Representation of the tales of the Ulster Cycle in Foras Feasa ar Éirinn: sources and features of the retellings
This article deals with the representation of tales of the Ulster Cycle in Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, written by Geoffrey Keating in the seventeenth century. Among the sources of retellings of these stories, the article focuses on that copied in Cambridge McClean MS 187, which may have been the Black Book of Molaga, the hypothetical primary source of the death tales reproduced in Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, of which editors and students of the Ulster Cycle have not been aware. On closer examination it becomes evident that the tales as represented in Keating’s work and McClean 187, as well as other tales included in the Foras, were reworkings of earlier variants of the tales. Keating did not merely copy his primary sources but rather revised them: he either rearranged the plot of the original story or modified it in accordance with his own authorial intentions.
The early Modern time was the period of serious cataclysms and transformations. Various groups of population reacted to events in different ways. One of the instruments of the new territorial legitimacy, which was required by the epoch, were historical narratives. They were used as arguments in the polemic about the past of Ireland. English historians and writers followed Gerald of Wales and treated the Irish pre-Anglo-Norman past critically regarding the native population as barbarians. To counter their arguments Gaelic and Old English intellectuals tried to justify civility of the Irish. ‘Foras Feasa ar Éirinn’ by Geoffrey Keating (1570–1644), a Catholic priest of Old-English descent, was such a narrative, in which the history of Ireland from the first settlers to the Anglo-Norman Invasion is described. The basis of his narrative is ‘Lebor Gabála Érenn’ (‘The Book of Invasions’), the medieval source of the peopling of Ireland.
As far as Keating is concerned, it is worth to distinquish between a tradition (where he rigorously follows his predecessors in the field of Irish history-writing) and an innovation (where he re-transmits, modifies and comments on historical data). The article sheds light on what Keating shares with tradition and where he breaks with it.
The author concludes that Keating’s work heralded the transitional period in Irish history-writing. On the one hand, it fitted into the context of preceding tradition, which supplied Keating with frame stories and conceptual schemes he reproduced. On the other hand, his text was defined by the demands of his time and in this perspective it conformed to the standards of Antiquarian and Erudite history-writing with its integral engagement of the author in the described events. That is why, “Foras Feasa ar Éirinn” was definitely individual.
This article reviews the prevailing tendencies in the interpretation of the works by the figures of the Irish Enlightenment: Geoffrey Keating, John Lynch, Charles O’Conor, Sylvester O’Halloran, and Charles Vallancey. The researchers of the works of the aforementioned authors can be divided into two groups depending on the angle of their approach to the issues: those who looked into ethnic discourses (first approach) and those who looked into ethnic groups (second approach) in the XVII—XVIII centuries. As a result of the review of contemporary historiography, Ireland is represented as a network of various discourses which are still to be reconsidered in their full diversity.
The article is dedicated to the phenomenon of patriotism of the Irish nobility in the reign of early Stuarts, when specific loyalist consciousness of distinction within the composite British state of the Roman Catholic subjects, both of Old English and Gaelic descent, was formed.
The author suggests a term ‘patrimonial patriotism’, which combines both medieval and new aspects, for describing patriotism in early modern Ireland. He compares and contrasts different forms of patriotism in Stuart Ireland: Old English traditional allegiances, Irish patriotism of both Old English and Gaels and also a distinct Gaelic dimension of patriotism. The Old English patriotism is rather to be considered seigneurial loyalty since their constitutional, territorial and historical legitimacy was based on their motherland in England. Patrimonial patriotism of Old English and Gaels was characterized by loyalty to Catholicism and the Stuart’s dynasty. The most complete form of Irish patriotism supposed appropriation of the Gaelic past and cultural practices and at the same time acknowledging the legitimacy of the English invasion. In the Gaelic dimension of patriotism loyalty to Stuarts was combined with non-recognition of the legitimacy of the English invasion and disappointment with the collapse of the traditional Gaelic order.
The author highlights that common features of these forms of patriotism were, in part, their politicized, monarchical and Catholic nature, their feeling of distinction and non-Englishness and their non-modern character. He also points out that the case of Ireland shows patriotism is not restricted to only ethnic and territorial aspects, but is always mixed with other elements.