Writing on the Land of Ireland: Nationality, Textuality, and Geography in the Acallam na Senórach–By Sarah Connell

Introduction: Warriors Speaking and Saints Writing

The late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century Irish text Acallam na Senórach describes an encounter between Saint Patrick and two warriors – Oisín and Caílte – survivors from Ireland’s pre-Christian past who are willing to share their heroic experiences with Ireland’s first saint.[1] The text is an acallam, a conversation, between respected elders (senórach) who represent two strands of Ireland’s medieval literary heritage: the oral traditions relating the deeds of great kings, heroes, and immortals, and the written texts produced by Christian clerics who variously retold, reshaped, and revised pre-Christian materials in addition to writing Christian accounts, such as hagiographies. I would argue that the Acallam is also a postcolonial response to the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland, offering a form of Irish national identity built around claims that the people and the land of Ireland are not separate or separable – claims reinforced through the Acallam’s mustering of the oral and literary traditions of Ireland. The Acallam’s representation of an Irish identity asserting the unbreakable links between the Irish people and the land of Ireland itself would prove influential for centuries to come, later appearing in the works of such writers as the seventeenth-century historian Geoffrey Keating and the nineteenth-century activist and scholar John Mitchel.

When the Acallam begins, Oisín and Caílte have survived many long years after the deaths of their former companions and are facing separation from each other; Oisín departs for the síd-mound of his mother, Blaí, and Caílte travels to the fort that was once the home of his leader, Finn Mac Cumaill, where he finds Saint Patrick blessing the old fort.[2] Thus, it is Caílte who first encounters Patrick and who spends much of the narrative traveling with the saint. From their first meeting, Caílte and Patrick enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship; Patrick sprinkles Caílte with holy water, freeing him from the legion of demons that had clustered around his head and Caílte then assists Patrick in locating a spring with which to baptize the people of Ireland.[3]

Patrick requests that Caílte tell him stories of the Fían, the warrior band most famously headed by the legendary Finn, while also voicing concern that he is neglecting religious duties in succumbing to his fascination with the old warrior’s tales.[4] One of the first stories that captures the saint’s attention relates how Artúir, son of Benne of the Britons, stole three of Finn’s most precious hounds and absconded with them to Britain. Caílte tells the saint how he and several other warriors pursued and successfully recovered the hounds, as well as a number of marvelous horses, returning with these spoils and with the captured Artúir, who remained Finn’s loyal warrior until his death.[5]

Patrick is delighted with Caílte’s stories, though he again expresses concern that his fascination with Ireland’s Fenian lore is causing him to neglect his Christian duty; however, in perhaps the most-discussed episode of this text, Patrick’s two guardian angels appear to him and reassure the saint that his interest in Ireland’s legends is not to be distrusted. The angels order Patrick not just to listen to the old warrior but also to ensure that his stories are recorded for the “gairdiugudh” [entertainment] of posterity, saying that Caílte and his companions remember “ní mó iná trian a scél” [no greater than a third part of their stories], thus impressing the need for these oral tales to be preserved through writing.[6] Patrick then baptizes the warriors and is paid for his clerical labors with a block of gold, the last gift that Finn had given Caílte, which, the text informs us, was later used to make bells, psalters, and missals.[7]

From the first encounter between saint and warrior, several of the motifs that appear throughout the Acallam are already apparent. In this encounter, the Acallam is already providing a narration of its own transmission, informing its reader that Caílte’s tales are recorded by Patrick’s scribe. Present here as well is the Acallam’s insistence that the saint and the warrior are able to help each other, demonstrated by the parallel accounts of Patrick blessing Caílte, who uses his knowledge of the land to find the water Patrick needs to perform baptisms. One can also find here the Acallam’s assertion that pagan stories can be accommodated within a Christian value system, reinforced by no less august figures than Patrick’s own guardian angels. The text’s interests in considering the mythical aspects of the physical space of Ireland are clear as well in Oisín’s departure for his mother’s síd-mound, one of the subterranean homes of the legendary Irish immortals, linked in Irish tradition with the megalithic tombs still present today, such as the complex at Newgrange.[8]

Similarly, the Acallam here demonstrates what will be a recurring commitment to narrating the geography of Ireland by describing Caílte’s itinerary as he travels to the place he will meet Patrick, passing along the way the Estuary of Bec the Exile, which the Acallam informs us was named after a Roman king who had come to conquer Ireland but had been drowned by a wave, as well as the Pool of Fiacc and the Old Plain of Brega, before arriving at Patrick’s camp.[9] Finally, the tale’s interest in narratives of invasion is apparent in the example of Bec’s failed incursion, as well as in the story of Artúir, in which the warriors of Ireland are able to protect themselves from a thieving Briton, and to stage a successful counter-raid on the neighboring island. These motifs reflect the highly synthetic nature of a text that blends Patrician lore, Fenian traditions, and materials from the Dinnshenchas (place-name lore) while also staging the inscription of oral materials and the assimilation of “pagan” narratives into Christian texts. From its beginning, the Acallam also reveals an engagement with its own contemporary context, as the author of the text considers the impacts of the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman invasion and church reform on the literary traditions of Ireland and on Ireland itself.

In fact, the author of the Acallam presents these two – land and literature – as closely connected. By drawing on the Dinnshenchas, the Acallam’s author is able to show how the people of Ireland have shaped the land in which they live – and how the land has also shaped them. Caílte is honored in the text because he can relate “senchus cacha criche ocus cacha céite ocus eterdeiliugud cacha fine” [the old tales of each district and each mound and the distinction of each kin-group], that is, because he can provide the traditions that give knowledge about these two key aspects of Irish identity – Dinnshenchas and genealogies, knowledge of the land itself and of the people who inhabit that land.[10] I would like to read this synthesis of narrative traditions, people, and physical geography as a direct response to colonialist claims made by Ireland’s Anglo-Norman invaders, most famously by Gerald of Wales and William of Malmesbury, which attempted to separate the “holy” land of Ireland from the “barbarous” people inhabiting that land in order to justify invasion and colonization.[11] The Acallam counters this colonialist discourse by mustering several strands from the written traditions of Ireland in order to assert a positive, even Christian value for those traditions – including those of pre-Christian origins – and simultaneously uses Ireland’s literature as a way of writing together the people and the land of Ireland. This is an explicitly textual construction of place and national identity, one that asserts a kind of Irishness that links the land and the people of Ireland through the narratives written and told about both.[12] My reading here brings together scholarship that has examined the synthesizing strategies of the Acallam, especially in a postcolonial context, as well as scholarship on the ways that medieval writers constructed versions of ethnic and national identities, to suggest that the post-Norman construction of Irish identity was equally textual and geographic.

