The Bedell/Boyle Lecture 2003

OF 1602

Rev. Fearghus Ó Fearghail


R. Seathrún Mac Éin


First Published (2004) by

National Bible Society Of Ireland,

41 Dawson Street,

Dublin 2.

Copyright © (2004) National Bible Society of Ireland

ISBN 0-954867203

Also in this series:

Alive and Active Dei Verbum and Ireland Today, Most Rev. Donal Murray (1992)

The Bible in World Evangelization, Rev. Tom Houston (1993)

Why the Old Testament — then or now?, Rev. Terence McCaughey (1994)

Lectio Divina in the Monastic Tradition, Rt. Rev. Christopher Dillon (OSB) (1995)

The Bible — God’s Word for Today, Rev. Selwyn Hughes (1996)

Psalmody: A Living Tradition of Worship, Dr Margaret Daly Denton (1997)

Word and Spirit: The Bible and Litergy, Rev Harold Miller (1998)

The Good News in Our Time, Rev Lucien Accad (1999)

From Genesis to Judgement -Biblical Iconography on Irish High Crosses, Dr Peter Harbison (2000)

The Work of Reconciliation in Word and World, Dr Joseph Liechty (2001)

The Bible and Politics, Trevor Sargent (2002)



The Bedell/Boyle Lecture Series

The National Bible Society of Ireland has inaugurated an annual lecture series known as the Bedell/Boyle Lecture. It is intended that the series will provide an opportunity to promote the Bible and the effective use of the Holy Scriptures. Each year a speaker of stature will be asked to lecture on a topic relating some aspect of the Bible to current developments. It is hoped to publish each Lecture.

The Lecture series is named in honour of William Bedell (1571-1642) Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh, because of his commitment to the translation of the Bible into Irish. Linked with Bedell’s Irish Bible, published for the first time in 1685, is Hon. Robert Boyle (1626-1691) who ensured the publication of Bedell’s Bible. Boyle was very committed to Bible distribution and he was a distinguished scientist known for Boyle’s Law. Thus key elements of modern Bible Society work — translation, publication and distribution — were foreshadowed by these two men.

The 2003 Lecture was given by the Rev. Fearghus Ó Fearghail on 27th November 2003 in All Hallows, Dublin.

The Response was given by R. Seathrún Mac Éin on behalf of Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise.

We are pleased to publish the complete text of the Lecture and the Response and believe that this will aid our reflection and response to the living Word of God in the Holy Scriptures. We are grateful to the Russell Library, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth for providing the illustrations.

Judith Wilkinson





The topic of this evening’s lecture is well fitted for the Bedell Boyle Lecture series not just because the lecture marks the 4th centenary of the appearance of the first Irish New Testament but also because Robert Boyle was involved in its re-publication less than eight decades later. My interest in the first Irish translation of the New Testament stems partly from a lecture on the topic by the Dominican biblical scholar Conleth Kearns which was given in San Clemente in Rome over a quarter of a century ago but which to my knowledge was never published and partly from a series of lectures on versions of the bible that I gave in Edgehill College, Belfast, a couple of years ago. My knowledge of the Irish version was added to greatly by Nicholas Williams’ invaluable book I bPrionta I Leabhar. In this lecture I propose to look at the broader picture of versions of the bible that existed in mainland Europe and in our neighbouring island in the 16th century, at the history of the Tiomna Nuadh and its publishing, and at the Greek text and versions available to the translators of the Tiomna Nuadh. By looking at a number of examples from the Irish version I hope to indicate the versions that influenced the Irish translation.


Ireland was a little late in coming to have its translation of the bible in Irish. Vernacular versions of the whole bible or of the New Testament (NT) had been circulating in Europe well before the Reformation, and with the invention of printing by Johann Gutenberg in the mid-15th century their number quickly increased. The first complete bible in German was published in 1466 and seventeen further editions of this were published before Luther’s NT appeared in 1522. The first Italian bible appeared in 1471, the first French NT in 1474 and the first French bible four years later; a Dutch Old Testament without the psalms appeared in 1477, a Dutch NT in 1480, a Bohemian bible in 1488. These translations clearly show the need people felt to be able to read their sacred writings in their own language. The Reformation led to an increase in the number of translations available to the people. Luther’s NT in German appeared in September 1522 and his bible thirteen years later. Dutch, French and English bibles were published in Antwerp, one of the great centres of bible production, in the 1520s and 1530s. In Geneva, another hive of activity, work was also being done at that time on bibles in French and Italian. French versions of the bible were published in France in 1530 (Lefevre d’Etaples) and 1535 (Olivetan). Among the editions of the latter was one published in Geneva in 1588. The first Spanish bible appeared in 1569.

The first NT to appear in English after Wycliffe’s version of the bible of 1382, was that of William Tyndale in 1526. Tyndale’s translation, the final edition of which appeared in 1535, was to exert a great influence on subsequent English translations of the bible. The first complete English printed bible, that of Coverdale, appeared in 1535. It was followed by the Matthew’s bible of John Rogers in 1537, Coverdale’s ‘Great Bible’ in 1539, the Geneva English bible in 1560 and the ‘Bishops’ Bible’ in 1568. The NT version in all cases was heavily indebted to Tyndale’s version. The Rheims version of the NT, based mainly on the Vulgate, appeared in 1582. The King James version only appeared in 1611 but it did influence the 1681 edition of the Tiomna Nuadh.

The first Celtic version of the bible to be published was the Welsh version. An Act of Parliament of 1563 directed that the bible be translated into the Welsh tongue. The translation of the NT was produced by William Salisbury in 1567. By 1588 the Welsh had a bible in Welsh. The need for a Gaelic bible for Scotland was expressed in 1567 by the reformer John Carswell but his wish did not materialise for quite some time.

The idea of a bible in Irish was surely in the air, then, and the reason fairly obvious. With the succession of Elizabeth to the throne of England in 1558 after the death of Mary (1553-58] Protestantism in England gradually laid down firm roots and sought to do the same in the rest of Elizabeth’s realm. Part of the strategy was to make religious texts available in the vernacular to the Celtic speaking populations. One such text was the Aibidil Gaoidheilge & Caiticiosma (Irish Alphabet and Catechism) published by John Kearney in 1571.


