Agallamh Fhinn agus Ailbhe

  • Early Modern Irish
  • verse
A modernised Irish version of the riddle episode in Tochmarc Ailbe. Three versions of this collection of riddles are found in the manuscripts.
H1 =
f. 18(19)vb
beg. ‘Cidh is letheo na rian ar Find’
27 riddles.
H2 =
pp. 653–654
rubric: Cumhluadur Ḟinn 7 Ailbhe
beg. ‘Cidh is letheo na rian ar Fionn’
27 riddles. Scribe: Tadhg Ó Neachtain. This is Thurneysen's version T and Ó Cuív's version H. Neither of them appear to have been aware of the NLI MS G 2.
G1 =
p. 58
rubric: Slisnech seghuinn Ḟinn .h. Baoiscne fri hAilbhe Gruuibric inghin Corbmaic sunn
20 riddles. This is Thurneysen's version C and Ó Cuív's version C. Scribe: uncertain, perhaps Muiris Ó Gormáin.
G2 =
London, British Library, MS Egerton 127
Scribe: Muiris Ó Gormáin.
G3 =
Glasgow, University Library, MS Gen 1042
Scribe: James McLagan. Version brought to light and discussed by Sím Innes (2016).
N =
f. 124r
rubric: Agallamh Fhinn mhic Cubhaill 7 Ailbhe inghean Chormaic mhic Airt mhic Cuinn .i. airdrígh Eireand
beg. ‘Cía as teó ina tine’
24 riddles. This is the version (N) edited by Ó Cuív (1986). Scribe: Conchubhar Mhágaodh.
  • Early Modern Irish
verse (primary)
Textual relationships
(Possible) sources: Tochmarc AilbeTochmarc Ailbe

Early Irish prosimetric text which relates the story how an aging Finn mac Cumaill wooed Ailbe Grúadbrecc, daughter of Cormac mac Airt. A significant part of the text is taken up by their conversations, which involve a series of riddles and verbal games that establish their mental and intellectual complementarity.



Finn mac Cumaill
Finn mac Cumaill (Find úa Báiscni)
(time-frame ass. with Finn Cycle, Finn mac Cumaill, Cormac mac Airt)
Finn mac Cumaill (earlier mac Umaill?), Find úa Báiscni: central hero in medieval Irish and Scottish literature of the so-called Finn Cycle; warrior-hunter and leader of a fían

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Ailbe ingen Chormaic
Ailbe ingen Chormaic
(time-frame ass. with Cormac mac Airt)
daughter of Cormac mac Airt; wooed by Finn mac Cumaill in the tale of Tochmarc Ailbe.

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Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] Ó Cuív, Brian, “Miscellanea: 2. Agallamh Fhinn agus Ailbhe”, Celtica 18 (1986): 111–115.
Includes discussion and notes.
[ed.] Campbell, J. F. [ed.], Leabhar na Féinne: heroic Gaelic ballads collected in Scotland chiefly from 1512 to 1871, vol. 1, London, 1872.
Internet Archive: <link>, <link>, <link> Internet Archive – originally from Google Books: <link>, <link>
150–151 Versions from H 3. 9 and H 1. 15. Texts contributed by Whitley Stokes?

Secondary sources (select)

Innes, Sìm, “Fionn and Ailbhe’s riddles between Ireland and Scotland”, in: Matthieu Boyd (ed.), Ollam: studies in Gaelic and related traditions in honor of Tomás Ó Cathasaigh, Madison and Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2016. 271–285.
Eson, Lawrence, “Riddling and wooing in the medieval Irish text Tochmarc Ailbe”, Études Celtiques 40 (2014): 101–115.  
[FR] Parler par énigmes et faire la cour dans le texte irlandais médiéval Tochmarc Ailbe
Le parler par énigmes apparaît comme une forme de discours spécialisé dans le texte irlandais Tochmarc Ailbe («La cour faite à Ailbe»), du XIe siècle, dans lequel le héros guerrier Finn mac Cumaill met à l’épreuve l’aptitude de la fille du roi Cormac Mac Airt, Ailbe Grúadbrecc, à devenir sa femme. Ailbe donne des réponses admirables aux énigmes que lui pose un Finn vieillissant, et montre ses capacités personnelles et sa perspicacité intellectuelle en lui envoyant des répliques spirituelles de sa composition. La résolution du conflit dans ce couple se réalise par une bataille verbale, et indique finalement comme thème majeur du texte la complémentarité des sexes, une harmonie dynamique qui s’accomplit grâce au pouvoir de la parole. Plus encore, le texte met l’accent sur le pouvoir de la voix des femmes dans les narrations irlandaises médiévales.

[EN] The article examines riddling as a form of specialized discourse in the circa eleventh-century Irish text Tochmarc Ailbe (“The Wooing of Ailbe”), in which the warrior-hero Finn mac Cumaill tests the suitability of King Cormac Mac Airt’s daughter Ailbe Grúadbrecc as a bride. Ailbe responds admirably to the riddles posed by the aging Finn, displaying her own personal mettle and intellectual acumen by answering him with witty ripostes of her own. The resolution of conflict between the couple is accomplished through this verbal sparring, and ultimately reveals as a major theme of the work the complementarity of the sexes, a dynamic harmony which is achieved through the power of oral discourse. Additionally, the power of the female voice in early Irish storytelling is further emphasized.
Persée – Études Celtiques, vol. 40, 2014: <link>
Thurneysen, Rudolf [ed. and tr.], “Tochmarc Ailbe (Das Werben um Ailbe)”, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 13 (1921): 251–282.
CELT – edition: <link> CELT – German translation: <link> Internet Archive: <link>
252 The edition of Tochmarc Ailbe is accompanied by variant readings from both TCD 1298 and TCD 1328.
C. A., Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
July 2019, last updated: June 2023