Session 68: Ystafell 8
Politics, gender and place in medieval Irish literature

Chair: Cathryn Charnell-White

The other half of the story: women in medieval Irish politics

Eivor Bekkhus
Universitetet i Oslo

How might a royal wife influence her surroundings? In this paper, I will explore the role of women in the ruling elite. Compared to literary and mythological constructs, scholarship on medieval Ireland has neglected actual, historical women. While it is not surprising, as real lay women are rarely afforded the in-depth information bestowed on literary women, saints, and historical men, historical sources still allow for the connecting of many dots. Narrowing the scope to the 12th century and the circumstances of Connacht being elevated to the stage of high politics, I will focus on the kin-group Uí Fhiachrach Aidne. Though the formal power of the Aidne family was greatly diminished by the 12th century, its members may have sought to exert influence in more covert ways, and marriage may have been one such way. Positioned between Munster and Connacht, the family appear to have implemented marriage alliances between themselves and their powerful neighbours. Through a marriage to Toirdelbach ua Conchobair, at least one daughter, Cailleach Dé ní hEidhin, may have influenced long-term consequences as mother of Ruaidrí ua Conchobair, at one point king of Connacht and high-king of Ireland, By looking at history from a less traditional viewpoint, I would like to accentuate the role of women in political developments.

The various uses of 'Greece' in medieval Irish literature

Patrick McCoy
Harvard University

Every story has a setting. It may be set in a specific location, recognizable from certain specific geographic details; the dindshenchas literature of medieval Ireland would be one example of this. Other medieval Irish tales are set in otherworldly locations: found through the mists, in síd-mounds, under bodies of water, or across the sea as far-away islands. In addition to these two options, one also finds what I term a non-geographic' use of place, wherein a medieval author would use a place-name as a conceptual rather than concrete location. Rather than intending to describe a real-world, contemporary location, an author might employ certain place-names, such as Greece, to coopt preconceived ideas surrounding those places, thereby adding an extra layer of meaning to the story.

While one might easily think that these three designations would be mutually exclusive, the distinctions between them are sometimes quite fluid, and geographic locations can easily be used in otherworldly or non-geographic ways. In my paper I will examine the various uses of 'Greece' in medieval Irish literature, tracing its 'geographic' use in such texts as Togail Troí (The Destruction of Troy) and suggesting some possible conceptions of 'Greece' that an author might have wished to coopt in a 'non-geographic' usage.

Mog Ruith, Mog Corb and Eimhne – evidence of Fir Maige Féne and Dál Cais relations?

Tatiana Shingurova
University of Aberdeen

According to the Middle Irish text Forbhais Droma Damghaire, the druid Mog Ruith, the legendary ancestor of Fir Maige Féne, receives lands and privileges  from the Munster king Fiacha Muillethan as a reward for his service. In the text, he demands Mog Corb (the son of Cormac Cais, who was the ancestor of the Dál Cais) to come and pledge on behalf of Munster that everything that was promised to him would be fulfilled. Moreover, as part of his reward, the druid requests that Eimhne, the daughter of Aonghus, Mog Corb's student to become his wife. Later in the text, Mog Ruith prophesies to Mog Corb that no one of his descendants would ever fall in combat, if only they  bear the arms of a man of the Fir Maige Féne. He also foretells that Mog Corb will occupy the throne of Munster.

These numerous references to the good relations between Mog Ruith and Mog Corb, absent from earlier versions of the story, could reflect certain historical realities of the 11C-12C (when the text was presumably composed). Mog Corb was obliged to protect the descendants of Mog Ruith – Fir Maige Féne, their land and their rights. Consequently Mog Corb’s offspring – the Dál Cais – should inherit this responsibility. Was this a message that the anonymous writer wanted to forward to Dál Cais? My paper will analyze the historical context behind the triangle of Mog Ruith, Mog Corb, and Eimhne, as well as attempt to answer the question posed above.