The first definite reference to the project of an Irish translation of the New Testament is to be found in the mention of a grant made by Elizabeth to the archbishop of Armagh (Adam Loftus) and the bishop of Meath (Hugh Brady) for the “making of Carecter to print the New Testament in Irish”. The grant was for the sum of £66.13s 4d. When the grant was made is not known, but evidently it was some time before December 1567, for at that time Lord Fitzwilliam reminded the Irish bishops that they would have to do something immediately about printing the NT or the money granted by Elizabeth would have to be repaid. A translation of the NT was a project that could be brought to fruition rather more quickly and more easily than a translation of the whole Bible. And apart from the many versions that existed in various languages there were new translations of the NT into Latin that would have been helpful to scholars who knew Latin very well. Despite the good intentions of a few nothing seems to have happened for quite some time.

When the work of translating began is difficult to say but a letter of the Privy Council of England of 1587 to the Lord Lieutenant, Sir John Perrot, and his Council, suggested somewhat prematurely that the translation was complete. More importantly it indicated that the first translators were Sean Ó Cearnaigh and Nioclás Bhailís. In the letter reference is made to

“the travaile of Nicholas Welshe, late buyshope of Ossery, and of one J. Carney, deceased”.

And it goes on to describe the NT as

“translated into the Irysh mother tonge, but yet hitherto never imprinted, partlie for want of proper characters and men of that nacion and language skillfull in the mystery of printing, and partlie for that suche an impression ys a matter of some suche chardges as ys not easely borne by one or a few…”.

The letter appealed to Perrot and the Irish bishops to have the NT printed

“consydering how godlie and necessary a mater yt was for the instruccion of that Realme to have the Scriptures in their vulgar tongue”.

While the Irish preface to the Tiomna Nuadh confirms the identity of the first two translators, it suggests that the writer was misinformed as to the extent of the translation at this point.


John Kearney whom Ó Domhnaill placed at the head of the “daoine, diaghe, foirfe, foghlamtha” (that is, pious, mature, learned people) who translated the NT into Irish, published the earliest book in Irish to be printed in Ireland, namely, the Aibidil Gaoidheilge & Caiticiosma. An Irish scholar, he was a native probably of Sligo, and had studied in Cambridge where he matriculated in November 1561 and graduated with a B.A. in February 1564/65. He settled in Dublin and worked as a minister of the reformed church. He became Treasurer of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in 1570. It was he who obtained the type for the printing of the Catechism in Irish. In October 1570 it was agreed to pay to “John Carneye, treasurer of St. Patrick’s Church” £22. 13s. 4d. to defray the cost of the furnishing of “stampes, formes and matrises” necessary for the printing of two hundred catechisms. Ware associates Nicholas Walsh with Kearney in the undertaking. The Aibidil Gaoidheilge & Caiticiosma appeared in June 1571 (financed by John Ussher) and in September of that year Kearney was recommended for the deanship of St. Patrick’s. The following year he was put forward as a candidate for Archbishop of Tuam but he declined the post due to the disturbed state of the country. He was treasurer of St. Patrick’s up to 1578 at least and probably up to 1580. He died in 1587.

Nicholas Walsh was a contemporary of John Kearney in Cambridge. The son of Patrick Walsh, the Protestant bishop of Waterford, he studied in Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge. In Cambridge he took a B.A. in 1562/3 and began an M.A. in 1567. He was Precentor of Waterford for at least two years from 1565 but probably longer. In August 1572 he is described as a “reader of the Divinity Lecture in St. Patrick’s” (that is, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin) when he was recommended for the bishopric of Kilmacduagh which he declined because of the unsettled state of the country there. He was appointed chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1572 and bishop of Ossory in 1577/8. In 1585 he was murdered in his house in Kilkenny by James Dullard whom he had publicly accused of adultery and had proceeded against in court to recover lands that belonged to the bishopric. He was buried in St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny.

Both Walsh and Kearney were in St. Patrick’s from 1572 at least, so that Ware’s date for the beginning of the translation, namely, around 1573, can hardly be too wide of the mark. It seems safe to assume that they worked together on the translation up to 1577/8 when Walsh went to Ossory, and probably beyond that date. By 1587 both John Kearney and Nicholas Walsh were dead and the translation still unfinished.

At this point a third person enters the scene, one William Kearney, a kinsman of John Kearney, who had been a printer for many years, the most likely printer, in fact, for the Caiticiosma of 1571. He divided his time between Ireland and England. According to the letter of 1587 of the Privy Council mentioned already, the material that Kearney and Walsh had translated was then in his possession. He was in England when the Privy Council sent him with a letter to Ireland directing the Lord Deputy and Council in Ireland to find out from Kearney, the bearer of the letter, what it would cost to print a “convenient number of these Irish Testamentes” and to speak to the bishops and the rest of the clergy there “that the woork of the Testament might be taken in hand and fynyshed as soon as might be”. Kearney, they were informed, was prepared “to emploie his travaile freely in this matter for the benefyt of his nacion”. Kearney brought the letter to Dublin where a letter was drafted to be sent to the bishops of Ireland, although it is not clear if it was circulated. Kearney returned to London but in October 1591 he was given permission to go to Ireland “with soche letters, presses, bookes and other necessary thinges” in order to print the Tiomna Nuadh and probably did so in 1592.

In Dublin Kearney went to work in the newly founded Trinity College and was there for some years up to 1595 when he had a dispute with the college, accused of removing material from its premises. And indeed in 1595 he seems to have had a printing press in Christ Church cathedral, as it was from “the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Trinity” that he, as “Queen’s Printer”, issued, on 12 June 1595, a Government Proclamation in English and probably also in Irish against the Earl of Tyrone. In 1596/7 a new agreement was proposed between Kearney and the college, possibly through the mediation of a new man that had come on the scene, namely, Uilliam Ó Domhnaill.

