed,
    every athlete is dull-witted,15 
    every madcap is a laughing-stock,
    every serf is morose,
    every indigent person is proud,
    every uninformed person is quarrelsome,
    every ignoramus is shameless,20 
    every timorous person is apprehensive,
    every infirm person is candid,
    every ill-favoured person is given to fostering,
    every anxious person is timid,
    every timorous person is cautious,25 
    every timid person is ruthless,
    every indigent person is fraudulent,
    every contentious person is a frequenter of meetings,
    every satiated person is fond of dogs,
    every lover likes a dainty bed,30 
    every wealthy person is fond of jewels,
    every freeman is broad-tracked,
    every genial person is generous,
    every satirical person is ... ,
    every horseman is nimble,35 
    every falsehood is bitter,
    everything true is sweet,
    skilful women are honey-mouthed,
    bad women are given to try sting,
    ill-met are their sons, woe to him who has them!



“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “and the ways of folly, what is their number?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. Swearing after judgment,
    rash judgments,
    rousing anger,
    false grumbling,
    chiding truth,
    renouncing the prayer-house,10 
    reversing judgments,
    a cast without a proper grip,
    sorrow at a feast,
    a lying chief,
    laughter at an old man,
    concealing ancient lore.15 
    playing upon a cliff,
    a cast without a proper grip,
    competing with a fool,
    being haughty with a king,
    not to fulfil the law,20 
    to fulfil whatever is evil,
    (to harbour) evil against an ally,
    to keep company with every one,
    to hold any new thing fair,
    to hold everything familiar tin enemy,25 
    to act without a witness,
    being a feeble master,
    buying judgments,
    to be without treasures,
    much lending,30 
    many friends,
    sorrow in the presence of a king,
    talking much without wisdom, —
“that is the way of folly” said Cormac.



  1. Knowledge deserves to be honoured,
    wisdom vanquishes valour,
    every timid person is opinionate,
    every lover is melancholy,
    every sick person is ... ,
    every liar is quarrelsome,
    every fool is dangerous,
    every arrogant person runs a risk,
    every fierce person is ready to strike,10 
    every farmer is prudent,
    every bad warrior is violent,
    every person with vested interests is shameless,
    every timorous person is easily frightened,
    everything dark is awful,15 
    every plebeian is low,
    whoever is fond of ease is corpulent,
    every unfortunate person is vehement.
    every guilty person is apprehensive,
    every reviler is precipitate,20 
    every cautious person is timorous,
    every foul-mouthed person is quarrelsome,
    every one fond of company is brilliant,
    every brave tribe is fond of gatherings,
    every brave king holds encampments,25 
    every aggressor is puissant,
    every bold person is cheerful,
    every big talker is neglectful,
    every one making promises readily is false,
    every lavish person is overweening,30 
    every hasty person is ridiculous
    every powerful person is liable to be reviled,
    every reviler is stubborn,
    every sensible person is competent, p.29
    every faithful person is a good counsellor,35 
    every indocile person is cowardly,
    every docile person is sage,
    every worthy person is a cognizance,
    every good art produces wealth,
    every indigent person is humane.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “how do you distinguish women?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “I distinguish them, but I make no difference among them.”

