The abstracts for the XVI International Symposium of Societas Celtologica Nordica 2017 is provided below in alphabetical order.


From a Greek king's daughter to punished sinners: The mythological motif of women at sea.

Eivor Bekkhus, University of Oslo

The mythological motif of women at sea appears perhaps most prominently as the Tír inna mBan encountered in voyage literature. The Irish voyage tales have been linked to social practices particular to early medieval Ireland, i.e. the casting adrift as a punishment for crime and the sea pilgrimages of the 6th and 7th centuries. Men in this period went to sea for the sake of religious aspirations and inspired thereby a larger body of literature concerning the making of saints. This is in stark contrast to the traditions concerning women. While not permitted to take part in sea pilgrimages, women could be punished with exile at sea. Perhaps this is one reason that mythological texts depict women at sea primarily as persons not complying with norms or rules?

The motif of immoral women at sea is, however, employed in a variety of Irish mythological texts. Striking similarities to an Albion origin myth suggests it might have existed on both sides of the Irish Sea. Can the mythological narratives of women at sea shed light on each other with regards to attitudes and expectations to women?


Carl J. S. Marstrander in the Isle of Man 1929, 1930, 1933.

George Broderick, Universität Mannheim

This paper will look at Marstrander's three visits to the Isle of Man 1929, 1930, 1933 in order to collect specimens of Manx Gaelic speech, but will concentrate on comments made by Marstrander regarding the informants themselves and their (competence in) Manx, the cylinder sound-recordings made in January / February 1933, as well as the situation regarding Manx in Man at that time. The comments are almost exclusively taken from his Dagbok, a private diary he kept at the time of all three visits.


Tairchell and the Spectre

John Carey, University College Cork

This talk will consider the episode in the Middle Irish Life of Moling in which the youthful saint gains his name. After a consideration of some of the previous scholarship on the topic, some medieval parallels for his extraordinary leaps will be discussed, as well as a notable analogue in later oral tradition for the agonistic dialogue that constitutes the heart of the scene.


Orality, folklore, and the archive in Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s ‘mermaid’ poems

Gregory R. Darwin, Harvard University

The contemporary Irish-language poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s use of Irish folk traditions in her poetry is well-documented; for example, her second collection of poetry, An Dealg Droighin (‘The Blackthorn Spine’), takes its name from a folktale which is used as an extended epigraph for the whole collection. Her ‘mermaid’ sequence of poems from her 1998 volume Cead Aighnis (‘Permission to Speak’), later republished with English translation as The Fifty Minute Mermaid, make use of an international legend-type known as The Seal Woman, and use the figure of the mermaid or selkie as a metaphor for language loss in a post-colonial context.

Ní Dhomhnaill’s displaced mermaids in these poems are not only borrowings from folklore, but have oral traditions of their own, which they actively try to forget as a means of coping with the trauma of their displacement. These poems contain several references to the stories, myths, and superstitions of the mermaids, as well as to the archival collection of these materials. This paper, as part of a broader inquiry into The Seal Woman and its literary expressions, will look at the relationship between tradition, forgetting, and folklore collection across these poems, and the ironies of the archive as a fixed repository, a source for the poet and scholar, and something antithetical to the amnesic mermaids whom it purports to document.


Father-Son Rivalry in Early Irish Narrative

Morgan T. Davies, Colgate University

A consideration of several early Irish sagas featuring rivalry between fathers and sons.  Whether its source is heroic precedence (as in Aided Óenfir Aífe and Cath Maige Tuired) or eros (as in Eachtra Airt meic Cuind, Fingal Rónáin, and Tochmarc Becfhola), the Oedipal (or quasi-Oedipal) dynamic at work in these texts has rich implications in the contexts of early Irish law, the ideology of kingship, and psychology.


Etymologizing in the Dindṡenchas

Clodagh Downey, National University of Ireland, Galway

Etymologization is often seen as an essential expedient in the narration of medieval Irish dindṡenchas (‘lore of prominent places’), whether that be in the context of dindṡenchas episodes that occur seemingly incidentally within larger narratives, or of the various verse and prose texts that make up the Dindṡenchas corpus. On closer examination, however, etymologization, at least in the ‘Isidorean’ sense, would not appear to be as common in the Dindṡenchas corpus as this view might suggest. This paper will consider the kinds of etymologizing found in some Dindṡenchas poems, the ways in which poets incorporated etymology into these poems, and how central such etymologizing is to the method and motives of these Dindṡenchas authors.


The Irish language revival a hundred years on: where are we?

