BB corbo echta iar nathbrath [7 syllables, but can elide (ia)r]
Lec ciarbo êcht iar n-athbrath [6 syllables]
>> The full form 'êchta' is needed for a perfect rhyme with 'crêchta'.
>> (b) we can assume that Lec reproduces the original reading, 'êcht',
>>> ‘corbo’ looks like ‘co’ plus 3rd singular perfect of copula, which
>>> makes it difficult to make a plural ‘echta’ the subject.
>> Which might be a good enough reason to take option (2) above and read
>> So that it was [a case of] ‘butchery after betrayal’
>> I take the phrase at the end of line (b) to be a well-known saying (a
>> bit like the way we would understand "It was a case of 'adding insult
>> to injury'.") I take the first word in the phrase to be 'écht'
> If "écht(a) íar n-athbrath" is a proverbial expression, it would make
> sense that it be referred to as a unit, with a singular form of the
> verb, "corbo". Thus "échta" would be possible, I would think.
(It would have seemed fine to the scribe of the Book of Ballymote in any
event. By his time the singular copula was used with a plural subject.
But there are only a few traces of it in Saltair na Rann (AD 988), so it
is not likely that the 10th century poet Cináed himself would have
I take your point. Even if the saying itself had plural 'échta',
nevertheless the saying is a 'singular thing' (= it IS a case of) and
there would be no problem, regardless of the date.
But I do think it is a fairly big 'even if'. I am referring here to the
likelihood that the saying would have had the plural 'échta'. Apart from
the question of aesthetic imbalance (plural + singular), I think '(a
case of) slaughter after betrayal' looks more like a saying than '(a
case of) slaughters after a betrayal'. Being slaughtered is a singular
event in the life of an individual, and having a saying that applied
only to a plurality of victims would reduce the opportunity for using
it, as well as making it ill-fitting to the present case.
Even if such a saying envisaged a plurality of people being slaughtered
as the result of a single betrayal, the singular 'écht' would still seem
to me more appropriate than the plural. The plural would suggest a
series of somewhat distinct incidents.
(I appreciate that the saying might be applied metaphorically to some
non-fatal aggravation following betrayal, but I don't think that effects
the mechanics of it.)
Also, my impression has been that Lec is the more reliable of the two
MSS, and it has singular 'echt'. I appreciate that impressions are
unruly things - I haven't done any statistics on this. And, no doubt,
there are cases where BB has the better reading, even if they might be
The affect on the rhyme is great pity, but in this case I am still
inclined to go with the Book of Lecan. Still, I suppose in the end it is
a bit of a toss-up and makes no difference to the sense at least.