The following papers were given at the School’s annual Tionól, 16–17 November, 2007.
This paper will survey the evidence for cultural contact, in liturgy, learning and religious art between the British and Irish Churches and the Greek-speaking cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean in this period, before the Islamic invasions of the seventh century effectively closed off the Mediterranean Sea and its trade with the west (the Pirenne Thesis). It is a synthesis of the evidence adduced by the work of many scholars in various disciplines, and attempts to draw some necessary conclusions from this half forgotten area of inter-cultural contact.
Since 1871 the Irish class of demons typified by the Bodb has been genetically linked to the Norse Valkyries (Lottner, Donahue, Epstein, cf. Davidson), and further similarities to wider European and especially Mediterranean demonology have been considered in passing (Golther) but never systematically investigated. My paper approaches the question of the assessment of such affinities focusing on the Bodb in her appearance as carrion bird feeding on the fallen warrior, and on her appearance as a woman with markedly sexual character. Comparing these traits with Classical remarks about the Celtiberians (Silius Italicus, Aelian), they can be interpreted as forming a pattern directly applicable to Norse, Etruscan and Greek figures of the demonology of death, thus hinting at the possible place of the Bodb in the pre-Christian religious system.
The notae augentes have received little attention in work on Old Irish. In examining their distribution, however, I have found that they follow a very strict distributional pattern precisely in the case that they are attached to verbs with infixed pronouns. While it is well-known that a nota augens may agree with either the subject or the object in such cases, no one has looked at the forms to see if they follow a pattern. I have gathered all the forms in the Old Irish Glosses with an infixed pronoun and nota augens and have found that there is a strict and exceptionless hierarchy: 1st person > 2nd person > 3rd person animate > 3rd person inanimate. That is, if the subject or object is 1st person, the only permitted nota augens is 1st person. If the subject or object is 2nd person and no 1st person is present, only a 2nd person nota augens appears. A nota augens of the third person can only appear when both subject and object are third person, and even here, it always agrees with the personal subject or object to the exclusion of an inanimate subject or object. This distribution is in itself of interest, but it also is of relevance to linguistics in general, since it follows principles outlined in the Animacy Hierarchy (which will also be briefly discussed). In conjunction with this work, I have also a few further observations about the distribution of the notae augentes in general (i.e. with verbs without infixed pronouns) and of the enclitic -side / -sidi / -ade.
Breton oral ballads – or gwerzioù –, collected since the 19th century but talking about facts that often happened during the 15th-18th century period, have been studied by a few ethnologists, but this matter has been widely deserted by historians. However, these songs reveal a specific insistence on describing sociocultural behaviours regarding Death and Religion during the Old Regime : we can mention the importance of the prayers to local saints, the very large number of pilgrimages, the unusual practice of testaments or the specific requirements concerning the places of burials. In this paper, I will particularly study one ballad : Gwerz Ar blouzenn verrañ. This song has been collected in a lot of European ballad traditions, and continue to be sung in Brittany. When we compare all these versions, it appears that Breton pieces end in a very specific way : all the other songs are quite cheerful, contrary to the gwerz that develops a tragic atmosphere dominated by Death and Religion. This case incites to wonder about the cultural reasons of this specificity in a Celtic country.
The straightforward Latin phrase facile scintillas emittit (“it easily produces sparks”), as written by Isidore of Seville in his Etymologies (Book 16, Chapter 4), seems to have been taken by an Irish author later in the seventh century as a subject-object-verb clause (“the facile produces sparks”). Elementary mistake, or creative reanalysis of the adverb as a noun? This paper will suggest the latter. A tendency to reparse, or deliberately “disunderstand”, even simple Latin in this way is detectable in a whole stratum of Hiberno-Latin literature of the period, the outcome being the generation of useful new vocabulary which was then pressed into service in more general contexts (in this case, as a word for the metal used to strike against flint when lighting a fire). The Irish, never having been in the Roman Empire, were the first race to learn Latin as a foreign language while continuing to have a basis for holding their native, quite different tongue in equal esteem. This unique cultural environment seems to have given them an almost daring freedom in their linguistic practice, while at the same time their essential unfamiliarity with Latin was obliging them to coin new vocabulary more often than other nationalities needed to. The paper will look at further interesting examples of the words generated in these circumstances, with reference to the semantic fields that were most particularly involved and the linguistic resources available to the Irish at the time.