Aidan Doyle, University College Cork

On 21st January 1919, the first ever meeting of Dáil Éireann was convened in Dublin. Most of the proceedings were in Irish. The revival of the language was an important element in the official programme of the independence movement which led to the setting up of the Irish Free State in 1922, and was vigorously supported by successive governments in the period 1922-1960.

Since then, the revival of Irish has gradually become little more than a vague aspiration, and is taken serioulsy by only a handful of enthusiasts. At the same time, the majority of the people of Ireland seem to have some kind of sentimental attachment to the idea of restoring it.

This talk tries to tease out the role played by the language in modern Irish society. It is argued that contrary to popular belief, the revival can be regarded as a success on one level. However, it is also the contention of the speaker that national identity is mainly expressed through English. While Irish continues to have a role in defining our own and others’ view of ourselves, this role is far more marginal and shadowy than envisaged by the founding fathers of the state.

It is hoped that the paper will contribute to the contentious and ongoing debate surrounding the role of language in society.


A dialectological analysis of Viscount Hersart de la Villemarqué’s unpublished

1840 notebook of Breton folktales.

Dr. Gary D. German, Centre de recherche bretonne et celtique, University of Western Brittany, Brest

Perhaps the best-known work of Breton-language literature is Viscount Hersart de la Villemarqué’s Barzaz Breiz, the lyrical ballads of Brittany, first published in 1839. Although his book was initially acclaimed internationally, de la Villemarqué’s contention that his lyrical ballads were the direct inheritance of an ancient Brythonic poetic tradition that had been brought to Armorican Brittany from Celtic Britain during the 5th to the 7th centuries was eventually demonstrated to be highly misleading. By the 1860s, de la Villemarqué’s work was widely considered to be a forgery. The controversy surrounding his work has continued to the present day and some of his most virulent detractors claim that de la Villemarqué was not even capable of speaking Breton and that the Barzaz Breiz was largely the production of a ghost writer.

De la Villemarqué’s reputation was partially rehabilitated during the 1960s when the viscount’s descendants confided his personal notebooks to Professor Donatien Laurent, later a member of the University of Western Brittany’s Centre de rercherche bretonne et celtique. Among the documents were the original transcriptions of de la Villemarqué’s lyrical ballads, many of which, it turns out, are indeed authentic ballads of Brittany. Among these is a 46-page notebook containing a collection of 16 folktales which have only now been transcribed.

Dating to 1840, this is the oldest collection of folktales resulting from fieldwork ever assembled in Brittany or France. Furthermore, they were clearly collected / composed by de la Villemarqué. Not only do they offer a wealth of evidence about his working methods but, in addition, they also prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the author did indeed know Breton. However, his knowledge of the language was largely limited to the Cornouaillais dialect spoken in the region of Nizon, the rural parish in which he spent his early childhood. Given that the language of the notebook is largely written in dialect, not in the literary language of the time, the notebook provides invaluable linguistic evidence for dialectologists about south-eastern Cornouaillais Breton nearly a century before the publishing of Pierre Le Roux’s Atlas Linguistic de la Basse Bretagne.


Tasting the Good News: Food, Feast and Fasting in Altram Tige Dá Medar  

Cathinka Dahl Hambro, UiT The Arctic University of Norway

Both the Biblical Fall and Christian salvation are connected to consumption, from the Old Testament fall from grace by eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge and the New Testament restoration of grace with the Last Supper. Although these two biblical incidents are the two most significant theologically, they are by no means the only scenes in which food and drink play an important role; references to food and drink abound both in Scripture and in early Christian writings such as the saints’ lives. Given that the Holy Scripture was the main source of inspiration for medieval scholars, literary composers and storytellers alike, that medieval literature is replete with religious food and drink symbolism is thus not surprising.

In this paper, I examine the use of symbolism related to food, feast and fasting and its religious significance in the 15th century Irish tale Altram Tige Dá Medar. Moreover, I explore how this Christian symbolism also alludes to the pre-Christian mythological past, thereby incorporating the old tradition into the new, adding new meaning to the old mythological symbols while simultaneously preserving them. In this way, the author of the tale establishes a similar connection between the pagan past and the Christian present as that of the typological relation between the Old Testament and the New.


