Hospitality In Medieval Ireland

Title: Hospitality in Medieval Ireland 900 – 1500

Author: Catherine Marie O’Sullivan

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Published: 2004

ISBN: 1-85182-745-5

Pages: 272 including Appendix, Bibliography, and Index.

Synopsis: Hospitality was one of the most important social institutions and cultural customs in medieval Ireland. The fundamental principles governing the provision of hospitality were rooted in both the secular and religious traditions of Irish culture, and were represented in both the public and private spheres of Irish life. Legal texts, court records, ecclesiastical decrees concerning the privileges of high-ranking clerics and secular statements regarding the rights of kings reveal that the practice of hospitality was largely contractual and generally involved the mutually self-interested transactions of mundane affairs. Yet an ethos of generosity, strongly linked to a cultural code of honor, suffused the Irish practice of hospitality with an air of moral uprightness and decorousness. Gnomic literature provided a series of adages, maxims and proverbs reminding individuals that the path to virtuous living began with charity, liberality and good housekeeping, while sagas and bardic praise poetry underscored the influence hospitality had in determining one’s standing in society. Still, hospitality was not wholly secular, nor exclusively Irish for that matter. It was a basic Christian duty sanctioned by the Church and observed throughout the medieval world. Christian precept and example had a major impact on native Irish concepts of hospitality, and how the practice was played out in everyday life.


Hospitality in Medieval Ireland discusses hospitality in Ireland between the period of 900 – 1500 CE. The text has six chapters and an appendix of observations on the customs of hospitality in Medieval Ireland.

The first chapter discusses the sources used to glean these customs. The sources include the Annals, legal and administrative sources, Gnomic literature like instructions or proverbs, narrative literature both secular and religious, praise poetry, political memoirs, letters, field notes and finally descriptions of Ireland.

Chapter Two talks about the recipients of medieval Ireland’s hospitality. Some of the recipients were ordinary travellers, men of art who included poets, musicians and various other talents, churchmen, and noblemen and their retinue.

Hospitality and the ordinary household is the subject of the third chapter and I found this chapter interesting because it talks about ordinary people. The sources on this is very sparse and so this chapter was really short.

The fourth chapter is about hospitality and the nobility. Of course this chapter is a lot longer than the previous one as there is more evidence in the texts when it came to the nobility.

Chapter five is about guest houses and their keepers. There are three types of keepers traditionally and they are Hospitallers, churchmen, and professional learned men. The one that surprised me the most was professional learned men, they are better known for getting hospitality rather than supplying it.

The Irish church also practiced hospitality, and chapter six discusses the impact of the arrival of Christianity on native Irish concepts of guesting, feasting, and gift giving. There were sections on guesting, feasting, and the giving of Alms.

The book ends in an appendix that gives us observations on the customs of hospitality in Medieval Ireland. It talks about receptions for guests, customary lengths of stay, sleeping arrangements, guest houses and entertainment.

I found this book very interesting because I kept comparing the customs to the customs followed by Arabs and found them extremely similar. Parts of this book surprised me because of preconceived ideas that I had and some just confirmed what I already know. A must read book.


The Great Queens

Full Title: The Great Queens – Irish Goddesses from the Morrígan to Cathleen ní Houlihan

Series: Irish Literary Studies 34

Author: Rosalind Clark

Publisher: Colin Smythe Limited

Published: 1991

ISBN: 0-86140-290-1

Pages: 277, including Notes, Bibliography, and Index

Synopsis: From


The book is made up of an Introduction, four chapters and a conclusion.

The Introduction discussed the background of the Irish language and the stories the author is talking about the rest of the book.

Part One, which is made up of two chapters, discusses who the Morrígan is as a goddess and how She was portrayed by authors who wrote (or didn’t write) about Her in Myths.

Part Two, which ends with Chapter Four, discusses Sovereignty goddesses and how they turned into an allegory in Medieval times. The author then takes that one step further and discusses how They go from an allegory to peasant “ordinary” women from the end of the Middle Ages through the Irish Renaissance.

Finally, the conclusion puts it all together and ties it up with more information.

