Ireland in the Medieval World AD 400 – 1000: Landscape, Kingship and Religion


Author: Edel Bhreathnach
Publisher: Four Courts Press
Published: 2014
ISBN: 978-1-84682-342-8
Pages: 293 including Endnotes, Bibliography and Index. The book also has illustrations, black and white and colored pictures plates.

17991406Synopsis: This is a study of Ireland’s people, landscape, and place in the world from late antiquity to the reign of Brian Borama. The book narrates the story of Ireland’s emergence into history, using anthropological, archaeological, historical, and literary evidence. The subjects covered include the king, the kingdom and the royal household, religion and customs, free and unfree classes in society, exiles, and foreigners. The rural, urban, ecclesiastical, ceremonial, and mythological landscapes of early medieval Ireland anchor the history of early Irish society in the rich tapestry of archaeological sites, monuments, and place-names that have survived to the present day. A historiography of medieval Irish studies presents the commentaries of a variety of scholars, from the 17th-century Franciscan Micheal O Cleirigh to Eoin Mac Neill, the founding father of modern scholarship.

Review:

The book is made up of three chapters which should really be considered parts. Each chapter is further divided into sections, and while chapter one is relatively short, chapters two and three make up the bulk of the book. The Introduction of the book talks about the tradition of writing history in medieval Ireland and how important it was to the writers to write it. I learned quite a few new Irish words in this chapter, which I’m going to love using whenever I can.

Chapter one discusses the natural environment of Ireland, and the rural and urban settlements. It also discusses the antique trading hubs and the Viking coastal towns. I was very interested and what the author had to say about medieval Ireland’s land and climate but I was also very interested in WHERE she got her information. Archaeology of course was one source, law tracts and mythology was another.

Kingdoms, kings and people are the subjects of chapter two. The chapter starts with Ptolemy’s geography, then goes on to discuss Ogam inscriptions (and some of the formulas used in writing them), annals and genealogies, the concepts of Kingship, the obligations of the kings and their powers, the royal family and its extensions, the royal household, and ends with the life and death of the king. The chapter even has a section on the women in the royal household and what their rights were. This chapter is just so full of information. There is no way to get it all with one read. So many concepts and degrees of kings and kinds of kings to understand. And as with the first chapter the evidence is based on archaeology, law tracts and mythology.

The final chapter of the book from my point of view was the most interesting. It discusses religion, ritual and ritualists. It focuses on the Christian era of course, but it starts from the earliest possible phase of Christianity in Ireland and goes on from there. The big take away is that it was a SLOW and complicated process.

Should be complimented with Early Medieval Ireland AD 400-1100: The Evidence from Archaeological Excavations, read my review here.

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