Contending coarbs: Cindus fuair Mlaise in Bealach?

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The poem beginning 'Cindus fuair Mlaise in Bealach?' (How did Molaise find the Way?) by Giolla Caomhain Ua Cuirnín records the appointment of the Ó Taithligh (Tully) family as the airchinnigh (erenaghs), 'estate managers' over the lands of the church and monastery of Devenish Co. Fermanagh and the appointment of the Ó Mithighéin (O’Meehan) family as the airchinnigh, 'estate managers', over the lands which belonged to the Church in the vicinity of Ros Inbhir (Rosinver) in North County Leitrim. The word 'Bealach' is a play on the concept of 'physical way, pathway' in the sense of pilgrimage path. That pilgrimage path appears to have begun at Molaise's monastic establishment on the island of Inis Muireadhaigh (Inishmurray) on the North Sligo coast and finished at the final resting place of the saint at Daimhinis (Devenish Island) on Lough Erne. However, the word operates at another level of meaning, namely the 'way of compromise': the 'way' of dividing up the material wealth which would accrue to those who controlled the pilgrimage path. The lesser 'sochar', 'benefice' was given to the Uí Mhithighéin (O'Meehans) to whom were assigned the Bealach Uí Mhithighéin 'the [Mountain] Pass of Ó Mithighéin at Ros Inbhir, while the Uí Thaighligh (Tullys) were assigned the climax of the pilgrimage path on Devenish Island itself.The exact dates of the poet Ó Cuirnín have as yet not been established. It is strange that there survives no allusion to him in the various collections of annals despite the fact that the historical records dating from the thirteenth century contain copious references to various members of that scholarly family. The Uí Chuirnín (O'Curneen family) have inhabited the North Leitrim / North Sligo area from at least the thirteenth century and are still found in that area.The poem does not reveal any features which would suggest a date later than that of the manuscript, which has been dated to c. 1400-1500. The consensus is that the manuscript was written somewhere in the North Leitrim or adjacent South-West Fermanagh area. Two early nineteeth-century transcripts, one associated with Edward O'Reilly and the other with Robert McAdam have survived.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-240
JournalPeritia - Journal of the Medieval Academy of Ireland,
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Jan 2014


  • Late Medieval Irish Poetry
  • Early Modern Irish Poetry
  • Saint Molaise of Devenish (Co. Fermanagh)
  • Comharb (Coarb)
  • Airchinneach (Erenagh)
  • Ó Taithligh (Tully)
  • Ó Mithighéin (O’Meehan)
  • Ros Inbhir (Rosinver
  • Co. Leitrim).


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