The Celtic Literature Collective

Imcallam in da Thurad
The Colloquy of the Two Sages
Book of Leinster

NOTE: This copy of "The Colloquy" translated by Whitley Stokes first appeared at Erik Stohellou's site Tech Sceptra. His edition now has Stokes's notes on the text, so I recommend also reading the text there, perhapse before reading this page which contains my own notes.

I. Adnae, son of Uthider, of the tribes of Connaught, was the ollave1 of Ireland in science and poetry. He had a son, to wit, Néde. Now that son went to learn science in Scotland, unto Eochu Echbél (Horsemouth); and he stayed along with Eochu until he was skilled in science.

II. One day the lad fared forth till he was on the brink of the sea - for the poets deemed that on the brink of water it was always a place of revelation of science. He heard a sound in the wave, to wit, a chant of wailing and sadness, and it seemed strange to him. So the lad cast a spell upon the wave, that it might reveal to him what the matter was. And thereafter it was declared to him that the wave was bewailing, his father Adnae, after his death and that Adnae's robe had been given to Ferchertne the poet, who had taken the ollaveship in place of Néde's father.

III. Then the lad went to his house and tells (all this) to his tutor, that is, to Eochu. And Eochu said to him:" Get thee to thy country now. Our two sciences have no room in one place; for thy science shews clearly to thee that thou art an ollave in knowledge".

IV. So Néde fared forward, and with him his three brothers, namely, Lugaid, Cairbre, Cruttíne. A bolg bélce (puffball)2 chanced (to meet) them on the path. Said one of them: "Why is it called bolg bélce?" Since they know not, they went back to Eochu and remained a month with him. Again they fared on the path. A simind (rush) chanced to meet them. Since they knew not (why it was so called), they went back to their tutor. At the end of another month they set out (again) from him. A gass sanais (sprig of sanicle?) chanced (to meet) them. Since they knew not why it was called gass sanais, they return to Eochu and remained another month with him.

V. Now when their questions had been solved for them, they proceeded to Cantire, and he afterwards went to Rind Snóc. Then from Port Ríg they passed over the sea till they landed at Rind Roisc: thence over Semne, over Latharna, over Mag Line, over Ollarba, over Tulach Roisc, over Ard Slébe, over Craeb Selcha, over Mag Ercaite, over the (river) Bann, along, Uachtar, over Glenn Rige, over the Districts of the Húi Bresail, over Ard Sailech, which today is called Armagh, over the Elfmound3 of Emain [Macha --MJ].

VI. Thus then went the youth, with a silvern branch above him; for this is what used to be above the anruths4 a branch of gold above the ollaves: a branch of copper over the rest of the poets.

VII. Then they go towards Emain Machae. And Bricriu chances (to meet) them on the green. He said to them that if they would give him his guerdon Néde would, through his advice and intercession, become the ollave of Ireland. So Néde gave him a purple tunic, with its adornment of gold and silver, and Bricriu told him to go and sit in the ollave's place. He also said that Ferchertne was dead, while (in fact) he was then to the north of Emain, leading (?) wisdom to his pupils.

VIII. And then Bricriu said: "No beardless man receives the ollaveship in Emain Machae", - for Néde was infantine (leg. boyish) as regards age. Néde takes his handful of grass, and casts a spell upon it, so that every one would suppose it was a beard that was on him. And he went and sat down on the ollave's chair, and took his robe around him. Three were the colors of the robe, to wit, a covering of bright bird's feathers in the middle: a showery speckling of findruine5 on the lower half outside, and a golden colour on the upper half.

IX. Thereafter Bricriu went to Ferchertne and said to him: "It were sad, O Ferchertne, that thou shouldst be put out of the ollaveship today! A young honourable man has taken the ollaveship in Emain."

Thereat Ferchertne was wroth, and he entered the palace, and stood on the floor with his hand en the beam. So that there he said: "Who is the poet, a poet", etc.