The Acallam in Contemporary Context

The Acallam was written during what Joseph Nagy has termed a “sea-change” in the literary establishment of Ireland, which was pressured by church reformers to move “out of an ecclesiastical milieu into a world of aristocratic courts and patrons.”[13] During the church reform, Ireland’s religious structures were brought into conformity with continental practices, while the longstanding tradition of clerical scholars recording and rewriting secular materials came to a close. The author of the Acallam is very attentive to these changes and the text demonstrates a commitment to showing how the pre-Christian oral traditions of Ireland can be accommodated within a Christian value system, staging, for example, the conversions and baptisms of Ireland’s old heroic figures.  The Acallam also works old tales and figures into the new world of the reform by depicting the marriage – following the monogamous strictures of the reform – of a Christian king to a converted member of the Túatha Dé Danann, the magic wielding, emphatically non-Christian, and often immortal inhabitants of Ireland, traditionally displaced by the sons of Míl from the surface of Ireland into síd-mounds.[14] Thus, though the Acallam was written in the midst of a Church reform that ultimately brought the medieval clerical traditions of secular writing to a close, the text demonstrates a commitment to the idea that clerics could and should continue recording Ireland’s secular stories.  Examining this response, pre-eminent Acallam scholar Ann Dooley reads the Acallam as optimistically reworking its sources in order to write a fictionalized version of Ireland in which oral and written traditions successfully come together.[15]

Equally important for the world of the Acallam’s author was the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman invasion under Henry II, an invasion that challenged the idea of an independent Irish sovereignty and required Irish writers to rethink models for identities that depended exclusively on the figure of the king. Reflecting its contemporary context, the Acallam is a text that is deeply concerned with invasion, relating stories of failed invasions of Ireland by Roman, British, and Scandinavian forces. In these stories, hostile foreign invaders are defeated by the bravery of the men of Ireland or even, as with Bec the Exile, by the natural forces of Ireland itself; Bec is drowned by a giant wave, and, the Acallam tells us: there is now a monastery where once a foreign invader thought to conquer Ireland.[16] Responding to Anglo-Norman martial incursions, the Acallam reminds its Irish-speaking audience that Ireland has weathered invasions before; responding to Anglo-Norman textual incursions, colonialist texts that sought to represent the Irish as barbaric and in need of civilizing conquest, the Acallam first redeems and then deploys the old traditions of Ireland in order to present a positive, thoroughly Christian, Irish identity.

Calling attention to its close relationships with contemporary ideas, despite its portrayal of figures from the far past, the Acallam operates in a highly fictionalized version of Ireland. Dooley has pointed out several apparent anachronisms in the text, most notably in its assertion that Patrick converted Ireland in the time of Diarmait mac Cerbaill, rather than the more traditional Laegaire mac Néill. Dooley persuasively attributes this shift not to confusion but to a deliberate fictionalization of the narrative space of the Acallam; the text has a “fictional freedom,” which directs its reader to look for significance not in historical reference but in contemporary concerns. As it navigates the spaces between fiction, identity, and history, the Acallam is a text supremely aware of its literal and imaginary transmissions.  Over and over again in the Acallam, the oral, secular stories told by the Fenians are transformed into written accounts produced and circulated by a religious community.

Joseph Nagy also discusses the Acallam’s engagement with questions of oral and written, secular and clerical compositions. Nagy locates the Acallam within a written tradition colored by “self-consciousness” and deliberate efforts to produce and authorize a literary identity.[17] In Nagy’s reading, the Acallam’s representations of the tales it collects form part of a Christian scribal response to the challenge of recording and rehabilitating the oral traditions. Nagy characterizes this response as complex and self-aware, writing that “The men of letters behind the Acallam and the Irish literary tradition knew what they were doing, appreciated the difficulties of what they were doing, and often wrote about those difficulties.”[18] The self-consciousness identified by Nagy forms an important role in the Acallam’s constructions of Irish identity; the Acallam frequently draws attention to its own strategies in using Ireland’s traditions to set up a textually-grounded version of Irishness.

Nagy’s readings of the Acallam indicate the continuing importance of secular and oral materials for Ireland’s monastic scribal traditions, despite the challenges presented by the Church reform and attempts to represent the Irish as unchristian. In response to a church reform that was moving secular stories out of the hands of monastic writers, and in response to an effort by colonizing forces to paint the Irish and their stories as dangerously pagan, the Acallam emphatically (if not always unproblematically) asserts the positive nature of Ireland’s traditions and, especially, of clerics preserving these traditions through writing.

In addition to engaging with literary and religious concerns, the Acallam also comments on contemporary political and martial matters; the Fenian materials in the Acallam, Nagy argues, enable its author to consider the impacts of the Anglo-Norman invasion on Ireland and Irishness, to “introduce cultural and political change, and to mediate between ‘native’ and ‘foreign,’ and ‘old’ and ‘new’.”[19] The blend of Fenian materials, Patrician traditions, and place-name lore in the Acallam offered a powerful model for commenting on contemporary invasion, colonization, and reform. It is the Acallam’s responses to these pressing issues that influenced its spatially – and textually –driven representations of Irish identity.

Medieval National Identities and Postcolonial Responses

Discussions of medieval national identities have often begun with the question of whether national identities were even possible prior to the eighteenth century. Given the great wealth of scholarship productively examining the ways that national identities were constructed in the medieval period, this paper will work from an assertion that medieval national identities were indeed “thinkable,” though they do differ significantly from modern nationalism.[20] In thinking about medieval versions of national identities, it is also necessary to consider questions of ethnic identities, not least because the idea of “peoples” was so central to medieval thinking on identity. As Robert Bartlett has succinctly expressed: “Medieval conceptions of race and nation are so tightly linked that it is virtually impossible to draw up a bibliography of medieval nationalism that is not also a bibliography of medieval ethnicity.”[21] Ethnic identities in Ireland manifested through genealogies and pseudohistories tracing the descent of kings and family groups back to the Milesian settlers described in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, which reinforced the concept of genealogically-linked “fir Erenn” [“men of Ireland,” a term used in the Acallam itself].[22] The “imagined community” of pre-Norman Ireland – to borrow Benedict Anderson’s term – was a community built on a myth of common descent from the sons of Míl and of an imagined (and largely imaginary) sacral kingship centered at the royal site of Tara, unifying the various tuaths, or tribes and petty kingdoms of Ireland.[23] The Anglo-Norman invasion would bring a new ethnic group and a new king to the island of Ireland, necessitating modifications to previous models of Irish identity.

While the Acallam itself largely collects materials that had already been present in the traditions it draws on – the Dinnshenchas, Fenian tales, and Patrician lore – its innovation is in the synthesis of these tales, mustering the close links between the Irish people and their land asserted by the Dinnshenchas, the heroism of the Fenian materials, and the authorizing religious presence of Saint Patrick. In thinking about whether the national identity offered by the Acallam is a new one, I must acknowledge that any novelty here is not derived from the materials themselves, but in their being collected in response to what certainly was a novel and urgent threat to Irish identity: the Anglo-Norman invasion. The invasion under Henry II challenged notions of Irish identity derived from the idea of an independent sovereignty, adding to the appeal of geographic models for identity such as those offered by the Dinnshenchas. The invasion also provided an unambiguously foreign presence against which the Irish could define themselves.