Grammatical dialect variation in Breton

Steve Hewitt, Independent scholar

Dialect variation in Breton morphology and syntax is less well investigated than the well-known regular phonetic reflexes and lexical variants. Lenition or non-lenition of initial fricatives appears to be linked to the voicing of the unmutated form in NE dialects: there appear to be underlying lenis and fortis variants – there is widespread lenition where NE has the voiced fricative; strong resistence to lenition where NE has the voiceless. Certain personal morphemes of the central, innovative NE-SW dialects appear to have spread robustly during the 20th century, and these are reviewed. It seems possible to account for variations in verbal syntax by the gradual obsolescence of certain syntactic frames in a given dialect, for instance a reluctance to use the RA ‘do’ dummy auxiliary construction with lexical subjects, or even, reportedly in parts of Gwened, with verb-included pronominal subjects. Finally, a number of specific constructions are examined which are known to have variants, e.g. me meus c’hẘant mond / da vond [I have desire go.INF/ to go.INF] ‘I want to go’, but whose geographical distribution is unclear. With the end of traditional native Breton speech now in sight, it is becoming a matter of urgency to investigate and document such variation.


Accidental self-killing in Early Irish literature

Kicki Ingridsdotter, Ghent University

In two previous papers I have discussed suicide (Dublin, 2007) and suicide by sacrifice (Glasgow, 2015). I have argued that for death to be considered a suicide three conditions need to be met: agency, volition and intention. The examples fall into two parts: examples of straightforward suicide, in which the motivation for the self-killing is (mostly) clear and in which the result is the death of the subject by their own action. In these examples, full agency, volition and intention are found. The second group consists of examples in which the motive, manner or circumstance of the suicide is less straightforward, and in which either the agency, volition or intention is impaired. These examples include sacrifice, suicide for manipulative purposes and assisted suicides, among others.

In this paper I will conclude my research into suicide motifs in Early Irish literature by discussing instances where the death is self-inflicted, but where it cannot be described as a suicide. The self-inflicted deaths under discussion in this paper include accidents: the agent commits an act leading to death, but a wish or intention to die is not present. The discussion also includes instances of inflicting death upon oneself due to madness or exposure to magic, where the agency is not present and volition is impaired.


Nitorbe lasuidiu precept doib manidénatar ferte occa: Subject-like oblique arguments in Old Irish

Esther Le Mair, Ghent University

In earlier papers, I have discussed non-canonically case-marked subjects in Old Irish. They occur in various Indo-European languages and I have provided an example from Old Norse-Icelandic and Latin below.

a.         Old Norse-Icelandic

honum er nauðsyn

him.dat is need

‘he needs’

b.         Latin

mihi necesse est

me.dat necessary is

‘I need’

Research into Old Irish has provided examples such as

c.         indoich epert detsiu

‘is it likely that you would say?’ (Wb. 5b29)

d.         ɔderna cechball anastoisc dialailiu

‘so that each member may do what the other needs’ (Wb. 12b6).

I have already discussed how these constructions are formed in Old Irish, focussing on the verbs and prepositions used and on their semantics (Glasgow 2015). The current paper is a further exploration of the topic. In this paper, I will discuss the differences between the Old Irish constructions and similar constructions in other Indo-European languages and the differences within Old Irish itself. I will consider the differences between these constructions in different sources, including the types of predicates and the cases used for the subject-like argument, and discuss the frequency of these constructions in Old Irish.


”Mó is ainm damh Fer Benn”: Literary functions in Buile Ṡuibhne

Unni Kolrud Lefébure, University of Oslo

The figure of Suibhne mac Colmáin Chuair, or ”Suibhne Geilt”,  has been subjected to a considerable interest over the years, through scholarly studies as well as through work by writers, visual artists, and others. The readings of  Suibhne have made him fit into different literary traditions, placed him in various historical and geographical contexts, and made him the object of anthropological as well as religious interpretations; only to mention some approaches to this enigmatic persona. My approach will be to read Suibhne according to his literary functions in the text Buile Ṡuiḃne, based on the functional theory of A. J. Greimas.  By using Greimas´ actantial model, or the actantial narrative schema, I will study Suibhne´s relations to some of the other dramatis personae, especially to the mill-hag (an chailleach), whom I consider being a key character to understand Suibhne. Suibhne´s essential encounter with the mill-hag takes place in the poem O little stag, thou little bleating one (A bhennáin, a bhúireadháin), which is situated in the very center of the text corpus. This poem occupies a significant space in the narrative, chronologically as well as thematically. I will suggest that the poem provides us with tools to define some of Suibhne´s functions. 