X. Now the place of this Colloquy is Emain Machae. And the time of it is the time of Conchobar Mac Nessa. The author, then, is Néde son of Adnae of Connaught - or he is of the Tuatha Dé Danann6, as he says in the Colloquy (§§ 129, 130) "I am the son of Dán (Poetry), Dán son of Osmenad (Scrutiny), etc." and Ferchertne the poet of Ulster. The cause of composing it is that after Adnae's death his robe was conferred on Ferchertne by Medb and Ailill. So Adnae's son, Néde, came out of Scotland, (as we have said), to Emain, and sat on the ollave's chair; and Ferchertne entered the house, and said on seeing Néde:

1. Who is this poet, a poet round whom lies the robe with its splendour,
2. who would display himself after chanting poetry?
3. According to what I see, (he is only) a pupil.
4. Of grass is the arrangement of his great beard.
5. In the place for chanting poetry who is this poet, a contentious poet?
6. I never heard the secret of the sense of Adnae's son:
7. I never heard of him with ready knowledge.
8. A mistake, by (my) letters, is Néde's seat!
9. This is an honorific speech which Néde uttered to Ferchertne:

10. An ancient one, O my senior, every sage is a corrective sage.
11. A sage is the reproach of every ignorant person.
12. (But) before he knows wrath against us he should see what reproach, what (evil) sap (is in us).
13. Welcome is even the piercing sense of wisdom.
14. Slight is the blemish of a young man, unless his art be (rightly) questioned.
15. Step, chief (a more lawful way).
16. Thou shewest badly, thou hast shewn badly.
17. Thou yieldest to me very meagrely the food of learning.
18. I have drained the dug of a man goodly, treasurous.

19. A question, O instructing lad, whence hast thou come?

20. Not hard (to say). From the heel of a sage,
21. from a confluence of wisdom,
22. from perfections of goodness,
23. from brightness of sunrise,
24. from the hazels of poetic art,
25. from circuits of splendour,
26. out of which they measure truth according to excellences,
27. in which righteousness is taught,
28. in which falsehood sets,
29. in which colours are seen,
30. in which poems are freshened.
31. And thou, O my senior, whence hast thou come?

32. Not hard (to say): along the columns of age,
33. along the streams of Galion (Leinster),
34. along the Elfmound of Nechtan's wife7 35. along, the forearm of Nuada's wife,8
36. along the land of the sun (science),
37. along the dwelling of the moon,
38. along the young one's navel-string.
39. A question, O instructing lad, what is thy name?

40. Not hard (to say): Very-small, very-great, very-bright (?), Very-hard.
41. Angriness of fire,
42. Fire of speech,
43. Noise of knowledge,
44. Well of wealth,
45. Sword of song,
46. Straight-artistic with bitterness (?) out of fire.
47. And thou , O my senior, what is thy name?

48. Not hard (to say): Nearest in omens.
49. Explanatory champion for declaration, (for) interrogatory.
50. Inquiry of science
51. Weft of art,
52. Casket of poetry,
53. Abundance from a sea.
54. A question, O instructing lad, what art dost thou practise?

55. Not hard to say: reddening, a countenance
56. piercing flesh,
57. tingeing bashfulness,
58. tossing away shamelessness,
59. fostering poetry,
60. to searching for fame,
61. wooing science,
62. art for every mouth,
63. diffusing knowledge,
64. stripping speech,
65. in a little room,
66. a sage's cattle,
67. a stream of science
68. abundant teaching,
69. smooth tales, the delight of kings.
70. And thou, O my senior, what art dost thou practise?

71. hunting for support,
72. establishing peace,
73. arranging a troop,
74. tribulation of young men,
75. celebrating art,
76. a pallet with a king,
77. .... ing the Boyne,
78. briamon smetrach,
79. the shield of Athirne,9
80. a share of new wisdom from the stream of science
81. fury of inspiration,
82. structure of mind,
83. art of small poems,
84. clear arrangement,
85. ruddy tales,
86. a celebrated road
87. a pearl in setting (?)
88. succouring sciences after a poem.

89. "A question, O instructing lad, what is it that thou undertakest?"

90. Not hard (to say): (to go) into the plain of age,
91. into the mountain of youth,
92. into the hunting of age,
93. into following a king (death?),
94. into an abode of clay,
95. between candle and fire,
96. between battle and its horror;
97. among the mighty men of Tethra10
98. among the stations of...
99. among the streams of knowledge.
100. And thou, O my sage, what is it that thou undertakest?

100. (to go) into the mountain of rank;
101. into the communion of sciences,
102. into the lands of the men of knowledge,
103. into the breast of poetic revision,
104. into the inver of bounties;
105. into the fair of the king's boar:
106. into the small respect of new men:
107. into the slopes of death (wherein is) abundance of great honours.
108. A question, O instructing lad, what is the path thou hast come?'

