Prophecy of Berchán


Prophecy of Berchán

The "Prophecy of Berchán", is a relatively large historical poem written in the Middle Irish language. The text is preserved in the Royal Irish Academy, as MS 679 (23/G/4), with a few early modern copies. It was perhaps written in the twelfth century or even later, but purports to be a prophecy made in the early Middle Ages.

The text consists of 204 "debide" stanzas, two of which are corrupt (128, 168). It is divided into two parts. The reputed author of part one (stanzas 1-96) is an Irish abbot named Berchán, from whom we name the poem. Part one consists of a history of Berchán's own monastery, a recount of Viking attacks, and descriptions of the reigns of nineteen Irish kings.

Part two (stanzas 97-206) is an anonymous prophecy given around the death of Saint Patrick, in the fifth century, prophecizing the life of Columba and King Áedán mac Gabráin, and 24 Scottish kings, from Cináed mac Ailpín (d. 858) to Domnall Bán (d. 1097). The poem is very indirect in its identification of Scottish kings, and uses a large number of obscure poetic images and similies. Unlike the Irish kings in part one, there are no accompanying glosses naming the kings. However, the Scottish kings spoken of can be identified, and the evidence made useful. The poem is one of the most important sources for Scottish history in the period it covers.

Bibliography

* Anderson, Alan Orr, "Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500-1286"', 2 Vols, (Edinburgh, 1922), Vol. I., pp. xxxiv-v


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