Thursday, August 30, 2012

Donegal Sun Palace

Ailech, or the Grianán of Aileach, (sun palace) was the caput, or principal royal seat of the early medieval Northern Úi Neill kings of Cenel nEogain, until they moved their headquarters to Tulach Oc in the kingdom of Airgialla at the beginning of the eleventh century. The place-name Ailech was also used as the distinguishing sobriquet of the Northern Úi Neill dynasty. Ailech is popularly identified as a large multi-period fortification situated on Greenan Mountain at the southern end of the Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal. However, Elagh, which is an Anglicized form of "Ailech," in nearby County Derry, could also have been the location of the historic Northern U Neill capital. The chronicles note the destruction of the Grianán of Ailech by the army of Muirchertach Ua Briain, king of Munster, in 1101. It was demolished in revenge for the destruction of the Úi Briain stronghold at Cenn Corad (Kincora), Killaloe, County Clare, which had been destroyed by Domnall Mac Lochlainn of the Northern Úi Neill in 1088.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Irish Romanesque Architecture

At Clonfert in Co. Galway a mighty medieval cathedral stands which was founded by St. Brendan, often known as St. Brendan the Navigator, in 557 A.D. over which he appointed St. Moinenn as Prior and Head Master. St. Brendan was interred in Clonfert in 577 A.D. at the age of 93 and his feast is on 16 May. Here you will find one of the most highly developed examples of Irish Romanesque Architecture in the form of a magnificent doorway. It consists of six large arcs containing many stylistic motives. Above them is located a big triangle filled with ornaments and heads.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Irish illuminated manuscripts

A distinctive feature of Irish illuminated manuscripts are huge ornamented capital letters. Here is an example from the Stowe Missal with the letters INP joined together to start the page with the words in principio (in the beginning).

The Stowe Missal, strictly speaking is a sacramentary rather than a missal. It is written mainly in Latin with some Irish and dates from c. 750AD. In the mid-11th century it was annotated and some pages rewritten at Lorrha Monastery in County Tipperary, Ireland. Also known as the Lorrha Missal, it is known as the "Stowe" Missal as it once belonged to the Stowe manuscripts collection formed by George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham at Stowe House. When the collection was bought by the nation in 1883, it and the other Irish manuscripts were handed over to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, where it remains, catalogued as MS D II 3. The cumdach or reliquary case which up to this point had survived together with the book was later transferred, with the rest of the Academy's collection of antiquities, to the National Museum of Ireland (museum number 1883, 614a). The old story was that the manuscript and shrine left Ireland after about 1375, as they were collected on the Continent in the 18th century,but this appears to be incorrect, and they were found inside a stone wall at Lackeen Castle near Lorrha in the 18th century.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Oldest form of writing in Ireland

Ogham is the earliest form of writing in Ireland, it dates to around 4th century A.D. and was in use for around 500 years. The Ogham alphabet is made up of a series of strokes along or across a line. Ogham is sometimes referred to as the "Celtic Tree Alphabet" as most of the letters are linked to old Irish names for certan trees. The alphabet was carved on standing stones to commemorate someone, using the edge of the stone as the centre line. They normally read from the left hand side bottom up, across the top and if need be, down the other side.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ancient maternity leave

Maternity leave was a feature of Medieval Ireland. The Brehon Laws state that in the case of a pregnant servant of the household who was unable to fulfil her workload the man who caused the pregnancy had to provide relief for the pregnant woman by means of a replacement worker. The prescribed time period granted was one month ante-natal leave with a further month for post-natal recuperation.

c.f. Ni Chonaill, B. Child-centred law in medieval Ireland. In Davis, R. and Dunne, T. (Eds) The Empty Throne: Childhood and the Crisis of Modernity. Cambridge University Press (2008)

Burren Law School

Close by Newtown Castle, seat of the O'Lochlainns - Chiefs of the Burren, is the site of the O'Davoran Law School, one of the three law schools situated in the Burren. Between the years 1563 and 1569, Domhnall O'Davoran and his pupils compiled the manuscript now known as Egerton 88, containing an invaluable glossary of Brehon Law and a variety of law texts, one dating back to the 8th century. The annual Burren Law School, held the first weekend in May, aims to recreate the tradition of legal learning associated with the Brehon Law Schools, allowing the past to illuminate the present in what is characteristically a very stimulating weekend. It is of interest to the public at large as much as to members of the legal/ caring professions, historians and relevant interest groups.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First Human Rights Legislation

1167 years before the signing of the first Geneva Convention in 1864 a law protecting non combatants in war was passed in Ireland at the Synod of Birr in 697AD. It is regarded by many as the first piece of human rights legislation. Cáin Adomnáin sometimes called the Law of the Innocents signifies the beginning of the enormous Christian movement to minimize social violence, a movement that has continued until the present day. It is important to note that Adomnán wrote the law to be upheld by both religious and secular leaders as well as across country lines, demonstrating his early commitment to the idea of international moral law. Many regard the Law of the Innocents to be a precursor to the Geneva Convention, an agreement that shows the considerable progress of international standards of justice in war.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Brehon Laws - Mental Health

The Ancient Irish had laws on mental health and disability. Heavy fines were imposed on anyone mocking the disabled. Below is a relevant extract from “Medicine and early Irish law” by F. Kelly

The Brehon laws distinguish between a person who is mentally retarded (drúth), deranged (mer) or violently insane (dásachtach). The law texts contain no references to specific treatment for mental illness. Their main concern is that such individuals should not be exploited: one text states that “the rights of the insane precede all other rights”. Hence a contract with a person of unsound mind is invalid, and anyone who incites a drúth to commit a crime must himself pay the fine.