109. Not hard (to say) on the white plain of knowledge,
110. on a king's beard:
111. on a wood of age:
112. on the back of the ploughing-ox:
113. on the light of a summer-moon:
114. on goodly cheeses (mast and fruit):
115. on dews of a goddess (corn and milk)
116. on scarcity of corn
117. on a ford (?) of fear
118. on the thighs of a goodly abode.
119. And thou, O my senior, on what path hast thou come?

120. Not hard (to say): on Lugh's horserod (?).
121. on the breasts of soft women:
122. on the hair of a wood:
123. on the head of a spear:
124. on a gown of silver:
125. on a chariot-frame without a tyre (?)
126. on a tyre without a chariot:
127. on the three ignorances of the Mac ind Óc.
128. And thou, O instructing lad, of whom art thou son?

129. Not hard (to say): I am son of Poetry,
130. Poetry son of Scrutiny,
131. Scrutiny son of Meditation,
132. Meditation son of Lore,
133. Lore son of Enquiry,
134. Enquiry son of Investigation,
135. Investigation son of Great-Knowledge,
136. Great-Knowledge son of Great-Sense,
137. Great-Sense son of Understanding,
138. Understanding son of Wisdom,
139. Wisdom, son of the three gods of Poetry.11
140. And thou, O my senior, whose son art thou?

141. Not hard (to say): I am son of the man who has been and was not born:
142. he has been buried in his mother's womb:
143. he has been baptized after death:
144. his first presence, death, betrothed him:
145. the first utterance of every living one:
146. the cry of every dead one:
147. lofty A is his name.
148. A question, O instructing lad, hast thou tidings?

149. There are indeed: good tidings:
150. sea fruitful,
151. strand overrun,
152. woods smile,
153. wooden blades flee,
154. fruit-trees flourish (?)
155. cornfields grow,
156. bee swamrs are many,
157. a radiant world,
158. happy peace,
159. kindly summer,
160. armies with pay,
161. sunny kings,
162. wondrous wisdom,
163. battle goes away,
164. every one to his (own) art,
165. men to valour,
166. needlework for women,
167. munbrec láith,
168. treasures laugh,
169. valour abundant,
170. every art complete,
171. fair every good man,
172. good every tiding,
173. tidings good.
174. And thou, O my senior, hast thou tidings?

