Saints & Scholars: Tweeting Saints in Medieval Irish Martyrologies

Image: Author

Image: Author

The Irish martyrologies are an incredibly important historical source – textual witnesses to many things: Saints cults, both famous and obscure, both female and male; individual church sites, ecclesiastical foundations, hermitages, and any number of halfway houses in between; personal names; place names; regional names; dynastic names. They provides several stratified snapshots of a competing and free flowing ecclesiastical landscape of loyalties, allegiances, bias, memory and commemoration. A measure of importance for those communities and dynasties doing the ‘celebrating’, as much as those being ‘celebrated’.

For those who may not be aware, Dr. Elva Johnston, one of the foremost authorities on Early Medieval Ireland and Early Irish Christianity, has been tweeting daily Saints from Early Irish Martyrologies for some months now. Essentially, the Martyrology of Óengus (Félire Óengusso) and the Martyrology of Gorman. She has also been storyifing them for posterity.

Aside from having a handy reference of feast days, the whole enterprise is a wonderful 21st Century experimental clone of Early Medieval Irish Scribal activity. Ironically, the medium of Twitter lends itself naturally to what monks and scribes were essentially doing within manuscripts over a thousand years ago i.e. small notes, highlights, marginalia glosses, annal entries, short commentaries…

Every day, Dr. Johnston tweets the relevant feast day/saint(s) included in the Martyrologies, and often other experts and scholars chime in with short notes, etymological elements and/or historical tidbits. If you have ever wanted to know what it may have felt to be a medieval scribe, or a student gazing over their shoulder as they wrote, this is the perfect opportunity to follow along. In real time. Day by day. Month by month.

Basically, putting the original #MedievalTwitter into… ehh… #MedievalTwitter.

Dr. Johnston will no doubt be giving this a permanent online home at some stage in the future, but in the meantime, this wonderful enterprise deserves both a broader audience and perhaps an easier way to access them all in one place. As a temporary measure, I have taken the liberty of creating a list of those months which have been completed so far – which will be updated as and when new months appear.  Bookmark and/or check back for further updates throughout the rest of the year.

Below are the months January to June. Clicking on the relevant image will bring you directly to the Storyfied content.











More to follow…
Incidentally, for more on Félire Óengusso, keep an eye on very promising Félire Óengusso Online by Dr. Nicole Volmering. See also, Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae, a similar modern day ‘online’ calendar of Irish Saints which contains excerpts of older writings, thoughts and material from antiquarian scholars of yesteryear.

Disney To Enforce Star Wars Copyright of Skellig Michael For Next Ten Years


Image: TechnoHippyBiker / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Skellig Michael, the early medieval monastic island and UNESCO World Heritage Site off the Co. Kerry coast has been experiencing a surge in popularity and interest after having been used as a key location for two of the three installments of the new Star Wars Trilogy i.e. Episode VII: The Force Awakens (released December 2015) and the, as yet untitled, Episode VIII (Expected release: 2017).

As expected, this months opening of the regular Skellig Michael tourist season is being highly anticipated by locals and tourism authorities seeking to capitalize on the films association  – although fears that normal access may be curtailed by recent storm damage to some of the visitor paths has certainly dampened some expectations.

In a startling move, however, it now seems that the operators of the Star Wars movie franchise (The Walt Disney Company) have invoked – and are to begin enforcing – digital copyright of ‘Skellig Michael’ itself.

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On Your Own, With No Direction Home: (St) Patrick’s Journey Across Ireland

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Image: Emmet Ó hInnéirghe (Used with Permission)


It’s Thursday. It’s March 17th. If you’re a regular, you know what that means. To celebrate the day that’s in it and in keeping with time-honoured blog tradition, I hereby present my annual Patrician-themed rambling extravaganza – a forensic examination of a lesser spotted feature within the writings of the historical Patrick himself. This year, I thought I’d take a look at what appears to be a fleeting throwaway line from the Confessio concerning Patrick’s escape from captivity and subsequent two hundred mile journey across Ireland to an unknown port.

I have actually touched on it before, ever so slightly. Previously, I wrote a short audio book for Abarta Audioguides on Patrick’s six years in captivity; and towards the end of the section dealing with the young Patrick’s decision to make a break for freedom, I concluded with the following line:

If there was one thing that Patrick would have known after six years under Irish skies – it was the direction home. Towards the rising sun.

Aside the fact that it reads like an over-dramatic hollywood-esque voice-over (it sounds much better in the book, honestly!), its both over-exaggerated and simplified. For one thing, the sun doesn’t rise or set directly east/west, except for the equinoxes. In Patrick’s time as a slave in western Ireland on the shores of Killala Bay, it actually would have risen North East over the sea from his perspective during the summer months. Nevertheless, it was my little way of acknowledging a single line in the text of the Confessio and suggesting that there may be more than meets the eye to it.

The particular line centres on the youthful Patrick’s decision to leave his captor and head 200 miles across Ireland to a waiting ship/port – without knowing anybody or where he was going. Why is it important and worthy of examination? Well, I would suggest that it carries several implications. Celestial symbolism and biblical frameworks aside, Patrick did escape from captivity and he must have crossed Ireland somehow and I think a closer look hints at just how he may have done so. In addition, it opens up several other aspects:

a) its a further inference (other than his own words) to his youthful captivity being on the western Irish coast – something which continues to be questioned by certain sectors, despite modern Patrician scholarship being widely agreed on the matter

b) it forms a crucial event horizon (quite literally) in Patrick’s later theological framework and motivation for his mission

c) it potentially offers an indication of how he may have come to be there in the first place – as in, the manner in which he was transported to Ireland from Western Roman Britain.

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Open letter to Irish Central, Irish Examiner and Scientific American about their “Irish slaves” disinformation

Image: Viewminder / flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I once described Liam Hogan as the Andy Dufresne of Irish History – crawling through rivers of shit, so we don’t have to. He and others have been engaged with debunking the vile tsunami of racist pseudo-history that is the ‘Irish Slaves’ meme currently running rampant in some media circles and in particular (but not exclusively) the social media sphere of Irish-Americana.

Below is an excerpt and link to an open letter, calling on some of those responsible for facilitating the above, to cease and desist.

The intent of the article is also patently clear; to insidiously equate white indentured servitude with racialised perpetual hereditary chattel slavery. This is an obscene rhetorical move which decontextualises and dehistoricises the exploitation of both groups. It has little to do with remembering the brutality of indentured servitude and all to do with the minimisation of the scale, duration and legacy of the transatlantic and intercolonial slave trade. The racist contemporary application of such bad history can be observed spreading like a virus across social media on an hourly basis.

Thus your mainstream endorsement of this distorted version of history has consequences. We therefore call on you to revise these articles, to correct the errors and to remove the false claims.

Open letter to Irish Central, Irish Examiner and Scientific American about their “Irish slaves” disinformation

For some, history may only be “just one fucking thing after another” in the immortal words of Alan Bennett. For others, its a matter of professional pride, accuracy and responsibility. On this, I’m proud to stand with colleagues and peers and call ‘bullshit’. If you feel the same way, perhaps you might like to say so, too.

Update: 20/4/16:

Amazing what a bit of attention can do…


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


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


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.


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


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.


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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


(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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