Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Free lecture series on the life and times of Brian Boru

The first of an ongoing series of lectures on the life and times of King Brian Boru was held on Thursday 1st October in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. This series is being held as part of the backdrop to the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf in 2014, in the hope of developing a large-scale celebration and tourist attraction in the Mid-West region that year. The topic under discussion at the lecture was the nature of Munster – apart from being a world-famous rugby team, it is also, of course, one of the ancient Irish provinces or cóiceda – the Irish word having the literal meaning of ‘Fifth’. Since there are only four provinces in Ireland, this name has caused much historical pondering as to where the “lost” province may have been. According to Dr Catherine Swift of Mary Immaculate College one of the oldest suggestions, found in the 12th C Lebor Gábala Érenn (Book of Invasions of Ireland) was that Munster in fact was originally divided into two provinces, east and west, along a line from Cork to Limerick. A second idea, postdating the rise of Clare power under King Brian, was that in ancient times, Munster was originally divided along north-south lines, paralleling the later kingdoms of Thomond and Desmond. (A third notion, dreamt up by people from the area of Mullingar, was that there was a lost province surrounding the Hill of Uisnech in the centre of Ireland and a fourth, promoted by the great Irish historian and patriot, Eoin MacNeill, was that there was a separate province surrounding the hill of Tara). The relevance of this to the story of Brian Boru is the fact that the first step on his family’s rise to national prominence was their takeover of the kingship of Munster in the mid tenth century. The political implications of that takeover are obviously related to the size of that kingdom and the resources it enjoyed. The next lecture, on the 8th October, is on the history of the royal centre of Cashel and its role in early Irish history. Each province had its own royal centre in Celtic Ireland – the others are Rathcroghan outside Tulsk in Connacht, Emain Macha or Navan Fort outside Armagh in Ulster and Dún Áilinne outside Kildare in Leinster. Cashel, however, has many unique characteristics in comparison to the others and the point of the lecture is to examine its distinctive character and make suggestions as to the importance of the Rock and its surrounding population in the early history of Munster. This topic feeds into the same issue as the first lecture – namely what was the nature of the political authority enjoyed by early kings of Munster? And how did Brian Boru benefit from his takeover of that power? The lectures are given by Dr Catherine Swift of Mary Immaculate College and are held at 7pm and are open to all. Refreshments will also be provided and there is time for discussion and debate after each lecture.

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