This busy semester finally came to an end on Friday, so it seems timely to report on some of the many things which have happened over the past few months. First and foremost, we were devastated by the loss of our dear colleague, John Bradley, an eminent archaeologist, an inspiring teacher, and a witty, kind and convivial friend. His obituary in the Irish Times captures some of his many qualities: he will be sorely missed.
On a happier note, we were pleased to welcome several eminent speakers to Maynooth to address our Early Irish and Celtic Studies research seminar. Professor Liam Breatnach (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) came in November to speak to us on ‘Fingen mac Flainn’s Poem to the Fir Arddae: an Early Medieval Irish Threat of Satire’. In this stimulating and extremely learned paper, Professor Breatnach began by outlining the process by which ‘satire’ (that is, the highly-regulated process by which someone could be the subject of a shaming, anti-praise poem) functioned in early medieval Ireland. Fingen’s poem to the Fir Arddae represents a threat of satire, which was one of the stages by which a person was warned that they risked being the subject of a full satire if they did not satisfactorily resolve the dispute in question. However, the poem discussed by Professor Breatnach was even more complex and interesting than simply adverting to the threat of a future satire, since it was also a self-conscious literary discourse on the advantages and disadvantages of satire: a personification of Sense appears, in allegorical fashion, in the poem and engages in debate with the poet, suggesting the disadvantages which could result from making a powerful person the subject of satire. Professor Breatnach suggested a very precise date and place of composition for the poem and revealed what could be known of the circumstances of its composition.
In December we were fortunate to have another very eminent speaker, namely Professor Aidan O’Sullivan from the School of Archaeology, University College Dublin. Professor O’Sullivan gave us a rich, wide-ranging and fascinating overview of recent archaeological excavations arising from EMAP, or the ‘Early Medieval Archaeology Project’, of which he is the Principal Investigator. The extent to which new archaeological data have necessitated dramatic revision of long-held theories about early medieval Irish social structures, burial practices, economic development and trading patterns is astonishing. It is inspiring to see such a vast amount of new data bringing new insights and fresh interpretations to the field of medieval Irish studies. Professor O’Sullivan’s co-authored volume on Early Medieval Ireland AD 400 – 1100: The Evidence from Archaeological Excavations was published this year by the Royal Irish Academy and makes available to a wider audience much of this exciting new information.
In other news, we’ve been busy with research, conference presentations, and publications this semester. I was in Cork in early December for the launch of The End and Beyond: Medieval Irish Eschatology, edited by John Carey, Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh and Emma Nic Carthaigh, 2 vols, (Aberystwyth: Celtic Studies Publications, 2014). This important publication arises from the De finibus project which was based at University College Cork, 2009 – 2012. My own small contribution to the volume was an English translation of the medieval Latin treatise De tribus habitaculis animae (‘Concerning the Three Dwelling-Places of the Soul’) which was edited by Aubrey Gwynn in 1955. Back in Maynooth, many of us were pleased to attend the launch of The Medieval Manuscripts at Maynooth: Explorations in the Unknown, by Peter Lucas and Angela Lucas (Dublin: Four Courts, 2014). This is the first descriptive catalogue of the medieval manuscripts held in the Russell Library at Maynooth and represents a major contribution to scholarship. In other news, many congratulations to my friend Dr James Palmer (University of St Andrews), whose new book on The Apocalypse in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press, 2014) is at the top of my Christmas reading list.
It has been a roller coaster of a semester, with many highs and lows but, on behalf of everyone in the Maynooth University Department of Early Irish, I wish you a very happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year. We’re already looking forward to an exciting second semester in 2015.