We are very proud and excited that our Head of Department, Professor David Stifter, has been awarded an ERC grant of 1.8 million euros to study the historical development of the Old Irish language. His project, Chronologicon Hibernicum (or ChronHib), will develop innovative methods for dating more precisely the surviving corpus of Old Irish texts (written between the sixth century and the tenth). After being announced on the Maynooth University website this morning, Professor Stifter’s success has been picked up by numerous media outlets, including the Irish Times. An interview with Professor Stifter will be broadcast tonight on TG4 at 7pm. There will be more news about this project in due course, and associated research positions will be advertised, providing scholarships and research opportunities for PhD students and post-doctoral scholars. In the meantime, the department would like to express its sincere congratulations to Professor Stifter for this well-deserved international recognition of his excellent research.
On 5th – 6th February, a group of 120 academics, students, members of local history groups, and interested members of the public, gathered at the Royal Irish Academy for a two-day conference on the late fourteenth-century Irish manuscript, the Book of Ballymote. A collaboration between the library of the Royal Irish Academy and Maynooth University, the conference was organised by Professor Ruairí Ó hUiginn (Maynooth) and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (RIA), and was the second in a series of conferences on Irish manuscripts of major historical significance, the first having taken place on Lebor na hUidre in November 2012.
The Book of Ballymote — photo credit: Dr Laura Malone (Maynooth)
The Book of Ballymote conference featured a range of distinguished speakers, who elucidated many aspects of the manuscript and its contents. Professor Ó hUiginn began by introducing us to the manuscript, its scribes, sources and patron. This was followed by a detailed linguistic assessment of the Irish translations of Classical literature, found at the end of the manuscript, by Dr Uáitéar Mac Gearailt (St Patrick’s Dumcondra, DCU). Dr Elizabeth Boyle (Maynooth) then discussed the role of biblical history in the chronological scheme of the manuscript’s historical texts; Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh (Cambridge) spoke about world history and chronology in the manuscript, particularly in relation to the Irish Sex aetates mundi, which opens the manuscript, and Scéla Alexandair, which closes it.
Professor Ray Gillespie (Maynooth) — photo credit: Dr Laura Malone (Maynooth)
The second day began with Dr Nollaig Ó Muraíle (NUI Galway) comparing the contents of the Book of Ballymote with another closely related manuscript, namely the Book of Lecan. Professor Donnchadh Ó Corráin (UCC) gave a wonderful exposition of the genealogical texts which comprise the bulk of the manuscript. Next, Professor Ray Gillespie (Maynooth) and Dr Bernadette Cunningham (RIA) explored the later history of the Book of Ballymote up to the nineteenth century. Professor Pádraig Ó Macháin (UCC) gave an erudite and impressive account of the Book of Ballymote within the wider context of the Irish book, which included a detailed assessment of the manuscript’s collation.
Professor Pádraig Ó Macháin (UCC) — photo credit: Dr Laura Malone (Maynooth)
Dr Deborah Hayden (DIAS) considered the grammatical and linguistic writings within the manuscript, offering as part of her paper a significantly-revised catalogue of the ‘linguistic section’ of the manuscript; Dr Karen Ralph (TCD) gave a lively account of the illustrations and historiated initials in the manuscript, stimulating much debate afterwards. Finally, Dr Beth Duncan presented an important consideration of the palaeography of the manuscript, which will necessitate some reconsideration of the division of hands within the manuscript. The conference was an excellent success, and over the course of the two days participants managed to raise the funds necessary to undertake some minor conservation work on the manuscript and construct a custom-made box to house it. New insights into the texts in the Book of Ballymote were offered, and important questions were posed about the compilation and later history of the manuscript. The talks were recorded and will be available soon from the Royal Irish Academy website. A publication based on the conference papers will appear in due course. In the meantime, we offer our grateful thanks to Ruairí Ó hUiginn and Siobhán Fitzpatrick for their outstanding efforts, and to all those who spoke and attended for making it such a successful and fascinating event.
The speakers at the Ballymote conference, with Siobhán Fitzpatrick, the librarian of the Royal Irish Academy
— photo credit: Royal Irish Academy
This previously unpublished letter, which is currently in private ownership, is from the Celtic scholar and colonial lawyer, Whitley Stokes (1830-1909), to the poet, artist, antiquarian, and barrister, Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810-1886). The subject of the letter is primarily the issue of medieval glosses on a Rouen manuscript, but it has more modern historical significance as a result of Stokes’s passing reference to Gladstone’s “foolish and wicked bills”. This, of course, refers to the 1886 Government of Ireland Bill, also known as the first Home Rule bill. The letter thus provides us with a glimpse of the attitude of a Conservative Unionist, who opposed the idea of home rule for Ireland, and yet made arguably the greatest contribution of any individual in the nineteenth century to the study of Ireland’s linguistic and literary past. The ‘Hennessy’ mentioned in the letter is William Maunsell Hennessy (1829-89), another brilliantly talented scholar of medieval Irish. Stokes’s letter was sent on 27 April 1886; less than four months later, Ferguson died of heart failure at Strand Lodge, Howth.
