EMILI: Early Medieval Irish Latinate Inscriptions

GAL-002. Templebrecan 2: Carved Pebble

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Description: National Monuments Service Record Number: GA110-023001-. A black, clay ironstone nodule, approximately w: 0.76 x h: 0.76x d: 0.38 (converted from Petrie 1845, 139) almost flat on the underside. A linear, equal-armed cross is carved on the upper side.
Text: The inscription is positioned on the stone in a single, circular line around the edge, with the base of the letters towards the cross. A small initial crosslet is positioned just before the text.
Letters: According to Gifford Charles-Edwards (2006, 310), who mistakenly named the location Killeany, this is perhaps among the earliest examples to show the Irish fashion for extreme angularisation and use of mixed-alphabet letters. Minuscule triangular a, r, l and t, with angularised half-uncial h, n, and lentoid o. Two-line layout, h in height of i, b in height of minuscule r.

Date: Unknown.

Findspot: Discovered by Petrie in 1822 inside the supposed tomb of Saint Breccán, the church's presumed founder. This is one of five [leacht] leabaí or grave-plots associated with Teampall Bhreacáin (GA110-010001-) ['Breacán's church'] and Teampall an Phoill (GA110-010003-) [part of a wider ecclesiastical complex known as na Seacht dTeampaill 'the Seven Churches']. This example, known as Leaba Bhreacáin ['Breacán's bed/grave'], is to the SW of Teampall Bhreacáin. It consists of a low subrectangular platform (c. 5.1m N-S; 4-5m E-W; H 0.35m) that is defined by a kerb of limestone blocks (T 0.12-0.38m). Eight cross slabs (GA110-023013- to GA110-023020-) are associated with it (Archaeology.ie; Waddell 1973, 5-27; Monasticon Hibernicum Database).
Original location: Templebrecan (Teampall Bhreacáin), in the townland of Onaght (Eoghanacht), Inishmore (Árainn), Co. Galway, 53.145856, -9.777971.

Last recorded location: National Museum of Ireland (Inv. no. inventory/reg. no. P1047)


((†))OR(ÓIT)( vac. ) AR BRAN( vac. )NAILITHER



1: Read by Macalister (1949, 6) as: OR[OIT] ARBR[EC]AN NAILITHER 'a prayer for Brecán the pilgrim'.


A prayer on behalf of Bran the pilgrim


Initial crosslets are common before texts on carved stone monuments and on metalwork, as well as in manuscripts, on the Continent and in Britain (Lionard 1961, 101–2). In Ireland, they are attested from the later 7th/8th centuries (e.g., Toureen Peakaun) to the 12th century (e.g., the Cross of Cong). However, they are not as common as in Anglo-Saxon England (Okasha and Forsyth 2001, 16).

The person named here, Bran n-ailither 'Bran the pilgrim', has not been identified. Bran (meaning 'raven') is a very common name, and name element, in the early medieval period. Petrie (1878, 20) noted that on the mainland is a well, which still bears the title Tobar Brain. The nasalisation of ailither would suggest that Bran here is in the accusitive case after the preposition ar. which takes the accusitive or dative case.

The identification of Inis Mór as a place of pilgrimage corroborates the pebble’s inscription as a prayer for a pilgrim named ‘Bran’, and the discovery of a number of smoothed stones in the grave, which is interpreted as that of a saint (Petrie 1878, 20), further establishes an act of a ritualistic deposition (Johnson 2020, 239). The inscription on the Inis Mór pebble is paralleled in the prayer texts on portable Irish reliquaries in which prayers for specific individuals are incised (Michelli 1996, 1-48).

Bibliography: Charles-Edwards 2006, 310 ; Higgins 1987, vol. 2, 268, no. 1 ; Johnson 2020, 239-40 ; Macalister 1949, 6, no.532 ; Michelli 1996, 1-48 Petrie 1878, vol. 2, 20, Plate XII ; Stokes and Strachan 1903, 286 ; Waddell 1973, 5-27
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