Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Senchan

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SENCHAN (fl. 649), Irish bard, is generally mentioned with the epithet Torpeist in Irish literature to distinguish him from Senchan, son of Coemlog, and nephew of Coemgin of Glendalough (Felire, pp. 51, 98, 168); from Senchan, son of Colman Mor, slain in 590; from the three Senchans, successively abbots of Emly, who died in 769, 776, and 780; and from Senchan, abbot of Killeigh in Offaly, who died in 791. Like the famous Torna, foster-father of Niall (d. 405) [q. v.], he sometimes bears the epithet Eigeas, learned. He was a native of Connaught, and became chief bard of that region when Guaire was its king (649–62). In the story called ‘Imtheacht na Tromdhaimhe’ (‘The Departure of the Poets' College’), which is one of the later appendages of the ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne’ (‘the Cattle Raid of Cuailgne’), it is stated that on the death of Dallan Forgaill [see Dallan, Saint] four learned women were consulted by the ollavs of Ireland as to who his successor as chief bard of Ireland should be. Muireann, Dallan's wife, one of the four, said that Dallan had expressed a wish for Senchan to succeed him. Senchan then composed a funeral oration in verse for Dallan, beginning ‘Inmhain corp a dtorchair sunn’ (‘Dear the body that here lies dead’), and was unanimously elected ardollamh, or chief professor of Ireland. He and his college, to the number of three hundred, with nearly four hundred attendants and a hundred and fifty dogs, went to Durlus, the court of Guaire, where the events took place which led to the recovery of the then lost story called ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne.’ As Dallan was famous in the reign of Aedh mac Ainmire, who died in 594, and as he survived Columba [q. v.], Senchan's asserted succession to his bardic supremacy about the commencement of the reign of Guaire in 649 presents no chronological inconsistency. The oldest copy of ‘Imtheachtna Tromdhaimhe’ at present extant is in the book of MacCarthy Riach, a manuscript of about 1480. The tale is not mentioned in ‘Leabhar na Huidri,’ a manuscript of about 1100, which contains a copy of the ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne.’ In the ‘Book of Leinster,’ a manuscript of 1150, in which there is another copy of the ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne,’ there is a chapter headed ‘Do fallsignd tana bo cualnge,’ fol. 245 (‘Of the Discovery of the Tain Bo Cuailgne’), in which it is stated that Senchan assembled the bards of Ireland in order to recover at length the whole story. Only fragments were then known, and he sent forth scholars to seek far and wide for the complete text. The ‘Book of Leinster’ (fol. 23, col. l, line 10) also contains the only extant work of Senchan. It is a poem beginning ‘Rofich fergus fichit catha co cumnigi’ (‘Fergus stoutly fought twenty battles’); but after one other line referring to Fergus, it goes on to celebrate the battles of Rudraigi, king of Ireland. It is a catalogue of names, with epithets to fill up the gaps in the metre. In the glossary of Cormac, under the word ‘prúll,’ great increase, is a story of a voyage made by Senchan to the Isle of Man, and of an incident in it given as the origin of his cognomen. A monster came into the boat—‘Is desin rohaimniged Senchan Torpeist i Senchan dororpa peist’—it was from that he was named Senchan Torpeist: i.e. Senchan to whom appeared a monster. The date of his death is not mentioned in the chronicles.

[Book of Leinster, facsimile of manuscript published by Royal Irish Acad.; Owen Cormrellan in Trans. of Ossianic Soc. vol. v.; E. O'Curry's Lectures on the Manuscript Materials for Irish Hist.; Whitley Stokes's Three Irish Glossaries, 1862, and Calendar of Oengus, 1871; R. O'Flaherty's Ogygia, London, 1685.]

N. M.