The theme of suicide in early Irish literature has been deemed “unusual” by several scholars (O’Connor 1974, Burgess 2004, Ó Donaill 2005). This theme was briefly discussed by O’Leary (1991), although apart from this short note, little scholarly attention has been put forward on the theme. As several examples of suicide can be found in early Irish literature, it seems that the concept is more common than previously thought. Furthermore, suicide often concur with descriptions of a person dying of grief or shock. This paper proposes to discuss these themes as well as to discuss their connection with other cases of sudden or violent death in early Irish literature.
In recent years our knowledge and understanding of the processes by which Common Celtic crystallised out of the Indo-European protolanguage have been advanced in ways and to an extent perhaps inconceivable to earlier generations of researchers. The detail in these processes now available for study and argument constitutes a significant achievement of comparative Celtic and Indo-European linguistics. It must be considered a basis for further and even more detailed work and argumentation. In this spirit, a twenty-five-point relative chronology of sound changes from Proto-Indo-European to Common Celtic can be presented. This is more ambitious than has previously been attempted, and must therefore be subjected to examination and criticism. By such means one has the potential of gaining enhanced insight into the nature of the Celtic languages and their relationships with other Indo-European groups, and possibly into the nature of Indo-European itself. In any case, one is thereby enabled to provide a more precise definition of what a ‘Celtic language’ is, and by implication bring into sharper focus than hitherto what the meaning of the term ‘Celtic’ itself is.
The authors of Irish law-texts make frequent use of imagery to illustrate legal points. Many of these images are straightforward, such as the identification of the kin-group with the human body (corp) in Cáin Aicillne (CIH ii 488.26). In this paper I will discuss one of the more complex images to be found in legal material. Here the judge is compared to a copper cauldron (caire umha), and six stages in a legal process are illustrated by comparisons with the fleshfork (æal), the hearth (tellach), fanning the embers (grísadh), the spit (innbir), the bar (drol) and the fire (tine).
This paper will aim to examine the lives of a number of Irish lexicographers born in the 17th and 18th centuries in the context of their work on their respective dictionaries. Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, Risteard Pluincéad, Edward Lhuyd, Aodh Buí Mac Crúitín, Conchúr Ó Beaglaoich, Tadhg Ó Coinnialláin, an tEaspag Seán Ó Briain and Éadbhard Ó Raghallaigh all played major roles in the development of a written understanding of the Irish language at a time when support for it and resources to further it were few and far between. The art of lexicography has developed in order to facilitate two differing aims: to explain (1) complicated words or expressions in a simple way; and (2) the words and expressions of one language in another. This paper will attempt to demonstrate, in outline, the similarities and differences between the motives of each of the lexicographers in compiling their work; how much success they had in achieving their goals; how their scholarly backgrounds differed; and how much of inter-dependence existed between their published and their manuscript work.
This paper will argue: (1) That all three words are native Celtic in origin; (2) That the key to providing a hitherto lacking phonologically, morphologically and semantically satisfactory etymology of Keltoi is supplied by Caesar’s statement that the Gauls regard themselves as descendants of Dis Pater; (3) That the native Gaulish *galatis underlying Greek Galatës is a derivative of *galä > OIr. gal ‘ardour, fury, prowess’, both based upon the PIE root *ĝhelh3 also seen, for instance, in Greek khlöros and English yellow; (4) That Latin Gallus also derives from Gaulish *galatis, apparent irregularities in its development being explicable by positing indirect borrowing via Etruscan.
In a recent essay on language and identity Bucholtz and Hall (2004) have identified four interlocking semiotic processes in the formation of identity: practice, indexicality, ideology and performance. Practice is here to be understood as the repetitious and cumulative everyday use of language (a linguistic “habitus” in Bourdieu’s terms [trans. Nice 1977]) while indexicality refers to the often observed fact that the meaning of many linguistic forms depends on their context of usage. This is how language makes the past “present” and it is this kind of context-dependency that I have argued is instrumental in giving such words as suairceas their communicative force. As Bakhtin (trans. Holquist 1981) has it, such linguistic forms have a ‘socially charged life’.