In thinking about the links between colonialist rhetoric and the development of Irish identity, this paper engages with the work done by scholars such as Kathy Lavezzo and Patricia Clare Ingham, who have examined the important relationships shared between colonization and the formation of medieval national identities. Lavezzo, for instance, has examined the ways that the English invasion of Ireland was driven by a need to come to terms with Ireland’s reputation as an exceptional and isolated island, a reputation that challenged England’s independent identity, which was based on notions of English exceptionalism.[24] The colonial project of conquering Ireland, then, had its origins in a defense of English national identity.[25] Ingham also traces the connections between conquest and national identity, observing that scholarship increasingly acknowledges that “the nation emerges not prior to, but in relation with, the conquering impulse.”[26]

Following these links between colonization and identity, this paper examines the Acallam as a work engaged with (and productive of) an Irish national identity that was emerging out of the Anglo-Norman invasion and the attempted textual colonization of Ireland by writers such as Gerald of Wales. A close examination of the Acallam reinforces the utility of narratives of the past in producing national identities. It also shows the power narratives of physical geography had in forging a version of national identity that could be – and was – summoned to support Ireland’s claims to independence and civility for many centuries to come. The Acallam’s version of Irish national identity as thoroughly Christian, thoroughly linking the people and the physical space of Ireland, thoroughly built on traditional narratives, may have developed in the specific context of the Anglo-Norman invasion, but it would continue to prove effective for many centuries.

The Acallam, then, is an important text for thinking about the development of Irish national identity and responses to British colonialism. Reading the Acallam as a postcolonial text, Catherine Karkov has examined two werewolf stories included in the Acallam and in Gerald of Wales’s twelfth-century Topographia Hibernica, a brief description of Ireland’s features, inhabitants, and history, written following Gerald’s travels to Ireland as part of the colonizing force under Henry II. Karkov argues that the Acallam can be read as a postcolonial response to Gerald’s text, in that it  “argues against the claims to possession of land and time, and even the narrative strategies, of Gerald’s text” by putting “past and present, old orders and new, into dialogue with each other – just as its title suggests.”[27] This paper will build on Karkov’s suggestion that the Acallam was written as a response to Gerald’s attempted discursive colonization of Ireland in order to examine the central role that the physical geography of Ireland plays in both Gerald’s and the Acallam’s versions of Irish identity.

The Irish Men of Letters were not the only medieval writers with a keen awareness of the power of narratives to legitimize the occupation of physical space. The martial conquest of Ireland was accompanied by the textual incursion of British and English writers, the most influential of whom was Gerald of Wales (in Latin, Giraldus Cambrensis). As Karkov notes, Gerald’s two Irish texts – the Topographia Hibernica and the Expugnatio Hibernica – were to define the “face and rhetoric of colonized and colonizer that would characterize the English colonial experience for centuries to come” by writing the Irish as “exotic other,” a tactic that added to the “moral and religious justification for the twelfth-century conquest.”[28]Gerald rewrote the Irish as barbarians in order to authorize the Anglo-Norman conquest. This rewriting, however, forced Gerald to contend with Ireland’s reputation as an island of saints and miracles, a reputation cemented by no less distinguished a source than the great English historian, Bede, who praised the Irish for their piety and religious devotion.[29]

Kathy Lavezzo has explained how Gerald was able to accomplish this feat; Gerald, she writes, “radically separates the Irish from their physical setting, thus rendering their barbarism as disturbing as possible.”[30] Gerald is thus able to praise the legendary temperateness of Ireland, the healthy air of the island, and its famous lack of poisonous creatures, while also depicting the Irish as barbarians who largely lack the Christian faith and have not been baptized, who live like wild beasts, engage in sexual congress with animals, and who neither cultivate nor deserve the beautiful land in which they live.[31] Gerald’s discursive colonization of Ireland is dependent upon redefining the Irish as unchristian, barbaric, and barely human, and thus distinctly separate from the holy land of Ireland itself.

In Gerald’s rhetoric, the land of Ireland is wholesome and temperate, legitimately belonging to the British through the ancient claim that Gurguintius first allowed the original Irish settlers to inhabit the island and through the more recent claim that the papal bull Laudibiliter bestowed sovereignty over the Irish on the English crown.[32] The Irish, once separate from the holy island on which they live, reveal themselves to be uncivilized and unchristian wild men, who lack a legitimate claim to the land they inhabit and who can only be rehabilitated through the civilizing, Christianizing, conquest of the British. Like the Acallam, Gerald’s work presents claims to the island that are textual in nature, relying on a different ancient tradition as well as the more contemporary text of the papal bull. Responding to colonialist portrayals of Ireland, the Acallam would have had to contend with the claim that the Irish are barbarians, with no true right to the land they inhabit, and also with assertions that ancient texts legitimize British ownership of Ireland.

Given the ambiguities surrounding the Acallam’s original composition and transmission, claims about the text’s context and purpose must rest on the repeated themes and scenarios that appear throughout the Acallam.[33] Fortunately, these are clear and persistent enough to enable a reading based on the text’s concerns with textuality, identity, and physical territory. While, as Karkov also acknowledges, it is impossible to say with any certainty that the Acallam’s writer had read and was responding to Gerald’s text directly, it is at least clear that the Acallam was arguing against the colonial rhetoric of texts such as Gerald’s, texts that were attempting to legitimate the Anglo-Norman conquest by writing British narratives onto the land of Ireland. Though there may not be direct textual evidence that the author of the Acallam had access to Gerald’s writings on Ireland, it is my hope that this paper will build on Karkov’s argument to reveal the deeply postcolonial nature of the Acallam and strengthen the likelihood that this text was responding not just to colonialist rhetoric, but to Gerald’s work directly.

By reading the Acallam as a postcolonial text, it is quickly apparent that the work is preoccupied with questions of invasion. As noted above, one of the first stories Caílte tells Patrick describes a failed attempt by the British prince Artúir to remove the wealth of Ireland to Britain. Later, there are several other accounts of Fenian responses to foreign incursions, from both Britain and Lochlann, the Irish term for Scandinavia. Caílte, for instance, tells Patrick about the defeat of Glas, son of the king of Lochlann by the gathered host of “tuatha Temra ocus buidne Breagh ocus mórsochraide bfer nEirenn” [the tribes of Tara and the companies of Brega and the great multitude of the men of Ireland], a formulation that offers a collective Irish identity closely linked with the important sites of Tara and Mag Breg.[34] These hosts are met by the Fían, who initiate a weeklong battle against the invaders that ends with Irish victory and the death of Glas.[35]

In the time of Patrick, Caílte again successfully battles the son of the king of Lochlann, this time a man named Garb, who has been terrorizing the Túatha Dé. Caílte and his two companions slay Garb and the two greatest warriors of Lochlann, deeds that prove too intimidating for the rest of the invaders, who return to their own shores.[36]In the times of both Finn and Patrick, then, the brave heroes of Ireland are able to defend their land from invasion. On a literary level, Caílte, the old hero, is both a teller of heroic tales and a doer of brave deeds; if Caílte stands in for the heroic traditions that he relates, his resounding defeats of these invaders suggest the power of Ireland’s narratives.