I’m a little torn about this book. It has a lot of great information on the War Goddesses but sometimes I wanted to scream at the book “nope, nope, nope!” It has more to do with how I read the myths and my own thoughts on the War Goddesses then with actual wrong information. So in the end, read the book and see if it jives with your thoughts on the subject matter…some of it certainly didn’t jive with me.

Gablánach in Scélaigecht

Full Title: Gablánach in Scélaigecht – Celtic Studies in Honor of Ann Dooley

Editors: Sarah Sheehan, Joanne Findon and Westley Follet

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Published: 2013

ISBN: 978-1-84682-386-2

Pages: 282, including the Index

Synopsis: This book celebrates the career of Ann Dooley, one of Canada’s most eminent Celtic medievalists. Dooley’s colleagues at the University of Toronto, her former doctoral students, and some of the most prominent scholars in medieval Celtic studies honor her work with 16 original essays reflecting Dooley’s teaching and interests: early Irish and Welsh literature and history, literary theory, and feminist approaches to medieval Celtic literature. Chapters include: studies of major figures in early Irish and Welsh folklore, including Gwydion, Nes, Deirdriu, Luaine, Medb * studies of major texts, including the Auraicept na nEces, the Acallam na Senorach, and the Tain Bo Cuailnge * women, blood, and soul-friendship * how Irish was medieval Ceredigion? * the ‘Statute of Gruffudd ap Cynan’ * the Irish history of the ‘Third Troy’ and medieval writing of history * the monstrous hero * the O’Donohue lives of the Salamancan Codex.

Review: This book has a collection of sixteen essays that are diverse, informative and interesting. The authors of these essays include Ann Dooley’s collegues and students. Authos include John Carey, Pádraig Ó Riain, Tomás Ó Cathasaigh, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and Patrick K. Ford; all giants in their fields.

Some of the topics discussed include St. Patrick, Irish Saint’s lives, the Book of Kells, women and blood, the Acallam na Senórach, Auraicept na nÉces, and the Táin Bó Cúailnge.

I won’t discuss the essays themselves because they are very specialized, but I will tell you that I learned a lot and had a lot of “hmmm” and “aha!” moments. Some of the essays were more interesting than others and some were much more fun to read than others. I also want to say that this book is not for the beginner in the field. It is more intermediate to advanced. You have to at least have an idea about the texts the authors are talking about or at least have a way to access them and get some background knowledge.

Ireland and the Grail

Full Title: Ireland and the Grail

Author: John Carey

Publisher: Celtic Studies Publications

Published: 2007

Pages: 419 including a maps section, a Patrons of the Grail Legend section, a bibliography, a general index and an index of scholars.


This is the first book-length study of the origins of the Grail legend to have been undertaken by a specialist in medieval Irish literature. Drawing on a detailed reexamination of the relevant texts in Irish, Welsh, Latin and French, extensive sections of which are presented in new translations, the author argues that the roots of the Grail legend are to be sought in the lost Old Irish manuscript known as the Book of Druimm Snechtai.

A picture of the cover of  Ireland and The Grail

Review: So this book has been staring me in the face and on my To Be Read list since October 2012. Yep it has been waiting its turn patiently since then and the main reason for that is that I bought this book on  a whim. I love reading anything by John Carey but at the same time I’m not really all that interested in the legends of the Grail. I tend to think of them as Welsh or French and not Irish. When I saw the title I thought hmmm and John Carey and so here we are seven years later. I finally decided enough was enough, either I read it or I find it a good home with someone who would enjoy it. If you know anything about me you know that I rarely NOT read a book that I own and if I do read it I rarely DNF it. So at the beginning of May I started reading it. Yesterday, I finally finished it. I learned quite a lot from this book, I learned about the first ever Grail legend and who wrote it. I learned that even though on the surface it looks like its origins might be Wales that might be decieving and I leanred that I REALLY am not into the Grail Legends. As such, I’m not qualified to give it a real review. I can say that I enjoyed it for the most part and am glad that I read it. So since you came here for an honest review I’m not going to let you leave here with out one. Click on the link below!

In-depth Review