Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland

Full Title: Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland (Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic)

Author: Andrew Sneddon

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-0-230-30272-3 (Hardcover)

Pages: 220 including Notes, Selected Bibliography, and Index.

Synopsis: This is the first academic overview of Irish witchcraft. Based on a wide range of sources, it is a highly original and innovative study of beneficial and harmful magic, from the later medieval period up until the twentieth century. It examines the dynamics of witchcraft belief and accusation in the early modern period, and offers new explanations for the lack of sustained witch-hunting in Ireland. It demonstrates that during the eighteenth century sections of the educated elite backed away from witchcraft belief for largely ideological reasons, while the witch figure remained a strong part of popular culture. Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland also offers a new interpretation of the role of cunning-folk and popular magic in Irish society, along with a re-assessment of the attitudes of religious authorities, both Protestant and Catholic, to their activities. The way in which suspected witches and cunning-folk were treated by the Irish legal system, both before and after the repeal of the 1586 Irish Witchcraft Act in 1821, is also explored for the first time.

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Review: I didn’t realize how short this book was. If you take out the Notes, Selected Bibliography and Index, you are left with only 148 pages. These pages a re full of good information (though sometimes a bit dry) on a complex issue.

A lot of people just assume that because witchcraft was a dangerous practice in Europe and America, that the issue was the same for Ireland (I mean look at Scotland right?) The truth is Witchcraft in Ireland was a very complicated issue. It wasn’t condemned in the same way as in Scotland or Britain or in America. The level of condemnation also depended on how close you were to Britain and whether you were Catholic or Protestant. And even then accusations rarely ever made it to court. If it did, it was under very specific circumstances and lots of other issues were involved.

I highly recommend reading this book.

 

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The Kingship and Landscape of Tara

**This review was first published in Air n-Aithesc Volume II, Issue II.

Editor: Edel Bhreathnach

Publisher: Four Court Press for The Discovery Programme

Published: 2005

ISBN: 9781851829545

Synopsis: (From the Four Courts Press Website)

This volume is the culmination of an inter-disciplinary project undertaken as part of the Discovery Programme involving archaeologists, historians, linguists and place-name experts. It includes prosopographies of the kings and queens of Tara from mythology to the eighth century; a re-assessment of the nature of the kingship of Tara; legal aspects of the kingship of Tara; the origin and extent of the place name Temair; Tara and the supernatural; the archaeology and topography of the kingdom of Brega; editions of two of the earliest texts relating to the kingship of Tara.

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Review:

This book is one of the projects in The Discovery Programme called Tara Research Project. The project was made up of two parts: a non-invasive archaeological survey; and an inter-disciplinary approach that included anthropology, archaeology, history, linguistics, literary criticism, and onomastics. The aim of this project was to deal with the complex issue of Tara.

The volume is made up of two parts: kingship and landscape. The two parts together are made up of fourteen essays, which examine Tara from late prehistory to the eighth century BCE. The book ends with five indexes and an extensive bibliography. It also has pictures and maps from pages 383 to 409.

The fourteen essays in this book discuss these main themes: Baile Chuinn Chétchathaig and the Airgialle charter poem; prosopography1 of the kings and queens associated with them mentioned in the above two texts; a discussion of the landscape of Tara and Brega; and the special status of Tara.

The essays are all really interesting though sometimes they were hard to take in one sitting so maybe read as much or as little as your brain can take. I know I’ve had to split some of these essays into small chunks to be able to get through them and soak up all the information presented. In some cases, I felt like more citations were needed, or more information on where to read more should one feel interested. On the whole though the essays were solid.

There was one essay that really caught my attention and that was “PROSOPOGRAPHY II: A Prosopography of the Early Queens of Tara”. It is the longest essay in the book and it only discusses the women associated with the persons mentioned in the Baile Chuinn Chétchathaig and the Airgialle charter poem, but at least they were discussed. There isn’t a lot written on women in the Celtic world so that was a good essay to read.

Another essay that I really liked was John Carey’s essay called “Tara and the Supernatural”. In this essay Carey discusses how Tara was not linked to the síd, like Emain Macha for example, but its kingship is still the focus of supernatural threat in some stories because it was identified with the Kingship of Ireland.

I think this book is a very important but I also think that people should read other hypotheses and interpretations about the kingship of Tara. This is but ONE interpretation among many.

Celtic Britain and Ireland 200 AD to 800 AD

Full Title: Celtic Britain and Ireland 200 AD to 800 AD – The Myth of the Dark Ages
Authors: Lloyd and Jennifer Laing
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Published: 1990, reprinted 1991
ISBN: 0-312-04767-3
Pages: 263, including Index and Bibliography.