The combination of practice and the indexical gives language its pragmatic or communicative power and this can be rationalized or reified in various ways by speakers to produce a particular ideology. Performance serves as a special kind of foregrounding or highlighting of these linguistic processes, making them available for aesthetic evaluation (see here again suairceas). Both ideology and performance can be taken in their different ways as reflecting the ‘meta-pragmatic’ or meta-communicative component of language, whereby pragmatic strategies of communication are amenable to a further level of user analysis, rationalization and organization. It is this further level that allows texts or their constituent elements to be detached from their initial context and re-contextualized, whence the “intertextual”. Thus Hanks (1987) has argued for a theory of discourse genres which addresses literary genre in terms of its orientation towards the semiotic phenomena of indexicality and intertextuality and thereby towards the socio-cultural process of reception and the issue of political economy. In like fashion, Briggs and Baumann (1992) build on Bakhtin’s ‘dialogism’, that texts are centered not merely in the here-and-now but also in the there-and-then, meaning that the present is always to a significant extent a re-contextualization of the past. In Irish tradition, it is typically the poet who has the authority and prestige to effect such re-contextualizations and confer legitimacy on them.
The aim of my talk is to discuss various ways in which the above parameters could be applied to Irish poetry of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in general, and to the aisling in particular (see in this respect Mahon 2000 on the poets’ ‘appropriation of the feminine’), with a view to situating the corpus within various treatments of “pre-modern” nationalism (Smith 1986; Hastings 1997). Within this framework, I will take a look at the word díograis ‘fervour, zeal; fervent love, kindred affection’ as a particular case study in such terms (see here Ó Laoire  on the aesthetic and performative dimensions of this word on contemporary Tory Island).
In Tres Troí, ‘The Third Troy’, is a Middle Irish history of the rebuilding of Troy by Astyanax, son of Hector, following the destruction of the city chronicled in the earlier Togail Troí. The text concludes with the third and final destruction of the city by the Roman general Fimbria. The tale is remarkable for the fact that it is an original piece of historiographical writing in Middle Irish, without any counterparts in other medieval vernaculars. In this paper I draw on my forthcoming editio princeps of the text to analyze the character of In Tres Troí as the conclusion to the history of the city left incomplete with Togail Troí. Additionally, I consider the scholarly accomplishment of the author, who was able to create a narrative from stray references to a rebuilt Troy in Livy, Bede, Servius, Orosius and Augustine.
Since 2006, research has been ongoing at the Corpus of Electronic Texts (http://www.ucc.ie/celt, hereafter CELT) into the creation of a TEI-XML encoded electronic edition of Patrick S. Dinneen’s Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla. The aims of this electronic edition are threefold. The first is to offer advanced search and interrogation of the data contained in the dictionary. The second is to support knowledge construction by enabling transformations of the data contained in the dictionary, for example, with data visualisation tools. The third is to improve on aspects of the print dictionary that some end-users find troublesome, for example, by enabling headword searches using the post-spelling reform orthography of the headword in question.
Over the past five years, doctoral work carried out at the project has focused upon designing a XML framework that allows advanced search and interrogation of Old, Middle and Early Modern Irish. The result of this work is the creation of an electronic Lexicon of Medieval Irish (http://epu.ucc.ie/lexicon/entry) and on the creation of tools that allow the Lexicon to be used in conjunction with other on-line scholarly resources. Upon completion in Summer 2008, the Digital Dinneen will extend CELT’s lexicographical coverage from the Old Irish period up to the modern period. This paper will showcase a prototype of both the Digital Dinneen and the Lexicon, and will illustrate the manner in which both of these works are being linked with the electronic Dictionary of the Irish language (http://www.dil.ie). Further, tools that were developed during research on the Lexicon will be presented, and the ways that they will be extended to the Digital Dinneen project illustrated.
It is well known that Irish poets composed lying in the dark. Bergin and other thought this was an ancient survival, probably divinatory or at least magical. And of course some will see it as evidence for a pagan poetic order, etc. They are mistaken. I offer a scientific explanation of the phenomenon.
During a recent research trip to Germany I discovered that the Albertina (University Library) in Leipzig has a substantial collection of manuscript notebooks belonging to the great 19th-c. Irish philologist Whitley Stokes. By a process not now known, these notebooks came to Leipzig in 1919 and have lain in the Library there untouched since then. The notebooks contain all of the transcriptions made by Stokes in the course of his long career in Celtic Studies, principally from Irish manuscripts but also from Welsh, Breton and Cornish texts. The dates of all the transcriptions are meticulously noted, so that it is possible to put together a complete chronological record of Stokes’s travels and researches, during the half-century of his active career, from the 1860s until his death in 1909. This talk will outline the contents of the notebooks and the importance of this find.
