Never Mind the Bullocks: There’s Something About St. Brigit

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Image: amandabhslater / photo on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Another year, another February 1st. Another Imbolc, another St. Brigit’s Day. Another chance to revel in the avalanche of online ‘Celtic’ codswallop and pagan goddess gobbledygook. Such misunderstood musings are well-intentioned, harmless, and if truth be told, not a bad way at all to view the world. An idealized version of the distant past seen through an attractive prism of feminine attributes, influence and power. One could definitely do worse.

Of course, historically speaking, such views do not have a leg to stand on, let alone a sunbeam to hang a cloak off. Indeed, there is a certain irony in the fact that successive generations in seeking to adopt, (re)create and promote a symbolic saintly/pagan figure of pseudo-history, have actually helped to obscure some of the very real and historically important attributes of the same.

It’s not so much that Brigit occupies an incredibly early position within Irish history and Early Irish Christianity itself; it is the fact that she represents the earliest surviving insular Irish hagiography, period. Almost a generation before Patrician hagiographers were sharpening their quills, a saintly Brigit was already being utilized for nothing less than all Ireland ecclesiastical primacy.

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Star Wars: Archaeology of the Jedi

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Image: Abarta Audioguides / Copyright (Used with permission)

*Warning* Although there is no major plot spoilers included, there is some discussion of the characters and location of a particular scene in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. If you have not seen the film and are sensitive towards knowing anything more about it, feel free to take the hint.

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Long term readers will surely be aware of my ongoing interest in the use of Skellig Michael as a location for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. Having now watched it twice since it opened (very enjoyable, back to old form, fan pleasing etc) I would like to record some initial thoughts on the cinematic depiction of the island, including to my mind, some echos of early Irish Christian iconography as well as the use of actual medieval archaeology to portray the fictional archaeology of the Jedi. In a small way, it is an attempt to direct attention for anyone interested towards what they were actually seeing on the screen. After all, its not everyday that millions of people around the world are exposed to a little bit of Early Medieval Ireland.

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Irelands Ancient East and the Leprechaunization of Irish History

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Image: kevinpoh / Flickr (CC BY)

If you have never heard of #IrelandsAncientEast – you are surely about to. Its an Irish tourism ‘branding’ exercise and initiative set up to rival that of the #WildAtlanticWay. Following an announcement last September of an initial €1.8 million (€1.2m in capital grants and €600K for some branded road signs) – yesterday saw the unveiling (by two ministers, no less – is there an election or something?) of a second phase of capital project funding involving a further €1.5m (€1,512,606 by my calculation).

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD, along with Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring TD, today announced over €1m in a further phase of funding for capital projects in Ireland’s Ancient East.  The funding is being made through Fáilte Ireland’s ‘New Ideas in Ancient Spaces’ Capital Grants Scheme and is for a further 13 projects within the Ireland’s Ancient East initiative. This second phase of investment brings the total funding under the ‘New Ideas in Ancient Spaces’ initiative to €2.26m and comes ahead of a new signage scheme to brand the region which is due to be rolled out in 2016.

Announcement of second phase of capital investment for key attractions

Leaving aside the apparent disparity in the figures lauded (€452,606 short?) – these are nevertheless reflective of impressive amounts of taxpayer monies going towards marketing Ireland’s eastern heritage, landscapes, sites, monuments and visitor attractions. The government is clearly serious about getting bums on seats, even if it means spending more on the marketing of Irish heritage than Irish heritage itself.

The total announced so far (with more on the way) is already more than the emergency funding recently granted to keep our filleted National Cultural Institutions open until after the election. i.e. the national bodies tasked with keeping and preserving all of the states heritage coming up to the 1916 centenary commemorations (that whole thing celebrating the beginning of the establishment of the state and its institutions).

And yet, if there really is precious little funds available to help with the basic curation, preservation and interpretation of Ireland’s heritage on a national scale, we can probably take solace in the fact that over €2m of our own money is going to be used to help some neglected, underfunded, authentically ancient heritage sites, amenities and visitor attractions, albeit on a regional scale.

Right?