Of course, the Acallam was hardly the first Irish text to depict the invasion of Ireland. In fact, the influential pseudohistory Lebor Gabála Érenn, [Book of the takings of Ireland] makes invasion the basic element upon which Ireland’s history is built. As John Carey has discussed, the Lebor Gabála and other Irish legendary histories had practical value for the times in which they were written; the “political relevance” of such stories is that they show the origins of kingly authority, extending back into the far past such that the king’s sovereignty and thus the “stability of society as a whole” depend upon “knowledge of the deepest past.”[37] Like the Acallam, medieval Irish pseudohistories often begin with the motif of the survivor, who has witnessed the past himself and thus can offer a reliable account of it, such as the ninth-century story of Tuán mac Cairill, a survivor of the first settlement of Ireland, who is able to tell all that he remembers at the insistence of an Irish saint.[38] These narratives were useful for reinforcing the notion of continuity in Irish history and sovereignty, despite a number of invasions, as well as for legitimating the descendants of the Milesians, whose wanderings before their arrival on the island were thematically linked with the wanderings of the Israelites before their arrival at the Promised Land.[39] Prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion and to the Acallam, Irish writers were using narratives of invasion to think about questions of sovereignty and identity; the Acallam’s innovation is to pair these narratives of invasion with place-name lore, in order to produce an Irish identity that did not depend on the presence of an independent sovereign.

Where Gerald’s colonial strategies rely on distinguishing the Irish from Ireland, the Acallam seeks to show that the two cannot be separated. The Acallam’s methods for responding to colonialist rhetoric that was attempting to rewrite Irish national identity draw upon the great weight of Ireland’s traditions, interweaving heroic, place-name, and ecclesiastical narratives to assert a kind of Irish identity that connects the people and the land through the repeated rehearsal of narratives linking both. Where Gerald attempts a textual conquest, the Acallam counters with an equally textual, but independent, heroic, and thoroughly Christian Irish national identity.

Myth and Megalith: Narrating a Christian Island

Just as the Acallam encompasses a fictionalized space in which ancient immortals and heroes can converse with a saint who lived centuries after the heroes flourished, and centuries before the Acallam itself was written, the geography of Ireland as represented in the Acallam is equal parts mythical, fictional, and physical. The Acallam grounds its retelling of old Irish narratives firmly in the contemporary geography of Ireland. It closely links Ireland’s past and present, as well as the many inhabitants of Ireland through the centuries. These retellings also serve a rehabilitative purpose, as the author of the Acallam presents an emphatically moral and Christian version of Ireland, a rehabilitation that extends even below the surface of the land itself, into síd-mounds of the Túatha Dé.

The narrative of the Acallam is closely grounded in the physical geography of Ireland. Throughout the text, there are references to specific locations in Ireland, often with an account of the previous and current names of those locations. The story begins with Caílte and Oisín resting and taking council on the borders of what are now counties Armagh and Louth, which, as Ann Dooley and Harry Roe note, places the beginning of the journey near to Armagh, the “ecclesiastical center of Ireland and of the cult of Saint Patrick.”[40] When Caílte meets Patrick, the saint is blessing the “Ráith Droma Deirc” [Fort of the Red Hill] where Finn had once lived, a detail that suggests several of the themes that will be present throughout the Acallam: the focus on Irish geography and landmarks, the rehabilitation of old characters and stories through the blessing of Patrick, and the continuing links between Ireland’s past and present.[41] In the Acallam, the land of Ireland is as present a character as Patrick and Caílte themselves, shaping many of the text’s stories and providing concrete links between the Irish in Finn’s, Patrick’s, and the Acallam’s own times.

This representation of the land of Ireland is an effective rebuttal to the colonialist rhetoric of writers such as Gerald of Wales. Gerald questions the ownership of the Irish over a land that considers to be fertile and salubrious – because Britain has the greater claim and also because the barbaric Irish neglect the island they inhabit, failing to cultivate the soil or even grow many fruit trees.[42] The Acallam shows a version of Ireland in which Irish ownership of the land extends deep into the síd-mounds of the immortals that Caílte calls comrades and Patrick is sometimes able to convert. Gerald writes that even Ireland’s many saints – which, on the authority of Bede, he has to admit – are vindictive and wrathful. He also claims that living Irish are largely unbaptized and have never heard the teachings of Christianity.[43] The Acallam includes a wealth of baptisms and conversions in the time of Patrick, while also asserting that several among the ancient Irish, including Finn himself, converted to Christianity before the coming of Patrick, even placing the story of Finn’s conversion in the mouth of the síd-dweller Ilbrecc of Assaroe.[44] Finn, Ilbrecc relates, used his magical Tooth of Wisdom to understand the truth of the Christian faith and to prophecy the coming of “Táilceann tabarthach” [generous Adze-head, a nickname for Saint Patrick] and of Saint Ciaran, who was to found a monastery that would serve “leth Eirenn” [half of Ireland], a phrase that emphasizes the collectivity of Irish identity and the ability of the Church to bring Ireland together.[45] Here, the rehabilitation of pre-Christian traditions and the assertion of Irish claims to Ireland are closely connected; Saint Patrick’s collection of the old stories redeems them, and in turn the old stories themselves demonstrate the deep ownership of Ireland by the Irish.

One of the first baptisms related in the Acallam is Caílte’s and the sequence of episodes that follow are representative of the Acallam’s portrayals of Ireland’s holy geography. Soon after Patrick has baptized Caílte, the saint notices a “dúnad” [chief’s fortress] to the south and asks the warrior about its history, one of the strategies frequently employed in the Acallam in order to include the narrative traditions surrounding particular locations.[46]In this instance, Caílte tells Patrick that the fort was the home of three princes of Ireland, who were able to acquire such a wonderful dwelling through the intervention of the Túatha Dé, after their father the king had told them they must earn their own inheritance. Here, we can see the Acallam’s concerns with ownership of the land – the king tells his sons who have asked for “críche ocus feruinn” [territory and domain] that he gained his wealth from his own skill, and that if they wish to deserve their own land, they must win it themselves.[47] The princes are able to win their claim to land because they are wise enough to turn to the immortal, semi-mythical Túatha Dé.

Caílte tells Patrick how the three princes are received generously by the Túatha Dé in the síd-mound at Brúig na Bóinde (Newgrange), probably the best-known of the megalithic sites in Ireland, and a very clear example of the intersections between the physical geography of Ireland and its narratives.[48]The stories of Ireland are visible on the land itself, in the mounds and complexes that are inhabited by the legendary immortals from Ireland’s narrative traditions. Caílte relates how these immortals – including such eminent figures as Lir, Aengus Óc, and Midir – provide the princes with everything they might need, including the fortress that first caught Patrick’s eye.[49] The princes lived in their fortress for one hundred and fifty years, after which they returned to live forever with the Túatha Dé.[50] Caílte’s story here shows the timelessness of Ireland’s immortals – they belong to the ancient past, but their presence continues indefinitely, marked on the land of Ireland itself through the síd-mounds.

