BOOK REVIEW: 2 books

Irish Text Society Books: The Book of Rights and Lebor Na Cert Reassessment

BOOK 1: Lebor Na Cert (The Book of Right)

Series: Volume XLVI

Edited by: Myles Dillon

Publisher: Irish Text Society

Published: First published 1962, Reprinted 1984, 1994, 2012

ISBN: 1 870 16646 9

Pages: 198, with 2 Appendices, Index of names and places, a map, and notes on it.

Review: There is no way I’m going to review The Book of Right of course but I will be discussing some points about it.

The book has 4 chapters: Introduction, Lebor Na Cert, Appendix A- Timna Chathaír Máir, and Appendix B – Tables of Stipends and Tributes.

The Introduction is VERY informative. It talks about what the Book of Rights is all about, and how it was written (its structure, prose and poems), who may or may not have written it, how old it really is, the value of the Book of Rights as a historical document, and how the book was edited, when and by whom and from which manuscripts. (Pages ix – xxv)

The chapter that contains the Book of Rights has both the Irish and the English translation. The Irish text is on the left page and its English translation is on the right. It has both prose and poems. The prose explains the poem to come after it. (Pages 1 – 147)

Appendix A is a chapter that contains The Testament of Cathaír Már. There is an explanation of what that is and then similar to the Book of Right there is an Irish and an English translation. (Pages 148 – 178)

Appendix B is literally a bunch of tables of stipends and tributes from Cashel, Connachta, Ailech, Ulaid, Temair, Lagin, Cruachain, and Mide. (Pages 179 – 189)

Lebor Na Cert (The Book of Rights)

BOOK 1: Lebor Na Cert Reassessment

Series: Subsidiary Series No. 25

Edited by Kevin Murray

Publisher: Irish Text Society

Published: 2013

ISBN: 1-870166-74-4

Pages: 126, with Bibliography and Index

Review: The book has 5 very interesting essays by Fergus Kelly, Thomas Charles-Edwards, Catherine Swift, Edel Bhreathnach, and Kevin Murray.

Essay 1 by Fergus Kelly is all about Myles Dillon the editor of the Book Of Rights. Kelly talks about his scholarship contributions and the importance of his work, and his reputation as a nativist.

Essay 2 by Thomas Charles-Edwards talks about the organization of Ireland in terms of clientship as seen through the lens of the Book of Rights. It is a detailed analysis of the different types of clientship found in the text.

Essay 3 by Cathrine Swift looks at the broader historical context of som of the customs and practices that are important to the Book of Rights. Especially customs involving taxes, trade and trespass. This essay was really interesting because it discusses the interactions of the Norse and the Irish population.

Edel Bhreathnach’s essay talks about the Testament of Cathaír Már. Especially the genealogical traditions of Leinster.

Finally, Kevin Murray’s essay builds on what Dillon did and looks at the language and date of the Book of Rights.

I can’t choose a favorite between the essays as each one has interesting information from a different perspective. If you read those two books together you will get a comprehensive understanding of the Book of Rights.

Lebor Na Cert Reassessment

Playing the Hero

Full Title: Playing the Hero – Reading the Irish Saga Táin Bó Cúailnge

Author: Ann Dooley

Publisher: University of Toronto Press

Published: 2006

ISBN: 9780802038326

Pages: 298 including notes, Bibliography, and Index

Synopsis:

Review: I have never been utterly confused by a book as much as I have been confused by this one. I don’t know if it is because the author like to complicate things, or it is the subject matter, or it is just above my pay grade.

The book is supposed to be a series of thematic essays grouped around the main saga representation of the Irish martial hero Cú Chulain. The study conducted is about the relation between Recension I and II. It is not a study that gives a complete picture of the entire saga so if you are looking to see what this saga is then this is not the book for you.

In this study the author is more interested in all the complex and varied aspects of how texts reveal themselves of how it is that they came to mean. This bit was copied word for word from the Introduction. I am not sure exactly what is meant by “come to mean”. And the whole book is like that. This was just a taste of what the writing in the book is like.

Like I said in the beginning this book is confusing to me. And based on a few reviews I read online it seems like it is confusing to a lot of people. So here is my verdict. Stay away from this book if you are : (a) a beginner, (b) an intermediate or, (c) looking for an analysis of the actual text of the Táin because this is not it.

Inside the Táin

Full Title: Inside the Táin – Exploring Cú Chulainn, Fergus, Ailill, and Medb

Author: Doris Edel

Publisher: Cruach Bhán Publications

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-3-942002-20-2

Pages: 371, including 2 Appendices, Works Cited and Index

Synopsis: This is the first literary-critical study of the Táin Bó Cúailnge in its entirety, and as an autonomous literary work.

The key to a more deeply probing understanding of the semiliterate epic is the study of its characters: what they do and why they do it – why more important than what. Why reveals the differences between the various versions. Most promising is the multilayered Recension I, mainly preserved in Lebor na hUidre, which testifies of the keen interest of its compilers in the portrayal of the characters, while the version in the Book of Leinster, with its tendency to omit what might lessen the heroes’ prestige, pays for its greater unity with loss of depth.

The multi-facetedness of the characters in the early version, combined with the deceptive simplicity of the plot, lends the work a remarkable pragmatism. Despite occasional baroque descriptions of battle frenzy, the main heroes Cú Chulainn and Fergus embody a heroism reined in by prudence. All through the war they do everything in their power to limit the use of force. Ailill and Medb represent a new type of ruler-entrepreneur, who seeks to realize his aim at the lowest possible cost and accepts failure matter-of-factly. So the epic has no fatal end-point. The greater part of the two armies are able return to their countries. The theme of mutual destruction is relegated to the Battle of the Bulls. The lasting antagonism between the North and the remainder of the island must have endowed the Táin with contemporary significance at various points in time, as the allusions to (near-)contemporary events suggest.

Review: This is one of the most interesting books I’ve read as a companion to the Táin. The Introduction to the book gives very good basic information on the recensions of the Táin, which goes into technical details that assume you are familiar with he content of all three Recensions of the TBC. The book then goes into a deep analysis of the actions of Cú Chulainn, Fergus, Ailill, and Medb. As usual when we talk about the analysis of a single person I don’t agree with everything that is concluded but for the most part the analysis presented is a very sound one. The author raises some good points and also explains things in an easy manor that helps the reader get a deeper feel for the Táin and its most important characters.

The amount of information in this book is no joke. I think I would have gotten this book for the Appendices only, never mind all the deep analysis in the body of the text. A must read book.

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.

 

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.