Synopsis: The term ‘Dark Ages’ was coined to describe a period which was seen as a period of anarchy and violence, following the collapse of civilisation. Recent discoveries by archaeologists and historians have, however, radically altered this traditional view of the Dark Ages, and the period is now seen as one of innovation and dynamic social evolution. This book reconsiders a number of traditionally accepted views. It argues, for example, that the debt of the Dark Age Celts to Rome was enormous, even in areas such as Ireland that were never occupied by Roman invaders. It also discusses the traditional chronology suggesting that the date of ‘AD 400’ usually taken as the start of the ‘early Christian period in Britain and Ireland now has comparatively little meaning. Once this conventional framework is removed, it is possible to show how the Celtic world of the Dark Ages took shape under Roman influence in the centuries between about 200 to 800, and looked to Rome even for the immediate inspiration for its art. Such questions as the extent of British (that is, Celtic) survival in pagan Saxon England, and the Celtic and Roman contribution to early England are considered.

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Review: Honestly, I’ve read so many “old/out of date” books lately that I was settling down to another “been there and learned that”. I was pleasantly surprised though. Sure this book did have an element of “been there and learned that” but there are also some “Oh, huh, interesting” and “oh, huh, so that is why people these days assumed it was like that” elements too.

Over all I think that the Laings wrote an easy to read and follow book, telling the reader about a period in Britain and Ireland that the rest of the classical world called the Dark Ages. The book itself was organised very well, and it is very easy to find things that you want to find just by skimming to relevant chapters and sections because they were so clearly labeled, or by going to the Index.

They showed that in Britain and Ireland it was hardly the Dark Ages, and along the way you get to know how some interesting archaeology was done and by whom, and how some antiquarian societies came into being and how they became so much more than just amateur hour.The bibliography was also pretty interesting and extensive.

Continental Connections

Long Title: Continental Connections – Exploring Cross-Channel Relationships from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age
Editors: Hugo Anderson-Whymark, Duncan Garrow and Fraser Strut
Publisher: Oxbow Books Limited
Published: January 31st, 2015
ISBN: 9781782978091
Pages: 172 with some maps, charts, pictures, and illustrations.

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Synopsis:

The prehistories of Britain and Ireland are inescapably entwined with continental European narratives. The central aim here is to explore cross-channel relationships throughout later prehistory, investigating the archaeological links (material, social, cultural) between the areas we now call Britain and Ireland, and continental Europe, from the Mesolithic through to the end of the Iron Age. Since the separation from the European mainland of Ireland (c. 16,000 BC) and Britain (c. 6000 BC), their island nature has been seen as central to many aspects of life within them, helping to define their senses of identity, and forming a crucial part of their neighbourly relationship with continental Europe and with each other. However, it is important to remember that the surrounding seaways have often served to connect as well as to separate these islands from the continent. In approaching the subject of continental connections in the long-term, and by bringing a variety of different archaeological perspectives (associated with different periods) to bear on it, this volume provides a new a new synthesis of the ebbs and flows of the cross-channel relationship over the course of 15,000 years of later prehistory, enabling fresh understandings and new insights to emerge about the intimately linked trajectories of change in both regions.

Review:

This isn’t a long book, only 172 pages; however, it is full of interesting information on the relationship between Ireland, Britain and mainland Europe, which has always interested me immensely.

The book is made up of eight chapters, an Introduction and a Conclusion. The introduction of the book acts like a mini methodology chapter and then goes one to give us a short description of each essay (chapter) of the text. The conclusion surveys at all the chapters, and tries to pluck out the more interesting ideas. Then it acts as a review of the data presented in the eight essays.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this book and the essays presented in it. It gave me a lot of food for thought about some ideas I’ve had about the Celtic languages, the Celtic religion and Celtic Art (which is the subject of one of the essays) and how they might have gotten to Britain, and Ireland. I know a lot of the essays dealt with the Mesolithic and Neolithic eras but the thoughts in those essays can easily be extrapolated to the Bronze and Iron ages. I’m a little biased so I would have to say my favorite two essays were on the Iron Age and Celtic Art (Chapters 8 and 9) but this is a book that I would recommend to anyone who REALLY wants to think about the cross-channel relationships and the origins of the Celts.

Early Medieval Ireland AD 400-1100: the Evidence from Archaeological Excavations

Authors: Aidan O’Sullivan, Finbar McCormick, Thomas Kerr, Lorcan Harney

Publisher: Royal Irish Academy

Published: 2014, originally 2013

ISBN: 9781904890607

Pages: 584 pages including Appendix tables, Bibliography, Index, plates and figures.