This exchange also reveals the Acallam’s commitment to paralleling the Túatha Dé with the human and Christian worlds, as the sons decide to seek their fortune from the immortals because there are “acht dá airecht chudrama a n-Eirinn” [but two equal courts of Ireland] – the Túatha Dé and the sons of Míl.[51] The Acallam’s focus on parallels becomes even clearer when, after the story is told, Patrick encounters a young man alone, who tells the saint that he has become a “díbercach” [marauder] after being cut off from his inheritance by his own brother, Becán. Patrick expresses his wish that the youth, whose name is Fulartach, will soon receive his inheritance, which he does when the saint curses the ungenerous Becán, who has refused to provide lodging for Patrick and his party.[52] Here, Patrick is perhaps showing some of the vindictiveness attributed to Ireland’s saints by Gerald, but he is also giving the reader an important message: those who are faithful to and generous with the church will be rewarded. Where in the days of the Fían young men could gain an inheritance by petitioning the immortals, the Acallam shows this role transferring to the church at Saint Patrick’s arrival.

This transfer retroactively blesses even the non-Christian realm of the Túatha Dé, redeeming not just the immortals but also the many stories in which they appear. In the Acallam, redemptions of the old stories and characters are often closely interwoven with representations of the land itself; for instance, Fulartach first appears bearing an armful of apples and nuts, which Caílte recognizes immediately as having come from a hunting park once owned by Mac Lugach, one of Finn’s warriors.[53] Caílte’s ability to identify the source of these nuts provides yet another indication of the depth of his knowledge about Ireland, which extends beyond old stories to the bounty of the land itself.

Patrick recognizes the location Caílte describes and is able to provide some information himself, telling the company that Mac Lughch’s hunting park is now the dwelling-place of Patrick’s own chaplain, Cessán, a detail that reinforces the message that the sites of the old stories have become sanctified.[54] Caílte then recites a poem, describing the great beauty and bounty of this park, which has been filled with “damraid rúaid” [red deer], apples, and fish, and now is filled with the sounds of “sailm” [psalms].[55]This is one of many such poems in the Acallam, describing the beauty and fertility of Ireland’s groves, rivers, and parks, and the essentially holy nature of the land is especially clear here. Where Gerald had asserted that this fertile and healthy land was being neglected by the Irish, the Acallam shows how Caílte and his companions have a keen appreciation for the fruits of Ireland’s soil. Where Gerald describes the Irish as unchristian, the Acallam shows a clear transfer of Ireland into Christian hands – Saint Patrick is able to fulfill the immortals’ old role by bestowing land ownership justly, while sermons and psalms now ring throughout the old Fenian hunting park. In this way, the Acallam redeems the old stories, the land of Ireland itself, and the Irish people simultaneously.

Geography, Textuality, Morality, and Identity on Fair Hill

Many of the narrative strategies used throughout the Acallam are present in a linked series of episodes surrounding the geographic location of Fair Hill; these include the literal writing of the people of Ireland onto their land, the carefully negotiated positive values for pagan traditions, and the text’s repeated insistence on its own textuality. At the start of this sequence, Patrick has spent a week on Fair Hill with his retinue, performing miracles and baptisms and receiving appropriate donations from the nobles of Munster.[56] Patrick asks Caílte to explain why Fair Hill is called Fair Hill, another instance of the Acallam’s “question and response” strategy enabling the text to work place-name stories from the Dinnshenchas into the frame tale of Patrick’s journeys with Caílte and to stress the link between the geography of Ireland and the stories told about it. Each physical feature of Ireland, whether natural (lakes, forests, valleys) or manmade (fortresses, mounds, graves) noted in the text is accompanied by a story, and the Acallam’s constant presentation of these stories as the means to understand Ireland has the impact of rendering the two  (the physical features of Ireland and the narratives told about those features) largely inseparable, just as the people and the land of Ireland are inseparably linked.

In response to Patrick’s question, Caílte states that it was Finn who first named Fair Hill when he and his men were on their way to fight the battle of Ventry. He references material from the late medieval Cath Finntrágha [The Battle of Ventry], a Fenian adventure story that relates, as the Acallam does, the tragic deaths of a young warrior and his lover in the context of a great battle between the men of the Fían and yet another band of invading foreigners.[57] Here, as throughout the Acallam, the text is weaving in a popular narrative from the Irish traditions, highlighting its own production and its relationship with the wealth of Ireland’s tales. Elsewhere, the Acallam sometimes refers to the stories it includes by name – as in “The Destruction of Becán,” the story of the ungenerous ruler cursed by Patrick in favor of his brother – or else refers to tales that would have been well-known by its readers, such as the Lebor Gabála materials given in the background of the Túatha Dé and the story of Medb’s chariot from the Táin Bó Cúailnge.[58] The Acallam is not a text invested in obscuring its own textuality, instead deliberately foregrounding the many narratives that are worked into the version of Ireland it represents. This persistent focus on textual transmission, on the interplay between oral accounts and the written documents that preserve them, effectively brings both strands of Ireland’s literary heritage to bear on the question of place and identity in post-Norman Irishness.

Given that the Acallam’s author is invested in first redeeming the old narratives through their blessing by Patrick’s angels and their transmission through the saint himself, and then deploying those narratives to represent Irish geography – the hills, valleys, fortresses, and rivers that were notable markers of place in an island with few cities – these frequent references to textuality in the Acallam are also a reminder of the kind of identity its author is constructing. Irish identity in the Acallam is thoroughly caught up in the land of Ireland itself, but it is also dependent on the stories told about that land, and the people who inhabit it. Thus, texts and narratives represent a key element in the Acallam’s response to colonialist attempts to sever Ireland and the Irish. Where earlier versions of Irish identity focused on the sovereign as a unifying figure, the Acallam’s post-Norman, postcolonialist, representation of Irish identity focuses on the land of Ireland itself, and the wealth of narrative traditions told about the interactions between the land and the people of Ireland.

This attention to textuality is also present in the Acallam’s account of the tragic love between the young warrior Cáel and the beautiful Créde as part of the Ventry sequence. Caílte tells Patrick how Finn and his band were traveling to the battle of Ventry when they encountered Cáel, who announced his intentions to woo Créde. The maiden had set a condition for her hand; her suitors must compose for her poems describing “a cuach ocus a corn ocus a cupad ocus a hian ocus a hairdleasdar ocus a righthech romhór” [her goblets and her drinking horns and her cups and her drinking vessels and her dishes and her great royal houses], a daunting task Cáel had nevertheless accomplished with aid from his foster-mother.[59] The warriors detour in order to accompany Cáel, who successfully woos Créde, after which they all travel to Ventry; Cáel acquits himself heroically in the battle, but dies by drowning, causing Créde to recite a lament and die of a broken heart.[60] Caílte informs Patrick that the Grave of Cáel and Créde is still called so into this day, and Patrick orders his scribe to record all Caílte has said. Here, again, the textuality of the Acallam is closely linked to interactions between Irish characters and the land they inhabit, through Caílte’s assertion that the graves of Cáel and Créde still bear the names of the lovers who were first brought together by a poem.

By focusing on the processes through which the old narratives of Ireland have been preserved, the Acallam offers an effective counter to colonialist rhetoric such as Gerald’s; the old stories of Ireland – the old ways of understanding the land and the history of the island – are heroic, rather than barbaric, redeemed by their transmission through Saint Patrick himself. Although this redemption is neither absolute nor untroubled – on several occasions Patrick expresses lingering doubt about the moral value of these old tales and the text leaves no question that pagan figures such as the Túatha Dé face conversion or banishment – it is nonetheless an effective counter to any claims that the Irish lack Christianity. After all, even Finn found the faith, though he lived centuries before Ireland’s conversion.

