Friday 29 March 2013

Vacancy in Celtic History

The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic is currently advertising a one-year teaching associate post in Celtic History to cover a period of leave. The full details are available here, and the closing date for applications is 19th April.

Friday 15 March 2013

Irish Songs from Connemara: A Concert by Saileog Ní Cheannabháin

Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson writes:

The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic was honoured and delighted to welcome the Irish singer Saileog Ní Cheannabháin, who performed a selection of songs from the Connemara Gaeltacht in a traditional style of singing known as sean-nós (‘old-style’). The concert took place in the ASNC Common Room before an attentive and appreciative audience, which included students, faculty, staff, ASNC alumni and members of the Cambridge community. The Common Room was filled to capacity, but there was absolute silence as Ní Cheannabháin captivated listeners throughout her memorable and moving performance. The songs were sung in Irish, and Ní Cheannabháin conveyed the thematic range of sean-nós singing in a selection of Irish laments and love songs, witty verses reputedly composed by a local poet and the enchantments of Seachrán Sí ‘The Fairy Wandering’, a song included in the recent publication The Otherworld: Music and Song from Irish tradition (Dublin, 2012). Ní Cheannabháin concluded the concert by inviting members of the audience to join in singing the refrain of Bean Pháidín ‘Páidín’s Wife’ and Na Ceannabháin Bhána ‘The fair Canavans’, songs well-known in Connemara. Inspired by her beautifully articulated performance, the audience sang (in Irish) in full voice.

Saileog's performance in the ASNC Common Room (photo: Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson)

The concert included versions of several songs from a region of Connemara known as Iorras Aithneach. Ní Cheannabháin has been influenced by singers from this region (among them, her father, Peadair Ó Ceannabháin), and yet her sean-nós style is very much her own. She was awarded the Seán Ó Riada Prize from the Department of Music at University College Cork (2009) for her study of the songs and singers from Iorras Aithneach. Consulting original manuscripts housed in University College Dublin (Ionad Uí Dhuilearga), Ní Cheannabháin researched songs which the Irish musician Séamas Ennis collected in Iorras Aithneach between the years 1942-45, many of which had since disappeared from the local repertoire. With the aim of bringing these songs back into the living tradition, Ní Cheannabháin recovered lyrics and tunes from various manuscripts, interpreted the ornamentations noted by Ennis, and arranged and recorded several of these rare songs on the recently produced CD I bhfíor-dheiriú oídhche

Saileog and Andrea in the Red Bull after the performance (photo: Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson)

Saileog Ní Cheannabháin has made a significant contribution to the Irish song tradition, and the ASNC Department extends its thanks and appreciation for a wonderful concert. It is particularly appropriate to commend the work of this young, talented musician during the weeks of Seachtain na Gaeilge (4-17 March), an international celebration of Irish language and culture. Thanks are also extended to ASNC Modern Irish student Andrea Palandri, who helped to bring Saileog Ní Cheannabháin to Cambridge University, Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, Fellow of Clare Hall, who kindly assisted with arrangements, and Charlotte Watkinson, Secretary of the ASNC Department, who offered generous assistance throughout the event. The concert was organized by Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson, Teaching Associate in Modern Irish. The Modern Irish Language courses and cultural events have been supported by a generous grant from the Irish Government.

N.B. Saileog is on Facebook and her page can be found here. Details of her CD can be found here.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Report: Communication and Cultural Contacts in the North Atlantic Community

Sarah Waidler, a doctoral student in ASNC, writes:

On 2nd March, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic hosted a seminar entitled ‘Communication and Cultural Contacts in the North Atlantic Community’. Held in St John’s College, this lively and intellectually stimulating event focused on the related topics of medieval commerce and the economy within this geographical area. The seminar also touched on many other forms of exchange, including cultural, intellectual, familial and political ties between the lands joined together by the North Atlantic waters. Ranging from the actual process of trade and use of currency to how crafts and ideas travelled, to the memory of specific events and preservation of literary and historical traditions, this day presented much food for thought and presented many useful insights, while at the same time highlighting how much work still needs to be done in these areas.

The event was divided into two parts. In the morning, four speakers gave 45-minute talks on different aspects of contacts in this region. The day kicked off with a presentation by Andy Woods, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, on ‘An economy of scale? Considering the volume and use of coinage in Ireland c. 995 -1170’. Andy presented his work on coinage in Ireland and demonstrated how it was possible to make fruitful comparisons between Dublin and many other commercial centres in the North Atlantic world in the medieval period. As well as showing the considerable variation in Ireland’s use of coinage both regionally and chronologically, this paper answered old queries and raised new questions on the nature of currency in Ireland. Dr Colmán Etchingham of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, was the next speaker of the morning and presented a paper entitled ‘The myth of the Irish monastic town’, in which he revisited a topic which he has discussed in other publications, including in his Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture at Cambridge in 2010.  Dr. Etchingham provided further evidence in support of his argument that ecclesiastical centres in medieval Ireland did not function as commercial hubs. This included a very worthwhile investigation into the semantics of terms such as ‘óenach’ and ‘marggad’, which took account of the sources in which they appear.

The Lewis Chessmen, image © Trustees of the British Museum

After a short tea break, the third speaker of the morning, Dr Alex Woolf of the University of St Andrews, discussed ‘The bishops in the Lewis chess sets’ and looked in particular at the question of provenance of these famous pieces. This paper also considered the identity of the craftsman who made such pieces as well as other high-quality goods and how the basic materials for manufacture were obtained. The morning was rounded off with a lecture by Professor Helgi Þorláksson, from the University of Iceland, on ‘Between Oddi and the Orkneys: on Icelandic Orcadian connections, c. 1180-1240’. Professor Þorláksson examined the complex relationships between families in these areas and how much insight could be gained from the extant sources regarding their relationships.

In the afternoon, a text seminar was held to investigate three primary texts which had been circulated prior to the seminar. This discussion was led by Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh and Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe of the Department of ASNC and Dr Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir of the University of Iceland. Dr Rowe introduced a text entitled ‘Gísls þáttr Illugasonar’ in which an Icelander, Gísl, comes to the court of the Irish king Muirchertach as a hostage. Dr Ní Mhaonaigh and Dr Óskarsdóttir presented the Irish text ‘Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh’ and the Icelandic text ‘Njáls saga’ and examined how these texts represented the battle of Clontarf. These two sessions proved how bringing together experts from multiple disciplines to examine textual traditions can provide new insights into the material and help elucidate difficult textual quandaries. The discussion covered a range of topics, including the way in which the Irish language was portrayed in ‘Gísls þáttr Illugasonar’ and the transmission of material about specific events and wider culture phenomena between Ireland and the Norse-speaking world.

This seminar was attended by many of the members of the Faculty from the Department of ASNC, several distinguished speakers and visiting academics, as well as post-graduates and students.  This event was an excellent example of how interdisciplinary approaches can hugely benefit research and present new findings. I’m sure that much of what was discussed at this seminar will go on to influence many of the attendees’ work and it is hoped that the many fruitful discourses that began at this seminar will continue for some time to come!

Friday 8 March 2013

Illuminating the Middle Ages debate, Battle of Ideas 2012

Three ASNCs past and present, namely recent graduate Albert Fenton; Dr Levi Roach (Lecturer in Medieval History, University of Exeter); and Dr Elizabeth Boyle (Affiliated Lecturer in ASNC and Research Fellow of St Edmund's College, Cambridge), teamed up with cultural commentator Lindsay Johns to discuss the significance of the Middle Ages at the Battle of Ideas 2012 at London's Barbican. You can watch the video here: