Session 44: Ystafell 8
Medieval Irish literature

Chair: Martina Maher

The political geography of Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin

Thomas Owen Clancy
Oilthigh Ghlaschu (Glasgow)

Although the exemplary analysis of Tomás Ó Cathasaigh has long placed Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin within the literary canon of well-crafted early Gaelic tales, the setting of the story, with a cast of characters highly manipulated away from their roots in historical figures, has caused more problems. In the view of D. A. Binchy (1975), the text’s most recent editor, 'the author has played fast and loose with the facts of history'. This paper seeks to go beyond the mere observation of the text’s anachronisms which has dominated to date, and to examine the context in which such anachronisms might have been fruitful in making commentary on a contemporary world. It will examine the Scottish as well as Irish dimensions of the tale, as well as the lengthy poem on the beers of the insular world at the end. Although the paper does not seek a precise contextualisation as 'historical propaganda', it will nonetheless suggest a framework within which the political geography would have resonated with a contemporary audience.

Seeking revenge for the Táin

Rebecca Shercliff
University of Cambridge

This paper will offer a comparison of two undeservedly neglected texts, the late medieval Irish tales Tochmarc Ferbe and Cath Ruis na Ríg, both seemingly composed in order to depict an opportunity for the Ulaid to take vengeance on the other provinces of Ireland for Táin Bó Cúailnge. While Cath Ruis na Ríg, as might be expected, takes the form of a ‘sequel’ to Táin Bó Cúailnge, Tochmarc Ferbe is more unusually presented as a ‘prequel’, in which Conchobar is motivated by ‘pre-revenge’ for the Táin. The manner in which both tales are embedded into the interconnected network of material surrounding the Táin is therefore of great interest and worthy of further exploration. Moreover, the textual history of these tales is intriguingly similar. Both texts are attested in the Book of Leinster (LL) and in later manuscripts. Mac Gearailt has argued that the LL-version of Cath Ruis na Ríg represents a new composition, reworking an earlier tale which is more closely reflected in the later surviving version. This corresponds strikingly to the situation that may have existed in the textual development of Tochmarc Ferbe, where the LL-version again seems to be an expansion of a shorter version attested elsewhere. This paper has been developed on the basis of a new edition and translation of Tochmarc Ferbe, and will provide new insights into the relationship between these two texts, which have hitherto been largely overlooked by scholars, while also drawing broader conclusions relating to methods of narrative composition and reworking in late medieval Ireland.

'Pouring out joy': welcomes and status in Fingal Rónáin

Nicholas Thyr
Harvard University

Through the prism of the common phrase feraid fáilti fri, used, typically, to welcome arriving guests, this paper will investigate the importance of welcoming and welcomes in the ninth-century Irish prose narrative Fingal Rónáin. In particular, I will examine how the specific rituals surrounding the four welcomes in the text transmit information regarding the relative statuses of the welcomer, and the one welcomed. Using the early Irish law-texts as support, I will argue that the travails of Fingal Rónáin’s protagonist, Mael Fothartaig, demonstrate a certain perception of 'status': that is, as a dynamic personal quality, one that relied on the successful performance of a given societal role.