The Acallam also demonstrates the value of the old traditions through the effective support Caílte is able to provide to thirteenth-century Christian values. Just as the warrior first assists Patrick by using his memories and knowledge of the land to locate water for baptism, Caílte is also able to put his experience to good use in support of another Christian sacrament: marriage.[61] The episode on Fair Hill reveals that Caílte is as able as Patrick to preserve Christian marriage values, but the means he uses are quite different – demonstrating another example of the Acallam’s strategy as discussed above in relation to inheritance, of paralleling the powers of Patrick and Christianity with the skills and knowledge of pre-Christian figures such as the Túatha Dé.

In this episode, Caílte parts from Patrick on Fair Hill and travels with his companions to a stronghold where he encounters two women who are weeping because their husbands are about to bring back new wives. Caílte tells the women he will assist them if he can be rewarded with a stone he recognizes, under which he remembers there is buried a great treasure of gold.[62] Caílte then gathers “losaibh sídhe sainemhla” [excellent magic herbs], once used by the “ríghnaibh ocus ag romhnáibh na Fénne” [queens and great ladies of the Fían].[63] Caílte, (his knowledge of the fruits of Ireland’s soil as clear here as when he identifies the park at which Fulartach’s nuts were gathered), gives these herbs to the despairing women and they are as effective as they were in Finn’s day, causing the unfaithful husbands to fall back in love with their wives. Caílte then takes his reward and returns to Patrick on Fair Hill.[64] As these examples show, Caílte’s knowledge of the past is often presented specifically as knowledge of the land – he can locate springs for baptism, link Fulartach’s nuts with their origins, and remember what is buried under most of the stones and mounds of Ireland.

This story follows a pattern that repeats throughout the Acallam in which Caílte’s heroic strength and long memories enable him to locate and secure some physical reward – frequently through grave robbing – which he often gives to Patrick. Caílte’s recoveries of souvenirs are another instance of synthesis in the Acallam; they are drawing on a motif in which the hero returns from an otherworldly adventure with some physical proof of his journey there, as when Nera brings back the “toirthe samraid” [fruits of summer] as proof that he has ventured into the síd-mound in the “Adventure of Nera.”[65] Caílte’s ability to locate these many graves and síd-mounds demonstrate the claims over Ireland that his knowledge grants; the old traditions – preserved and related by Caílte – enable a deep understanding of the land, extending well beneath the surface to the riches below.

In the Acallam, as in a number of other medieval Irish texts, such as the “Voyage of Dúin,” whose heroes collect a magic silver net as a religious donation and a proof of their adventures, these riches are destined to given to the Church.[66] By writing accounts of generous religious gifts, clerical authors were, of course, attempting to reinforce a desired pattern of behavior in their readers. However, the many rich gifts that Caílte is able to give Patrick also demonstrate the tangible value of knowledge of the pagan past, just as Caílte’s knowledge of magical herbs is able to reinforce a Christian marriage. Knowledge of the past, understanding of the land, have an undeniable relevance for the Acallam’s present.

The Fair Hill episodes further reinforce links between the people of Ireland and the physical geography of the island through the matter of names and naming. The sequence begins with a question about a name and includes several other naming stories centered on the tragic romance between Cáel and Créde. As noted above, Caílte informs Patrick that the “Fert Caeil ocus Créidhe” [Grave of Cáel and Créde] is still called by that name. The old warrior also notes that the location of Cáel’s death is still called the “Fert Caeil” [Grave of Cáel] and the “Traigh Caeil” [Shore of Cáel] to the present day.[67] A great many of the geographical features in the Acallam get their names in just this way – though the deaths and burials of men and women connected with them. Here, following the patterns established by the Dinnshenchas, the Acallam is connecting the people of Ireland and the geography of Ireland in a very direct way. The names of Ireland’s people are written into the land and the mechanism through which these links are asserted is narrative tradition.

The stories about the hills and mounds and rivers and shores of Ireland explain the names and histories of those locations, while the geographic features themselves “prove” those stories, much as the artifacts Caílte locates and gifts to Patrick prove the veracity of his memories. The relevance of Ireland’s narratives is stressed by the text’s frequent references to the fact that these names continue until the present day, and the weight of the sheer number of place-name stories provides a convincing argument that the land and the people of Ireland are inextricably linked. Just as above, the Acallam shows these naming processes continuing into a Christian present, again asserting the positive, Christian nature of Ireland’s land, people, and stories; the Fair Hill section concludes with the observation that the parties left the hill, now called Ardpatrick.[68]

Synthesizing Identity: From Medieval to Modern

Several centuries after the Acallam was written, Geoffrey Keating (in Irish, Seathrún Céitinn) would also write a compilation of Irish traditions aimed at both refuting British colonialist assertions and producing a new kind of Irish identity. Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, [Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland] was written in response to another British invasion of Ireland – in this case, the wave of “New English” Protestant settlers who came to Ireland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, confronting both the “Old English” descendants of the Anglo-Norman invaders, such as Keating himself, and the Gaelic, often called “mere,” Irish populations. Keating’s history, which first circulated in manuscript form around 1634, brings together a vast array of Irish annals, place- and personal-name lore, heroic materials, and historical writings, including the Acallam itself.

Early in his history, Keating cites the Acallam as a reliable account of the survival of Caílte, whom Keating asserts is also called Ronanus, into the time of Saint Patrick. Keating here refers to the Acallam in a rebuttal of the “bréig” [falsehood] of Gerald of Wales and all of the “Nua-Gallaib” [New Foreigners, that is, New English] writers who follow him. Keating complains that these writers incorrectly name Fiontainn, rather than Caílte, Ronanus and give Caílte’s role as bearer of the old traditions to this Fiontainn, contrary to what is recorded in  “leabar ar biot do seancus Éireann” [any book at all of the old tales of Ireland].[69] Keating identifies Gerald as the sources of these, and many other New English lies about Ireland; he calls Gerald “tarb tána”  [the bull of the herd] among the writers of “saoib-seancusa ar Éirinn” [lying history of Ireland].[70] In Keating’s history, the Acallam offers not only an effective model for using Ireland’s traditions to counter British colonialism and assert an independent Irish national identity; it is also a reliable source text that can be cited in response to British claims about Ireland.

