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Siobhan Barrett
The king of Dál nAraidi’s salve
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The purpose of this note is to bring to light a remedy for an eye ailment preserved in a fifteenth-century Irish medical compendium that consists mainly of remedies to treat ailments affecting the human body. The main scribe of the text in question is Connla Mac an Leagha, who was working as a practising physician, probably under the patronage of the Mac Diarmada lords in the medieval lordship of Magh Luirg (Moylurg) in Roscommon. The remedies are, for the most part, arranged in the a capite ad calcem order, as is usual in this kind of compendium, and they include cures for ailments for every part of the body from the head to the feet. The recipe for the King of Dál nAraidi’s eye salve is found in RIA MS 445 (24 B 3) p. 52.4–6. The most striking feature of this particular cure is that the first element of the recipe does not specifically mention the condition for which it is intended and begins with the words ‘fobairt rīg Dāl nAraidi’. The title ‘king of Dál nAraidi’ must be the key to the purpose of this remedy. Dál nAraidi is the name associated with a kingdom mostly situated on the east side of Lough Neagh in what is now county Antrim. There is one king of Dál nAraidi who could plausibly be associated with an eye-salve: Congal Cáech or Cláen (‘Congal the one-eyed’ or ‘squinting’). It is not any medical expertise on the part of Congal Cáech that has led to his name being attached to our remedy, but rather the nature of his affliction. According to several medieval Irish sources, Congal lost the sight in one eye as a result of a bee sting. This article examines the ingredients which are included in the recipe for the salve and conclude that the remedy is to relieve a bee sting.
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