Session 38: Ystafell 2
Manuscripts and genres: Irish, Gaelic, Welsh

Chair: Emma Watkins

Popular European narrative and ‘native tales’ in Llyfr Coch Hergest: a consideration of manuscript context

Myra Booth-Cockcroft
Oilthigh Ghlaschu (Glasgow) & Canolfan Uwchefrydiau Cymreig a Cheltaidd Prifysgol Cymru

It is usual in modern scholarship, when examining the medieval Welsh texts contained in the late fourteenth-century Llyfr Coch Hergest, to separate and categorise the prose tales. Perhaps the biggest distinction made is that between the ‘native’ Welsh material (customarily referred to as the Mabinogion, following the title given by Lady Charlotte Guest in the nineteenth century) and the translations into Welsh of texts which are known to have been popular on the continent – such as the Charlemagne cycle, or ‘Bevis of Hampton’. The result of this separation is that the texts are removed from their manuscript context and studied without consideration of any potential editorial decision on the part of patron or scribe. This paper intends to re-examine a selection of the prose narratives contained in Llyfr Coch Hergest, taking into account their manuscript context. In doing so, it will investigate Llyfr Coch Hergest as a product of specific linguistic, political and literary networks, contemplating questions such as: how do the texts fit alongside one another in the manuscript? Are they complimentary? How did the manuscript’s patron, Hopcyn ap Tomas, see himself, his peers (the uchelwyr of colonial Wales) and the traditions of his country’s history and culture, as fitting into the learned milieu of medieval Europe?

Manuscript production in Kintyre: Eoghan Mac Gilleoin and his Clan Campbell patrons (c.1690-1700)

Danielle Fatzinger
Oilthigh Ghlaschu (Glasgow)

On occasion, the seventeenth-century Campbells are characterised as a Highland lineage at pains to turn their backs on Gaelic culture. Yet the cultural identity, or at least cultural consumption, of some branches of Clan Campbell included engagement with both Scottish Gaelic and wider pan-Gaelic manuscript tradition. At the end of the seventeenth century, Eoghan Mac Gilleoin, a schoolmaster at Kilchenzie in Kintyre (Argyll), compiled four manuscripts: NLS Adv MS 72.1.36 and TCD 1362 (H.4.21) for Colin Campbell of the Campbells of Kilberry, Knapdale; TCD 1307 (H.2.12 No.6) for Rev Lachlan Campbell from Kildalloig, Kintyre; and NLS 14873. These manuscripts are an important source of Gaelic prose texts, particularly Romantic Tales from an identifiably Scottish context. This paper will offer a close reading of the contents of the three manuscripts compiled for Campbell patrons. An examination of both the scribe and patrons/recipients gives us a window onto the relationships between these men and their wider communities. The manuscripts also allow for a deeper understanding of the production of Gaelic manuscripts in Kintyre within the context of contemporary pan-Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic social, literary, and manuscript culture in the late seventeenth century. A study of these three manuscripts will show the preliminary results of my ongoing research into the intersection between the lives of the patrons (primarily their occupations) and the contents of their personal manuscripts. Thus, this paper will add further nuance to our knowledge of the relationship between these branches of Clan Campbell and Gaelic culture.

The 'impossibilia' genre in medieval Irish poetry

Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh
Coláiste na hOllscoile, Corcaigh (Cork)

Adynata, paradigms of the impossible, are an ancient literary topos, extant in European literature as early as the poetry of Virgil. Classical poets used adynata as a rhetorical device but as antiquity gave way to the literary tastes of the early Middle Ages, these impossibilities or wonders grew into a fully-formed comic genre in which sequences of impossibilia are strung together. The high point of the genre are the humorous fatrasies of thirteenth-century France which were popularised and disseminated by wandering troubadours. In addition, pictorial expression of the impossibilia are widespread in the margins of medieval manuscripts, particularly from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, where snails attacking knights, reading monkeys and armed hares abound. The theme is also strong later in popular ballads (e.g., ‘chansons de menteries’) and folktales. In Modern Irish, the motif reaches a highpoint in the Amhrán Bréagach genre, examples of this song-type were collected in a number of Gaeltacht areas in the twentieth century. However, the topos is also extant in medieval Irish poetry: one of the most striking examples is an obscure little poem beginning with the words Feochair mo luan conserved in Stowe manuscript B.iv.2, RIA and in manuscript H.3.18, TCD. The survival of this poem raises the age-old question puzzled over by narratologists, folklorists, and medievalists: can this motif or topos be borrowed from culture to culture or are the attestations independent of outside influence. I.e., is this a case of monogenesis or polygenesis?