Native or Latin: Stanzaic Structure in Irish and Old Norse

Mikael Males, University of Oslo

There is scholarly consensus that the regular stanzaic form of Irish syllabic poetry is of Latin derivation, whereas the alliterative and somewhat amorphous style of the roscada is likely to be native.(1)[1] When comparing the Old Norse and Irish traditions, Stephen Tranter concurred with this opinion regarding Irish, but thought that the stanzaic form was native to Old Norse.(2)[2] One may ask, however, exactly what ‘native’ means in this case. If the Irish stanzaic form developed in or around the seventh century, more than a hundred years remained until the composition of the first datable Norse poetry, and the regularized stanzas of skaldic poetry may well be an innovation from a more fluid mode. Several other aspects of skaldic poetry were certainly innovations, taking place in a time when Irish-Norse contacts were strong, and given the irregularities of runic and other eddic poetry, it is quite likely that the stanzaic form in Norse has developed under Irish influence. If so, it is simply the different timeframes of Irish and Norse literature that has led to the label ‘Latin’ versus ‘native’. The stanzaic structure of skaldic poetry, furthermore, has some bearing on the question of whether this type of poetry at large developed under Irish or direct Latin influence. While Irish syllabic poetry has a stanzaic structure, the proposed Latin model – leonine hexameters – does not. The most recent attempt at identifying the giver comes down in favour of Latin, but this paper argues that important factors, such as stanzaic structure, have been overlooked in the scholarly debate and that these point rather to Irish.(3)[3] 


Bodies and Borders: Vortimer, Brân, and Ívarr beinlauss

Kristen Mills, University of Oslo

This paper examines literary depictions of the burials of three legendary figures: Vortimer, son of Vortigern (Historia Brittonum, Historia Regum Britanniae, Trioedd Ynys Prydein), Brân fab Llŷr (Branwen, Trioedd Ynys Prydein), and Ívarr beinlauss, son of Ragnarr loðbrók (Ragnars saga loðbrókar). Similarities among the accounts of the burials of these figures, whose corpses guard (or are intended to guard) Britain from foreign invasion, have long been noted. Scholars have sought to interpret the British versions of the motif in light of literary depictions of sentinel burials in medieval Irish texts or Irish legal customs for claiming ownership of land; another approach has viewed the motif as a holdover from pre-Christian British beliefs. Rather than seeking mythological, archaeological, or legal precedents for the motif, in the first section of this paper I examine the narratives depicting the deaths and burials of Vortimer and Brân in their contemporary historical contexts, as literary responses to the loss of sovereignty and colonization. The second section of the paper considers the borrowing and adaptation of this motif in one version of the Old Norse Ragnars saga, which survives only in a single manuscript (Ny kgl. saml. 1824b, 4to).

Pangur Bán and Paul Muldoon

Ruben Moi, UiT The Arctic University of Norway

‘Pangur Bán,’ the old Irish poem composed by an Irish monk in a 9th century manuscript, still holds a dear place in many a reader’s heart, and a firm place in contemporary poetry. Paul Muldoon, the contemporary multi-prize awarded Irish-American poet and Princeton Professor of creative writing, is one of the many poets who have kept the charming medieval verses alive with his own English version of the poem, ‘Anonymous: Myself and Pangur’ in Hay from 1998. This paper meditates upon the attraction of the original text to Muldoon, how it relates to his other poetry, and how the text captures some central tendencies of critical thought at the turn of the millennium.


Heroes Telling Stories in Later Medieval Irish Literature

Joseph Falaky Nagy, Harvard University

In Irish narrative texts from the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, particularly in the so-called romances and Fenian tales, storytelling is performed by the protagonists almost as much, and as virtuosically, as by the authors of the texts themselves.  In this talk, I will explore the earlier precedents and possible sources for this trend, and what it may be telling us about the literary tradition’s evolving relationship to the oral.  


Textual Reflexes of the Norse-Gaelic Interface in the Thirteenth Century: Surprises and Significance

Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, Cambridge University

This talk will present the results of collaborative research undertaken by Colmán Etchingham (Maynooth), Jón Viðar Sigurðsson (Oslo), Elizabeth Ashman Rowe (Cambridge) and Máire Ní Mhaonaigh. At its centre lies four case studies, three Old Norse, and one Gaelic, detailed examination of which illuminates specific aspects of the Norse-Gaelic interface at various times and in different places within the broader region (Norway, Iceland, Scotland, the Scottish Isles, the Isle of Man and Ireland). Taken together, the analyses have wider implications for our knowledge of the intellectual cultures within which the texts were composed and transmitted, as well as for our understanding of ‘Norse-Celtic relations’.  Some of the implications – unexpected and otherwise – of our work will be set out briefly here.


A conversion narrative and accompanying dialogue poem from Co. Roscommon, c. 1835.

