Becc mac De was chief soothsayer to King Diarmait mac Cerrbeil. Very little is certainly known of him; most of the traditions relating to him consist of tales of his remarkable gift of foretelling the future—tales similar to those related of the Covenanter Alexander Peden in Scotland, or of the seventeenth-century Mayo peasant Red Brian Carabine. He died in or about the year A.D. 555 (the annalists waver between 552 and 557); and the Annals of Clonmacnois tell us that he began to prophesy in 550. As Ciaran is said to have died in 548, the statement that Becc mac De foretold his coming is anachronistic. The prophecy here attributed to him does not appear in the list of prognostications attributed to him (given in the MS. Harleian 5280, British Museum, edited in Zeitschrift fuer Celtische Philologie, ix, 169), or in Leabhar Breac, p. 260, where some further particulars about him are given.
I have ventured to emend the passage regarding Becc mac De slightly, restoring the verse form which the prophecy seems to have had originally. As it appears in the Lismore Lives printed text it is given in prose; an insignificant transposition of the words, and the taking of the word andsin out of the inverted commas is all that is necessary. In the rendering in the text an attempt is made to reproduce to some extent the elaboration of alliteration, but the end-rhymes and the vowel-assonances cannot be imitated without sacrificing the sense. The metre resembles that known as mibhasc (four-syllable and six-syllable lines alternating, but with trisyllabic rhyme in the short lines).
The person to whom Colum Cille uttered his prophecy was Aed mac Brenainn, Prince of Tethba (Teffia), the region comprising various baronies in the modern Co. Westmeath and part of Co. Longford. This Aed gave Dermag (Durrow) to Colum Cille a few years before the latter’s departure for Scotland. There is, however, no record of the prophecy in the lives of Colum Cille; probably his visit to Clonmacnois from Durrow is in the writer’s mind. Ard Abla, identified by O’Donovan with Lissardowlin, Co. Longford, was in the territory of Tethba. The Lismore scribe has written the name of Aed’s father incorrectly (Brandub); the correction ("or Brenainn”) is a marginal note.
The Pedigree (VG).—The pedigree in VG traces Ciaran’s descent from Tigernmas, fabled to have reigned in Tara 3580-3657 Anno Mundi (1620-1543 B.C.). Through Tigernmas the line is traced to Mil of Spain, the eponymous ancestor of the “Milesians,” or Celtic-speaking inhabitants of Ireland.