Whitley Stokes (image from Wikimedia commons)
27 April 86
15 Grenville Place,
My dear Sir Samuel,
When Hennessy was here the other day, he told me that you had found some glosses in a MS. at Rouen. As I propose to go to France for a few days next July, I should be very glad to examine this MS. So will you kindly send me a line to say what the MS is. I know of a 10th century psalter at Rouen; also a 9th c. pontifical. Either of these would be a likely situs for glosses.
I hope you are strong and well now, and not overmuch worried by Gladstone’s foolish and wicked bills. With kind regards to Lady Ferguson, I am always
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.
On Thursday 9th October, we were honoured to welcome Professor Ralph O’Connor (University of Aberdeen) to Maynooth to give a lecture on ‘Historia, fabula, and everything in between: saga-writing and historical purpose in medieval Ireland and Iceland’. In a fascinating and stimulating lecture, Professor O’Connor explored the interventions by medieval Irish and Icelandic scribes which reveal something of the purpose of medieval saga narratives, whether as ‘history’ or ‘fiction’ or something in between the two. He referred in particular to scribal interventions which appeared to criticise some element(s) of the saga narrative as being implausible, but argued that these interventions – by anticipating possible specific criticisms from the intended audience – served to protect or insulate the historical integrity of the composition as a whole. Speaking to a packed room, Professor O’Connor inspired us with his rich and lucid consideration of the truth-value of medieval literary compositions. There was much fruitful discussion after the lecture, which continued with an informal wine reception. We would like to thank Professor O’Connor for his splendid talk – which we look forward to see in print in due course! – and look forward to our next visiting lecture, by Professor Liam Breatnach, at 5pm on Thursday 20th November, in An Foras Feasa Seminar Room.
A professorial triumvirate: An tOllamh Ruairí Ó hUiginn (Nua-Ghaeilge, Má Nuad); Professor Ralph O’Connor (Aberdeen); and Professor David Stifter (Early Irish, Maynooth).
Authorities and Adaptations: the Reworking and Transmission of Textual Sources in Medieval Ireland, edited by Elizabeth Boyle and Deborah Hayden was launched on Friday 26th September at the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
Photo by Kevin Fox at Oracle Pictures, image copyright DIAS
The launch took place after a stimulating and successful one-day conference on the Irish grammatical and metrical tradition, organised by Dr Gordon Ó Riain, who is the Bergin Fellow in the School of Celtic Studies at DIAS. Many of the speakers and conference attendees stayed for the launch, and we were also joined by distinguished visitors including Professor Luke Drury, Senior Professor of Cosmic Physics at DIAS and former President of the Royal Irish Academy, and Professor Werner Nahm, Senior Professor of Theoretical Physics at DIAS. Postgraduates and academics from Maynooth University were also among the guests.
The editors of Authorities and Adaptations (photo by Kevin Fox at Oracle Pictures, image copyright DIAS)
We were honoured that Professor Fergus Kelly, internationally-renowned expert on medieval Irish law, and recently retired as Senior Professor in the School of Celtic Studies at DIAS, had agreed to launch the volume, which he did with a warm and witty speech. Fabulous food and drink was served, and a great time was had by all. We are hugely grateful to Eibhlín Nic Dhonncha, administrator of the School of Celtic Studies, for organising such a wonderful evening. Thank you to everyone who came.
Lizzie Boyle with Professor Ruairí Ó hUiginn, Professor of Modern Irish at Maynooth University, and author of a chapter on ‘Adapting Myth and Making History’ in Authorities and Adaptations (photo by Kevin Fox at Oracle Pictures, image copyright DIAS)
Authorities and Adaptations editor Dr Deborah Hayden (DIAS) with her fiancé Ronan Cunningham (image copyright Kevin Fox at Oracle Pictures)
Authorities and Adaptations editor Lizzie Boyle with Professor Fergus Kelly (photo by Kevin Fox at Oracle Pictures, image copyright DIAS)
Distinguished guests included Dr Michael Dunne, head of the Maynooth University Department of Philosophy and Dr Susan Gottloeber, also of the Department of Philosophy at Maynooth (photo by Kevin Fox at Oracle Pictures, image copyright DIAS)
Professor Ailbhe Ó Corráin, Professor of Irish at the University of Ulster, and Dr Art Hughes, Reader in Irish also at the University of Ulster (photo by Kevin Fox at Oracle Pictures, image copyright DIAS)
I am pleased to report that a volume of essays which I co-edited with Dr Deborah Hayden (DIAS) has just been published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. The book, entitled Authorities and Adaptations: the Reworking and Transmission of Textual Sources in Medieval Ireland, explores how texts were studied, copied and adapted in medieval Ireland. Covering a range of genres in Latin and Irish, including saga literature, law texts, grammatical tracts, sermons and poetry, the book includes a chapter by myself on the Latin poem De mirabilibus Hibernie (‘On the Wonders of Ireland’) and a chapter by the Head of the School of Celtic Studies here at Maynooth, Professor Ruairí Ó hUiginn, on the adaptation of Ulster Cycle tales. It is available to buy from the DIAS online bookshop. The book will be launched officially at DIAS on Friday 26th September by Professor Fergus Kelly.