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All We Need Is…Radiocarbon: Geolocated Radiocarbon Dates from Ireland

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(Image: Robert M Chapple)

For those who may not be aware, I wish to draw your attention to a hugely impressive and important new resource from Robert M Chapple. Not content with his wonderful Catalogue of Radiocarbon Determinations & Dendrochronology Dates, Robert has just released Geolocated Radiocarbon Dates from Ireland – a sleek visualization interface which displays Irish radiocarbon dates on an interactive map of Ireland.

With this fantastic tool, it is now possible to search, select, exclude, define, zoom down, separate and review details of 8288 radiocarbon and 313 dendro dates from Ireland within a geographical framework. Yes, you heard correctly. 8288. 313. Such data carries great potential for anyone interested in Irish archaeology – from professionals and researchers to students and interested members of the public – enabling both a macro and micro (radiocarbon) snapshot of the island. And its ongoing.

As a brief example, I was just playing around with it a few minutes ago and I zoomed down to an area for which I would have presumed to be fairly familiar with known archaeological information. There I found a ref to an old burial, something I had certainly read about years ago, but which had only recently come back with a C14 date. The horizon? Right slap bang in the middle of a period I’m most interested in. Score.

You can access the new Geolocated Radiocarbon Dates from Ireland Dataviewer on Roberts blog in embedded form, along with a detailed introduction to the tools and interface (which I highly recommend reading first).

Or you can view it in stand alone form on the tableau public server.

My congratulations and deep deep thanks to Robert and his many helpers and partners in crime who helped produce this fantastic new resource. I have a feeling it will fast become a staple for professionals, post graduates and researchers alike, among many others. Radio, what’s new? Go use it. Rinse. Repeat.

Waking the Dead on the Slopes of Cruachu

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(Image: Author)

For the day that’s in it, here’s a little folk horror flavoured archeo-echtrai which happened to me a few years ago during a visit to Cruachu (aka Cruachán, aka Rathcroghan), a location dripping in early medieval dindsenchas. Its a ritual complex of barrows, mounds, avenues and enclosures –  a prehistoric palimpsest of generations of ‘the dead’ carved into a ‘living’ landscape and overlaid with early medieval meaning. Think late prehistoric burial, assembly, inauguration, oenach festivals, mass meetings, power performances, legitimacy, declarations, legal decisions, disputes, drinking, carousing, games, fighting – all on a regional scale – and anything else that may have caught their fancy at any given time.

Cruachu and its hinterlands loom large in early medieval myth, mayhem and pseudo-folk memory. It occupies a prime position as one of the so called ‘royal’ sites of early medieval Ireland. A western version of Tara, and Emhain Macha. It appears as a key symbolic location in early Irish literature, such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge and Echtra Nerai (The Strange Adventure of Nera) – the latter having samhain and the mounds of the dead as a key backdrop to portrayed events.

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Blogging about Research on Archaeological Blogging via an Archaeological Blog Undergoing Research

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Screengrab: GIS Search Results for Vox Hiberionacum (shamelessly stolen, I mean, inspired by the Robert M Chapple Blog)

Meta, eh?

Fleur Schinning is an MA Student currently writing a thesis in Heritage Management at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her research will focus on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology in the Netherlands. She is looking at several archaeo-blogs from UK, Ireland and USA in order to explore how blogging in archaeology contributes to public archaeology. Vox Hiberionacum is one of them.

 As part of this, she is very interested in hearing from you, dear blog readers.

She has set up a short online questionnaire (click here) in order to ask visitors of this (and other archaeo-blogs) several questions regarding their motives for visiting, reading etc. She would be very grateful if you could spare a few minutes to contribute to her research findings.

I understand that all participants also have a chance to win a small prize: 6 issues of Archaeology Magazine.

Ah go on, help an archaeo student out.

Cheers.