A man who impregnates a deranged woman is solely responsible for rearing the offspring, as is anyone who mischievously allows two insane persons to mate. In most circumstances, responsibility for crimes by the insane devolves on his or her guardian, generally a close relative. Society must be protected from the dangerously insane, hence a dásachtach should be tied up when he poses a threat to others. An epileptic (talmaidech) enjoys full legal competence, provided he is of sound mind. However, he must be watched over by a guardian to prevent injury to himself or to others during fits. A heavy fine is levied on anyone who mocks the disability of an epileptic, a leper, or one who is lame, blind or deaf.  

John Scottus Eriugena

John Scottus Eriugena produced all kinds of vocabulary: useful Latin-based coinings like donula for little gifts, gluttosus for greedy, disceptatiunculae for a friendly debate, dilapidatrix for a female asset-stripper, or the noun anhelantia for the roaring of a fire; as well as more abstract items like deiformitas for congruence to God, the metaphorical accolorare, meaning to gloss over, or angulositas, used metonymically to mean the property of unifying at a fundamental level. Then there are his straight loans from Greek like anax for king and acherdus for a kind of wild pear tree, as well as technical philosophical terms like anomia (meaning disparate elements), and calques on Greek like decursatiuus on διεξοδικός for multiplex or adnarratio on παραδιήγησις for corroborative discourse. Furthermore he carries out inventive semantic adaptations of existing words, such as the use of exalienari to mean to migrate (of animals), or the sensitive etymologizing of what were in fact misreadings, such as excolicum for Late Latin et scholicum, in a manner worthy of real words (in this case, as the opposite of Classical Latin incola, and so meaning alien or not of this world).

Anthony Harvey, Editor, Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (DMLCS)

Monastic City of Clonmacnoise

The Monastic City of Clonmacnoise and its Cultural Landscape is located in Counties Offaly, Roscommon and Westmeath in the centre of Ireland. It is an unparalleled and outstanding example of a relict early medieval Insular monastic city unobscured by modern building development. It is set within a superlative semi-natural landscape that deepens it spiritual qualities, adding greatly to its authenticity and integrity. The interaction between man and the natural environment in Clonmacnoise is of unique universal value. The architectural ensemble at Clonmacnoise represents an outstanding example of an early medieval Insular monastic city. It represents a significant stage in the development of early medieval Christianity in the North Atlantic. Archaeological excavation coupled with exceptional documentary sources has demonstrated that Clonmacnoise was a civitas in reality as well as in name, unlike many other Irish sites, and, moreover, its dates are relatively early in the chronology of urban development outside the boundaries of the old Roman Empire. It is therefore highly significant to our understanding of the development of urbanism generally in Atlantic Europe, as well as clarifying non-Viking urbanisation in an Irish context.

Sport in Medieval Ireland

Field games in Medieval Ireland were generally held on the greens of a fort or enclosure. Early Law Tracts describe penalties for injuries to participants and damage to structures while playing on public greens. Evidence from saga tales suggests that assemblies and fairs were the most common settings for field games, often with spectators present. Field games were clearly violent affairs and injuries were common. Descriptions of both injuries and penalties are common. Field games are also commonly described as an appropriate means of settling quarrels and disputes, in many cases ending in injury or death.

French Invasion of Ireland!

Of the most common words in use in the English language today 70% are French in origin. Anglo Saxon apologists seek to dilute this percentage by including obsolete words from the largely defunct old English language. The 'English' King Richard Coeur de Lion (the Lionheart) could not speak a word of English. The Statutes of Kilkenny (1366AD), were a set of regulatory laws which prohibited, (among other things) the use of the Irish language in public dealings in favour of the English language. However the "English" language which the statutes are written in looks suspiciously like French! It was after all apart from Irish, the only language the Irish Norman nobility could understand.

Christmas night raid on Glendalough.

Christmas night in the year 835AD the pagan Vikings raided two of the great monasteries of Ireland; the monastery of St. Kevin at Glendalough, Co. Wicklow and the monastery of St. Mogue at Clonmore, Co. Carlow, near Hackettstown.

Glendalough upper lake
The Vikings expected that by carrying out raids on Christmas night that valuable relics of the monasteries would be removed from their secret hiding place and placed display as part of the Christmas celebration. Of course the added bonus for the Vikings is likely that more people will be in the church boosting the number of potential prisoners that can subsequently sold as slaves. Indeed history records that at Clonmore the Vikings burnt the monastery and carried off a large number of prisoners into slavery. Wile at Glendalough they burned the oratory but there is no mention of prisoners. Raids are also recorded to have taken place in Connacht the same night. Just two years later the Vikings were to establish a permanent settlement in Ireland at Dublin.

Photo: The upper lake at Glendalough.

Irish Wolfhounds

Irish Wolfhounds are one of the oldest breeds of dogs recorded in the history of man. They appear in early Irish law tracts under the name "Cú" (modern Irish word for hound). The dogs are known as the "gentle giants" of the canine world expressed in the breed slogan, "Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked". Wolfhounds also appears on the coat of arms of early Irish kings and were revered by the ancient Irish and remain a revered symbol of Ireland to this day. The name "wolfhound" is relatively new. In times past the dogs were refereed to as Cú (c.f. Chúlainn) and Conn. The latter term appears in many modern Irish Surnames like O'Connor, Conaire, Conolloy etc. Through the centuries they were referred to by many other names including the Irish wolf dog, Irish greyhound, or Irish war dog.