Before more is said about Uilliam Ó Domhnaill mention must be made of two people who worked with Ó Domhnaill on the translation of the NT, namely, Nehemias Donnellan or Fearganainm Ó Domhnalláin, and the learned poet Maoilín Óg Mac Bruaidheadha. Of Nehemias Donnellan Ó Domhnaill wrote in his Irish preface to the Tiomna Nuadh that he took on the great task along with himself and Máoilín og mhac Bruaideadha in the new college near Dublin:

“do ghabh sáothar mór air féin maille riomsa agus ré Máoilín og mhac Bruaideadha, duine iúlmhar sa teanguidh Ghaoidheilge, sa Gcoláisde nuádh laimh re Baile atha Cliáth”.

A native of Galway, Donnellan was another graduate of Cambridge. He matriculated sizar in King’s, Lent 1579-80, obtained a B.A. in St. Catherine’s Hall in 1582 and was probably back in Ireland before the mid 1580s where he may have known Bishop Nicholas Walsh of Ossory. A report on the State of Religion in Connaught of 1591 describes him as “a man of Connaught now resident in the diocese of Kilcaney”. In Ossory he held two benefices, being rector of Clonmore (Fiddown) and vicar of Castle-Odagh (near Freshford). He was later appointed assistant to the archbishop of Tuam (Malachy Mullally). He was recommended for the archbishopric of Tuam by the Earl of Ormond and by Lord Burghley in 1594, and again in 1595 when he was appointed to the see.

Donnellan’s knowledge of Irish and his work on translating the NT are mentioned in two letters of recommendation and in his brief of appointment to Tuam in 1595. In a letter to Lord Burghley of 24 March 1595 Archbishop Loftus felt that Donnellan’s work on the translation of the NT into Irish should be recompensed. In a letter of recommendation of the same day to Burghley the Earl of Ormond described him as having “bestowed all his time in the colledg at Dublin about the translation of the Bible into Irishe”. Elizabeth was impressed, and the letter of appointment mentions Donnellan’s ability “to communicate with the people in their mother tongue”, to instruct them in duty and religion, and the fact that

“he hath taken great pains in translating and putting to press the Common Book and New Testament in the Irish language, a thing we do very well like of (sic)”.

The extent of Donnellan’s work may have been exaggerated but it secured the desired result.

The poet Maoilín Óg Mac Bruaidheadha, described by Ó Domhnaill as “duine iulmhar sa teanguidh Ghaoidheilge” (lit. a person skilled in the Irish language), is also credited by Ó Domhnaill with helping in the translation. Most likely from the well-known literary family of Mac Bruaidheadha (McBrody) of Thomond, he, too, was in Trinity College.

The man whose name is most intimately linked with the Tiomna Nuadh of 1602 is the Kilkennyman Uilliam Ó Domhnaill or William Daniell (1570-1628). He was born in Kilkenny city possibly about 1570. His family may have been in the service of the Earl of Ormond. Two people of that name were to become sheriffs of Kilkenny (Thomas, 1613, Clement, 1616). Uilliam was given a living in Ossory in 1584 by Bishop Walsh – Tascoffin – which he held ‘without the cure of souls’ while he studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Emmanuel College, which was founded in 1584, had a reputation for moderate Puritanism. The bible was at the centre of puritan preaching. Laurence Chaderton, the first master of Emmanuel College, was one of the Cambridge committee of bible translators for the King James version. Ó Domhnaill matriculated sizar in 1586. He was later nominated a scholar, took his B.A. in 1589-90, and his M.A. in 1593. Bedell was a contemporary of his in Emmanuel College (B.A., 1588, M.A., 1592, fellow, 1593).

Ó Domhnaill was one of three scholars nominated to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1592. He was made a fellow of the college in 1593 (presumably when he had finished his studies in Cambridge). He appears in the Trinity College records in 1594 as a lecturer or reader. It is reasonable to assume that Ó Domhnaill, a protégé of Bishop Walsh, and fresh from Emmanuel College, took up the task of finishing the translation of the NT into Irish and having it published. Donnellan and Mac Bruaidheadha assisted him in the task. In the preface to the Tiomna Nuadh Ó Domhnaill credits Donnellan with giving him great help.


In a letter to Lord Burghley of 28 March 1595 archbishop Loftus mentioned that the Tiomna Nuadh was then being printed. In 1597, according to Ó Domhnaill’s preface, the situation was as follows: the gospels of Matthew and Mark and Lk 1-5 were printed, presumably by the printer Uilliam Ó Cearnaigh. The cost thus far was borne by the province of Connacht whose governor was Richard Bingham. According to Ó Domhnaill’s preface the rest of Luke and the gospel of John were written by hand but were not in print, and would not be for another five years:

“agus an chuid eile dhon tsoisgéul sin, agus soisgéul Eoin, sgriobhtha re láimh gan chur a gcló an tan sin, ná fós gu ceann cúig mbliádhan na dhiaigh.”

Kearney was presumably the printer and the work was probably done in Trinity College. The quality of the printing is of a higher order than that of the rest of the work as may be seen from the beautiful copy that Trinity College possesses. What the state of the rest of the Tiomna Nuadh was is not clear.

This was the time of the Nine Years’ War, and in the English dedicatory Epistle to James I, which is couched in very different terms to that of the Irish preface, Ó Domhnaill speaks of the difficulties that caused the five-year delay. It was, he writes,

“a time of blackenes, and darkenes and tempest, wherein all hope of proceeding was in a maner cut off by reason of the generall garboiles, and universal floud of rebellion that over flowed the face of the kingdome. When both the unnaturall barbarous rebell, and the proude bloudie Spaniard, under the Colours of the Roman Antichrist, proclaimed themselves absolute Lords of the land: having cast lots, for the lives, lands and goods of those few, that professed either religion or subjection unto God and his annointed”.