175. I have indeed: tidings terrible evil the time which will always be: wherein chiefs will be many, wherein honours will be few: the living will quash fair judgments.
176. The cattle of the world will be barren.
177. Men will cast off modesty.
178. The champions of great lords will go.
179. Men will be bad: (lawful) kings will be few: usurpers will be many
180. Disgraces will be crowds: every man will be blemished.
181. Chariots will perish along the race-course.
182. Foes will consume Niall's plains.
183. Truth will not safeguard wealth (excellence?)
184. Sentries round churches will be fought.
185. Every art will be buffoonery
186. Every falsehood will be chosen.
187. Every one will pass out of his (proper) state through pride and arrogance, so that neither rank nor (old) age, nor honour, nor dignity, nor art, nor instruction will be served.
188. Every skilful person will be broken.
189. Every king will be a pauper.
190. Every noble will be contemned: every baseborn will be set up, so that neither God nor man will be worshipped.
191. (Lawful) princes will perish before usurpers by oppressions (?) of the men of the black spears.
192. Belief will be destroyed.
193. Offerings will be disturbed.
194. Floors will gone under (by housebreakers).
195. Cells will be undermined.
196. Churches will be burnt.
197. Niggardly storerooms will be laid waste.
198. Inhospitality will destroy flowers.
199. Though false judgments fruits will fall.
200. His path (in winter to his hospitallers) will perish for every one.
201. Hounds will inflict conflicts on bodies, so that every one will ... upon his following through darkness and grudge and niggardliness.
202. At the end of the final world (there will be) a refuge to poverty and stinginess and grudging.
203. Many controversies (will there be) with artists.
204. Every one will buy a lampooner to lampoon on his behalf.
205. Every one will impose a limit on another.
206. On every hilltop treachery will adventure, so that neither bed nor oath will protect.
207. Every one will hurt his neighbour: so that every brother will betray another.
208. Every one will slay his companion at drinking-together and eating-together, so that there will be neither truth nor honour nor soul there.
209. niggards will shrivel (?) one another for their number.
210. usurpers will satirise one another with storm of every darkness.
211. Ranks will be spilt: clericisms will be forgotten: sages will be despised.
212. Music will turn into boors.
213. Championship will turn to cells and clerics.
214. Wisdom will be turned into false judgments.
215. A lord's law will turn upon the Church.
216. Evil will pass into the points of croziers.
217. Every sexual connexion will turn into adultery.
218. Great pride and great free-will will turn into the sons of peasants and churls.
219. Great niggardise and great inhospitality and great penuriousness will turn into landholders, so that their poems will be dark.
220. Great skill in embroidery will pass to fools and harlots, so that garments will be expected without colours.
221. Wrong judgments will pass into kings and lords.
222. Undutifulness and anger will pass into every one's mind, so that neither bondslaves nor handmaids will serve their masters; so that neither kings nor lords will hear the prayers of their tribes or their judgments; so that the erenaghs [managers of church lands] will not listen to their tenants and their communities; so that the tributary will not endure (to pay) compensation to his lord for his due; so that the ecclesiastical tenant will not serve from his property his church and his lawful abbot; so that the wife will not endure her first-husband's word over her; so that the sons and daughters will not serve their fathers or their mothers; so that pupils will not rise up (respectfully) before their teachers.
223. Every one will turn his art into false teaching and false intelligence, to seek to surpass his teacher; so that the junior may like to be seated while his senior is above his head (standing), so that it will be no shame with king or lord who shall go to special eating or special drinking in front of his comrade who will serve him, or in front of his retinue and his company which will come to him; so that there will be no shame with a farmer who is eating after closing his house against the artist who sells his honour and his soul for a cloak and for food: so that every one at special eating and special drinking will turn his cheek to his comrade; so that greed will fill every human being: so that the proud man will sell his honour and his soul for the price of one scruple.
224. Modesty will be cast off: folks will be contemned: lords will be destroyed: ranks will be despised: Sunday will be degraded: Ietters will be forgotten: poets will not be produced.
225. Righteousness will be removed: false judgments will be manifested by the usurpers of the final world: fruits after appearing will be burnt up by a flood of outlanders and rabble.
226. On every territory will be an excessive number.
227. Districts will be extended into uplands.
228. Every forest will become a great plain: every great plain will become a forest.
229. Every one will slave with all his family.
230. Thereafter will come many hurtful diseases: sudden awful tempests: lightning with cries of trees (struck by thunderbolts).
231. winter leafy, summer gloomy, autumn without crops, spring without flowers
232. Mortality with famine.
233. Diseases on cattle: bedgacha (staggers?), scamacha, murrains, dropsies, milliuda, lumps, agues.
234. Estrays without profit: hiding-places without treasures: great goods without men (to consume them )
235. Extinction of championship.
236. Failure on cornfields.
237. Perjurers.
238. Judgments with anger.
239. A death of three days and three nights on two thirds of human beings.
240. A third of those plagues on beasts of sea and forest.
241. Then will come seven years after lamentation.
242. Flowers will perish.
243. In every house there will be wailing.
244. Outlanders will consume the plain of Erin.
245. Men will tend men.
246. A conflict will go round Cnámchoill.
247. Fair stammerers will be slain.
248. Daughters will conceive to their fathers.
249. Contests will be fought round famous places.
250. There will be desolation round the heights of the Isle of meadowy plains.
251. The sea will break over every country at inhabiting the Land of Promise.
252. Ireland will be left seven years before the Judgment.
253. It will be mournful after slaughters.
254. Thereafter will come the signs of Antichrist's birth.
255. In every tribe monsters will be born.
256. Streampools will turn against streams.
257. Horsedung (?) will turn into gold-colours.
258. Water will turn into tastes wine.
259. Mountains will turn into perfect lands.
260. Bogs will turn into flowery clover.
261. Swarms of bees will be burnt among uplands.
262. The floodtides of the sea will delay from one day to another.
263. Thereafter seven dark years will come.
264. They will hide the lamps of heaven.
265. At the perishing of the world they will go into the presence of Judgment.
266. It will be the Judgment, my son. Great tidings, awful tidings, an evil time!
267. Said Ferchertne: Knowest thou, O little (in age), great (in knowledge), O son of Adnae, who is above thee?

