Law Hall of Fame logo Esteemed Irish historian, Mac Firbis' date of birth is uncertain but estimated to be 1585.

We know his date of death because it was sudden and no accident.

His formal Irish name was Dubhaltach Mac Firbisigh, Mac Firbis was born in Lakan, Ireland (near Sligo).

His family was of a famous line of historians, a well-known book of Irish history, the Yellow Book of Lecan, written by his ancestor Gilla-Isa Mor Mac Fuirbis in about 1400.

Mac Firbis attended law school and history and later, records show him in law study in Burrens, Ireland. His mastery of Latin and Greek would hold him in good stead as he decided to follow his ancestors' example and research and compile Irish history; but he focused on history.

He moved to Galloway and survived a nine-month siege of the town in 1652 by the English during the Irish Confederate Wars. He then moved to Dublin and was hired by James Ware to pursue his research.

His Chronicum Scotorum was, arguably, his greatest legacy although in all likelihood, written from a number of questionable sources. For example, according to the Chronicum, the first settlers of Ireland were a ship with a Greek woman of some distinction, Lady Ceasair, and another 50 Greek maidens, and three men.

In about 1667, he located and preserved a copy of the Senchas Már, arguably the most important compilation of Brehon law, and believed to have been commissioned by St. Patrick in about 450.

He appears to have returned to Sligo to live out his senior years and is believed to have suffered great poverty.

His fellow historian, Eugene O'Curry described his death as follows:

"Mac Firbis was at that time under the ban of the penal laws, and, consequently, a marked and almost a defenceless man, in the eye of the law, whilst the friends of his murderer enjoyed the full protection of the constitution. He must have been then past his 80th year, and he was, it is believed, on his way to Dublin, probably to visit Robert, the son of Sir James Ware. He took up his lodgings for the night at a small house in the little village of Dunflin, in his native county. While sitting and resting himself in a small room off the shop, a young gentleman, of the Crofton family, came in and began to take some liberties with a young woman who had the care of the shop. She, to check his freedom, told him that he would be seen by the old gentleman in the next room; upon which, in a sudden rage, he snatched up a knife from the counter, rushed furiously into the room, and plunged it into the heart of Mac Firbis.

 

"Thus it was that, at the hand of a wanton assassin, this great scholar closed his long career,--the last of the regularly educated and most accomplished masters of the history, antiquities, and laws and language of ancient Erinn (Ireland)."

His work was eventually taken and completed by later historians, especially John O'Curry, who credited Mac Firbis with being one of the first to properly understand and translate ancient Irish legal texts.

REFERENCES:

  • Hennesssy, William, Chronicum Scotorum - A Chronicle of Irish Affairs From The Earliest Times to AD 1135 (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1866).
  • The Catholic Enclopedia, re John Curry