  1. They are crabbed as constant companions,
    haughty when visited,
    lewd when neglected,
    silly counsellors,
    greedy of increase,
    they have tell-tale faces,
    they are quarrelsome in company,10 
    desirous of letting go,
    greedy of gifts,
    putting up with exaggeration,
    hard and grasping,
    steadfast in hate,15 
    forgetful of love,
    thirsting (?) for lust,
    anxious for alliance,
    accustomed to slander,
    dishonest in an assembly,20 
    stubborn in a quarrel,
    not to be trusted with a secret,
    ever intent on pilfering,
    boisterous in their jealousy,
    ever ready for an excuse p.3125 
    on the pursuit of folly,
    quick to engage,
    ready to pledge,
    neglectful of earning,
    ready to injure,30 
    never ready to heal,
    they check what they do not attain,
    they betray what they do not save,
    haughty when wooed,
    slanderers of worth,35 
    slow to make use of things,
    scamping their work,
    stiff when paying a visit,
    disdainful of good men,
    gloomy and stubborn,40 
    forgetful of restraint,
    mindful of strife,
    feeble in a contest,
    viragos in strife,
    prodigal at a feast,45 
    sorrowful in an ale-house,
    sturdy in wrangling,
    indolent of exertion,
    tearful during music,
    lustful in bed,50 
    arrogant and disingenuous,
    abettors of strife,
    niggardly with food,
    incredulous of speech,
    rejecting wisdom,55 
    vigorous of speech,
    quick to revile, p.33
    tenacious in cohabitation,
    setting themselves against comfort,
    alive to discomfort,60 
    indolent in gathering,
    ever in the company of folly,
    quick to promise,
    harbouring evil thoughts,
    eager to go into society,65 
    sulky on a journey,
    troublesome bedfellows,
    deaf to instruction,
    blind to good advice,
    fatuous in society,70 
    craving for delicacies,
    small givers,
    chary in their presents,
    languid when being solicited,
    exceeding all bounds in keeping others waiting,75 
    shameless on visits,
    tedious talkers,
    persevering in lust,
    close practitioners,
    skilled in pleasure-seeking,80 
    unskilled in obedience,
    prattling... ,
    dumb on useful matters,
    eloquent on trifles,
    painstaking about an elegant head-dress,85 
    they utter what they do not perform,
    they attempt what they do not finish,
    they watch what they do not get,
    they turn aside what they do not secure,
    they vow what they do not make true, p.3590 
    they promise what they do not fulfil,
    they separate what they do not redeem (?),
    they destroy what they do not save,
    they scatter what they do not gather,
    they affirm what they cannot do,95 
    they strive after what they do not effect,
    they break up what they cannot collect,
    they give away what they do not levy,
    they lavish what they cannot husband,
    [fire is good at any time,]100 
    happy he who does not yield to them,
    they should he dreaded like fire,
    they should be feared like wild beasts,
    women are capricious beasts,
    [a wood is good at every season,]105 
    woe to him who humours them,
    better to whip them than to humour them,
    better to scourge them than to gladden them,
    better to beat them than to coddle them,
    better to smite them than to please them,110 
    better to beware of them than to trust them,
    better to trample upon them than to fondle them,
    better to crush them than to cherish them, —
“he will have neither honour nor life nor fame who listens to bad women” said Cormac to Carpe.
  1. 115 They are waves that drown you,
    they are fire that burns you,
    they are two-edged weapons that cut you,
    they are moths for sticking to one,
    they are serpents for cunning,120 
    they are darkness in light,
    they are bad among the good,
    they are worse among the bad.



“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “how do you distinguish weathers?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. Ice is the mother of corn,
    snow is the father of fat,
    a shower is a presage of bloodshed,
    drought is a presage of pestilence,
    wind is most troublesome in a strait,
    the best of weathers is mist,
    better his brother rain,10 
    save for the sea, thunder is not fruitful.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is the worst housekeeping?” “Not hard to tell. A housekeeping by which neither honour nor life is bought. There is another housekeeping which is worse: “Get, fetch, take, bring!””


Item Cormac ad Carpre.

