So I’m reading this book at the moment:
I will probably will be reading it for months. It’s vast. But I’ve learned some seriously interesting stuff so far.
From the very first page: the high, pointy roof construction of most early medieval Irish churches means that the height difference between the churches and round towers beside them would be much less noticeable originally than it seems now, when in many cases the round tower is intact but the church is gone.
From chapter 1: Written and art sources suggest that many early Irish churches were wooden, but of course wood churches are considerably less permanent than stone ones. O Carragain mentions a recent excavation, though, at Balriggan, County Louth, which probably is the remains of one. This is of course nifty both for itself and for being in my favorite county in Ireland. For both the wooden churches and high-gabled stone ones, the pitch of the roof is so steep that the church ends up being as high as they were long.
There’s more in chapter one, but the next bit is so awesome I think I’ll save it for its own post.
So I was guest blogging this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers about the Book of Kells and what’s involved in creating illuminated manuscripts.
It’s difficult to believe that the tourism office is allowing this.
(Why, yes, school DID just start again…it’s no accident I haven’t posted since June 13th, when school got out for the summer. It’s difficult to think, let alone type, with children chattering at your elbow. So many of their sentences this summer started with “HeyMomCanI..” I was beginning to think I’d acquired a new nickname.. Anyhoo. Back for the school year…)
It’s taken me several months to read David Griffiths’ Vikings of the Irish Sea (2010) but that’s my fault, not the book’s. Mostly. It is a detailed, academic treatment, possibly not a good fit for a general audience and certainly not a place to begin reading about the Vikings’ forays into the British islands. And absolutely not a book to be trying to get through with short people chanting “HeyMomCanI…” in the background. Your brain starts blinking Insufficient attention available at this time.
That said, the book is very good at what it’s meant to be–a corrective to how we usually think about Vikings and their interaction with the British islands. Griffith makes the point that crossing the Irish sea is much easier and faster than, say, crossing Ireland by land. Trading and raiding–and not just by Vikings–crisscrossed the Irish sea, and we would do well to adjust our thinking accordingly.
The added bonus for anyone interested in Linn Duachaill is that this book came out as the first-round excavations were planned or perhaps underway, and so is a snapshot of the state of our knowledge just before that significant discovery. It’s worth noting that Griffiths had enough information at his disposal even before the discovery of the longphort to caution against assuming that Lisnarann was where the Vikings made camp: “the longphort…could equally well be associated with the monastery, as also seems the case at St. Mullins” (32).
This, of course, has turned out to be precisely the case.
Now, of course, I want to do some reading about St. Mullins as an analogue for Linn Duachaill.
I don’t have cable, so I’ll have to wait to see the new Vikings History Channel show on Netflix and reserve judgment until then. Although as the co-author of a novel-in-progress about Vikings, it seems like nothing but good news. In my fantasies, Vikings will be the next big thing, bigger than vampires and for sure bigger than zombies. I don’t get the appeal of zombies anyway. Vikings are much better.
Plus they filmed in Ireland! Woot!
I picked this book up on the recommendation of a friend. It’s unusual. The first half is a set of imagined vignettes of the monks’ lives on Skellig Michael from its founding (circa 6th c) to eventual abandonment (circa 13th c). The second half is a set of non-fiction chapters about various aspects of early Irish history.
The whole book is well worth a look, although it’s good to remember that in the fifteen years since it was published, a fair amount of historical and archeological research has been done, some of which calls into question elements of the non-fiction chapters. For instance, the idea that anyone was wearing kilts (p. 205)this early in Irish (or Scottish) history has been reconsidered. Even so, it’s an accessible, intriguing entrypoint to the time period and culture.
This book is a quick read about a topic you (or at least me) thought you already knew something about–the smaller islands around England–but it turns out you’re wrong. The prose is informative without being dense, always a plus. My brain is still scarred from years of parsing academic articles. If I never hear the word ‘praxis’ again, fine by me. Anyway, this book. Victor Hugo lived for years in exile on Jersey? Who knew? I was hoping for more information about Iona, since one of my current projects is set there but the book was fascinating nonetheless, particularly in regards to explaining how/why/how much the scattered islands do/do not consider themselves part of England. Spoiler alert: more no than yes. The only real problem with the book is now I want to go see a whole bunch more places, all of which are relatively difficult to get to.
I was fortunate to see the Fadden More Psalter when I was in Dublin last August. Uncovered in a peat bog in 2006, it’s an awesome discovery on so many levels.
Not because of its fabulous illumination, like the Book of Kells and other insular manuscripts. Not so much. When 1000 years in a peat bog you have, look as good you will not. But its the first major find of this sort in 200 years and the first in an archeological context.
The conservation was probably an interesting project, since the parchment of many leaves had been eaten away but not under the letters because of the ink’s acidity, leading to an odd alphabet soup.
The cover is as important, if not more, as the book itself, telling us for the first time what the outside of early Irish books would have looked and how they were kept. It looks like nothing so much as a 9th century Trapper-Keeper, the book sliding into the cover but not attached to it.
But the icing on the cake is the papyrus inside the front cover, suggesting a potential link between the early Irish church and Coptic Egypt. It’s not known how Christianity came to Ireland. There were enough Christians in Ireland by 410 AD that the Pope sent them a Bishop, Palladius. Saint Patrick gets the credit for converting Ireland but he has, alas, more PR than history on his side. The papyrus find makes one wonder if Coptic missionaries were the real source.