Tag Archives: Elizabeth Boyle

Book of Ballymote conference at the Royal Irish Academy

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. Book_of_Ballymote_MS

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. Book_of_Ballymote_Ray

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. Book_of_Ballymote_Padraig

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

A previously unpublished letter from Whitley Stokes to Sir Samuel Ferguson

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

affectionately yours

Whitley Stokes

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.


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.

Book launch: Authorities and Adaptations

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.

launch books

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.

lizzie and deborah

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 ruairi

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)

deborah ronan

Authorities and Adaptations editor Dr Deborah Hayden (DIAS) with her fiancé Ronan Cunningham (image copyright Kevin Fox at Oracle Pictures)

lizzie fergus

Authorities and Adaptations editor Lizzie Boyle with Professor Fergus Kelly (photo by Kevin Fox at Oracle Pictures, image copyright DIAS)

lizzie suzie michael

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)

The Four Trees of the Cross

Both Kuno Meyer (in ZCP 8, p. 107) and Whitley Stokes (in Goidelica, p. 66) published editions of a short medieval Irish poem on the ‘four trees’ – cedar, cypress, pine and birch – which were thought to have gone into the making of the cross on which Christ was crucified. The poem is preserved in the lower margin of p. 5 of Trinity College Dublin MS H. 3. 18. But when I compared the manuscript to the editions by Meyer and Stokes, I realised that both had made (different) errors in their reading of the manuscript, so I offer here a fresh reading of the poem, along with an English translation. Italics denote expansion of abbreviations and * denotes the punctum delens over the preceding letter.


Ceithre fedha – fath gin gheis –

i croich mic Dé dia f*egmais:

cedir, cupris is gíus gann,

bethe ban i mbúi insgribenn.


Cedir in cos feibh adcuas,

gíus in crann boi etarbhuas,

a tenga ba cuipris cain,

ba bethe clar a titail.



Byzantine reliquary of the True Cross, c. 800 (image from Wikimedia commons)


Four trees – a subject without prohibition –

in the cross of the son of God if we examine it:

cedar, cypress and slender pine,

white birch in which was the writing.


Cedar the shaft as has been told,

pine the arm that was aloft,

its tongue was smooth cypress,

birch was the board of its title.

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.

David and Solomon

Another week, and another text which – as far as I’m aware – hasn’t previously been translated into English. ‘David und Salomon’ was edited from the Yellow Book of Lecan by Kuno Meyer (‘Mitteilungen aus irischen Handschriften’, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 13 (1920), p. 179) without a translation. I give Meyer’s text here, along with my own translation. The text preserves many Old Irish forms, and it dates from the tenth century or perhaps even earlier (notwithstanding some minor orthographical modernisation by the late-fourteenth-century scribe). Related thematically to ‘The King Who Never Smiled’, this time, rather than a sword, it is a hand – ready to push a false-judging king into the earth – which represents the threat of divine judgement. Here Solomon, the son of David, learns a lesson from his father: given Solomon’s reputation in later life for wise judgement, the lesson seems well-learnt.


King Solomon, eighteenth-century Russian icon (image from Wikimedia Commons)


Nabīd Dauīd fut in *samlāi oc breith na hēnbrethi .i. cōica brethemon ic a imrādud i tosaich, conid īar sin do-beread-som forcend fuirri. ‘Cid so, a Dauīd,’ ar Solum, ‘a dolma nombii? Dia mbad mise nobeth isint suidhiu brethemon, nobēraind cēt mbreth chaidchi.’

‘Maith, a maccāim’, ar Dauīd arnabārach fri Solam, ‘tair-siu colēic isan suidhi sea 7 ber na bretha lūatha ūd do chāch!’

‘Rodbīa-su ōn’, or Solam. Gaibid co hāit na breithi. ‘Bat faitech tra nombē!’ ar Dauīd. ‘Dēcha ūasad!’ Rodēchai īarom sūas 7 robāi sīst inna thast. ‘Is mall atāi’, or Dauīd. ‘Atā sochaidi isin tich diand adl(a)ic bretha.’

‘Nathō, a maccāin’, or sē, ‘ni rucaim.’

‘Cid so?’ ar Dauīd.

‘Nī hansa’, ar sē. ‘A trī mēir in Dūileamain, is amlaid atāt ōs mo mullach 7 a derno for mo chind dom dingi triasin talam im erchomair dia rucar gūbreith.’

‘Robo maith lim’ ar Dauīd ‘an cētbreth do breith duit.’

‘Nithō’, ol sē Solam, ‘tair-seo isin suidiu.’

Is aire sin didiu nad cōir dona breithemnaib acht fīr da rād, dāig na boise bīs for a cind .i. bos in Choimdead bis ann. FINIT.


David used to be for the length of a summer’s day engaged in adjudicating a single case, that is, fifty judges deliberating it, so that it was after that that he used to finalise it. ‘Why is this, oh David’, said Solomon, ‘that you are so slow? If it were me who were in the judge’s seat, I would have passed one hundred judgements by nightfall.’

‘Well, oh dear boy,’ said David to Solomon the next morning, ‘come for a while into this seat and give those swift judgements to everyone!’

‘You will have that’, said Solomon. He goes to the place of the judging. ‘You should be careful then!’[1] said David. ‘Look above you!’ He looked up then and he was silent for a while.[2]

‘It is slow that you are’, said David. ‘There is a crowd in the house to whom judgement is desirable’.

‘No, o little lad’,[3] he said. ‘I cannot judge.’

‘Why is this?’, said David.

‘Not difficult, he said. ‘The three fingers of the Creator, it is they that are above the crown of my head, and his palm upon my head ready to push me into the earth, if I may have made a false judgement.’

‘I would like’, said David, ‘you to give the first judgement’.[4]

‘No’, said he, Solomon, ‘you come into the seat’.

It is for that reason, then, it is only fitting for the judges to utter truth, because of the palm which is over their heads, that is, the palm of the Lord which is there. Finit.

[1] Literally: ‘let it be careful then that you may be’.

[2] Literally: ‘he was for a while in his silence’.

[3] A term of endearment, literally ‘little lad’, but can also be used by a junior to a senior, e.g. by a daughter to her father: see DIL, s.v. mac(c)án.

[4] Literally: ‘It would be good in my opinion … the first judgement for judging by you.’