Session 116: Ystafell 8
Medieval Irish literature and the Church

Chair: Dorothy Bray

The role of lebedán in Togail Bruidne Dá Derga

Darcy Ireland

Togail Bruidne Dá Derga (The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel; TBDD) of the Ulster Cycle is considered among the finest exemplars of the Old and Middle Irish saga literature, the absence of a physical razing of a hostel notwithstanding. The literary recollection of the birth, life, and death of the monarch Conaire Mór mac Eterscéle is found in three recensions, the second of which is an inconsistent amalgam but nonetheless has been paid the most scholarly attention.

This study is primarily invested in the motivation behind the employment of the Judaeo-Christian mythological sea-beast Leviathan as a device to heighten the climactic tension that ensues as Conaire is quizzed about the quaking of Dá Derga’s hostel caused by the boats of the sons of Donn Désa outside its walls. The curious choice by Conaire to suggest that Leviathan is behind the shaking of the bruiden is difficult for him to make without the author(s) of the first two recensions of TBDD having knowledge of Leviathan through the Christian dispensation. Moreover, both the context of the immediate scene and the literary context of TBDD suggest that the Christian dispensation influences TBDD, even though it is not likely driving the telling of the story overall for any ulterior purpose.

Bishops, high priests, and the vocabulary of episcopal authority in the early Irish Church

Viktoriia Krivoshchekova
Ollscoil Mhá Nuad (Maynooth)

As scholarship has acknowledged a more prominent episcopal presence in an early Irish ecclesiastical landscape which was previously considered to be predominantly monastic, it seems appropriate to examine in more detail the symbolic and liturgical significance of episcopal office in texts produced by Irish churchmen between c.600–900. This is to be done by analyzing the main points of reference on which the image of a bishop was built and which could be used to convey liturgical authority.

One of the most common and effective narrative devices used to that end is the imagery of the Temple which allows for fruitful comparisons between bishops and high priests. This trope can be used by applying the Latin title of the Ancient Hebrew office, such as summus sacerdos or pontifex. The paper explores the semantic connotations implied by the use of these terms such as their significance in establishing the specifics of episcopal rituals. As far as the charismatic affiliations of episcopal office are concerned, the figure of Aaron was of utmost importance as it, on the one hand, conveyed the idea of lawful priesthood, and on the other, provided Christian bishops with rich cultic imagery.

The questions raised in the paper make a relevant contribution to the larger discussion on the reception of Jewish tradition in early medieval Ireland.

De shil Chonairi Moir: an allegorical tract

Brid Eimear Williams

De shil Chonairi Moir contains an alternative version of the inauguration of the legendary king Conaire Mor to that found in the text Togail Bruidne Da Derga. King Saul's inauguration in 1 Samuel was used as a template in the latter version which has been interpreted by Professor Ralph O'Connor as a cautionary tale emphasizing the fragility of earthly power in The destruction of Da Derga's hostel. The same biblical template is used in De shil Chonairi Moir but to a different purpose. In De shil Chonairi Moir Saul's inauguration (with no allusion to his demise) is used only as a peg on which to hang a variety of biblical allegories based on the writings of the Church Fathers. The significance of the text's emphasis on Conaire's curious conception together with the significance of the two stones which are given names will be addressed. We will also note the overlapping allusions to both priesthood and temple imagery in the text. We will demonstrate that De shil Chonairi Moir is an exceptionally learned text conveying an undeniably theological message in an admirably succinct form. It is, in essence, an allegorical tract based on the writings of the Church Fathers in the guise of a narrative about the inauguration of a legendary Irish king.