Tag Archives: lecture

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.

Trojans, Saxons and Britons

Last week, we were delighted to welcome Dr Owain Wyn Jones (Bangor University, Wales) to the Department, to give us a guest lecture on the topic Trojans, Saxons and Britons: International Histories in Medieval Wales. Dr Jones gave us a fascinating insight into the synthetic pseudo-histories of the Welsh Middle Ages which, as he noted in his lecture, are comparable to the Irish pseudo-histories of the same period, as exemplified by Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of the Taking of Ireland). He elucidated what he calls the ‘Welsh Historical Continuum’ – a series of texts copied together in medieval Welsh manuscripts – which begins with the Welsh translation of Pseudo-Dares’ De excidio Troiae; proceeds to Brut y Brenhinedd, the Welsh translations of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain; and then continues with the Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes): as Dr Jones argued, this ‘Historical Continuum’ presents a narrative of Welsh history which begins with its supposed Trojan origins and continues into the central Middle Ages. Interestingly, we were then introduced to an intriguing – and hitherto unstudied – text: the Brut y Saeson, or ‘Chronicle of the Saxons’, a late medieval Welsh history of the Anglo-Saxons. We look forward to seeing Dr Jones’s work on this fascinating text in print in due course. The lecture gave students taking modules in Celtic history an excellent opportunity to hear about cutting-edge research from a specialist in medieval Welsh history, and we are very grateful to Dr Jones for giving us such a rich and stimulating lecture.

An image of part of the facsimile copy of the Red Book of Hergest (Oxford, Jesus College MS 111), one of the most important surviving medieval Welsh historical and literary manuscripts

Visiting lecture by Dr Owain Wyn Jones (Bangor University), 1st May

On Thursday 1st May at 5pm, Dr Owain Wyn Jones from the Department of History, Prifysgol Bangor/Bangor University, Wales, will give a lecture entitled: ‘Trojans, Saxons and Britons: International Histories in Medieval Wales’. The lecture will take place in lecture hall 4, John Hume Building, North Campus, NUI Maynooth, and will be followed by a drinks reception. All welcome.


Pillar of Eliseg, near Valle Crucis Abbey, North Wales

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.

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.


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.