The entry in the Annals of Ulster was concise: “720 A.D. Theodore reigned one year.”

A few numerals and words were all that was used to record the short rule of Theodosius III, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople from 715-17 A.D.

This entry, and another about the first Viking raid along the north coast of Ireland in 795 A.D, were two examples cited by historian Seamas McCanny in his talk about the Annals of Ulster at a recent annual gathering of the Maguires in Enniskillen.

Created to record the history of Ireland from 431 to 1540, they were written in Irish and Latin on Belle lsle on Upper Lough Erne around 1480 by scribe Ruaidhri Ó Luinin, under the learned and scholarly patronage of leading cleric, Cathal Óg Mac Maghnusa Maguire.

McCanny described how the monastic compilers drew on oral history and texts for early historical events, and contemporary records for later events nearer the time of its compilation.

The Annals were later subsumed into the Annals of the Four Masters which, as a key part of the counter-reformation, presented a history of Ireland from earliest times up to the time of its writing in the mid-17th Century.

The reference to Theodosius III interested me as I was traveling to Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) the day after the talk and planned to walk the ancient walls built by his predecessor, Theodosius II (408-50).

I was also intrigued as to why an Eastern Roman Emperor was recorded by a scribe living on Upper Lough Erne around 550 years ago, and some 700 years after his death.

Perhaps, as Seamus McCanny suggested, dates about major historical events elsewhere were used in the Annals simply as key markers of chronological time.

Travel to faraway places, and exchanges of ideas and cultures across Europe, were not new. Roads go both ways, and undoubtedly the Annal writers had a world view of history.

Their patrons, the Maguires, were well travelled and went on pilgrimages to Rome during the renaissance.

Columbanus established monasteries on the continent and pilgrims from overseas came to local holy places such as Lough Derg.

An interesting example of interchange surviving today in Istanbul is graffiti scratched onto a balustrade of Hagia Sophia basilica by an unknown Viking, supposedly on a trading journey from Scandinavia through Russia along the Volga and the Dneiper rivers, and onwards across the Black Sea to Constantinople.

Perhaps he had a connection with those who raided our coasts in 795 A.D. Later Crusaders took more direct routes to Constantinople.

In 1597, English travel writer Fynes Moryson visited Constantinople, where he described exotic animals including a long-necked giraffe kept in a section of the ruined walls as “a beaste newly brought out of Affricke which is unknown in our parts, he many times put his nose on my neck, when I thought my self furtherest distant from him, which familiarity I liked not”.

A few years later, he was in Fermanagh, noting that: “Lake Erne hath plenty of fish as the fishermen fear the breaking of their nets rather than want of fish.

“This Lough furnisheth many waters and rivers in this county with salmon from ye sea at Bellshannon.

“From Lough Macnean flows a river to Lough Erne called Arny through which the salmons of Bellshannon are yearly catched under ye steep mountain called Colcagh.”

The world was getting smaller.

On my return, I searched the Annals to find that they contained several entries about Bishops, Popes and Emperors from both Western and Eastern Roman Churches.

The entry for 448AD stood out, simply stating that “several walls of the imperial city of Constantinople had been freshly rebuilt with masonry, and fifty-seven towers collapsed as a result of a violent earthquake which prevailed in various places”.

Here was what I was looking for. The man who built the city walls which stood for over a thousand years – Theodosius II.

When standing on the walls around Istanbul, I had reflected on the scribes who had chronicled this magnificent place in far-off verdant Fermanagh.

Around the time of writing the Annals, were they aware of the event that had occurred here in 1453, and of the man who penetrated the walls and changed the history of the world forever?

Alas, no mention is made of the Ottoman Conqueror, Sultan Mehmed II.

It seems that things had changed back home. Around 800AD, entries in the Annals about Byzantine emperors ceased as history-making events in Ireland and the rest of these islands took precedence.

Written on vellum, there are only two copies remaining of the Annals of Ulster.

Perhaps in the future one may be returned from Trinity College Dublin or the Bodleian Library in Oxford to the place that produced them some 550 years ago.

That would be a momentous event indeed, and perhaps the year of its return could be symbolically entered as its final entry.

This, and previous Impartial Reporter articles, can be read at