Keating here accurately identifies Gerald’s texts as presenting a version of Irishness that would need to be countered by any writer attempting to present a positive account of Irish identity and history. Gerald’s account of Ireland continued to be cited by writers such as Edmund Campion and Richard Hakluyt, and was also preserved in one of the seminal histories of Britain, through the inclusion of John Hooker’s English translation of the Expugnatio Hibernica in the second edition of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles.[71] In his polemical “Díonbrollac” [Introduction] to Foras Feasa, Keating positions his history as a necessary response to the unfair criticisms lodged against the Irish by writers such as Edmund Spenser, Edmund Campion, and Meredith Hanmer.  Keating famously characterizes the New English writers on Ireland as “priompiollán” [beetles] too busy rolling in the dung to see the beautiful flowers of Irish history. Keating offers his history as a response to these foul-minded historians of Ireland, who record all of the ills ever done in the country, but ignore the nobility and piety of the Irish.[72] Chief among the dung-beetle historians of Ireland is Gerald, and Keating repeatedly stresses the role that Gerald played in shaping British writings on Ireland.[73]

To offer a brief example of the continuing usefulness of Gerald’s rhetoric into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, representations of Ireland’s fertile land and unchristian inhabitants are apparent even from the opening page of Spenser’s A View of the State of Ireland, which describes the seeming paradox of Ireland’s “goodly and commodious” soil and its “unquiet state.”[74] A View takes the form of a conversation between characters named Eudoxus and Irenæus, recently returned from Ireland and able to identify the cause of the “evils” that are “most hurtfull to the common-weale of that land” as the laws, customs, and religion of the Irish.[75] Thus, centuries after the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, British colonialist writers were still following the patterns established by Gerald in praising the fertility of the land of Ireland while asserting the barbaric and unchristian nature of Ireland’s people and customs – and, thus, the need for British intervention in Ireland. Irish writers of both Old English and Gaelic Irish descent, faced with a wave of Protestant New English settlers as well as a host of texts describing the Irish – and even those Old English who had adopted Irish customs – as violent barbarians, responded by using much the same strategies as those set out in the Acallam.

Further, the Acallam’s strategies proved useful for thinking about and shaping new forms of Irish identity. One of Keating’s major projects in writing the Foras Feasa was to assert an Irish identity including both the Old English and Gaelic Irish populations of Ireland. Keating’s seventeenth-century version of Irishness as Catholic and Irish-speaking (thus including the Old English and native Irish, but not the Protestant New English settlers) was supported by his gathering of a great mass of Irish traditions, just as the Acallam did, in order to produce a narratively-driven version of Irish identity. Keating also used place-name lore, as Bernadette Cunningham has noted, to link Ireland’s people to the land and give a “historical validity” to connections between the Catholic populations of Ireland and the land of Ireland.[76] The Acallam’s strategies of producing Irish identity out of texts and landscapes continued to be effective into the seventeenth century and beyond.[77]

In response to colonialist rhetoric attempting to separate the (barbaric, unchristian, uncivilized) people of Ireland from their (holy, temperate, healthy) island, the Acallam na Senórach offers an effective rebuttal, one that would prove influential in addressing questions of Irish identity for centuries. By repeatedly rehearsing stories from place-name lore that show how the bodies of the Irish are interred in the land and their names are inscribed on the land, the Acallam argues that the Irish and their land are not separate or separable. By showing the rehabilitative power of Patrick’s sponsorship of the old narratives – as well as the often noble nature of the heroes and the stories told about them – the Acallam also refutes any claims that the Irish now, or in the past, could be called godless barbarians. And by frequently highlighting its own textuality – through representations of the transmission of Caílte’s stories, the importance of language within the tales themselves, and through references to the wealth of Ireland’s traditions – the Acallam also calls attention to the kind of Irish identity it is forging, an identity that is explicitly drawn from the oral and literary traditions of Ireland. As a postcolonialist response to the version of Irishness set out in texts such as Gerald’s Topographia and Expugnatio, the Acallam makes the physical geography of Ireland a central aspect of Irish identity, permanently linking the Irish themselves with the mounds they build, the forests they inhabit, the streams they fish, and the graves in which they are buried.

Sarah Connell


Sarah Connell is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at Northeastern University, where she is currently writing a dissertation examining the roles of literary genres in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century British and Irish national histories. Her research interests include early modern Irish and British origin legends and historical texts, as well as medieval Irish voyage and historical tales.

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Writing on the Land of Ireland: Nationality, Textuality, and Geography in the Acallam na Senórach by Sarah Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


[1] Though I have generally chosen to use the Irish forms of most personal and place names, I have preferred English versions on the occasions they are much more widely known; for instance “Patrick,” rather than “Pátraic” and “Tara,” rather than “Teamhair.”

[2] Acallam na Senórach, in Tales of the Elders of Ireland, ed. and trans. Ann Dooley and Harry Roe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 3-5. In order to make this paper more accessible to those readers not familiar with Middle Irish, references will be to Dooley and Roe’s English translation unless stated otherwise. Irish-language editions can be found in Standish Hayes O’Grady’s Agallamh na Senórach in Silva Gadelica 1 (London: Williams and Norgate, 1892) and Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach in Irische Texte 4 (1900), 1-438.

[3] Acallam na Senórach, p. 5.

[4] Acallam na Senórach, p. 6. For more on Finn and the Fían, see Dooley and Roe pp. xi-xx.

[5] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 8-10.

[6] Acallam na Senórach, p. 12. Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 9, line 298-301. All direct translations from the Irish are my own.

[7] Acallam na Senórach, p. 12.

[8] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 3-4.

[9] Acallam na Senórach, p. 4.

[10] Whitley Stokes, Acallamh na Senórach, p. 83, lines 2947-2948.

[11] For more on the processes through which British colonialist writings “invented” Irish barbarism, see John Gillingham, The English in the Twelfth Century: Imperialism, National Identity and Political Values (Woodbridge: Suffolk, 2000).

[12] For more on medieval national identities, see: Simon Forde, Lesley Johnson, and Alan Murray, Concepts of National Identity in the Middle Ages (Leeds: University of Leeds Press, 1995); Margaret Lamont, “Becoming English: Ronwenne’s Wassail, Language, and National Identity in the Middle English Prose Brut,Studies in Philology 107 (2010), 283-309; and Kathy Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World: Geography, Literature, and English Community, 1000–1534 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006).

[13] Joseph Nagy, “Observations on the Ossianesque in Medieval Irish Literature and Modern Irish Folklore,” Journal of American Folklore 114 (2001), 426-446, (pp. 438-439).

[14] For more on the significance of marriage and reform in the Acallam, see Dooley and Roe, pp. xxvii-xxx.

[15] For more on the development of Ireland’s literary tradition from the pre-Christian period to the thirteenth century see Joseph Nagy, Conversing with Angels and Ancients: Literary Myths of Medieval Ireland (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), pp. 8-11.

[16] Acallam na Senórach, p. 4.

[17] Nagy, Angels and Ancients, p. 7.

[18] Joseph Nagy, “Oral Tradition in the Acallam na Senórach” in Oral Tradition in the Middle Ages, ed. W. F. H. Nicolaisen (Birmingham: Medieval & Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1995), pp.77-96, (p. 95).

[19] Nagy, “Ossianesque,” p. 443.

[20] The application of postcolonial theory to the medieval period warrants a brief note of explanation; postcolonial theory has been productively used to examine medieval texts, ideas, and writers by a number of scholars. For more on postcolonial theory and the medieval period see The Postcolonial Middle Ages, edited by Jeffery Jerome Cohen (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) and Postcolonial Moves: Medieval Through Modern, edited by Patricia Clare Ingham and Michelle R. Warren (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

[21] Robert Bartlett, “Medieval and Modern Concepts of Race and Identity,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31 (2001), 39-56, (p. 53).

