Short Shrift For Plagiarism's Patron Saint
Eamonn Grogan of Naas in County Kildare reminds us in The London Review of Books that no sooner had Patrick driven the snakes out than Diarmaid, High King of Ireland, discovered another sort of viper afoot.
Acting as the legal equivalent of the Supreme Court , the king issued a finding condemning the Christian missionary Columba, later canonised as Saint Columcille, as an incorrigible plagiarist. Before he settled in Iona, Columcille had taken to visiting monasteries, borrowing books from their libraries and having his own monks copy them for distribution. This drove one abbot, hearing that Columcille was on his way, to bury his library in the establishment's orchard, provoking Columcille to put a curse on the place.
Things turned nasty when Columcille – a former pupil – plagiarised the Latin Psalter of St Finian of Clonard, who petitioned the High King for a definitive judgment on the problem.
Citing Brehon Law on the ownership of animals found wandering, Duarmaid delivered the Solomonical judgment that as the law dictated ,very
reasonably, that a calf, wherever found,
belonged to its mother, wherever that cow was kept, Colomba had transgressed legal precedent, which the King extended thus:
As to every Cow its Calf, so to every Book its Copy