Chair: Kristen Mills
Burial features in many medieval Irish texts and is a theme found both in connection with particular burial grounds, as in Senchas na relec, and in narratives about particular events or people, as for example in Cath Cairnd Conaill. While burial has been examined from a historical and archaeological perspective, it has received very little attention as a literary theme. In my proposed paper, I will examine the use to which burial is put in a range of different texts in order to illustrate the importance this subject had to those who produced the medieval Irish texts that survive.
This paper discusses the narrative functions of suicidal ideation and death-wishes in Early Irish literature. Situations in which a character utters their intention, desire, need or wish to die, actual or hypothetical, belong to a motif-continuum ranging from an implied or expressed desire to die, to an actual fulfilled suicide or death. These motifs fill a range of narrative functions from expressions of grief and loyalty to manipulation of events, and from simple wishes, hyperbole or emotional statements to actions intervening in and changing the course of the narrative. They can be based in experiences of the same emotions as those that motivate fulfilled suicides or an event of death (predominantly because the subject is experiencing a traumatic event or strong emotion) or uttered in an acute situation in which a choice is found between continued life, and death on a battlefield or in another heroic situation. The underlying reasons for the death-wish or ideation is more often than not gender-specific, with different motivating factors and results for female and male characters; these are deeply embedded in the characters' function within the narrative and in early Irish literature at large.