  1. Do not contend with a king,
    do not forgather with a fool,
    do not associate with a marauder,
    do not fraternize with an evil-doer,
    do not buy from the seven imbeciles according to the law of the Irish,
    viz. from a woman, from a caitiff, from a drunken person, from a buffoon, from a madman, from a superior,
    from a ... ,
    do not race against a wheel, nor against the cast of a 10  spear, nor up a great height, nor against the surf of the sea, nor against danger, nor a lance,
    do not join in blasphemy,
    be not the laughing-stock of an assembly,
    be not sorrowful in an alehouse,
    be not forgetful of an assignation, p.3915 
    do not be indocile,
    do not be a wrangler against truth,
    take no cognizance of falsehood,
    do not be the servant of robbers,
    do not be a leader in strife,20 
    do not be a bush of discord,
    do not lend your lips to every one,
    do not promise what you have not,
    be not fond of buying lest you be encumbered by debts,
    be no fighter lest you be disgraced,25 
    be not contentious lest you be hateful,
    be no wrangler lest you get your head broken,
    be not rough lest you become ungainly,
    be not quarrelsome lest you be ... ,
    be not an absentee lest you become negligent,30 
    be not hard lest you become churlish,
    be not too generous lest you be left stranded,
    be not lazy lest you become enfeebled,
    do not bustle too much lest you become vile,
    be not cantankerous lest you become unsociable,35 
    do not become a guarantor for any one lest your neighbour ...


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is most lasting on earth?” “Not hard to tell. Grass, copper, a yew-tree.”


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is the worst for the body of man?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “Sitting too long, lying too long, long standing, heavy lifts, exertions beyond one's strength, ..., running too much, leaping too much, frequent falls, sleeping with one's leg over the bedrail, swift racing, gazing at glowing embers, stepping in the dark, wax, beestings, new ale, bull-flesh, curdles, dry food, bog-water, rising too early, cold, sun, hunger, drinking too  p.41 much, eating too much, sleeping too much, sinning too much, grief, running up a height, shouting against the wind, a blow beyond one's strength, drying oneself by a fire, summer-dew, winter-dew, beating ashes, swimming on a full stomach, sleeping on one's back, a deep 10  drink, frenzy, foolish romping.”


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is the worst pleading and arguing?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “ Seventeen signs of bad pleading, viz.

  1. Contending against knowledge,
    taking refuge in bad language,
    much abuse,
    contending without proofs,
    stiffness of delivery,
    a muttering speech,10 
    uncertain proofs,
    despising books,
    turning against customs,
    talking in too loud a voice,15 
    shifting one's pleading,
    inciting the multitude,
    fighting everybody,
    blowing one's own trumpet,
    shouting at the top of one's voice,20 
    swearing after judgment.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is the worst pleading?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “A rash forgetful pleading.”


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is the worst arguing?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “An argument based on oaths, a feeble, slow, stiff argument.”



“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is the worst arguing before an assembly?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. A violent, stubborn, long-winded arguing,
    an unsteady arguing,
    a hollow loose suing,
    a vehement oblivious pleading,
    rousing anger,
    very violent urging,10 
    playing a dangerous game,
    rash reckless oaths,
    a loud open-mouthed answer,
    to disconcert the meeting,
    slanderous words,15 
    hand ...


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is the worst pleading?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. A pleading without instruction, without knowledge,
    violence in discussion,
    discussion without reason,
    a pleading without choice, without restraint, without grasp, without practice.


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “who are the worst for whom you have a comparison?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. A man with the impudence of a satirist,
    with the pugnacity of a slave-woman,
    with the carelessness of a ... dog,
    with the conscience of a hound,
    with a robber's hand,
    with a bull's strength,10 
    with the dignity of a judge,
    with keen ingenious wisdom, p.45
    with the speech of a stately man,
    with the memory of an historian,
    with the behaviour of an abbot,15 
    with the swearing of a horse-thief,
“and he wise, lying, grey-haired, violent, swearing, garrulous when he says “the matter is settled, I swear, I shall swear.””


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “who are the worst for whom you further have a comparison?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “A rough, bitter, rude, violent, vehement, vulgar, impetuous, forgetful, noisy, impudent, after-wise man, to whom no one attends, who does not attend to any one, who does not care what anyone else says, while no one cares what he says, and he proscribed both by the laity and by the Church.”


