Chair: Angharad Price
Gach bean bhon tàinig mi — All the women I'm descended from (lit. 'Each woman from whom I came'): How have Scottish Highland women understood their social selves through time? This paper examines the cultural continuity of the many gendered, social roles and accompanying skill sets that women enjoyed, from bean-tighe or 'mistress of the house' to poet to henwife, not to mention the old kinship chestnuts of mother/wife/daughter. Though focusing on the Early Modern Era, most of these roles have been consistent from the Early Irish era through to the nineteenth Century with significant outliers continuing into the twentieth. Establishing a grid of women's social responsibilities, the paper also overlays the additional lens of social class, birth order and other factors men and women shared which cross-cut women's roles. It illustrates women's positions and views with multimedia examples drawn from legal documents, poetry, song, letters, images and more. While I acknowledge the influence of individual personality and the more historically important factor of time and social change, this paper is consciously wide-ranging and aggregates individual lives into what the Early Modern Highlands perceived as essentially 'timeless' constants of women's social roles.
The paper deals with the story of baptism of the sons of Amalgaid in the Vita Tripartita. The case of the Connacht princes Conall and Óengus's conversion and their demand to Saint Patrick is unusual: Patrick resurrects a woman and her unborn child (or children). We attempt to reconstruct the legend, 'dismantled' by the hagiographer and to study its implications regarding the history of women in medieval Irish Christianity.
Since his founding of Iona, Colum Cille has been known as an illustrious leader of insular Christianity and viewed by his followers as an absolute model of perfection with regard to asceticism and penance. This can be seen not only in Adomnán’s Vita Columbae, but also in the poetry composed about the abbot following his death, as well as within the Middle Irish and early modern lives of Colum Cille, both of which adapt the character of the saint and more closely associate him with Derry. Despite this, within hagiography, saints often exhibit traits and participate in activities that may not automatically be associated with 'saintly' behaviour – as one example, punishing their followers or individuals. Some representations of Colum Cille in folklore deriving from Donegal and the Scottish Hebrides seem to exemplify this ‘darker’ side of the saint. One example of this may be seen in a story collected from Na Cruacha (Donegal), Comhra Cholm Cille, in which Colum Cille, spurned by a man who pretends to be asleep so as to not to speak to him, responds by punishing him so that he remains asleep for seven years. Another story from the same area describes Colum Cille as having an extremely short temper and lashing out at those responsible for angering him - 'Bhí sé an-fhurast fearg a chur air agus nuair a bheadh an fhearg sin air bhéarfadh sé a mhallacht do achan seort.' This paper will compare the characterization and adaption of Colum Cille within medieval literature and modern folklore from Donegal and the Hebrides; and consider how these examples reflect his role in the cultural identity of these areas.