Monthly Archives: November 2013

Papers and aforementioned things

It has been a busy week for the School of Celtic Studies at NUI Maynooth. Last Friday and Saturday, many of us were speaking at this year’s Tionól, the annual conference held by the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. Our Head of School, An tOllamh Ruairí Ó hUiginn, gave a masterly paper on ‘The Irish interrogative relative clause’, which also compared and contrasted the development of the interrogative relative clause in Scottish Gaelic. Dr Trevor Herbert, who lectures in Modern Irish at our Kilkenny Campus, spoke on the topic ‘Demotion of a War Goddess: the Móirríoghan in Bardic Poetry’, ranging widely across the corpus of Irish bardic poetry and elucidating the stripping away of supernatural resonances in depictions of the Móirríoghan and the Badhbh in favour of more naturalistic depictions of the raven as a bird associated with bloodshed. For my own part, I spoke on ‘Lay Morality, Clerical Immorality, and Pilgrimage in Tenth-Century Ireland’, focusing on two brief and irreverent ecclesiastical anecdotes about Irish clerical pilgrims to Rome.

There was an impressive line-up at the Tionól this year, with subject matter ranging from Welsh linguistics through to early medieval scientific treatises. But the outstanding highlight was surely the Statutory Lecture, delivered to a packed lecture hall at Trinity College Dublin, by Professor Fergus Kelly (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) on the subject of ‘Early Irish Music: an Overview of the Linguistic and Documentary Evidence’. Professor Kelly’s wide-ranging, witty, and beautifully-delivered lecture was met with rapturous and sustained applause from the audience: a reaction more eloquent than any words of praise.


Back in Maynooth, we were delighted yesterday to welcome Dr Aaron Griffith (University of Vienna) to the Department of Early Irish to give a guest lecture. (Or rather, we welcomed him to the Department in a figurative sense, since his lecture was actually delivered in the new university library at NUIM, pictured above). Dr Griffith delivered a stimulating and accessible talk on the subject of ‘The Syntax and Semantics of OIr. suide-side “the aforementioned”‘. Combining heavyweight linguistics with a lightness of touch, Dr Griffith gave us an overview of the usage and distribution of the anaphoric pronouns (stressed and unstressed), before discussing their etymology, syntax and semantics.

Random Glosses on the Origins of the Irish

On Thursday evening, the School of Celtic Studies at NUI Maynooth was delighted to welcome Jim Mallory, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology, Queen’s University Belfast, to deliver a lecture entitled ‘Random Glosses on the Origins of the Irish’. As the title suggests, Professor Mallory’s lecture elaborated on various themes – and thorny issues – which he had raised in his wonderful recent book, The Origins of the Irish. Ranging from historical linguistics to archaeology, from genetics to concepts of ethnicity, his lecture was erudite, irreverent and thoughtful. In particular, he highlighted the problematic nature of attempting to extrapolate historical information from modern DNA studies. By contrasting the results of modern DNA studies with the results of studies based on ancient DNA (that is, DNA extracted from skeletal remains excavated from archaeological sites), he offered an important lesson in the problematic nature of attempts to interpret modern DNA evidence.


Professor Mallory also got us all thinking about how and when and why Celtic languages arrived in Ireland. When considered in conjunction with the archaeological data, it is a knotty problem and one which no-one is yet able to unravel conclusively, but his overview of the competing theories was perceptive and stimulating. Given that his book is as witty and intelligent as was his lecture, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Irish pre-history and Irish identity.