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Synopsis:

How did people create and live in their own worlds in early medieval Ireland; what did they actually do; and to what end did they think they were doing it? This book investigates and reconstructs from archaeological evidence how early medieval Irish people lived together as social groups, worked the land as farmers, worshipped God, made and used objects and buried their dead around them. It focuses on the evidence from excavations conducted between 1930 and 2012 and uses that evidence to explore how people used their landscapes, dwellings and material culture to effect and negotiate social, ideological and economic continuities and changes during the period AD 400–1100.

Review:

As the synopsis says this book uses archaeological finds and data to investigate and reconstruct how early medieval Irish people lived. The book is full of interesting information and not just about the finds but also about how these finds came to be and all the interesting history of the Early Medieval Archaeology Project and all the work that went into it. And it is A LOT!

The book is made up of nine chapters; the last of which, chapter nine, is a conclusion.

The first chapter discusses is an introduction to what is coming.

Chapter two talks about antiquarian origins and the development of archaeology in the 19th century, the university and state funded archaeological excavations in the Republic of Ireland and in the North of Ireland from the 1930s to the 1970s, the origins and development of commercial archaeology after Ireland and the UK joined the European union in 1973, the urban redevelopment archaeology in Ireland during the 1970s to the 2000s, and the NRA road development schemes during the time period between 2000 and 2013 which had archaeologists attached to them. And the politics and dynamics of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland also played a role in how these finds were interpreted and through which lens. This chapter was a bit too full of names, but if you don’t focus on them what is left of the chapter is very interesting, especially how the Irish dealt with the building of the roads and the archaeological finds around them.

Early medieval dwellings and settlements are the subject of chapter three. This chapter does a great job of reviewing the different types of evidence available for secular settlement activities and the knowledge that these activities provide us about the society of the time. This chapter was so interesting to read. Some of it was straight forward telling of what was found on archaeological finds but then rest of it was pure gold.

Chapter four is all about churches, especially their archaeology, but it also talks about burial, and church craftwork. It wasn’t my area of expertise so I was very interested in reading it and digesting it. I still felt though that I needed to understand more that was not possible with this book focused on archaeology.

The next chapter talks about the economy of Medieval Ireland, specifically farming. The big take away from this chapter was that agriculture was the key element in the organisation of early Irish society and the glue that kept it together. For more information on this, Kelly’s book is seminal.

Chapters six and seven discusses Irelands crafts and technologies and their trading. It discusses the technological knowledge and skills needed for the craftwork, the different roles of specialist craftspeople in the community, the networks of production, they way it was used or exchanged, and the way crafts changed across time. I’ve read a few art books and I think this rounds out my knowledge nicely.

The final chapter is death and burial. This final chapter showed that the conversion to Christianity was very slow and very complicated. There was probably a differing pace between locations and regions.

I feel that this book could really be complimented by reading Ireland in the Medieval World AD 400 – 1000: Landscape, Kingship and religion. See my review of it here.

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.

Early Christian Ireland

Author: T.M. Charles-Edwards

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Published: 2000, 2004, digitally 2007

ISBN: 9780521037167

Pages: 707 including Appendix, Glossary, Bibliography and Index

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Synopsis:

This is the first fully-documented history of Ireland and the Irish from Saint Patrick to the Vikings. Other books cover either a longer period (up to the Anglo-Norman conquests) or do not indicate in detail the evidence on which they are based. The book opens with the Irish raids and settlements in Britain, and the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, and ends as Viking attacks on Ireland accelerated in the second quarter of the ninth century.

Review:

The book is made up of an Introduction, 13 chapters and a conclusion. The book also has, as mentioned above, and Appendix which starts on page 600 and contains Genealogies and King-lists. The glossary, which starts on page 630, has a list of Irish and Latin words and names and their definitions. Page 635 is the first page of the Bibliography which includes principal works of Irish interest that were mentioned in the text and notes of the book, as well as important works on related topics. The Bibliography is very extensive and could keep one very busy tracking the mentioned books and reading them. The Index starts on page 671.

The Introduction of the book is a tour of what the book will be talking about and why the author chose one route over another when writing about the subject matter.

From the very beginning I liked the author’s writing style. The author assumed that his audience are intelligent enough to read the book and didn’t dumb the material down. It is a huge book with lots of good and interesting information. I couldn’t get through it all as I usually do when reading books so I have been reading it in chunks to get all the information presented digested. I still feel like I need to re-read some parts, not because I didn’t get what the author was trying to say, but because there is SO MUCH there to digest and get a handle on.

This is a book I’d highly recommend but only if you are REALLY interested in the subject matter, don’t mind reading an academic book and are not just looking for information on Ireland in general. It is pretty easy to get lost in the details…