Pre-modern Irish

by | Jan 22, 2021 | College (1-2), Essay, History

Using the three primary sources from the packet (Cattle Raid, Fianna and St. Patrick) for this week, please write a two page response to ONE of the following questions. Double spacing and traditional document formatting please. No need to provide citations though. Be as specific as you can and get right to your argument.

What do all three sources tell us about pre-modern Irish society?

Are the portrayals of Cuchulainn and Patrick at all similar?

How does this story of Patrick function as a defense of Christianity for Ireland?

Question 1

These sources demonstrate many aspects of ancient and pre-modern Irish society. Among these are the role of violence in society, the importance of cattle and land in demonstrating power, the significance of bards (especially in regard to the Fianna, where prowess in poetry was considered invaluable for a warrior).
You might also look at how the lines between the natural and supernatural world may not be rigid, with characters possessing supernatural gifts or able to shift their shapes. Water, and rivers especially, serve as boundaries between these worlds.
A good response doesn’t need to address all of these by any means, but there should be allusions to at least some of them, preferably backed up by details/quotes from the sources themselves.

Question 2

This question looks at the portrayal of Patrick and Cuchulainn and asks for any potential similarities. You might also argue as to why chroniclers might have sought to make Patrick like this mythical warrior, but that analysis might be better employed in a response to Question 3 instead.
Patrick appears as a sort of warrior here, though it is also clear that he derives a lot of his powers from divine power and is harnessing it or appealing to it. He seems less inclined to direct violence than Cuchulainn, though, and those who do feel his wrath do so more indirectly, consumed by natural elements, for example. There are some other moments in the Patrick story that also align with Cuchulaiin’s mythology, including some shape-shifting.

Question 3

This question looks at how early Christians sought to naturalize their faith in Ireland, and reflects some of the strategies used by the earliest missionaries to establish connections between Irish practices/myth/culture and Christian ones. In this account of Patrick, there are all sorts of indications of this approach. These include portraying him as a sort of warrior, but also efforts to frame this story as taking place in an Irish context. The king and his court gather at Tara, the seat of kingship and power, and this is where Patrick supplants the king (and declares his descendants ineligible ever to seek the kingship again). The fire of the King’s feast is replaced by Patrick’s Easter bonfire, in another strongly symbolic moment. There is also the moment in which the druids tell the king that they had foretold the arrival of Patrick. This seems to indicate both that the ancient practices were valid, but they have been replaced by something stronger, a concession that both avoids denigrating the druids overmuch while reinforcing the legitimacy of Christianity in Ireland.

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