Aspects of memory in medieval Irish literature

Quaintmere, Max (2018) Aspects of memory in medieval Irish literature. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores a number of topics centred around the theme of memory in relation to medieval Irish literature roughly covering the period 600—1200 AD but considering, where necessary, material later than this date. Firstly, based on the current scholarship in memory studies focused on the Middle Ages, the relationship between medieval thought on memory in Ireland is compared with its broader European context. From this it becomes clear that Ireland, whilst sharing many parallels with European thought during the early Middle Ages based on a shared literary inheritance from the Christian and late-classical worlds, does not experience the same renaissance in memory theory that occurred in European universities from the thirteenth century onwards. Next, a detailed semantic study of memory terms in Old and Middle Irish is provided with the aim of clarifying, supplementing and revising the definitions found in the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language. Whilst the two principal memory nouns, cuimne and mebair, appear largely synonymous, the verb mebraigid appears to lean towards favouring the sense of ‘committing to memory,’ whereas cuimnigid(ir) encompasses this sense in addition to that of ‘recalling from memory.’ The third part of this thesis re-evaluates the dichotomous tension between notions of orality and literacy which some scholars have found in medieval Irish literature, arguing that this aspect has perhaps been exaggerated and that memory was a fluid concept in medieval Ireland embracing and merging both oral and textual forms. Following this, an assessment is made as to the importance and function of memory within the learned culture of the filid emphasising its necessary significance in a culture still partly based in an oral world. A wide range of sources including legal texts, grammatical tracts and tale literature is explored to show that the filid’s idealisation of memory was, largely, as a broad, comprehensive source supplying the knowledge necessary to acquire prestige through its performance and expression in a social context. The last part of this thesis investigates the notion that memory of the past could be used for the purposes of propaganda in medieval Ireland through the case study of the Ulster Cycle tales. Summarising and criticising some of the key prior scholarship in this area, this final section advocates for a much more cautious approach when claiming Ulster Cycle tales demonstrate political leanings, and that these must include or reconcile other more literary based interpretations of the themes and characters in these texts in order to remain successful as critical readings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Memory, medieval literature, Irish language, ;earned culture, orality and literacy.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PB Modern European Languages > PB1201 Irish Language
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > Celtic and Gaelic
Funder's Name: Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Parsons, Dr. Geraldine and Clancy, Professor Thomas
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Dr Max Quaintmere
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-9026
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 02 Oct 2018 13:46
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2018 11:48

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