Monday 7 April 2014

Irish Language and Culture: Seachtain na Gaeilge, 2014

The celebration of Irish language and culture during Seachtain na Gaeilge (1-17 March, 2014) combined the medieval and modern, the written and the oral, lectures by visiting Irish scholars and the contributions of students.  

Events began on 3 March with a lecture by Professor Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies), who presented a meticulously researched study of ‘Medical Writing in Early Modern Irish, 1350 to 1650’.  Nic Dhonnchadha surveyed numerous Irish medical manuscripts housed in libraries in Ireland, Scotland and England, most of which have been made available to researchers through the open-source digitisation project, Irish Script on Screen (ISOS).  Over a hundred medical manuscripts written between 1400 and 1700 have survived, and Nic Dhonnchadha's talk shed light on their contents,  their (mainly) Latin sources and on the learned Irish medical scholars who translated these texts into the vernacular. 

Dr. Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha discusses medical manuscripts with Debbie Banham following the lecture, ‘Medical Writing in Early Modern Irish, 1350-1650

One of the earliest works considered was a commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, translated into Irish in 1403 by two scholars of Munster origin.  Nic Dhonnchadha also drew attention to a series of debated medical questions posed in the early ‘Megategni’ (1352), and noted scribal colophons which provide clues to its sources, among them works by Gilbertus Anglicus (c. 1180-1250).  Numerous colophons establish the identity and professional rank of several Irish medical scholars.  Tadhg Ó Cuinn (fl. 1400-15), who translated an 'Herbal' into Irish, is described as baisiler a fisigeacht ‘bachelor in physic’.  The designation of ‘tutor’ (oidi) is given to one of three scholars who collectively produced an Irish translation of the Speculum medicine by Arnaldus de Villa Nova,  (c. 1240-1311), a physician at the renowned medical school in Montpelier.

Nic Dhonnchadha presented strong evidence of a well-organized system of training in medical schools in Ireland.  The English Fiants of Elizabeth contain the names of ninety-five Irish physicians, including a 'surgeon', and members of prominent Irish medical families are named in the  list 'Leagha Éireann' (physicians of Ireland).  Among them were the Ó Conchobhairs, who produced numerous collections of medical texts in the schoolhouse (i dtech na sgoili) of Aghmacart (modern Co. Laois).  These include a text of the Prognostica of Bernard of Gordon, written under the direction of Donnchadh Óg Ó Conchobhair (fl. 1586-1610), who is referred to by his kinsman and student as príomh ollamh ‘chief professor’ in medicine.  The student's added comment that Donnchadh Óg 'never left Ireland to study' is a further indication of a highly developed system of medical learning in Ireland.  One of the more informal Aghmacart colophons offers a lighter glimpse at life in the schools. On 6 March 1590 a scholar finished a translation with the comment: 'And upon my word I am thirsty and hungry'.

The depth of Nic Dhonnchadha’s expertise and her scholarly contribution to the study of Irish medical manuscripts was apparent throughout the lecture and discussion which followed. Those present had, and will continue to have, the privilege of consulting her detailed hand-out on medical treatises, commentaries, physicians and schools.

On 4 March Professor Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha gave a more informal lecture on ‘The Irish-Speaking Area of Co. Waterford: Linguistic and Cultural Heritage’, to students in the Modern Irish language classes.  Nic Dhonnchadha surveyed linguistic studies on the dialect of An Rinn or 'Ring', a small but thriving Gaeltacht in Co. Waterford.  Modern Irish language students learned to pronounce familiar words such as cinn 'heads' and im 'butter', not with a long vowel  but with a diphthong, one of the most distinctive features of the Ring dialect.  Unusual grammatical features were also noted, such as the use of the dative plural fearaibh 'men' for the nominative plural.  Students learned words and phrases unique to the region: leabhair 'long', cortha 'tired', Dein do reast 'Rest yourself'.  Also of interest were the placenames for England and America: Seana-Shasana, literally, 'Old England' and Sasana Nua 'New England'. 

Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha with Modern Irish language students Andrea Palandri, Eoin Murphy and Cella Carr at a reception following her lecture on the Irish-speaking area of Co. Waterford.

The lecture closed with Nic Dhonnchadha's  reading of a tale about St. Patrick's curse upon three stonemasons and a folk anecdote which she herself recorded and transcribed from native speakers in Ring.  With characteristic generosity, Professor Nic Dhonnchadha recorded these and other Irish tales at the Cambridge Language Centre, and sound files will be made available to students on the Modern Irish 'Camtools' page.  Thanks are extended to Saimon Clark at the Language Centre for his technical expertise and assistance in preparing these audio materials for the Modern Irish courses.

Dr. Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha recording Irish tales from Ring, Co. Waterford at the University of Cambridge Language Centre

6 March:  ASNC student Andrea Palandri and Irish musicians Colm McGonigle and Conor Healy performed Irish traditional music to a large audience of students and guests in the ASNC Common Room.  Palandri, a native of Italy and student in the Modern Irish classes, introduced each song in Irish and played tunes on the fiddle.  The three musicians played together with familiarity and skill, complimenting each other's style.  Interwoven into the concert were solos by Conor Healy on the flute and a rendition of 'O'Carolan's Draught', composed by the blind harper Turlough O'Carlolan (fl. 1670-1738) and played beautifully on the harp by Colm McGonigle.  Following the performance 'draughts' were served and students and guests joined in an open session of Irish music and song, which included the familiar Bean Pháidín and Oró 'sé do bheatha abhaile. Singers were accompanied by Palandri, McGonigle, Healy and ASNC Ph.D. student David Baker on the bodhrán.  

Concert of Traditional Irish music by Conor Healy, Andrea Palandri and Colm McGonigle, ASNC Common Room
Modern Irish language students and guests singing Irish songs following a concert of traditional Irish music on 6 March, 2014.

11 March:  Professor Pádraig Ó Néill (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) delivered a lecture on the “The Southampton Psalter: a manuscript with two lives”, to a large audience in the Divinity School, St. John's College.  Professor Ó Néill has published a new edition of the Southampton Psalter, a manuscript written and decorated in Ireland around the year 1000 and housed in the Old Library, St. John's College, since 1635. Ó Néill emphasised the 'living text' of the Psalter, whose one hundred and fifty psalms were recited and sung in liturgy by clerics and pious laity.  The hierarchy of scripts, including the insular cursive minuscule used for the Old Irish and Latin interlinear glosses, was examined using detailed images from the text.  In the latter part of the talk Ó Néill turned to the Psalter's 'second life': its apparent journey from Canterbury to Dover, its exchange from one owner to the next, until eventually it was bequeathed the Old Library of St. John's College.  For a review of Ó Néill's lecture, which traces the intriguing history of this beautifully decorated Irish manuscript, see the recent posting on the ASNC blog.

Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson 

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