Ó Domhnaill also attributed the long delay to ‘Sathan’ and ‘the filthy frye of Romish seducers’ — Jesuits, no doubt! But early in 1596 Ó Domhnaill was preaching the word of God in the west of Ireland and he remained in Galway up to 1601. Life there was probably somewhat more tranquil than in the Pale where “killings, burnings, preying and despoiling” were reportedly taking place. O’Neill’s victory at the Yellow Ford near Armagh in August 1598 led to uprisings throughout the country. Lord Mountjoy arrived in February 1600 and set about putting down the rebellion. In September 1601 a Spanish fleet entered Kinsale, County Cork, with 3,400 troops under Don Juan del Águila. The decisive battle of Kinsale took place on Christmas Eve. It ended with the defeat of the Irish chieftains. O’Neill returned to Ulster; the rebels were driven out of the Pale.

Back in Dublin Ó Domhnaill was able to bring his project to fruition with the help of one Domhnal Óg Ó hUiginn, probably Donell Óge Ó Higgen of Kilcloney, Co. Galway, who arrived on the scene “tré thoil Dé”. Ó Domhnaill on his own admission relied greatly on this native of Co. Galway. In his preface to the Tiomna Nuadh he wrote that he had put on him the burden of writing out the rest in correct Irish:

“chuir mé uálach na coda eile dho sgríobhadh do réir óghuim agus chirt na gháoidheilge”.


The rest of the Tiomna Nuadh (Lk 6-Rev.) was not printed in Trinity College. The printer whose name is attached to the work is Seón Francke or Francton who may have come to Ireland with William Kearney, probably as an apprentice, and had stayed. He may be in mind in the agreement proposed between Kearney and Trinity.

The place of printing is given as Chois an Droichid, that is, Bridgefoot, at the house of William Ussher, the son of John Ussher (1524-1590), who had borne the costs of the first book ever printed in the Irish language. William of Donnybrook Castle (1561-1637), clerk of the Council (1593) and Constable of Wicklow Castle (1596/7), met the costs of printing the remainder of the Tiomna Nuadh. Its title page runs:

Tiomna Nvadh ar dTighearna agus ar Slanaighteora Iosa Criosd, ar na tarruing gu firinneach as Greigis gu gaoidheilg re hUilliam O Domhnuill ……Atá so ar na chur a gclo a mBaile athá Cliath, a dtigh mhaighistir Uilliam Uiséir Chois an Droichthid, ré Seón Francke, 1602.

In February 1603 Ó Domhnaill was in England with a copy of the Tiomna Nuadh to present it to the queen. This piece of information is to be found in the postscript of a letter of Turlough O’Brien to Sir Robert Cecil written on 10 February 1603, seeking help in consideration of Red Hugh O’Donnell’s incursions into Thomond. To bolster his case O’Brien added by way of postscript:

“Fearing lest your Honour will imagine that I dissemble in the premises, I would refer to Mr William Daniell, the worthy preacher, now come over to present to her Majesty the New Testament, which he translated into the Irish tongue, who will declare the truth about the state of Ireland and mine own private condition”.

Whether Elizabeth ever saw the Tiomna Nuadh is not known. She died on 23 March and James VI of Scotland was proclaimed James I of England the following day.

About five hundred copies of the Tiomna Nuadh are estimated to have been printed. But most of the copies were bound only after Elizabeth’s death. To the original preface Ó Domhnaill added a dedicatory letter to James I which has a very different tone from the Irish preface.


In both prefaces and in the title O Domhnaill claims to have translated from the Greek text. In the Irish preface he wrote:

“Ag sin agad a Léughthóir, tiomna nuádh ar dtighearna agus ar slánaighthéora IOSA CRIOSD, ar ná tarruing gu diongmhalta [do réir mo bharamhla] a ngáoidheilg, as an dteanguidh fhoirfe Ghréigise inar scriobhadh hí ar tús, tré thréoir an spiorad náoimh.”

In the English preface we read:

“the original Greeke, unto which I tyed my selfe, as of dutie I ought: having laboured therein in all sinceritie, as in the presence of God, the Judge of all, to expresse the text truly and fully, as neare as I could, without either detraction or addition, saving only in such places, where the necessitie of the phrase or sentense required it, (as it is usuall in all translations, that cannot attaine unto the grace and proprietie of the original!) to give the full sence. Which necessarie additions, for want of a diverse character, are compassed with these marks [ ].”

The translation bears out the knowledge of Greek of the translators but it is clear that the translators, as with translators in general, also used versions of the Greek text. The Irish is, as Dr Williams has remarked, “éasca nádúrtha”, and some examples of this will be given later. Let us first of all look at what was available to a translator of the NT in the latter half of the 16th century.


The Greek text that was available to translators was substantially the one Erasmus published first in 1516 and in three later editions, 1519, 1522 and 1527. Further editions were published by Robert Estienne (Stephanus), a Parisian printer, who made an important contribution to the study and knowledge of the biblical text in the 16th century. He issued three editions of the Greek NT in 1546, 1549 and 1550. In the latter he remained close to Erasmus’ fourth edition (1527) but introduced some new readings from a variety of sources including the Greek NT of the Complutensian Polyglot which was printed in 1514 but was not published until 1522 because the codices on loan from the Vatican library had not been returned.

The third edition of Stephanus’ Greek NT was republished in Geneva in 1551 with numbered verses. The division into verses, done to facilitate the production of a Greek concordance, was a new departure and made consulting the bible a good bit easier. Stephanus is said to have marked the verse divisions while journeying ‘on horseback’, from Paris to Lyon, and some of the rather infelicitous divisions are said to have arisen from the jogging of the horse that caused his pen to hit the text in unusual places. It was this text that was used for the Geneva English version of 1560. In Geneva in 1565 the Frenchman Theodore Beza (1519-1605), a native of Burgundy, brought out a new edition of the Greek text. Beza had come to this capital of Puritanism in 1548 where he was well received by Calvin. He became professor of Greek at Lausanne the following year, and in time became Calvin’s successor in Geneva. He was to bring out further editions of the Greek NT in 1582, 1588 and 1598.