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “I desire to know how I shall behave among the wise and the foolish, among friends and strangers, among the old and the young, among the innocent and the wicked.” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. Be not too wise, be not too foolish,
    be not too conceited, be not too diffident,
    be not too haughty, be not too humble,
    be not too talkative, be not too silent,
    be not too harsh, be not too feeble.
    If you be too wise, one will expect (too much) of you; 10 
    if you be too foolish, you will be deceived;
    if you be too conceited, you will be thought vexatious;
    if you be too humble, you will be without honour;
    if you be too talkative, you will not be heeded; 15 
    if you be too silent, you will not be regarded;
    if you be too harsh, you will be broken;
    if you be too feeble, you will be crushed.



“A question,” ol Carpre, “how shall I be?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. Be wise with the wise lest anyone deceive you in wisdom,
    be proud with the proud lest anyone make you tremble,
    be humble with the humble when your will is being done,
    be talkative with the talkative ...
    be silent with the silent when a recital is being listened to,
    be hard with the hard lest anyone slight you,
    be gentle with the gentle lest everyone ... you.


Cormac further has said this: “

  1. Every one is wise till he comes to sell his heritage,
    every one is foolish till he buys land,
    every one is a friend till it comes to debts,
    every one is a law-giver till it comes to children,
    every one is sleepy till it comes to marrying,
    every one is ferocious till it comes to piety,
    every one is fair-famed till he is satirised,
    every one is a hospitaller till he refuses (to entertain),10 
    every one is a roving warrior till he takes up husbandry,
    every one is a mercenary till he settles in a dwelling,
    every one is compos mentis till he becomes drunk,
    every one is reasonable till he gets angry,
    every one is decorous till he commits adultery,15 
    every one is tranquil till he has foster-children,
    every one is a counsellor till he begins to quarrel,
    every one is a citizen till he is proclaimed,
    every one is joyful till he meets with ill-luck,
    every one is bold till he meets with a refusal,20 
    every one is a pedestrian till he drives a chariot,
    all music is holy till it comes to the harp, p.49
    every fortunate creature is fair,
    every unfortunate creature is foul,
    the sweetest part of sleep is cohabitation, 25 
    the sweetest part of ale is the first draught,
    music is sweetest in the dark,
    the sweetest part of a meal is the honorific portion.
A docile, humble, obedient young man of a nice conscience and confession, his youth will be lovable, his old age venerable, his word 30 will be true, his countenance will be chaste, he will be exalted though low, he will be old though young, his end will be good with God and man.”


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “what is the code of ridicule among the Irish?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac.

  1. A man proud of his wisdom, his gifts, his good fortune,
    fastidious, standing on his dignity, vainglorious,
    a lazy, violent, feeble, flighty man,
    a silly, dull, big-worded man,
    a wrathful, aggressive, masterful man,
    a man niggardly, unstable, jealous,
“..., timorous, violent, impulsive, incautious, loveless, ... tedious, angry.”


“O grandson of Conn, Cormac,” said Carpre, “who is the worst guarantor?” “Not hard to tell,” said Cormac. “ A black-mouthed guarantor of small honour, who sells his cheek and his knee and his hand and his breast and his heart and the honour of his children and of his race and his valour.”

  1. His amends are barren,
    his honour-price is hollow,
    his character is changeable (?),
    his ... is short,
    his protection is narrow,10 
    his arm is not smaller than his dignity,
    his figure is a pattern of mockery in the sight of all men,
    he is a hang-head butt of ridicule wherever he go or be.



“O son, if you listen to me,” said Cormac, “this is my instruction to you: ”

  1. Do not let a man with friends be your steward,
    nor a woman with sons and fostersons your housekeeper,
    nor a man of many desires your dispenser,
    nor a man of much delay your miller,
    nor a violent foul-mouthed man your messenger,
    nor a grumbling sluggard your servant,
    nor a garrulous man your counsellor,
    nor a bibulous man your cup-bearer,10 
    nor a man with a bad sight your watchman,
    nor a bitter, haughty man your doorkeeper,
    nor a compassionate man your judge,
    nor a man without knowledge your leader,
    nor an unfortunate man your adviser.


