Session 107: Ystafell 11
Reading places and landscapes of power and commemoration in Ireland and Scotland

Chair: Greg Toner

Contributors: Elizabeth FitzPatrick; Sofia Evemalm; Sarah Kuenzler

Ever since Keith R. Basso’s ethnographic analysis connecting the places, place names and place lore of the Western Apache (1994), the complex relationship between lived-in places and landscapes and the stories connected with them has been a fertile ground for study in many disciplines. This session builds on a persistent interest in these matters in Celtic studies and operates from interdisciplinary perspectives in order to highlight the formative role of lore in place-making. In particular, the three contributions address the creation and perception of places in Ireland and Scotland, delineate some of the multifaceted relationships between places and people (and social spaces), and explore the resulting experience of places in the landscapes as a medium through which stories of local, ancestral or heroic figures become tangible. The participants address these topics from their individual backgrounds in archaeology (Liz FitzPatrick), toponymy (Sofia Evemalm) and memory studies (Sarah Künzler).

Liz FitzPatrick (NUI Galway) discusses the interplay between the specific settings of heroic actions of hunting and fighting in fíanaigecht and their real-world roles as boundary places, which she identifies as royal marchlands of early medieval kingdoms. It is proposed that the relationship between tales and boundary places was reciprocal, whereby the latter were themselves maintained, and their importance for Gaelic ruling families augmented, by periodic inscription of new names and lore onto their topographies and prehistoric monuments.

Sofia Evemalm’s (University of Glasgow) contribution approaches the subject from an onomastic perspective, focusing on folklore surrounding place-names associated with death in the Scottish Gaelic world. The discussion seeks to explore how and why people commemorate unnatural deaths such as suicides, drownings, or murders in place-names. By using a folk onomastic approach, emphasising the dynamic nature of naming, it will be possible to highlight the importance of considering people’s perceptions of names as applied to places and landscapes.

Sarah Künzler’s (University of Glasgow) paper relates current approaches of memory studies within literary analyses to early Irish narrative texts, which she argues portray a landscape that is unmistakeably marked by a heroic presence. By portraying monuments and other material remnants as the result of actions within the narratives, the texts create places which believably link past (actions) and present (landscape). These enable the audience to create a mnemonic overlap between their tradition and the world they inhabit(ed), thus enabling them to experience the landscape and places therein as part of their cultural memory.

Discussing such central issues relating to and place-making on the basis of case studies allows the contributors to unearth the diverse significances that places in landscapes held in (past and present) Celtic cultures. In a wider sense, this demonstrates how humans creatively and affectively engage(d) with their cultural heritage through the world they inhabit(ed), and how belonging and identity are created and maintained through this engagement.