Dan M. Wiley

title.none: MacShamhrain, ed., Island of St. Patrick (Dan M. Wiley)

identifier.other: baj9928.0603.001 06.03.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dan M. Wiley, Hastings College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: MacShamhrain, Ailbhe, ed. The Island of St. Patrick: Church and Ruling Dynasties in Fingal and Meath, 400-1148. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004. Pp. 192. $35.00 1-85182-867-2. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.03.01

MacShamhrain, Ailbhe, ed. The Island of St. Patrick: Church and Ruling Dynasties in Fingal and Meath, 400-1148. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004. Pp. 192. $35.00 1-85182-867-2. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Dan M. Wiley
Hastings College

With one exception, the eleven essays in this volume began as papers presented at a conference on "St Patrick and Early Christianity in Fingal c.400-1200 AD". Held in Ireland in the spring of 2000, the conference was convened under the auspices of the Skerries Patrician Millennium Committee that had recently been formed for the purpose of investigating the local legacy of St Patrick. The participants (and hence the contributors to this collection) represent a diverse group of historians and archaeologists, and their individual essays reflect that diversity: Beginning in 431 with Palladius' mission to Ireland and ending in 1148 with the reform synod on Inis Patraic, the articles in this collection explore different aspects of the Christian remains and secular politics of Fingal and the adjacent parts of Meath, an area that roughly corresponds to the early medieval kingdom of Brega (7). Although these studies are geared primarily toward Irish scholars, there is much in this collection that will appeal to medievalists in other specializations.

In the first essay, Charles Thomas looks at some of the ways information about Palladius--the man sent by Pope Celestine in 431 to be the first Irish bishop--was "misappropriated to St Patrick" by Armagh propagandists in the seventh century (26). That such misappropriations occurred is widely acknowledged by contemporary scholars, but attempts to recover historical information about Palladius from the close analysis of key Patrician documents have been problematic for a variety of reasons. In the course of his essay, Thomas makes a number of claims for Palladius, including the idea that Bishop Ultan's book (an important source used by Tirechan) "dealt only with Palladius" (32) and that "The First Synod of Saint Patrick" is a fifth-century document issued by Palladius and his colleagues (32-3). To be sure, some of Thomas' claims are more speculative than others (the dating of "The First Synod" has always been tricky as Thomas concedes), but his arguments are plausible and worthy of further consideration.

The next essay in the collection is the only one devoted exclusively to the secular politics of the region. In it, Edel Bhreathnach looks at what can be said about some of the lesser kingdoms of Brega and Mide from a close reading of the Irish annals, genealogies, and other sources. Focusing on the kingships of Calatruim, Dessi Breg, Mugdornae Breg, and Ui Maic Uais Breg, she demonstrates that "royal titles, often short- lived, could be created as part of internecine conflict over a more important kingship" (51). Along with her other observations, this conclusion is well supported by her research and represents an important contribution to our understanding of the complex dynastic politics of this region.

Though not originally presented at the Skerries conference, the next article in this anthology replaces the contribution by Leo Swan who passed away before these proceedings could be published. This essay comprises the editor's detailed description of the archaeological remains of a substantial ecclesiastical settlement at Grange that receives no mention "in pre-Norman historical sources" (58). It seems likely the site was dedicated to Mo-bae moccu Aldai (d. 630), about whom little is known. However, given the extent of the archaeological remains, including an enclosure, the foundations of a church, and a holy well, it must have been a site of some importance in its day.

Continuing with the theme of ecclesiastical settlement, Catherine Swift examines a list of Patrician churches in Mag Breg that Tirechan includes in his Collectanea . According to Swift, it represents "the earliest account of local church organization to be found anywhere in Ireland" (78). Although many of the foundations in the list cannot be identified with certainty, Swift is able to deduce some important information about them, such as the fact that they tend to be sited on hills or even side (mounds associated with the Otherworld). As she notes, this appropriation of pagan sites might at first appear to run counter to the Church's mission, but the practice actually accords well with Pope Gregory's philosophy of evangelization (77).

