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.