Tag Archives: book

November and December in Maynooth …

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Envisioning Christ on the Cross

Envisioning Christ on the Cross: Ireland and the Early Medieval West is a new publication from Four Courts Press, edited by Juliet Mullins, Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh and Richard Hawtree. It represents the first fruits of a project entitled ‘Christ on the Cross: Representations of the Passion in Early Medieval Ireland’, which was funded by the much-missed IRCHSS (now amalgamated into the Irish Research Council). The book arises from a conference held in 2010, at which scholars from a range of countries and disciplines came together to think about representations of Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion in medieval art and literature.

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My own contribution to this volume is an essay on ‘Sacrifice and Salvation in Echtgus Úa Cúanáin’s Poetic Treatise on the Eucharist’. The poetic treatise which is the subject of my essay was written in Roscrea in the late eleventh or twelfth century, by a poet who identifies himself as Echtgus Úa Cúanáin. Drawing on the Latin treatise De corpore et sanguine Domini by the Carolingian scholar Paschasius Radbertus, the poem is an extended exposition on Eucharistic theology. However, what might otherwise be a rather dry work of doctrinal verse is enlivened by narrative episodes, most strikingly with an anecdote (taken from Paschasius) about a Eucharistic host being transformed into the Christ-child on the altar. My essay in Envisioning Christ on the Cross represents my thoughts-in-progress on Echtgus’s poem, as I am currently working on a new edition and translation of it. In ‘Sacrifice and Salvation’, I place the composition of the poem within the wider context of Eucharistic controversies in eleventh- and twelfth-century Europe, and I read the poem in relation to the Eucharistic writings of Lanfranc of Canterbury and the depiction of an Irish Eucharistic controversy in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Life of Malachy of Armagh.

Envisioning Christ on the Cross is a beautiful book: lavishly illustrated, luxuriously produced, and full of fascinating studies from historians, art historians and literary scholars on depictions of the Passion in a wide range of medieval cultures and contexts.