Turning to hagiography, Cormac Bourke examines the nature of peregrinatio or "self-expatriation for one's soul's sake" in the life of St Columba (79). According to Jonas of Bobbio, the author of the life of Columbanus, there were two types of peregrinatio , a lesser form which required the pilgrim to leave his native territory and a greater form or potior peregrinatio which required overseas travel to a foreign land. Based on this classification, Bourke argues that "while Columba is portrayed by tradition as archetypal exile, his was not...a potior peregrinatio " (80) because Iona, though overseas, was considered part of the Irish world in both linguistic and cultural terms and was not, therefore, a foreign land.

Peter Harbison's contribution, "Representations of St Patrick," began as a slideshow that was presented at the Skerries conference. In it, he examines the many ways in which the image of the saint in Irish art has changed over time. Included in Harbison's discussion are some of the great milestones in Patrician art from the first definite representation of the saint c. 1300 to his appearance in the stained glass windows produced by Harry Clark Studios in the 1930s. Harbison's article includes some seventeen images and will appeal to anyone with an interest in the changing faces of Patrician iconography.

As the reputed landing place of the Irish Apostle, Inis Patraic or Church Island off the coast of Skerries receives passing mention in several of the essays in this volume. However, in "Church Island: a description," Michael Ryan and his three coauthors provide a detailed account of the island in two parts. In the first, they examine the historical references to the island from its first mention in 798 up until the early thirteenth century. In the second, they describe its archaeological remains, which "in its latest phase, consisted of a nave-and-chancel church...a conventual building..and possibly a small tomb shrine" (123). Together, the two parts form the most detailed account of Church Island that has yet to appear in print.

In his second contribution to this volume, Ailbhe MacShamhrain examines the career of Mael-Finnia mac Flannacain (d. 903), king of Brega and superior of Inis Patraic. Although Mael- Finnia was not the only ruler prior to the twelfth-century reform to combine the offices of king and ecclesiastic, he is nevertheless unusual in one respect-the fact that he is commemorated as a saint in the Irish martyrologies, an honor rarely accorded Irish kings. Based on a close analysis of the sources, MacShamhrain discusses what is known of Mael-Finnia's life and accomplishments as well as the complex series of events that brought his family, the Ui Chonaing branch of Sil nAedo Slaine, to power.

Though all these essays have something new to offer, one of the undoubted highlights of this collection is Howard Clarke's excellent survey of the churches and other cult centers in the Hiberno-Norse city of Dublin. By 1152, the date when the city achieved archiepiscopal status, it could boast more churches than any other area in Ireland (140), yet with the exception of Christ Church Cathedral, which preserves a foundation legend, the history of the other churches must be pieced together from stray historical references and occasional archaeological remains. Clarke provides an account of all the known churches in each of the four settlements that make of Dublin and its hinterlands, together with what can be said about their patron saints, their origins, and their congregations. Clarke's discussion is well researched and exhaustively referenced. It is a welcome addition to the rapidly growing scholarship on medieval Dublin.

In the final essay in this volume, Martin Holland examines the complex ecclesiastical politics behind the initial exclusion and the eventual incorporation of the diocese of Dublin into the reformed hierarchy of the Irish church. This new hierarchy was established by a series of synods held in the first half of the twelfth century in various parts of Ireland, starting with the synod of Cashel in 1101 and ending with the synod of Kells and Mellifont in 1152. However, as Holland argues, the critical compromise that paved the way for Dublin's inclusion into the new hierarchy--and consequently Pope Eugenius' subsequent approval of these reforms--was effected not at Kells-Mellifont but at the synod of Inis Patraic in 1148. As part of the compromise, Dublin was granted archiepiscopal status, balanced by Tuam in the west, but in return, Dublin had to concede the primacy of Armagh in Ireland and relinquish its ties to Canterbury. Overall, Holland's article is well written and cogently argued. However, aside from a single brief footnote on the first page noting a few of the primary and secondary sources used in the study, the article contains no references. That is unfortunate because, given the topic and Holland's findings, this essay will have a broad appeal, but it will be less useful to those who lack an intimate familiarity with the sources.

Although the articles in this volume are geared primarily towards specialists in early Irish Studies, many of them, especially the essays by Bourke, Harbison, Clarke, and Holland, will be of interest to medievalists in a variety of different fields. But whatever their appeal, all these essays represent new and important contributions to the study of the secular and ecclesiastical remains of Brega, a kingdom that for centuries represented the political center of early medieval Ireland.