At a time when all scholars had a very good knowledge of Latin, versions of the NT in Latin were clearly important for translators. When work began on the Irish translation of the NT the Latin versions available would have included Jerome’s fourth century translation (Vulgate), Erasmus’ Latin translation that first appeared in 1516 and Beza’s Latin version of 1556 that was published by Henry Stephanus (son of Robert) in 1557. Of these Beza’s Latin translation was to prove the most influential. Beza published editions of this translation later with his own extensive notes. Both version and notes were of great importance to translators. Beza’s first edition of the Greek NT of 1565 has the Greek text, his own Latin transla­tion and the Vulgate in parallel columns, and includes his exten­sive notes. Trinity College Library has a copy of this work.


The first English NT and the translation that influenced all subsequent versions was that of Tyndale. The most popular version of the bible was the Geneva English version that was produced by reformers who had fled from England to the continent during the reign of Mary and had found refuge in Geneva, the city of Calvin and Beza. It was a city where much work was being done on the translation of the bible (Latin, Italian, French). Here the exiles issued in 1557 an English NT with an introduction by Calvin. It was probably the work of William Whittingham, John Calvin’s brother-in-law, and some others. Its NT was essentially that of Tyndale revised by various hands, not least in light of Beza’s new 1556 Latin translation and notes. Indeed Westcott described the Geneva NT as little more than the record of the application of Beza’s translation and commentary to Tyndale’s Testament.

The Geneva Bible achieved immediate popularity, and between 1560 and 1644 about 140 editions were published. It was the most popular bible translation of the time, particularly in Tomson’s edition. Its NT is important from the point of view of the Tiomna Nuadh of 1602. It, too, as has been said, was heavily indebted to Tyndale. Versions in other European languages were also available

One important aspect of the Irish translation of the NT was that it was not provided with notes apart from biblical references in the margins. The notes were a huge bone of contention even to Protestants in England because of their confessional and polemical nature.


A reading of the Irish version suggests that the translators did indeed know Greek and used the Greek text. At times they provided their own translation which differed from other versions, but the translation was influenced especially by Beza’s Latin version and notes and also by the Geneva English version. Sometimes it is difficult to decide between Beza and the Geneva version because the latter used Beza’s work for its translation. For example the widespread use of the demonstrative “that” or “ud” stems from its frequency in Beza’s version which is reflected in the Geneva version (e.g. Mk 15:26: An Ri ud na nludiugheadh; Geneva version: “That King of the Jewes; Beza”; “Iste est rex ille Iudaiorum”; cf. Lk 23:38b). It is often omitted in the 1681 edition of the Tiomna Nuadh.


There are a number of instances where the influence of Beza’s Latin version and notes is likely but where the translator’s own initiative cannot be excluded. In Mt 5:32 the Tiomna Nuadh reads: “giodh bé neach léigfeas a bhean fphósda féin (ach amháin ar son adhaltrannais) gu dtabhrann sé uirrthe adhaltrannas do dhenamh, agus an té do bhéraidh an bhean soin do léigeadh, do ní sé adhaltrannas”. This saying of Jesus about marriage contains the famous exception clause parektos logou porneia, that is, “except in the case of porneia”. The difficulty here is the meaning of the much discussed Greek term porneia. The Tiomna Nuadh takes it to refer to adultery in its rendering of the exception clause as “ach amháin ar son adhaltrannais”. The Geneva version renders the term with “fornication” as had Tyndale and the Vulgate and as the King James version would do later. Beza renders the clause with “extra rationem scortationis” (lit. “except for reason of whoredom/prostitution”) but in a note he argues: “Hie autem poni certum est porneias pro adulterio” (cf. Luther “es sei denn um Ehebruch”). In most other cases, apart from Mt 19:9, porneia is rendered by the Irish “striopachas” which means “fornication” or “harlotry” (cf. 1 Cor 6:13). This suggests that Beza’s translation and note may have been influential here although one cannot exclude the translator’s own conviction.

Mk 5:23 describes how Jairus begs Jesus to heal his daughter who is at the point of death: “Agus do ghuidh se é gu roighér agá rádh, a tá mhinghean bheag a núdhachd bháis”. The Greek text of v.23a, kai parakalei auton polla, may be rendered literally, “and he besought him strongly” or “insistently”, and this is reflected in the version of the Tiomna Nuadh, “do ghuidh sé é gu roighér” (lit. “he besought him intensely”). This contrasts with the Geneva version’s rendering of the term polla as “instantly”. Beza has “et multum precabatur eum” which incidentally agrees with Luther’s “und bat ihn sehr”. While the translation could have been influenced by Beza’s version, the translator could also have been following his own instinct.

In Acts 19:35b the town clerk refers to the city of Ephesus as the neókoron of the great goddess Artemis – or Diana, as she was known in Roman circles. The Irish translation of the text runs: “cía an dúine ag nách fuil a fhios gurob ar chathair na nEphesiánach cúrum teampuill an bhaindée moire Dhiána do chonnmháil gu deaghmhaiseach, agus na [hiomhaid- he] do thuit [a nuás] ó Jubiter?”, literally, “what person does not know that the care of keeping the temple of the great goddess Diana beautiful and of the [image] that fell [down] from Jupiter is on the city of the Ephesians?” In the Geneva version the city of the Ephesians is described as “a worshipper of the great goddesse Diana, and of the image, which came downe from Iupiter?” The noun neókoros is thus rendered as “worshipper”, as in the Vulgate (“civitatem cultricem esse”). Beza, however, renders the Greek term as “aedituam” (lit. “custodian”) which is in line with Luther’s “Pflegerin”, and with modern translations (e.g. RSV). When one takes into consideration the Irish idiom, the translation of the Tiomna Nuadh is in line with that of Beza. The 1681 edition altered the Tiomna Nuadh’s reading to “go nonóruigheann” (lit. “honours”, “worships”) probably under the influence of the King James version which follows the Geneva version.

The example from Mk 13:32 indicates more clearly the influence of Beza’s Latin version. The Tiomna Nuadh version reads: “Achd ní fhuil fios an láoi úd, ná na húaire úd ag neach ar bioth, ina fós ag na hainglibh a tá ar neamh, ná ag an mac fein, achd ag a nathair [na aonar.]” Jesus is pointing out the folly of trying to predict when the end would come — of that day and hour no one knows, he states, not even the angels in heaven nor the son, but only the Father (ei mé ho patér). The bracketed “na aonar” is added by the Irish translator to emphasise that the Father alone knows. Neither the Geneva version (“but the Father”) nor the Vulgate (“nisi Pater”) does this, but Beza’s version does with “sed solus Pater” (cf. Luther’s version; “sondern allein der Vater”). The 1681 edition of the Tiomna Nuadh omits [na aonar.] under the influence probably of the King James version which follows the Geneva version.

