Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Seanchas Tradition

The seanchas tradition in late medieval Ireland- The art of writing history was a long-established one in medieval Ireland, and the status of the historian in contemporary society was high. Mícheál Ó Cléirigh and his fellow scholars Fearfea sa Ó Maoil Chonaire, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh and Cú Choigcríche Ó Duibhgheannáin all belonged to families from the north and the west of Ireland who had practiced the arts of history and poetry throughout the late medieval period.

These families, and many others throughout Ireland, were members of the courts of the medieval Irish aristocracy. They sustained important schools of learning, were hereditary keepers of medieval churches, and possessed extensive lands and other wealth as a consequence of their profession and the nobility that accrued to it. An essential element of the art of preserving and writing history in this world was an understanding of the concept of seanchas, a word deriving from sean ‘old, long-standing’.

The practitioner of seanchas was known as a seanchaidh ‘a historian’. Seanchas consisted of the many traditions that related to the Irish as they were perceived in the medieval period – their origins and genealogies, their saints and their landscape. Briefly defined, seanchas was the memory and narrative of Irish history as preserved and written from the early medieval period to the writing of histories of Ireland in the seventeenth century. -Edel Bhreathnach

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