Tochmarc Ailbe ‘The wooing of Ailbe’

  • Early Irish
  • prose, prosimetrum
  • Finn Cycle

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.

cols 827–831
written in a distinct hand, called ‘Hand D’ by the cataloguers.
  • Early Irish
prose, prosimetrum (primary)
verse (secondary)
Textual relationships
Related: Agallamh Fhinn agus AilbheAgallamh Fhinn agus AilbheA modernised Irish version of the riddle episode in Tochmarc Ailbe. Three versions of this collection of riddles are found in the manuscripts.


Finn Cycle
Finn Cycle
id. 578


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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Cormac mac Airt
Cormac mac Airt
(time-frame ass. with Cormac mac Airt)
Legendary high-king of Ireland; son of Art son of Conn Cétchathach; contemporary of Finn mac Cumaill.

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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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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.] [tr.] 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>
Edition and German translation, with notes.
[tr.] Ní Dhonnchadha, Máirín [ed.], “Gormlaith and her sisters, c. 750-1800”, in: Angela Bourke, Siobhán Kilfeather, and Maria Luddy [et al.] (eds), The Field Day anthology of Irish writing, vol. IV: Irish women's writing and traditions, Cork: Cork University Press, 2002. 166–249.
206–210 English translation based on Thurneysen’s ediiton, subsequent emendations and an unpublished translation by John Carey.

Secondary sources (select)

Murray, Kevin, The early Finn Cycle, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2017. 200 pp.  
The Finn (or Fenian) Cycle (fíanaigecht) is classified by modern scholarship as one of four medieval Irish literary cycles along with the Ulster Cycle, the Cycle of Historical Tales (or Cycles of the Kings) and the Mythological Cycle. It is primarily composed of material dealing with the legendary character Finn mac Cumaill, his warrior band (fían), his son Oisín and his grandson Oscar. In a fashion recalling the expansion of the Arthurian legend throughout Europe, the traditions centred on Finn grew from localized beginnings to spread throughout the entire Gaelic-speaking world. This study takes as its focus the early Finn Cycle, up to and including the composition of the most significant fíanaigecht tale, Acallam na senórach (‘The colloquy of the ancients’), at the beginning of the Early Modern Irish period. The volume also deals in detail with topics such as the nature of the fían; the extent of early fragmentary Finn Cycle sources; the background to Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (‘The pursuit of Diarmaid and Gráinne’); the boyhood deeds and death of Finn; and the development of the Fenian lay tradition. The Early Finn Cycle details and investigates the primary and secondary sources for the study of this material and traces the literary development of the early fíanaigecht corpus. In so doing, it seeks to account for the emergence of the Finn Cycle from fragmentarily documented beginnings to become the dominant genre of Gaelic literature after 1200.
C. A., Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
April 2011, last updated: January 2024