Robin Stacey

title.none: Richter and Picard, Ogma (Robin Stacey)

identifier.other: baj9928.0210.021 02.10.21

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Robin Stacey, University of Washington,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Richter, Michael and Jean-Michel Picard, eds. Ogma: Essays in Celtic Studies in Honour of Proinseas Ni Chathain. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2002. Pp. xvi, 329. $60.00. ISBN: 1-85182-671-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.10.21

Richter, Michael and Jean-Michel Picard, eds. Ogma: Essays in Celtic Studies in Honour of Proinseas Ni Chathain. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2002. Pp. xvi, 329. $60.00. ISBN: 1-85182-671-8.

Reviewed by:

Robin Stacey
University of Washington

The Festschrift is an odd genre, not least in frequently mirroring in unintentional ways the career of the individual it is designed to honor. That the topics to which an essay collection is devoted should reproduce those to which the honorand has given his or her scholarly life comes as no surprise. Nor does the tendency exhibited by even the most forthcoming of studies to reflect the political perspective adopted by the scholar in question. Over the course of a career, it becomes difficult to distinguish the company one has kept from what one has said, and the matter of who is invited to contribute to an honorary volume and who is not cannot help but have a tremendous impact on the resulting shape of the work in question. Sometimes, however, the parallels between a scholarly career and an essay collection issued in recognition of it are more subtle and complex than even the editors might have anticipated.

So it is with the new collection of essays edited by Michael Richter and Jean-Michel Picard in honor of their friend and frequent collaborator, Professor Próinséas Ní Chatháin, Chair of Early and Medieval Irish at University College Dublin. As the foreword to the book notes in refreshingly candid fashion, Professor Ní Chatháin's own publications have been relatively few. On the other hand, her teaching, collegial presence, and meticulous editing of the work of others have had a tremendous impact on more than one generation of scholars in several different disciplines. It is in the gravitational pull she has exercised on others that her presence in the field has been most clearly felt. Somehow, the editors have managed to capture the essence of her contribution in this appreciative volume, which reads less as an act of homage to a significant body of existing work than as an appreciation of a keen but gentle critic working hard behind the scenes to keep the standards of her discipline as high as they can possibly be.

It must be said that this is not a book for beginners. The essays contained in this collection are, by and large, both specialist in audience and conservative in approach, as befits the scholarly inclinations of the honorand. Nor have the editors made things any easier for their readers. There are clear themes that run through this volume, but they are nowhere directly articulated, nor are the papers grouped into categories that might help readers better to contextualize the material before them. In fact, this would not have been difficult to do, as the themes of this work mirror in many ways those of the important essay collections Professor Ní Chatháin has co-edited with Richter over the years, the most recent of which was published earlier this year. The dominant theme is clearly relations between Ireland and the continent, particularly within the ecclesiastical sphere. Hilary Richardson localizes the great crosses of Ireland within a very early tradition in Christian art stretching back to Constantine, a tradition maintained in Ireland after its loss elsewhere in the west. Several essays (by Richter, Damian Bracken, and Martin McNamara) explore the issue of the Irish impact on ecclesiastical learning in the Carolingian period, concluding that it was greater than recent revisionist theories might suggest. Marie Therese Flanagan argues for an Italian dimension to the Irish church reforms of the twelfth century, while Máire Herbert's study of the cult of St. Martin in Ireland reveals a revival of interest in him during this period as a symbol of mediation between monastic and episcopal authority. Picard examines Irish cults in Normandy, suggesting that John de Courcy's familiarity with the cult of St. Patrick even before his arrival at Downpatrick might help to explain his early success there.

Connections between Ireland and the continent in the secular realm also come in for attention. Hermann Moisl and Stefanie Hamann argue for the presence of a Frankish aristocrat at the Irish battle of Mag Roth, an indication of contacts between Ireland and the powerful Merovingian king Dagobert I. Doris Edel draws on continental and English parallels to develop a fuller picture of queenship among the Irish -- an essay which, while convincing in many ways, curiously does not even cite Lisa Bitel's or Joanne Findon's important recent works on women in early Ireland. One of the very best essays in the book is Benjamin Hudson's examination of the European-wide interest in heroes and the heroic in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Using Irish and Scottish sources from the period, he demonstrates that this interest was anything but antiquarian in nature. Rather, he suggests, these works should be considered as part and parcel of a more general movement to rework early material for political and dynastic reasons much more contemporary in nature. This theme is echoed also (in an entirely Irish context) by Edel Bhreathnach's article on the compilation of the Book of Leinster, and by Ann Dooley's superbly challenging piece on the manner in which bardic poets in Ireland manipulated the rigid forms within which they were expected to compose to fashion their own ethnic and personal identities.