Niamh Ní Shiadhail, Uppsala University

This prose conversion narrative and accompanying dialogue poem are found in Manchester John Rylands University Library, Ir. Ms. 56. These texts were composed by James Mullaney of Co. Roscommon, Ireland, and were produced in both Irish and English versions in this manuscript. They have never previously been studied or edited, and I can find only one reference to their existence in the existing scholarship on nineteenth-century literature. My current project involves a study and edition of these texts. Both the narrative and dialogue poem have similar features to other texts dealing with the question of religious conversion in manuscript and print throughout the country. This paper is a preliminary examination of the main features of these texts, and it analyses some of these features with reference to the complex diglossic print-script dialectic in which they were composed. 


Sheela-na-gig: a comparative analysis of different hypotheses and their arguments

Joanna Petterson, Uppsala University

Since the rediscovery of the Sheela-na-gig, and the renewed interest in its origin, a plethora of theories trying to explain this architectural figure have been presented. Scholars have through the centuries approached the topic in different ways, arguing their case with focus on different historical, societal, or religious aspects. The result has been a number of conflicting points of view. Three of the more common hypotheses has been to view the Sheela-na-gig as an apotropaic symbol, a Romanesque warning against lust, and a folk deity used for birthing rituals. A consequence of this variety has been that the theories might be presented as facts without any comprehensive explanation of the subject’s complexity. This paper raises the question on how to approach this ambiguous area of study.

I will be looking at the discourses of a few hypotheses, regarding the origins and intended purpose of the Sheela-na-gig. I will be studying each theory by dividing it into a number of areas of discussion, for example examining how the theory describes the Sheela-na-gig’s physical appearance. By looking at the way each theory discusses these things, I will compare the arguments and the ways they are being presented, where they are focusing their attention, and what areas might not be considered as much.


The memory of the saints in Félire Oengusso

Katja Ritari, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki

Félire Oengusso, the Martyrology of Oengus, is a metrical martyrology composed in Irish around year 800. In the well-known and often quoted prologue of the work, Oengus contrasts the old and abandoned centres of paganism with the new and victorious ecclesiastical sites. For him the coming of Christianity means a decisive break from the past and the replacement of the old heroes by the new Christian saints. The work itself consists of short quatrains listing the saints to be remembered on each day setting side by side Irish with more widely known universal saints. This paper explores the function of the remembrance of the saints for Christians focusing on Oengus’s construction of the Irish past and its meaning for his Christian identity.


The Breton language archive after Carl Johan Sverdrup Marstrander in the National Library- the need and prospect of cataloguing, digitalization and dissemination

Lars Ivar Widerøe, Independent Scholar

In the summer of 1919, Professor Carl Johan Sverdrup Marstrander (1884-1965) set out to the southern coast of Brittany on a fieldwork which was going to last until November 1922. There, in the south-eastern corner of the Cornouaille region, he examined and collected the spoken Breton language of local inhabitants in about 14 villages and communes in the area called Pays de l'Aven as well as in parts of the Vannetais region. He also examined the dialect on the island of Groix, which is a dialect of the Vannetais Breton.

Marstrander's field notes consist of approx. 120 notebooks which have never been published. They contain phonetically transcribed oral material and offer descriptions of the phonology, morphology, vocabulary of the dialects as well as folktales. The material is currently stored at the National Library in Oslo. The dialects of Pays de l'Aven were and still are poorly documented. When Marstrander began his work the Breton dialects of this region were hardly examined, with the exception of the investigations Pierre Le Roux had done for his Atlas linguistique de la Basse-Bretagne. Marstrander's language archive is therefore an exceptional and important source of knowledge of the Breton dialects in this region.

A brief outline of the content and history of the material will be given. Further, the need and prospect of cataloguing, digitalisation and dissemination of the material will be accounted for.


















[1] (1)See, most recently, David Stifter, ‘Metrical Systems of Celtic Traditions’, North-Western European Language Evolution, 69: 1 (2016), pp. 38–94; for a discussion of the occasionally unclear limits between roscada and syllabic poetry, see Liam Breatnach, ‘Zur Frage der roscada im Irischen’, in Metrik und Medienwechsel. Metrics and Media, ed. Hildegard L. C. Tristram (Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 1991), pp. 197–205.

[2] (2)Tranter, Stephen N, ‘Clavis Metrica’. ‘Háttatal’, ‘Háttalykill’ and the Irish Metrical Tracts. Beiträge zur nordischen Philologie, 25 (Frankfurt: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1997).

[3] (3)Russell Poole, ‘Scholars and Skalds. The Northward Diffusion of Carolingian Poetic Fashions’, Gripla 24 (2013), pp. 7–44.