Ireland: Tales We Heard

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While climbing Slieve League our guide, Barry, told us some wild stories of events that had occurred in Ireland. There were two in particular that stood out to me. The Battle of the Book and plane crash from WWII on the far side of Donegal Bay.

Battle of Cúl Dreimhne | Battle of the Book

The information for the Battle of the Book came from this site. This would have been one of the first cases of copyrights infringement. The tale below is a condensed version and there are additional details on the site linked above.

In 540 AD, on his return to Ireland from a trip to Rome, Finnian had in his possession a copy of the book, ‘Jerome’s Vulgate.’ Knowing that he had in his hands, a vitally important work, his intention was to translate, transcribe it into the Gaelic language, and distribute among the many monasteries and schools. Unbeknownst to Finnian, Colmcille, his brightest pupil, had borrowed the book without his knowledge and did his own translation, with the same intentions as Finnian. Finnian, enraged, demanded Colmcille return the copy, but was met with an unwavering refusal. This incident sparked the confrontation that became known as the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne (Battle of the Book,) which took place at Cairbre Drom Cliabh (County Sligo,) in 561 AD.

“To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy.” King Diarmait mac Cerbaill.

That quote, in essence, conveyed the king’s decision regarding what was essentially the first copyright case ever brought before an Irish court and perhaps the world. Finnian, whose loyalty and fealty was to king Diarmait, petitioned him to intervene in the dispute. A hearing was duly convened and lawyers for both parties argued their client’s respective cases. Finnian’s side argued that as he owned the original manuscript of ‘Jerome’s Vulgate,’ he also owned the copy. Colmcille’s lawyers, while agreeing to Finnian’s ownership of the original, disagreed with the king’s decision regarding the copy, and argued that as Colmcille did all the work of translating and transcribing, the copy should be his. Nonetheless, the king’s word was final and the matter appeared to be settled. But this was not the first time the king had incurred Colmcille’s ire and for him, it was the final insult. Soon after, he set out to avenge the wrongful decisions.

Early one fateful morning in 561 AD on a verdant, open plain, at Drumcliff, in what is now County Sligo, both armies assembled, faced each other across the wide expanse, and prepared to go to war. Nothing could stop it, not even the intervention of respected Filid with their words of appeasement. The die was cast, and now blood would stain the furrows and bracken as far as the horizon. At days’ end, almost three thousand men lay dead and dying in mortal agony, their death throes, haunting, pitiful screams, resounded on the soft evening air and could be heard for miles around. The blood soaked shields and broken claidebs (swords) lay scattered all around, some still clasped tightly in the hands of the butchered, broken bodies of the vanquished.

That night, a pall of deathly silence enveloped the sorrowful plain, and nothing stirred for days.

Later, when the horror had subsided and sanity returned, a Synod of clerics and scholars was convened. Some of those who attended the Synod blamed Colmcille solely for the deaths and called for his execution, some favored excommunication, but when Brendan of Birr, a noted theologian, spoke on his behalf, a deal was made that allowed for the option of exile instead. Colmcille’s conscience troubled him so badly he sought the advice of an elderly Hermit named Molaise. After much careful consideration, Molaise advised Colmcille to do his penance and accept the offer of exile. Colmcille duly left Ireland, and returned only once, many years later.

Gleniff Horseshoe WWII Plane Crash

This story is sad and bittersweet and funny in parts. Parts of the story are from the following sites:

And parts of the story are what our guide told us while on our hike and looking at Tievebawn from Slieve League where is sits across Donegal Bay.

Historical Background

During WWII the United Kingdom was part of the Allied force but Ireland was neutral in the fighting. According to our guide, Barry, the Irish government would allow American pilots to fly over Donegal Bay and a small part of the Irish mainland to get to Northern Ireland.

Image from

During World War II Dartry mountain and the north coast of Sligo was used as an air corridor by US bombers. On 9th December 1943 a B17 Flying Fortress with the ID Gaza King, flying through dense cloud, crashed into the summit of Tievebawn on the east or Horseshoe side of the mountain. A few meters higher and the plane would have missed the mountain, a few meters lower and everyone would have been killed; as it was two of the eight crew members died in the crash and another died later in Sligo hospital.

A local rescue team was assembled to climb Tievebawn and bring down the bodies and wounded men, who were carried down on makeshift stretchers. One of the airmen had to be dug out from under the plane. The wreckage of the plane has mostly disappeared over the years. In 2005 two of the engines were lifted by helicopter and taken to Dublin.

The plane crashed in Ireland and the way our guide told the story was that the first people to get to the crash site were Irish farmers. They were actively digging out trapped men from the wreck when men from the Northern Ireland arrived. Apparently there was some tension between the two groups but in the end the men were rescued.

The parts of the aircraft that could be moved were removed and the rest was left stuck in the mountainside. The funny part about this is that, according to Barry, years later when the farmers had the tools to cut up the remaining body of the aircraft they did so and took it back to their farms. Where they proceed to make chicken coops out the the parts.

I think these stories stuck with me because they show different sides of human nature. With the Battle of the Book there is vindictiveness and pride that ends up costing lives. And during WWII there were people of many walks of life from different places and different backgrounds that didn’t always get along but they were still resourceful and were able to work together to save lives. What do you think about these stories and have you come across any stories that stick out to you from home or while traveling? Let me know in the comments. Remember to leave no trace and safe travels.

Thank you KW Photography for allowing me to use your wonderful photos!

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