Irish relations with Britain also figure heavily as a theme in the book. D.P. Kirby examines Melrose Abbey's response to the unorthdox practices of the Columban communities on the subject of Easter. Michael Enright suggests that Adomnán's account of Columba's anointing of the Scottish king Áedán mac Gabráin, which he argues draws on the Biblical book of Kings, represents the first theory of royal anointing developed in the west outside of Visigothic Spain. In a characteristically excellent essay, Jane Stevenson examines the Irish contribution to Anglo-Latin hermaneutic prose, arguing for the royal court of Athelstan as an important center of cultural exchange and stylistic innovation. David Wasserstein also focuses on Athelstan's court, using a text also referred to by Stevenson to argue for the presence of a Jew in England in this period; unfortunately, Stevenson's discussion (and references provided by her to other articles on the subject) make clear that his argument is based on a mistranslation of the passage in question. Erich Poppe's interesting essay on Stair Bibuis, an Irish version of an Anglo-Norman romance, reprises many of the same themes explored by Hudson. The Irish version of this story, he argues, deliberately highlights in a way other contemporary versions do not the codes of conduct and honor by which gaelicized Anglo-Norman families were coming to define themselves vis-à-vis their Irish and English neighbors.

Professor Ní Chatháin has maintained throughout her career an abiding fascination with early Irish literature and language, and these interests also are reflected in this volume. Thomas Charles-Edwards examines the legal assumptions behind the complex tale Tochmarc Étaine, arguing that the tale suggests that in a union by bride purchase, the purchase could be made from her (soon-to-be-former) husband, and not merely from her father as might be inferred from lawbook treatments of the subject. Dewi Wyn Evans takes issue with James Carney's view that extensive borrowings from the clerical learned tradition lie behind the early Irish tale Táin Bó Fraích, pointing instead to the evidence for oral tradition as an important source. (It is a reflection of the relatively conservative nature of this book that this is the only article to directly address the nativist/anti-nativist conflict that has for the past decade formed the main battleground of early Irish studies.) Kevin Murray examines the textual parallels between Baile in Scáil and Echtrae Chormaic, arguing that while many elements in the latter derive directly from the former, the lost narrative section of Baile in Scáil is likely the ultimate basis for the thematic outline of both tales. And Jan Erik Rekdal suggests that the sixteenth-century Life of Colum Cille acted as a textual monstrance for the very early poem the Amra Coluim Cille, and that the manuscript in which it was contained functioned as a sort of duanaire (a family-oriented book of elegy and praise) of the Ó Domhnaill family.

Linguistic and stylistic issues occupy a good percentage of the book. Francis John Byrne analyzes passages in the Annals of Ulster from the rhetorical point of view, locating several instances of chiasmus and hyperbaton in the texts he examines. Karl Horst Schmidt surveys the origins and Indo-European parallels of the personal pronouns of Old Irish, while Wolfgang Meid investigates the etymological background and affiliations of Old Irish grád, "love." Stefan Zimmer proposes a retranslation of the Old Irish Airgatlám (Welsh Llaw ereint) as "bright" or "swift" hand rather than the standard "silver hand," a misunderstanding that he argues ultimately gave rise to the myth reflected in tales such as Cath Maige Tuired. Two of the essays devoted to word usage and origins have broad historical implications. In one, Pierre-Yves Lambert looks at the distribution and changing usage of the words plebs and populus in Britain and Ireland, and at the manner in which the understanding of these words changed with the reception of Isidore. Gearóid Mac Eoin takes up the important question of the names of St. Patrick, identifying Magonus and Succetus as British in origin, and arguing against recent revisionist theories on the origins of Cothraige. An especially important aspect of the volume are the new editions and translations it contains, of which the most critical by far is Pádraig Ó Néill's collation of the glosses of the prima manus in Würzburg, which corrects many errors in the standard edition. Also very important is Patricia Kelly's edition of a Latin grammatical fragment that she argues should be seen within the context of medieval Irish grammatical learning. A nice postscript to the volume as a whole is Peter Davidson's English translation of the "Hymn of St. Columba in praise of St. Ciarán."

A long-standing theme in traditional Celtic scholarship has been the longevity of Celtic tradition, and that topic also is represented in this collection. Proinsias Mac Cana connects the famous image in Athenaeus of the king whose chariot seems to strew gold in its tracks with tales told of Henry II at Beaucaire and images employed by Welsh poets of the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries. And Yolande De Pontfarcy identifies sovereignty myth elements in a text pertaining to the southern Balkan region of Paeonia. Perhaps the most personal note of appreciation in the volume is struck by Ann Hamlin's detailed century-by-century survey of developments and changes made to Dungiven Priory, a church long associated with Professor Ní Chatháin's own family.

Again, this is not a book for those not already heavily invested in Celtic studies. It is, however, a graceful tribute to a scholar whose keen critical sense has over the years significantly advanced our understanding of the issues around which it is centered.