[22]For more on the development of ethnic and national identities in Britain and Ireland, see Rees Davies “The Peoples of Britain and Ireland, 1100-1400, I: Identities,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 4 (1994), 1-20.

[23] Benedict Anderson’s model for examining the origins of nationalism is explained fully in his book, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

[24] Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World, p. 59.

[25] For more on the role of imagination in British and English identities, see: Margaret Lamont, “Becoming English: Ronwenne’s Wassail, Language, and National Identity in the Middle English Prose Brut,Studies in Philology 107 (2010), 283-309; and Patricia Clare Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the Making of Britain (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), pp. 21-50.

[26] Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies, p. 12.

[27] Catherine Karkov. “Tales of the Ancients: Colonial Werewolves and the Mapping of Postcolonial Ireland,” in Postcolonial Moves: Medieval Through Modern, ed. Patricia Clare Ingham and Michelle R. Warren (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003), pp. 93-110, (pp. 94, 105).

[28] Karkov, “Tales of the Ancients,” p. 94.

[29] For more on Bede’s representations of Ireland as “an otherworldly stepping stone to the afterlife for the English” see Lavezzo Angels on the Edge of the World, pp. 54-58.

[30] Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World, p. 58.

[31] Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, trans. John J. O’Meara. (London: Penguin Books, 1982), pp. 53, 101-110.

[32] Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, pp. 99-100.

[33] For the Acallam, no author is known, the exact date of composition cannot be given, and the four extant manuscripts date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. For more on the manuscript history of the Acallam, see Dooley and Roe, pp. xxxi-xxxii.

[34] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 39-40. Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 36, lines 1288-1289.

[35] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 39-40.

[36] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 195-196.

[37] John Carey, “Lebor Gabála and the Legendary History of Ireland” in Medieval Celtic Literature and Society, ed. Helen Fulton (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2006), pp. 32-48, (p. 39).

[38] Carey, “Legendary History,” p. 39.

[39] Carey, “Legendary History,” p. 37.

[40] Dooley and Roe, p. 225.

[41] Acallam na Senórach, p. 5.  Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 3, lines 60.

[42] Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, p. 102.

[43] Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, pp. 91, 106-110. Gerald’s representations of Ireland are reflective of his own roles as both colonized and colonizer, claiming Welsh and Norman descent. Here, for instance, Gerald is using rhetoric also deployed by the Normans to justify their own invasion. For more on Gerald’s complex engagements with colonialism and his embrace of the Irish invasion as a means of constructing an “unambiguous other” that could enable him to “forget for a while the similarly violent history of colonization that produced him” see “Hybrids, Monsters, Borderlands:  The Bodies of Gerald of Wales,” in The Postcolonial Middle Ages, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), pp. 85-104, (p. 93-94).

[44] Acallam na Senórach, p. 56.

[45] Acallam na Senórach, p. 56.  Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 52, lines 1836-1837.

[46] Acallam na Senórach, p.13. Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 11, line 354.

[47] Acallam na Senórach, p.14. Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 11, line 369.

[48] Acallam na Senórach, p. 14.

[49] Acallam na Senórach, p. 15.

[50] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 15-16.

[51] Acallam na Senórach, p.14. Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 12, line 399.

[52] Acallam na Senórach, p.16-18. Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 14, line 479.

[53] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 16-17.

[54] Acallam na Senórach, p. 17.

[55] Acallam na Senórach, p.17. Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 15, lines 495-497.

[56] Acallam na Senórach, p. 24.

[57] Acallam na Senórach, p. 24. Cath Finntrágha is available in an edition and translation from Cecile O’Rahilly (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1962).

[58] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 18, 14, 116.

[59] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 25-27. Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, pp. 22, lines 755-756.

[60] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 27-28.

[61] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 179-180. For more on the Acallam’s focus on monogamous marriage, see Annie Donahue, “The Acallam na Senórach: A Medieval Instruction Manual,” Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium 24 (2004), 206-215.

[62] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 30-31.

[63] Whitley Stokes, Acallamh na Senórach, p. 28, lines 985-986.

[64] Acallam na Senórach, pp. 31-32.

[65] Echtra Nerai, ed. and trans. Kuno Meyer in Revue Celtique 10 (1889), 212-228, (pp. 220-221).

[66] The Voyage of Máel Dúin, ed. and trans. H.P.A. Oskamp (Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff Publishing, 1970), p. 179. For more on tokens used as proofs of adventures see Kevin Murray “The Role of the Cuilebad in Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla,” in The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature, ed. John Wooding (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), pp. 187-193.

[67] Acallam na Senórach, p. 27. Irish from Whitley Stokes’s Acallamh na Senórach, p. 24, line 838 and p. 25, line 868.

[68] Acallam na Senórach, p. 32.

[69] Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, ed. and trans. David Comyn 1 (London: The Irish Texts Society, 1902), p. 152. Translations from the Irish here are my own; readers interested in a full English translation will find one in Comyn’s edition for the first volume of Foras Feasa and can also consult volumes two and three of the Irish Texts Society edition and translation of Foras Feasa, continued by Patrick S. Dinneen (London: Irish Texts Society, 1908).

[70] Keating, p. 152.

[71] For more on Hooker’s translation, see Annabel Patterson’s Reading Holinshed’s Chronicles, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 13-15.

[72] Keating, p. 4.

[73] Keating was not alone in his awareness of the central role that Gerald of Wales played in English colonialism. For instance, John Lynch published Cambrensis Eversus, a detailed rebuttal of Gerald in 1662. Matthew Kelly’s (Dublin: The Celtic Society, 1848-52) translation of the full title of Lynch’s work gives an indication of its overall tone: Cambrensis Eversus; Or, Refutation of the Authority of Giraldus Cambrensis on the History of Ireland; Being a Demonstration that Giraldus, with Most of the Defects, Had Few of the Good Qualities of a Historian; by John Lynch, an Irishman.

[74] Edmund Spenser, A View of the State of Ireland, ed. Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), p. 11.

[75] Spenser, pp. 11-13.

[76] Bernadette Cunningham, The World of Geoffrey Keating: History, Myth and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004), p. 111.

[77] In fact, the Acallam’s strategies for deploying literary traditions in the construction of identity would prove useful as late as the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Irish revival. For instance, placing the early modern Protestant settlements that so troubled Geoffrey Keating in the context of previous invasions, John Mitchel writes that a “new immigration was made, early in the sixteenth century, like that of the Tuatha-de-Danaan and Milesians of remoter times.” (John Mitchel, The Life and Times of Aodh O’Neill, Prince of Ulster (New York: Excelsior Catholic Publishing House, 1879), p. vii.) As P. J. Mathews has noted, other revivalists also found the medieval narratives of Ireland useful in constructing a “connection with the ancient Irish past which elided the sectarian divisions of the reformation” and thus producing yet another version of Irish identity, inclusive of more diverse ethnic and religious identities than the Acallam’s version, but utilizing the same strategies. (P. J. Mathews, Revival: The Abbey Theater, Sinn Fein, The Gaelic League, and the Co-Operative Movement (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2003), p. 46.)

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