The explanatory addition in Rom 11:4b also suggests Beza’s influence. The Tiomna Nuadh version runs: “do choimhéd mé dhamh féin seachd míle fear nár fhill a nglúine [dhiomhaigh] Bháil”. The Greek text of Beza which does not differ from today’s critical text of the verse may be rendered: “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who did not bend their knees/a knee to Baal” (hoitines ouk ekampsan gonu té Baal). The term “image” is an explanatory addition, as the brackets in the Irish translation indicate. It is not in the Geneva version (nor in Luther’s version) but is in Beza’s version which runs: “non flexerunt genu imagini Baal”. The addition is omitted in the 1681 edition possibly under the influence of the King James version or the Vulgate or other versions.

The explanatory addition in Jn 1:18b offers a clear indication of Beza’s influence. The Irish version runs: “an áoinghein mheic úd atá an uchd an athar, as hé do fhoillsigh [hé dhúinne]”. The Greek text of Beza, monogenés huios, ho ón ton kolpon tou patros ekeinos exégésato, may be rendered: “the only son who is in the bosom of the Father he has made him known”. The addition in brackets is not in the Greek text nor in the Geneva version but is in Beza’s Latin versions of 1565 and 1582: “unigenitus ille filius qui est in sinu Patris, ille nobis exposuit”.

The example from Hebr 2:9 is of interest from a different point of view since the text of Hebrews is citing the Septuagint (LXX) or Greek version of Ps 8:5. The Greek text of Heb 2:9a, ton de brachu ti par aggelous élattómenon blepomen Iésoun, may be rendered in English “But we see Jesus who for a little while was made lower/less important than the angels”. Tyndale and the Geneva version render the Greek as “a little inferior/lower than the angels” which is one possible meaning of the text and which is the meaning of the text in the LXX. But it can also be argued that the context in Hebrews gives the Greek brachu ti the meaning, “for a little while”, and this is the more likely meaning of the text in Hebrews. This is the meaning that is reflected in the Tiomna Nuadh: “Achd do chímáoid Iósa … noch do rinneadh feadh sealuid bhig ní sa isle ná na haingil”. This is how Beza understood it: “qui paulisper fuit inferior Angelis factus”. Luther had also understood it in a tempo¬ral sense (“der eine kleine Zeit niedriger gewesen ist als die Engel”) as do modern versions of the text, and as did the 1681 edition of the Tiomna Nuadh, despite the rendering in the King James version.

The most telling example is perhaps that of Jas 5:7 because at first sight it seems a mistranslation. The example is well known – the farmer who waits for the precious fruit of the earth until it receives “the early and later rains” (hueton próimon kai opsimori). The Irish version has “nó gu bhfaghann sé fearthuin na maidne agus an trátha nóna”. The rains referred to in the Greek text were the Autumn and Spring rains, rains the crops needed if they were to do well. That the sense of the Greek phrase was well known is clear from Tyndale’s translation, from the Geneva translation and from Beza’s own notes. So it seems surprising that the Irish version should follow what seems a very idiosyncratic rendering. The reason appears to lie in Beza’s translation and in his explanatory note. He renders the phrase “dum accipiat pluviam matutinam et serotinam” and in a note remarks that the time the seed spends in the ground is comparable to one day, hence his translation. Beza may have been influenced by Luther’s version, “den Morgenregen und Abendregen”. It is surprising that this version of the Tiomna Nuadh is retained in the 1681 edition, despite the traditional rendering found in the King James version.


It is difficult at times to decide whether the influence on the Tiomna Nuadh comes from Beza or the Geneva version and this is not surprising since the Geneva version was heavily indebted to Beza’s Latin version and notes. In the case of Mk 14:3 the Geneva version is the more likely influence on the Irish translator. The verse mentions the ointment brought by the woman who came in to the house of Simon the leper in Bethany to anoint Jesus (“an alabaster flask of ointment of nardou pistikés, very costly”). The Tiomna Nuadh renders this: “box uinneminnte, do spicnard mhórluaighe”. It seems likely that the use of the rendering “spicnard” for nardou pistikes is due to the influence of the Geneva version which has “a boxe of oyntment of spikenarde, very costly” which in turn was probably influenced by the Vulgate’s “nardi spicati”. Beza renders it with “nardi liquidate”.

The description of Joseph of Arimathea in Mk 15:43 as “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God” is rendered in the Tiomna Nuadh as “comhairleach onórach, agá raibhe fós suil ré righachd Dé”. The translation “comhairleach onórach” (euschémón bouleutés, lit., “respected councillor”) seems to owe more to the Geneva version’s “honorable counsellour” than Beza’s “honestus senator” (cf. Luther’s “ehrbarer Ratsherr”).

In the parable of the wicked tenants (Mk 12:1-12) when the owner sent his second servant to collect what was his due the tenants, we are told, wounded him in the head and treated him badly (Mk 12:4). The wounding in the head is described by the verb ekephalaiósan, which signifies “beat over the head” or “wound in the head”. The version of the Tiomna Nuadh runs: “Agus a rís do chuir sé chuca searbhfhoghantuighe eile: agus ar ngabháil do chlochaibh ar an bhfhearsoin, do bhriseadar a cheann”. The rendering of the verb ekephalaiósan with “do bhriseadar a cheann”, was influenced, it would seem, by the Geneva version’s “and brake his head”.

In Acts 2:31 where David is said to have seen and spoken of the resurrection of Christ, that “his soul was not left in Hades” [ou kateleiphthé pshuché autou eis hadou). The Tiomna Nuadh translates v. 23b with “nách fuigfithí a anam sa nuaigh” (lit. “his soul would not be left in the grave”) which would seem to be close to the Geneva version’s “that his soule shoulde not bee left in grave”. The Greek term hadés, which signifies the world of the dead, is translated in the Geneva version as “grave”. Beza, however, renders it with “apud inferos” (Vulgate: “in inferno”; it also translates the verb in the future). The 1681 edition changed this to the obvious meaning of the text, ‘ifreann’ (“hell”), as is found in Beza and in the King James version.

