Coirpre Crom and Maelsechlainn’s Soul
Author: Whitley Stokes
An electronic edition
A high bishop there was in Clonmacnois: Coirpre the
Bowed was he called; and he was the head of devotion of
the greater part of Ireland. He happened to be alone in his
cell, after vespers, praying, when he saw coming towards
him a Shape, jetblack, which stood in his presence. Thus then
was that wretched Form: with a bright circlet round its neck
and wearing a shirt with a single sleeve.
The cleric asked: What art thou at all? quoth he, for
we do not recognise thee always.
Then that shape answers: I, it says, am a Soul.
What hath blackened it? says the cleric.
The abundance of my sins and the heaviness of my punishment.
Miserable is that, says the cleric: didst thou find
(anyone) to sing thy requiem, or hadst thou clerical friends in
That is not the greatest (mó) help, says the Soul: but my burial in
Clonmacnois is a greater assistance to me. At the Judgment
moderation will be shewn to me, through the intercession of
Bad luck, says the cleric, that thou hadst not even
a soulfriend, or that thou didst nothing good for his sake.
And yet, says the Soul, I had a soulfriend, a priest of
Clonmacnois, (to speak) precisely. I did nothing very good
for him, but I had a ring of gold made for me, and I bestowed
it on him: ut dixit:
I am mac Donnchada’s son: I am in rough-hewn hell:
it is not welcome that one who has no soulfriend came into
What! art thou the man who had treasures when thou wast in
the body? says the cleric.
Sad is that, O cleric, says the soul: I am Maelshechlainn,
grandson of Donnchad, and king of Ireland.
Bad luck! says the cleric: in what place is the priest,
and what is the fruit of the alms?
He is, quoth the king, in the depth of hell, and my
ring is as a fiery circle round his throat: he can do nothing for
me alas! ’tis hard for himself.
What is that bright circlet round thy throat? says the
The reward for bestowing the ring, says the king.
What then has caused the shirt with a single sleeve?
says the cleric.
It shall be declared to thee, says the king. Once formerly
the schoolboys of the church came to me to ask a cloak for
a poor student whom they had. Then, as at that time I happened
to have no cloak by me, I told the queen to give the
wretch an embroidered shirt of mine. This was done, and it
is the shirt with a single sleeve which thou seest about me.
That is very well, says the cleric; but what brought
When I was in the air, some time ago, says the king,
with a crowd of demons on every side around me, punishing
me, we heard the sound of thy voice praising the Lord. So
then the demons are terrified and they scatter to the airts of
the air; for no demon can remain for the space of a single
hour on the earth or in the air as far as the sound of thy voice
chanting thy prayers reaches him.
Now when they had ended that colloquy, the king at last
said: Ah, ah, O cleric, quoth he, I must now go to the
same folk; and, if it so please thee, I would give thee a reward
for this rest.
What is that? asks the cleric.
Once formerly, says the king, I went to Dublin to
threaten the Danes, and I brought away from them an hundred
ounces of gold and ten hundred ounces of silver. I and a
single lad who was along with me concealed that (treasure),
and then I killed him; and hitherto no one has known
it from me; but the place wherein (the treasure) is shall be
declared to thee; and do thou put thine own bridle upon it.
I profess, says the cleric, since there was no
benefit to him who took little of thy wealth, no more will
I accept much of it. As for me, quoth he, never and never
will I have aught to do with thy treasures.
Then the soul sprang from him, and this is what it said so
long as the cleric heard:
Sad is that, O Son of my living God,
that I did no good while I was in the body.
Thereafter all the priests that looked after the church, to
wit, twelve priests, are gathered together, and the cleric tells
them what had taken place there, and said to them: What is
it to you, to bring the priest out of hell and to drag the king
from the demons? Then they said: The king to the bishop,
and the priest to the priests.
So alms and a three-days-fast and prayer were given and
held and made by them. At the end of half a year, to the
bishop came the king, and he (only) half-speckled.
What is this state? quoth the cleric.
A good state, says the soul; provided that the same course be
followed (i.e. giving alms, fasting and praying).
What? How is the heaviness of thy punishment now?
asks the cleric.
This is what the soul said:
On the top of the hard-bare tree with fierceness,
above the green seas dangerous cliff,
I suffered there without stint,
in the rough night of windy snow.
The soul whose punishment is least,
which is in the regions of the oceans:
hardly would its body have wonder
if it should have come out of hell.
Then it sprang from him.
At the end of a year the cleric was alone praying in that
same place, when he saw the radiant Form coming towards
him. Now it happened that this was the king.
What is this state that thou hast? says the cleric.
Verily a good state, says the king. Here I am bright-white,
going to heaven.
And the priest, in what state is he?
A good state, says the king. Tomorrow he (too) will
go to heaven.
What causes thee (to go thither) before him? says the
The nobility of thy prayer and the might of thy supplication
beyond (that of) the priests.
At that word the king goes to heaven in the presence of
the cleric, and he leaves a blessing with the holy bishop.
So this is the story of Coirpre crom and Mael Sechlainn
son of Mael Ruanaid, to wit, the King of Ireland.
© 2008 Thesaurus Linguae Hibernicae