For each tense and mood Irish has an invariant form which does not indicate an agent or other subject-like entity, e.g deirtear, briseadh. These ‘autonomous’ forms have largely the same communicative function as the passive of English and other major western European languages and are conventionally translated accordingly: ‘is said’, ‘was broken’. Nevertheless, the autonomous forms differ significantly from the ‘canonical’ personal passive of most western European languages in that their sole noun phrase arguments are understood as direct objects rather than subjects; contrast the window was broken, in which the window is the grammatical subject (by position), with briseadh an fhuinneog, where pronominalization to briseadh í reveals an fhuinneog to be a direct object (*briseadh sí). It is generally agreed that the Irish autonomous forms have undergone a considerable degree of impersonalization. The question is how much, and whether some degree of residual passivity is still present. The syntactic arguments bearing on this will be assessed in this paper, with special reference to the (perhaps crucial) question of whether the autonomous forms always or almost always imply an indefinite human (or perhaps higher animate) agent.
The vocabulary of the Welsh medical texts has been little studied. Unlike the Irish texts it contains few borrowed words. This paper looks at the methods the Welsh medical writers used to convey their terms an contrasts them with the method of the Irish medical writers.
The mutilation of Branwen’s dowry horses in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi has long attracted particular attention, which reflects some of the main scholarly approaches to The Four Branches. Specific motifs like this one have been used to trace international folktale influence — often seen as contamination — with the hope that any unique motifs might signal remnants of ancient Celtic myth. The mutilation of horses motif uncovers some of the weaknesses of too broad a comparative approach. A case for a possible Celtic-Scandinavian motif can be made here, but not every harming of horses is similar in the mutilations described, nor crucially in the motivation. In fact, one of the closest parallel for the maiming described in the Second Branch comes from an historical text claiming to note actual practice in Anglo-Saxon England. Along with other evidence, ancient, medieval and modern, it suggests that the majority of these ‘mutilations’ are actually husbandry practices, albeit not practices of the most skilled horse handlers. The motif of the disgrace of owning a horse marred by these practices may have originated in Welsh in response to perceived cultural superiority in horse husbandry over their Anglo-Saxon neighbours.
Is dlúthchuid d’amhrán ar bith an seanchas a roinneann leis. I gcás an amhráin ‘Cailín Deas Crúite na mBó’ is deacair an t-amhrán a shamhlú gan an seanchas. Is éard a bheidh sa pháipéar seo réamhstaidéar ar an seanchas, ar an amhrán agus ar thionchar an tseanchais sin ar an amhrán agus ar phobal an amhráin. Sa seanchas béil is iondúil gur amhrán faoi mhallacht a shamhlaítear le ‘Cailín Deas Crúite na mBó’. Ag tarraingt as foinsí éagsúla, go háirithe as Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann, An Coláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath, tabharfar cuntas sa pháipéar ar scéal an amhráin. Déanfar scagadh agus anailís ar na foinsí. Díreofar aird ar bhuncheisteanna, mar shampla, ar féidir finscéal a thabhairt ar an seanchas agus é a shuíomh i gcomhthéacs an bhéaloidis idirnáisiúnta? Cén ról atá a bhí nó atá ag an scéal i dtéarmaí scéalaíochta agus a pobail de? Agus an t-amhrán á rá, an nglacann nó an nglacadh an t-amhránaí leis go mbeadh an scéal ar eolas ag an lucht éisteachta? An féidir ról agus tábhacht an amhráin seo a aithint agus muid ag breathnú siar ar ré nuair a bhí an amhránaíocht i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla bhfad ní ba lárnaí i saol an phobail? Pléifear an t-amhrán, freisin, i gcomhthéacs amhránaíochta an lae inniu.
The Rule of Mochuta, a monastic rule in verse of probable Old Irish date, is long overdue a full critical edition. This paper will be an introduction to my work on such an edition and will outline my findings so far. Among these are previously unidentified quatrains from the Yellow Book of Lecan and a number of additional manuscript witnesses, which may prove to be invaluable.