There are examples where the Geneva version follows Beza and where the Tiomna Nuadh could be influenced by either or by both. Such an example is to be found in Mk 8:25 where Jesus cures a blind man at Bethsaida. The blind man who is restored to sight is said to see everyone clearly (Beza: kai eneblepsen télaugós hapantas). The Tiomna Nuadh renders this “agus do chonnaic sé cách uile gu soiléir a bhfhad úadha”. Beza’s Latin version runs: “viditque procul & dilucide omnes”, that is, “and he saw everyone far off and clearly”. The Geneva version’s “afarre off clearely” is likely to have been influenced by Beza who took the adverb télaugós to be composed of tél meaning “afar off” and augé meaning “light”.

In Jn 19:26-27 where Jesus speaks from the cross to his mother and the disciple whom he loved, entrusting his mother to the disciple’s care, the text describes in rather enigmatic terms the result, “the disciple took her to his own” (elaben autén ho mathétés eis ta idia). The Greek phrase eis ta idia has led to a variety of versions. The Tiomna Nuadh renders the phrase “rug an disgiobal chuige féin dá thigh hi”. The Geneva version has “the disciple tooke her home vnto him”; Beza, “recepit earn discipulus domum suam”. The 1681 version retained the 1602 version despite the King James version (“unto his own home”). It is not unlikely that the Irish translator had an eye on both versions here.


There are examples also of places where the translator followed personal preference, as in 1 Pet 2:13a in which one is urged to be subject for the Lord’s sake to every “human institution” or “authority”, depending on how one renders the Greek anthrópiné ktisei. The Greek ktisis probably signifies “institution” or “authority” but may also signify “creation” or even a “creature”. The Geneva bible renders the phrase with “ordinance of man” which is also found in Tyndale’s version and probably reflects Beza’s “humanae ordinationi” (cf. Luther: “menschlichen Ordnung”). The Tiomna Nuadh version, however, has “bígidh umhal dá gach uile oifigeach ar son an tighearna”. The rendering of the Greek anthrópiné ktisei as “oifigeach” (lit. “officer”) would seem to represent the translator’s own personal interpretative translation. The 1681 edition’s “créatúr daonna” did not follow the King James version (“ordinance of man”) but was probably influenced by the Vulgate’s “humanae creaturae”.

In Jn 1:12 the Tiomna Nuadh reads: “tug sé na cumhachda so dhóibh bheith ana gcloinn ag Dia”. This is a translation of edóken autois exousian tekna theou genesthai which may be rendered in English, “he gave to them power to become children of God”. Beza argues against the translation “potestas” (“power”) found in the Vulgate for the Greek term exousian which he translates with “hanc dignitatem”. The Geneva version also avoids the term “power” with its rendering “to them he gaue prerogatiue to be the sonnes of God”. It seems likely that the Irish version “cumhachda” or “powers”, is due to the Irish translator himself although Beza’s version is still reflected in the demonstrative “so”.

Mk 15:22 recounts how Jesus is brought to the place of his execution, Golgotha, an Aramaic term which means, the place of the skull. The Tiomna Nuadh renders the verse thus: “Agus rugadar léo é do nionad dar ab ainm Golgota, is sé sin ré na éidirmhíníughadh, ionadh na gcloigceann”. What is of interest here is the Irish translator’s version of the Greek version of Golgotha, namely, Kraniou Topos, lit., “the Place of a Skull”. The interpretation of the placename is altered to “ionad na cloigne” in the 1681 edition. It seems likely that the version found in the Tiomna Nuadh, lit. “the place of the skulls”, while closer to the Geneva version’s rendering, “the place of dead mens skulles”, reflects the translator’s own preference. Beza’s version has “Calvariae locus”.


Finally a couple of examples of Irish phrases that are to be found in the Tiomna Nuadh which give the flavour of the language. Part of the advice given in 1 Tim 3:8 to deacons was that they not be “double-tongued” (dilogous). The Tiomna Nuadh renders this as “gan a dteanguidh dho bheith liom leat”. The change to liom leacht in the 1681 edi¬tion would seem to be based on a dialect pronunciation which could reflect the Cavan provenance of the editor O’Reily.

Examples of the use of the Irish idiom to express conditions such as being crippled or lame are to be found in Mk 9:43 and 45. In the former the person who is advised to cut off a hand to avoid sin, is described as kullon, that is, “crippled”. The Tiomna Nuadh renders this term with “ar leathlaimh” (lit. “on one hand”). In the latter, the person who is advised to cut off a foot to avoid sin is described as chólon (“lame”). The Tiomna Nuadh renders this term with “ar leathchois” (lit. “on one leg”). In Mk 14:59 where it is said that the testimony of the witnesses did not agree (isé én hé marturia aun) the Tiomna Nuadh reads: “ni raibhe a bhfhíadhnuisi ag teachd lé chéile” lit. “their witness was not coming together”). In Gal 2:17 the Irish expression “nar léige Dia sin” (lit. “may God not let that happen”) is used to render the Greek expression mé genoito (lit. “may it not be”).


Mar fhocail scoir, a brief word about the reprint financed by Boyle. There appears to have been no great rush on sales of the Tiomna Nuadh, and in 1628 William Ussher bestowed twelve copies on TCD for the use of Irish speakers there. The translation was eventually out of print. Some time about 1678 Robert Boyle, who believed in helping to make the scriptures available in the vernacular, exhibited an interest in making the bible available in Irish in Ireland. He was helped in the undertaking by Andrew Sail whom he met in Oxford. Sail, a native Irish speaker from Cashel, Co. Tipperary, who had once been provincial of the Jesuits in Ireland, had become a Protestant very publicly in 1674. He returned to Ireland in 1680 and set about helping Boyle to achieve his objective.