“grandson of Conn, whom do you deem the deafest you have heard?” “Not hard to tell.”

  1. A fey person who is being warned,
    one who is asked what he does not like,
    the tattle of a silly woman.


“O grandson of Conn, what are the best seasons” “Not hard to tell.”

  1. A fine frosty winter,
    a dry windy spring,
    a droughty showery summer,
    a fruitful autumn with heavy dews.


“O grandson of Conn, what do you think the worst you have heard?”

  1. An outcry after outrage,
    the groan of disease,
    a womanish quarrel between two men.

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Title (uniform): The instructions of King Cormac Mac Airt: Tecosca Cormaic

Author: unknown

Editor: Kuno Meyer

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber and Beatrix Färber

Proof corrections by: and Beatrix Färber

Funded by: University College, Cork, School of History

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1. First draft, revised and corrected.

Extent: 8665 words

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

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Date: 2017

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

CELT document ID: T503001

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

Source description

Manuscript Sources for the Irish text (see Preface and/or http://www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Tecosca_Cormaic for details).

  1. Dublin, TCD, MS 1339 (olim H 2. 18), Book of Leinster, pp. 343–345. The text from the Book of Leinster, which is considerably shorter than that edited by Meyer, is available in file G800011F on CELT.
  2. Dublin, RIA, MS 23 P 12 (536), Book of Ballymote, pp. 621–65a.
  3. Dublin, RIA, MS 23 P 2, Book of Lecan, ff. 420r–422r.
  4. Dublin, TCD, MS 1319 (olim H 2. 17), a fragment of the Book of Lecan, pp. 179–180.
  5. Dublin, RIA MS 23 N 10, (Betham 145 967), pp. 1–6.
  6. Dublin, RIA 23 N 27 (966), ff. 7v–16v.
  7. Dublin, RIA 23 O 20 (a transcript of RIA 23 N 27 written in 1828 by John O'Donovan.
  8. Dublin, TCD H. 1. 15 (1289), Psalter of Tara, pp. 149–174.
  9. Dublin, TCD H. 1. 9, (olim H 1.9) p. 59 to end.
  10. Dublin, TCD H. 4. 8.
  11. Edinburgh, NLS, Adv. MS 72.1.7 (Gaelic VII), ff. 9ra–9vb.

Translations and Literature

  1. John O'Donovan, in: Dublin Penny Journal I, 1832–33, pp. 214–15, 231–32 [from H 2. 17].
  2. Rudolf Thurneysen, Zu irischen Handschriften und Litteraturdenkmälern [I], Abhandlungen der kgl. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Phil.-Hist. Klasse 14.2 (Berlin 1912).
  3. Maxim Fomin, 'A newly discovered fragment of the early Irish wisdom-text Tecosca Cormaic in TCD MS 1298 (H. 2. 7)', in: Piotr Stalmaszczyk, and Maxim Fomin (eds), Dimensions and categories of Celticity: studies in literature and culture. Proceedings of the Fourth International Colloquium of the Learned Association Societas Celto-Slavica held at the University of Lódz between 13–15 September 2009, vol. 2, Studia Celto-Slavica 5, (Lódz 2010) 159–169.
  4. Maxim Fomin, Instructions for kings: secular and clerical images of kingship in early Ireland and ancient India (Heidelberg 2013).

The edition used in the digital edition

‘The instructions of King Cormac Mac Airt: Tecosca Cormaic’ (1909). In: Todd lecture series (Royal Irish Academy)‍ 15. Ed. by Kuno Meyer. v–xii; 2–62.

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  editor 	 = {Kuno Meyer},
  title 	 = {The instructions of King Cormac Mac Airt: Tecosca Cormaic},
  journal 	 = {Todd lecture series (Royal Irish Academy)},
  number 	 = {15},
  address 	 = {Dublin},
  publisher 	 = {Hodges Figgis \& Co},
  date 	 = {1909},
  note 	 = {v–xii; 2–62}


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The electronic edition represents the edited text, pp. v–xii; and odd pages 1–51. Notes (52–56) and Glossary (57–62) have been omitted. The Old Irish text is available in a separate file, G503001.

