Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Flann

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FLANN (d. 1056), Irish historian, commonly called Mainistrech (of the monastery), son of Eochaidh Erann, was twenty-second in descent from Ailill Oluim, king of Munster, according to some Irish historians (McFirbis in Curry, Cath Muighe Leana, p. 175); but this genealogy may justly be suspected to be an attempt to connect Flann after he became famous with St. Buite [q. v.], founder of Mainister Buite, now Monasterboice, co. Louth, the monastery in which this historian spent most of his life. He attained a great reputation for historical learning in his own time, and has since been constantly quoted by all writers of history in the Irish language. He is called ‘airdferleighinn ocus sui senchusa Erenn,’ archreader and sage of historical knowledge of Ireland (Annals of Ulster, i. 599, ed. Hennessy), and ‘ferléighind Mainistreach Buithe,’ reader of Monasterboice (Annala R. Eireann, ii. 870). O'Curry (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, vol. ii.) has tried to prove that he was not an ecclesiastic; but the verses on his death quoted in the annals (A. R. I. ii. 870) prove the contrary, ‘Fland a primchill Buithi bind’ (Flann of the chief church of melodious Buithe), while the ages of his sons, with the date of his compositions, favour the conclusion that he began life as a poetical historian, wandering through the northern half of Ireland, and that he retired for his later years into the monastic clan of St. Buite. He had two sons, of whom Echtighern, the elder, became airchennach of Monasterboice, died 1067 (ib. ii. 890), and left two sons, Eoghan, who died in 1117, and Feargna, who became a priest, and died in 1122. His second son, Feidhlimidh, died in 1104, and was also famous as an historian. The third son mentioned in some accounts is due to a clerical error. The local writings of Flann refer mainly to the northern half of Ireland. He calls Brian Boroimhe [see Brian] ‘sun of the hills of West Munster,’ but chiefly celebrates the achievements of the descendants of Nial Naighiallach, and nowhere extols the Dal Cais, so that he is to be regarded as a northern writer. His writings are interesting as the genuine productions of an Irish historian of the eleventh century. They have never been critically examined, and the lists given by O'Reilly, who enumerates fourteen (Transactions of the Iberno-Celtic Society for 1820, p. 75), and by O'Curry (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, ii. 149), who mentions nineteen, require revision. His poem on the kings of Tara (Books of Leinster, facs. 132 b, line 6) ends with Maelsechlainn, who died in 1021; that on the Cinel Eoghain ends with an O'Neill who died in 1036. Flann himself died on 17 Nov. 1056 (A. R. I. ii. 870). The beautiful stone cross of Muiredach, still standing in the enclosure of Monasterboice, was there in the time of Flann, and it is probable that he was also familiar with the loftier carved cross and with the curious leaning round tower. The earliest extant manuscript text of any of his writings comes within fifty years of his death, and is a poem on King Aedh Sláine in ‘Lebar na h-Uidhre’ (fol. 53 a, line 3), beginning ‘Muguin ingen choncruid mac Duach don desmumhain’ (Muguin, daughter of Conchruid, son of Duach, of South Munster), and relating how, through the prayers of a saint, the queen, till then childless, first gave birth to a salmon, then to a lamb, and last of all to the famous king, Aedh Sláine. ‘The Book of Leinster,’ a manuscript of the latter part of the twelfth century, contains eleven poems of his, viz. (1) f. 27 b, 54, on a famous assembly of poets; (2) f. 131 b, 34, on the kings of Tara to the death of Dathi; (3) 132 b, 6, on the kings of Tara from Loeghaire to Moelsechlainn; (4) 145 b, 19, a later text of the poem on Aedh Sláine; (5) 181 a, 1, on the fortress of Ailech (co. Donegal); (6) 181 b, 11, on Ailech; (7) 182 a, 24, on the deeds of the seed of Eoghain; (8) 182 b, 12, on sixty victories of the clan Eoghain; (9) 183 b, 17, on clan Eoghain; (10) 184 b, 20, on kings of Meath; (11) 185 b, 1, the names of the kings of the race of Aedh Sláine. ‘The Book of Ballymote,’ a manuscript of the beginning of the fifteenth century, contains (f. 11) a copy of ‘Leabhar comaimsirech du Flainn’ (i.e. Flann's Book of Synchronisms), a tale of the kings of the outer world and of Ireland in prose and verse. ‘The Book of Lecan,’ written in 1416, contains (Petrie, Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland, p. 142) a poem on the household of St. Patrick. Part of the same poem is quoted in the ‘Annals’ (A. R. I'. i. 130).

[O'Reilly, Transactions of Iberno-Celtic Society for 1820, Dublin; Curry's Cath Muighe Leana (Celtic Society), Dublin, 1855; Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History, Dublin, 1873; Petrie's Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland, Dublin, 1845; Dunraven's Notes on Irish Architecture, London, 1877; Royal Irish Academy, Facsimiles of Lebar na h-Uidhre, Book of Leinster; Book of Ballymote.]

N. M.