Boyle was intent on reprinting the Tiomna Nuadh of 1602 but first published a small catechism in Irish with the aid of Hugh O’Reily. It was printed by Robert Ebheringham with a type prepared by Joseph Moxon at Boyle’s expense. This type was used for the reprint of the Tiomna Nuadh. Hugh O’Reily who was in Boyle’s employment in London seems to have written out the text of the Tiomna Nuadh for the printer. While doing so he often improved its style or brought it into closer line with the King James version. There is evidence of the influence of the Vulgate on his editing, and there are also striking examples of his faithfulness to the 1602 version despite differences with the King James version.

The Preface, written by Sail, was translated into Irish by O’Reily and printed in both Irish and English. The edition was printed by Robert Ebheringham in London in 1681. Boyle paid for the printing and binding. It has been estimated that about 750 copies were printed. Before the preface was ready Boyle sent bound and unbound copies to Trinity College – to be used for “instructing the young students of it in the Irish tongue”. The remaining copies were ready for circulation by the end of June 1682. Over a century and a quarter would pass before another edition would appear.


R. Seathrún Mac Éin

I am very grateful to the Bible Society for inviting Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise to reply to the Rev Ó Fearghail’s lecture, and indeed, to the Cumann for choosing me as their speaker.

First of all, may I congratulate the Rev. Fearghus Ó Fearghail not only on a very interesting lecture but also on presenting the subject in a manner that people who are not scholars can understand.

He was certainly right to mention the undue delay – a full generation after the Welsh New Testament and at least two generations after Tyndale’s English New Testament – in producing the New Testament in Irish. Whoever may be to blame for this, it may be better to focus our attention on the practical difficulties. It appears that in 1570 it cost £22 13s 4d (twenty-two pounds, thirteen shillings and four old pence) – a considerable sum in those days – to pay for the “stampes, forms and matrises” necessary for the printing of two hundred copies of a catechism in Irish. This might suggest that the sum of £66 13s 4d (nearly three times as much), provided a few years before for Irish characters in anticipation of the printing of a New Testament in Irish, was probably a quite conservative estimate. These facts raise important questions.

If it was going to cost so much to print just a few hundreds copies of an Tiomna Nuadh, why were more copies not printed? Had this been done, surely the cost per copy would have been greatly reduced, thus enabling it to be sold to the public at a more attractive price. Indeed, the late Risteard Ó Glaisne, a Methodist lay preacher as well as a teacher and writer of Irish, once praised the Church of Ireland to me for giving us the Scriptures in Irish but then complained – rightly, perhaps – that they printed only a few hundred copies at a time. My own opinion is that editions of tens of thousands of copies, vigorously promoted, would have been needed to achieve a major spiritual effect.

The Protestant Reformers insisted on the right of every human being to read the Bible in his or her own mother tongue and to interpret it for themselves. This was the policy of the Lutheran Church with the Scriptures in German and of the Church of England with the Scriptures in English, to quote only two examples. If the Church of Ireland did not give priority to printing large quantities of Irish Scriptures – and promoting their sale and use – during the first 300 years or so after the Reformation, they could possibly be accused of betraying their own official principles.

Even in the nineteenth century, when some groups sought to promote the Irish Scriptures more energetically, they often had little sympathy from many of their fellow Protestants.

What of the translation itself? Fr. Ó Fearghail recognises the general competence of the translators, even though he feels that they could have done better. In 1859, Rev. Riobard Ó Catháin in Co. Clare revised Ó Domhnaill’s work for use in Munster. In his preface, before arguing the need for a Munster edition, he frankly praises Ó Domhnaill’s work, saying: “It is known generally that there is already a Translation of the Holy Scriptures in the Irish Language, which is admitted by competent judges to be a reasonably faithful and a good one. This has been in use for many years and few doubt its adequacy to meet the needs of the Irish-speaking population.”

However, even with a “reasonably faithful and good” translation there can always be room for improvement. So how does Ó Domhnaill score?

Firstly, I note at least one example of a good solution to a problem which has plagued Bible translators in English. In Matthew chapter 2, “wise men” (KJV) is somewhat vague and “Magi” would need explanation in a footnote. On the other hand, “astrologers” or “men who studied the stars” seems too narrowly precise: the Magi of Persia appear to have been pagan priests who were experts in a wider range of occult lore. Thus Ó Domhnaill’s rendering as “draoithe” – the Irish word for “druids” – is probably right on target: it probably even scores a bullseye as an ideal Celtic equivalent of an Eastern institution and is also a word still understood instantly by every native-speaker of Irish.

Rev. Ó Fearghail is certainly right to point out that “porneia” in Matt. 5:32 normally means not “adhaltrannas” (adultery) as 0 Domhnaill ren¬ders it, but “fornication” which I think would be “táth” or possibly “striapachas” in Irish.

Rev. Ó Fearghail is also correct in pointing out that Ó Domhnaill misunderstood 1 Corinthians 9:5. St Paul is not discussing whether he, as an Apostle, would have the right to bring “ben ná deirbhshiair” (“a wife or a sister”) around with him, but “a wife [who is] a sister”, that is, a wife who would share his faith in Jesus as Saviour, Lord, God and Messiah.

If I had time, I could also quote examples of how Irish versions, including Ó Domhnaill’s, have an advantage in expressing emphasis.

Riobard Ó Catháin was right about the need for a revision to serve the people of his day, but with continuing changes in the Irish language there will always be a need for fresh versions of the Bible and the New Testament “as Gaeilge”. We can be thankful that the Rev. Canon Cosslett Quin of the Church of Ireland provided the Bible Society with a new version of the New Testament in 1970 and that An Sagart Publishers, based in Maynooth, produced a new translation of the entire Bible in 1981. We can be even more thankful to God that both of these editions of His Holy Word have been reprinted – the Bible Society Testament several times – showing the ongoing demand for the Irish Scriptures. I would also like to congratulate An Sagart for keeping up with the times by making their Bible – An Bíobla Naofa – available on computer disk.


Click Here To Download 2003 NBSI Bedell Boyle Lecture – The Irish Testament of 1602