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Creation: Translation by Kuno Meyer

Date: 1909

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  • The introduction and translation are in English. (en)
  • A number of quotations in the introduction are in Old Irish. (ga)
  • Some words are in Latin. (la)

Keywords: prose; medieval; wisdom; didactic; speculum principis; mirror for princes; translation

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  1. For an enumeration of the MSS. in which this text has come down to us, see D'Arbois de Jubainville's Catalogue, p. 41, and add: Additional 33,993 (British Museum), a fifteenth-century vellum, fo. 76-8 a. This is a fragment beginning: Incipit auraiecpt Morainn nó tecusc Morainn for Feradach finnfechtnach. Comerig a Neire nuallgnaith noithint buaid ngaire; and breaking off abruptly with the words: dligid beos cach dotche miscais dligid cach gúbrethach gaire. As to the age of Auraicept Morainn see Strachan's note in his Deponent Verb p. 50. In the Laws sets of legal maxims are ascribed to Morann. See vol. iv, p. 384. 🢀

  2. See the MSS. enumerated in D'Arbois de Jubainville's Catalogue, p.205. For a poetical dialogue between Fíthel and King Cormac see my Hibernica Minora, p. 82. 🢀

  3. Perhaps, árchoin “slaughter-hounds.” 🢀

  4. Perhaps one of the other districts anciently called Ciarraige is meant, such as Ciarraige Ái in co. Roscommon. 🢀

  5. The name of this tribe is preserved in that of the barony of Orrery, in co. Cork. 🢀

  6. King of Ireland from 598-604. 🢀

  7. In the Triads paragraph 45 this tribe is mentioned as one of the three “evils” or “evil ones” of Ireland. 🢀

  8. A warning instance of such blundering is to be found on p. 37d32, where a sentence which stands correctly in LL. p. 354b as follows: Ruman mac Colmain in fili diata síl Rumain i nAth Truim. Tri filid in domain .i. Homer ó Grécaib ⁊ Fergil ó Latinnaib et Rumam ó Gaedelaib, is made into: Rumann mac Colmáin .i. poeta diada síl Rumaind a nAth Truim .i. Hi Aenir oc Craeibh ⁊ Fergil o Laitrib. 🢀

  9. For a brief description of the MS. see Ériu, vol. 1, p. 38, and Triads of Ireland, p. vi. 🢀

  10. I take this opportunity of saying that the copy of the Triads contained in the Kilbride MS. VII, No. 3 of the Edinburgh collection (not III, as stated in my Preface, p. vii), bears a close resemblance to the copies in the Book of Ballymote and in the Book of Húi Maine. A partial collation made by me yielded no important results. I have further found two fragments of the Triads, in 23 N 7 (see above) fo. 1a-6b, beginning ratha Laighnen(paragraph 56), and ending Cetheora aibghitre baoise baoithe condailbe imreasoin doingthe. FINIS. and in C. 2. 3 (R.I.A.), a vellum MS. written in 1552, fo. 13a, beginning Cend Eirenn Ardmacha, and ending tri scenb Hérenn Tulach na n-espoc Achadh Dea Duin mBuirigh (paragraph 106), neither however of much importance. 🢀

  11. As for the various stages in the preparation of alphabetical glossaries see Archiv iii, p. 138. That O'Clery made use of a collection of glosses on our text is shown by such items in his glossary as atach ndroichbhérla (paragraph 22, 5), iomsgoltadh ngaoisi (ib. 10), perhaps also deithide (paragraph 1, 6), collach (paragraph 15, 16), goibhél (paragraph 17, 7) &c. 🢀

  12. The reading of L. 🢀

  13. The reading of D, N2. 🢀

  14. Instead of crimnach. 🢀


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