Mac An Lega, Uilliam (Iollann) (d. p.1475), scribe and author-translator of many texts, belonged, as his name suggests, to an hereditary medical family, but Uilliam himself seems to have composed or copied nothing of a medical nature. He has been accurately described as one of the most prolific scribes of the fifteenth century and collaborated in the compilation of some seven extant manuscripts. If, as is very likely, he can be identified with the scribe who signed himself Iollann Mac an Leagha, then he was also the father of several other scribes: Maolsheachlainn (Maeleachloinn), who was also ollamh of medicine to the MacDonaghs of Ballymote and Tír Ailealla, Connla, and Eóghan. His patron was Edmund mac Richard Butler, nephew of James Butler (qv), 4th (‘White’) earl of Ormond. However, Uilliam wrote for religious houses as well as secular patrons.
Uilliam seems to have been mobile between Co. Kilkenny and Co. Tipperary for the greater part. One of the manuscripts associated with him is BL Add. MS 30512, which has conjecturally been identified with the Book of Carrick, given in ransom with another (the so-called ‘Book of Pottlerath’, now Bodl., Laud Misc. 610) by Edmund to Thomas FitzGerald (qv), 8th earl of Desmond, in 1462. The earliest datable manuscript from Uilliam's pen is MS 17 in the King's Inns Library, Dublin. Other manuscripts, identified as having been written by him from the similarity of their script and decoration, include BL Add. MS 11809 and Egerton MS 91, TCD MS 1298 (H.2.7), RIA MS 23.P.3 (ff 1–17), written in 1467, NLI MS G.9, and Paris Bibl. Nat. Celt.1, begun in 1473 by Uilliam and finished by his son Maolsheachlainn. These manuscripts contain a great deal of secular and religious, as well as historical matter in both Latin and Irish.
Among the Irish versions of continental romances made by Uilliam are ‘Stair Ercuil ocus a bás’ (‘History of Hercules and his death’), translated from Caxton's ‘The recuyell of the historyes of Troye’, printed about 1474, and based upon a contemporary French text by Raoul Lefevre. Uilliam not only wrote the manuscript of this work but made the free Irish version of it also. His version of the contemporary knightly romances of Guy of Warwick and Beves of Hampton were made from English originals. He effectively changed a romantic tale into one modelled on the Irish heroic saga. He also composed an Irish heroic tale, ‘Stair Nuadat Find Femin’.
Two versions of the ‘Life of Mary of Egypt’ (a very popular tale of a repentant prostitute, translated into several European vernaculars) by him are extant. The version surviving in NLI MS G9 is related to that in Jacobus de Voragine, ‘Legenda Aurea’. The other, found in BL Add. MS 30512, is an adaptation of earlier literary models, and opens with a sermon on sin and repentance. It has been suggested that this version was written within the context of the Irish spiritual reform of the fifteenth century, described by its editor as ‘in substance a romance and in manner an essay in style’. Uilliam also translated the Middle English version of the Long Charter of Christ poem. It is one of the very few contemporary translations from Middle English verse surviving in Irish. He is also the author of a poem entitled ‘Áilim an Triúr’.
All of this extensive literary activity by Uilliam and his contemporaries is evidence of increasing influence from English and French literature and of the new vibrancy of the written Irish dialect.