Literacy and Identity in Early Medieval Ireland

Literacy and Identity in Early Medieval Ireland

Elva Johnston


Boydell Press



The first comprehensive survey of the Irish literary elite in the early middle ages.
Winner of the 2015 Irish Historical Research Prize.

Much of our knowledge of early medieval Ireland comes from a rich literature written in a variety of genres and in two languages, Irish and Latin. Who wrote this literature and what role did they play within society? What did the introduction and expansion of literacy mean in a culture where the vast majority of the population continued to be non-literate? How did literacy operate in and intersect with the oral world? Was literacy a key element in the formation and articulation of communal and elite senses of identity?
This book addresses these issues in the first full, inter-disciplinary examination of the Irish literate elite and their social contexts between ca. 400-1000 AD. It considers the role played by Hiberno-Latin authors, the expansion of vernacular literacy and the key place of monasteries within the literate landscape. Also examined are the crucial intersections between literacy and orality, which underpin the importance played by the literate elite in giving voice to aristocratic and communal identities. This study places these developments within a broader European context, underlining the significance of the Irish experience of learning and literacy.

Elva Johnston is lecturer in the School of History and Archives, University College Dublin.

An e-book version of this title is available (9781782041344), to libraries through a number of trusted suppliers. See here for a full list of our partners.


August 2013
248 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Studies in Celtic History
ISBN: 9781843838555
Format: Hardback
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS037010, HIS018000, LIT011000
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Table of Contents

Irish Literacy in a Late Antique Context
The Island and the World: Irish Responses to Literacy c. 600-850
The Island as the World: Community and Identity c. 750-950
Changing Patterns of Monastic Literacy c. 800-1000
Circuits of Learning and Literature c. 700-1000
Literacy, Orality and Identity: The Secondary-Oral Context
Appendix: The Chronicles as a Record of Literacy, 797-1002


Winner of the 2015 NUI Irish Historical Research Prize

Brings a fresh approach to the subject and opens up some significant new areas of debate and interpretation.... a lucid and intelligent book to recommend to students and to other medievalists. EARLY MEDIEVAL EUROPE

A solid piece of scholarship on the development of literacy from the establishment of Christianity to the beginning of the eleventh century. CAMBRIAN MEDIEVAL CELTIC STUDIES

This ambitious volume is...a very welcome work. ... Future researchers into the world of medieval Ireland's learned classes have a firm foundation on which to build. They will be dipping into this welcome volume for years to come. PERITIA

A landmark publication in the field of Early Irish History. IRISH HISTORICAL STUDIES

This book provides many fresh perspectives on some of the thorniest issues of Celtic scholarship. It is hoped that this insightful work represents a growing trend in new Celtic scholarship that will continue to question and supersede the frameworks that have guided discussion for so long. THE MEDIEVAL REVIEW

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