‘Traditional’ Irish Marriage(s) in Early Medieval Ireland

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Monasterboice High Cross & Round Tower (Image: Author)

Contrary to the impression often given by modern religious zealots who advocate a return to ‘traditional Irish values’ in matters of sexual and moral behavior, early Irish society was unequivocal in it’s recognition of, and support for, multiple marriage and divorce.
(Ó Cróinín, 1995, 127)
In the longest established of the western churches outside the Roman Empire and in a society in which Christian Latin culture flourished in a remarkable way, the norms of Christian marriage were not, paradoxically, accepted in society generally (we shall see later that there were exceptions) throughout the middle ages…
 …it is surely interesting that the Christian Irish lawyers, most of whom were clerics, should appear to consider marriage within a theoretical framework different from that of the contemporary church and should frame their practical rulings accordingly. 
(Ó Corráin, 1985, 5)

Following on from the last historical perspective on the unparallelled irony in modern religious opposition to the forthcoming Irish Marriage Equality Referendum, I have one final addendum, so to speak, stemming from an interesting claim on national radio by an honourable member of the above ( in conjunction with numerous others references within media to the ‘institution’ of marriage and ‘tradition’ ‘since time immemorial’):

Early Medieval Irish society was complex, fluid, dynamic and messy. We can see this in its archaeology and literature. We see it in the fragmentary extracts of early Irish law texts whose codification and survival is largely a result of early ecclesiastical interest and effort. In a highly stratified, unequal and patriarchal society, Early Irish Laws provide us not only with some of the socio-economic concerns that necessitated and demanded legal definition, but also the cognitive terms underpinning such subjects.

It’s use and choice of language provide us with glimpses in how they conceived and understood certain concepts, parameters, and classifications. Idealized legal notions of how things should work (Canon Law)  alongside more realistic expectations and provisions (Vernacular Law)  of how things actually did.

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St. Patrick and #MarriageEquality: A Modern Day Homily from the Fifth Century

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As a rule of thumb, I have always tried to steer clear of contemporary politics on this blog. I generally have little to add and no real desire to do so. Recent commentary however, along with ludicrous posters, attempted obfuscation, deliberate misinformation and outright attempts at scaremongering on the forthcoming Irish Marriage Equality Referendum by minority fringe groups, pseudo-academic research bodies and pretend charities doubling as lobby groups, have compelled me, along with others it seems, to make an exception. In doing so, I take a certain measure of consolation in the fact that I am not really engaging in petty political rhetoric. Marriage Equality for same sex couples is a human and civil rights issue, transcending mere politics.

While I am quietly confident that the proposed referendum question will be passed, there nevertheless remains the rather unpleasant business of having to put up with thinly veiled prejudice masquerading as opposing opinion from certain people who claim to be compassionate Christians. Amid the stifling stench of sanctimonious self-entitlement and the ever increasing magnus opus gei rhetoric emanating from oratorial orifices in recent days, it has become abundantly clear – that my country needs me. I hereby give notice that I am returning the favour and thus commend unto you the following historical perspective towards the issues of the day.

The earliest historical evidence for Christianity in this island (the writings of St. Patrick) contain some very interesting parallels to current events. Before he was ever elevated to patron saint and symbol of All-Ireland religious orthodoxy & authority, the Historical Patrick was someone with real Christian empathy and concern. He was someone who championed and defended Irish people who were being denied recognition and equality – by other Christians. He was someone who repeatedly suffered from religious stigma and prejudice attached to homosexuality. There were deliberate efforts – from fellow Christians – to harness contemporary cultural homophobia and force him into social and political exclusion. Last, but not least, he also happens to be the earliest historically attested person within Ireland to have engaged in ‘same sex’ child adoption.

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Well, Holy God! Irish Government to Levy Landowners With Holy Wells

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Holy Well, c.1870. Image: National Library of Ireland / Flickr Commons [NLI Ref.: STP_2245]

For those unfamiliar with current Irish affairs, Uisce Éireann/Irish Water is the embattled new national water utility company which has been making headlines around the world because of fierce public opposition to its very organization, implementation and poor track record so far.

In what could turn out to be a high water mark in public outrage, not only will households have to register a second time – it now seems apparent that, following recent legal advice, the government is set to rush through emergency legislation which will enable them to capitalize on the presence of Holy Wells sited on privately owned land.

According to insiders in the National Monuments Division, the action on the part of the government is designed to fend off any potential legal challenges to the state bodies monopoly on water supply. It is understood that a recent repeal of outdated laws on the statute books – in particular, Anglo-Norman rights & privileges enshrined within the fourteenth century Codex Stultorum – brought to light a potential loophole with regard to landowners with ancient holy wells on their property. In order to avoid any such pitfalls, the new legislation will enable Irish Water to classify such wells as additional water sources and to levy extra charges against those landowners for the same.

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