EMILI: Early Medieval Irish Latinate Inscriptions

CAV-001. Moybologue Cross Slab

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Description: National Monuments Service Record Number: CV034-046002-. Stone (possibly limestone) cross slab (w: 0.54 x h: 0.73x d: 0.12 (Callaghan and Stifter 2020, 258). Occupying much of the area below the inscription is a double outline cross, formed from two equal-armed outline crosses, one set into the other. Both crosses are formed of wide, shallow grooves, substantially wider than those of the inscription and are quite neatly executed, albeit with some irregularities, notably the dexter arm of the outer cross. The top terminal of the outer cross is open-ended and does not extend far past the terminal of the inner cross, perhaps to avoid the inscription. Its dexter and lower terminals are closed, while damage has removed the sinister terminal. The inner cross has closed terminals and there is an expansion at its intersection, somewhat irregular but more lozenge-shaped than curvilinear. This is mirrored by a slighter expansion in the outer cross (Description of the cross form supplied by Kate Colbert, NUIG). There is a spall at the top right of the slab just above the inscription.
Text: The inscription is pecked and located above the cross in a single horizontal line. There is a space of one letter width following the first word.
Letters: Ten fully preserved letters, mostly in Insular half-uncial ductus, can be recognised on the stone. The two Rs show a distinctly minuscule form. The last letter is most likely a capital N, in a shape that is very close to half-uncial U, in that the middle stroke goes from the lower left position to the middle right, contrary to the usual way of writing it. Capital N is rarer than its half-uncial counterpart on inscrib-ed stones, but examples of it can be found occasionally (Callaghan and Stifter 2020, 258).

Date: eighth or ninth century A.D.

Findspot: The inscription on the cross slab was first detected by Brian Callaghan of Moybologue Historical Society in July 2017 while preparing for a community grave-marker inscription recording survey in Moybologue graveyard (Callaghan and Stifter 2020, 258). This is an early ecclesiastical site (Monasticon Hibernicum Database) and contains the remains of the later parish church of Moybologue (CV034-046001-). Within the graveyard [CV034-046007-] there are two cross slabs, [including this] one with an early inscription, a font, three churchyard crosses and two fragments of crosses. The two graveslabs are both probably seventeenth century in date. There is also a fragment of an inscription which remains indecipherable, a holed stone that is part of a millwheel, and a stone with a single cup-mark. The curving wall of the graveyard at S with the road curving about the graveyard E-S-W, a field bank W-N enclosing the motte and bailey (CV034-045----) and a field bank NE-E could be interpreted as a large oval ecclesiastical enclosure (CV034-046008-) (Archaeology.ie).
Original location: Moybologue (Maigh Bolg), townland of Relagh Beg, Co. Cavan, 53.871929, -6.950527.

Last recorded location: Findspot

Interpretive

OR(ÓIT) ( vac. ) DU ULBRUN

Diplomatic

OR  DUULBRUN

Translation:

A prayer for Ailbran

Commentary:

In this inscription we find the variant du of the preposition do ‘to, for’. Du is very rare on inscriptions: among the 67 collected in Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus it is found four times, but it is entirely absent from Okasha and Forsyth’s Munster corpus.The variation do/du gives no firm linguistic dating criterion for the inscription since the variant with u was a rare option in almost all periods of Old Irish (Callaghan and Stifter 2020, 259).

There are several possible interpretations for the form ULBRUN, which is in the place of the personal name in the formula (oróit do X), as outlined by Stifter (2020, 259-260): 1. Ulbrún, a hibernised rendering of the Anglo-Saxon female name Wulfrūn ‘wolf rune’; 2. Ulbrun, dative of the otherwise unattested OIr. o-stem names *Ulbranor 'beard raven' or *Aulbran 'wall raven'; or, and the most likely, 3. Ailbran ‘stone-raven’, a compound of ail ‘stone’ + bran 'raven'. In this case it has to be assumed that initial ail- alternated with ul-, just like ailad ‘tomb, sepulchre’ alternates with aulad, elad, ilad, ulad. The name Ailbran does not appear in the genealogies, but two clerics, from Tréoit and Clúain Dolcáin, bear that name in the Annals of Ulster 774 and 781. Uhlich (1993, 148) compares also the name Ailbrenn, the superior of Clúain Iraird who died in 884 (Annals of Ulster). Moybologue Old Graveyard is c.50km away both from Trevet and from Clonard, which is not a very long distance. Maybe there is therefore a connection between Ulbrun and abbot Ailbran of Tréoit who died 774 (Annals of Ulster), or with the superior Ailbrenn of Clúain Iraird (Callaghan and Stifter 2020, 259-260).

Bibliography: Callaghan and Stifter 2020, 257-260 ; Okasha and Forsyth 2001 ; Uhlich 1993, 148
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