268. Easy (to say). I know my God creative.
269. l know my wisest of prophets.
270. I know my hazel of poetry.
271. I know my mighty God.
272. I know that Ferchertne is a great poet and a prophet.
273. The lad then kneels to him. Thereat Néde flings to Ferchertne the poet's robe, which he put from him, and he rose out of the poet's seat, wherein he was, to cast himself under Ferchertne's feet. Thereupon Ferchertne said:

274. Stay, O little (in age), great (in knowledge), son of Adnae!

275. Said Ferchertne: Stay then, thou poet great, to wit, in science, O son of Adnae! mayst thou be magnified (.and) glorified!
276. mayst thou be famous (and) adorned in the opinion of man and God!
277. mayst thou be a casket of poetry!
278. mayst thou be a king's arm!
279. mayst thou be a rock of ollaves!
280. mayst thou be the glory of Emain!
281. mayst thou be the higher than every one!

282. Mayst thou thyself be so (?) under the same title! a tree of one butt: he is at the same time a male (?) without destruction.
283. a casket of poetry:
284. an expression of new wisdom: he is the intellect of the perfect folk: father by son: son by father.
285. Three fathers are read of therein, to wit, a father in age, a fleshly father, a father of teaching.
286. My fleshly father remains not.
287. My father of teaching is not in presence.
288. 'Tis thou art my father in age.
289. I acknowledge thee as such (?)
Mayst thou thyself be it (?)


: The Colloquy of the Two Sages. ed. and trans. by Whitley Stokes. Paris: Librairie Emile Bouillon, 1905.


1. ollav: Irish ollamh, the highest level of bard, achieved during the tenth through twelfth years of study according to Joyce's Social History of Ireland. In modern Irish, it's the word for "professor".

2. puffball: The Sanas Chormaic gives the definition as "Bolg belce: i.e. "bél-céo" a mist cloud comes out of its mouth". It is probably some sort of fungus.

3. Elfmound: the word is sídhe: in this context the underground kingdom of the fairy.

4. anruths: anruth is the level below ollamh; according to Joyce, it means "noble stream" and is achieved during the seventh through ninth years of study.

5. findruine: "white metal (?)" though not usually defined, it is probably an alloy of silver and tin.

6. Tuatha Dé Danann: I have changed this from Stokes' "dé Danann"--the "Dé" should be capitalized.

7. Elfmound of Nechtan's wife: i.e. Brú na Bóinne
, modern Newgrange

8. Nuada's wife: Macha.

9. Airthne: bard of Conchobor.

10. Sea deity, usually identified as Formorian.

11. The manuscript (in this case, the Book of Leinster) goes into some detail about the tri dei Dana, which Stokes translates as the three gods of poetry. The manuscript, in a gloss (not translated in full by Stokes), then refers to the Sons of Turenn:

na tri dei Dana. tri meic Brigti banfili.i. Brian & Iuchar & Úar tri meic Bressi meic Eladan & Brigit banfile ingen in Dagdai Móir ríg Herend a mmathair. & ainm dóside in Ruad Rofessa atberar sund. vel Cermait & Dermait & Aed. Brigit banfili ingen Rúaid Rofessa. .i. ainm don Dagda. Ruad Rofessa mac na n-ule ndana.i. {MS folio 188a 5} mac oca mbí in dán uile. Is aire dano beres Nede a genelach cosin luctsa ar is occu ro buí suithe na hécsi co comlán. A dualus a aíse dano atbeir Neide conid mac cech oen dibseo diaraile. ar is é in t-athair leis intí bís i rremthechtas. & is é in mac intí bís i tiarmoracht.

The three sons of Brigit the woman-poet, that is Brian and Iuchar and Úar, the sons of Bress son of Eladan and Brigit the woman-poet, daughter of the Great Dagda, king of Ireland (was) their mother. And the name Ruad Rofessa (Red One of Great Knowledge), is given to him [the Dagda] here, or Cermait, and Díarmuit, and Áed (fire). Brigit, daughter of Ruad Rofessa, that is, a name of the Dagda. Ruad Rofessa the son of all arts, that is a son who has all art.

[From here on I use David Stifter's translation, as my knowledge of Irish isn't that great:] For this reason does Néide trace his genealogy back to these people, because they completely possessed mastery of wisdom. By right of his age does Néide claim to be a son of each of them. Because the father is he who is in chronologically antecedent, and the son is he who is in chronologically following.

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