Friday, 11 March 2011

Seachtain na Gaeilge, so far ...

Dr Denis Casey writes:

The famous Irish poet Antaine Ó Raiftearaí may have complained that he was ag seinm cheoil do phócaí falamh (‘playing music for empty pockets’) but anyone who attended last night’s Irish poetry and music event at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic will have come away feeling much fuller than that blind poet’s pockets ever did.

As part of the ongoing Seachtain na Gaeilge, Tim Robinson (Parnell Fellow at Magdalene) held an informal discussion of the value of Irish placenames (Wednesday 9th March), before last night’s wonderful recital by the students of the Department’s modern Irish language classes, which ranged from Katie McIvor’s enchanting solo harp performance of The Waves of Gola to a rousing ensemble chorus of the old Jacobite song Óró sé do bheatha abhaile (‘You are welcome home’). The beautifully enunciated poetry performances were similarly varied, as the words of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Pádraig Pearse and Seán Ó Ríordáin (among others) and the landscape of Connemara (through a special visual presentation), were all vividly brought to life.

Katie McIvor plays The Waves of Gola

The performers are all students of modern Irish in Cambridge (while also studying and working in a variety of departments throughout the university) and hail from a variety of countries, including Holland, Australia, USA and Finland. Their high standard of Irish is a credit to their teacher in the Department of ASNC, namely Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson.

 Ensemble performance of Irish songs

In the first performed poem, Ceist na Teangan (‘The Language Issue’), Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill wrote that she placed her hopes in the little Moses basket of the Irish language, in the anticipation that it might one day land in the lap of a Pharaoh’s daughter. It appears to be in good hands so far.

Students of Modern Irish in the University of Cambridge (in front of portraits of some of our illustrious Elrington & Bosworth Professors of Anglo-Saxon)

Monday, 7 March 2011

ASNC Hosts Viking Society Student Conference

Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe reports:
The Viking Society for Northern Research was founded in 1892 and is now a professional organisation for scholars and researchers in the fields of Viking Age Scandinavia and Old Norse literature. In addition to offering public lectures and publishing a scholarly journal and monographs, the Viking Society organises a conference every spring with a student audience in mind.

This year, ASNC was the host department, and on 12 February Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe and Dr Judy Quinn held the conference on the theme of 'The Material Past: Understanding the Old Norse World'. The speakers were all top-level researcher in fields such as archaeology, history of religion, and Viking Studies, and they were asked to discuss an Old Norse text of their choosing in the light of their non-literary research. An overflow crowd of undergraduate and graduate students from across the UK and from as far afield as Norway filled Sidgwick Hall at Newnham College, and all agreed that it was a marvellous opportunity to learn about interdisciplinary approaches to Viking and Old Norse Studies and to ask questions of the experts.

Stefan Brink of the University of Aberdeen began by investigating whether we could rely on the sagas' information about slaves and slavery, and Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham followed by asking whether sagas tell us anything useful about the status of the physically different. Adolf Friðriksson of the Institute of Archaeology of Iceland continued the theme of bodies by discussing death and burial in sagas and archaeology. After lunch, the topic turned from bodies to objects. John Hines of the University of Cardiff discussed poems and sagas that mention houses and artefacts decorated with mythological scenes, and Judith Jesch of the University of Nottingham showed how the references to Viking weapons in skaldic verse corresponded closely to actual weapons that have been found. Lesley Abrams of Oxford University concluded the talks with a survey of runic inscriptions on stone in Britain and Ireland that might provide evidence of the religious beliefs of the Scandinavian settlers in those places. In a final discussion, the speakers asked each other questions about their presentations, and the audience was fascinated to see the experts debate the topics among themselves in a very lively fashion.

To find out what else the Viking Society offers, check out its website.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Seachtain na Gaeilge in Cambridge

Seachtain na Gaeilge, 2011
5 - 17 MARCH

As part of the celebration of 'Seachtain na Gaeilge', a two-week festival which promotes Irish language and culture in Ireland and abroad, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic will host the following events in the English Faculty Building, Sidgwick Site, 9 West Road.

9 MARCH (Wednesday), 5pm, English Faculty Board Room

Dr. Tim Robinson, Parnell Fellow
The 'Geophanic' Language of Ireland: A Discussion on the Value of Irish Placenames

Tim Robinson, author of several books on the landscape of Connemara and the Aran Islands and creator of beautifully detailed maps, will consider the importance of place in Ireland and the consequences of the loss of place in the modern world. All are invited to come and examine Dr. Robinson's maps of Connemara and participate in an informal discussion on the value of place--a topic thoughtfully probed by Robinson in his
recent Parnell lecture.

10 MARCH (Thursday), 5pm, ASNC Common Room

Dánta agus Ceol/ Poems and Music
Irish Film: 'KINGS'

A group of students from Modern Irish language courses will read selected Irish poems, perform traditional music and present a photographic travel account of the Irish landscape.

Student performances will be followed by a showing of 'KINGS', an Irish language film (with subtitles) and winner of five Irish Academy Awards. The film explores the lives of six men who left their homes in Connemara in 1977 with hopes of a better life in England.

Colm Meaney in Kings (image from Alt Film Guide

17 MARCH: H. M. Chadwick Lecture, 5pm (G-R 06/ 07)

Professor Wendy Davies (University College London) will present the annual H. M. Chadwick Memorial Lecture: Water mills and cattle standards: probing the economic comparison between Ireland and Spain in the early middle ages

Irish Manuscripts:
The Chadwick lecture will be preceded by a viewing of medieval Irish manuscripts at St. John's College. Places for the viewing are limited; to book please contact Denis Casey (

These events will be followed by refreshments. All are welcome to attend.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas - Programme

The Annual Colloquium of the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas will take place in the Faculty of English on 19 March 2011. Registration is £30 (full) or £15 (student/unwaged); forms can be found here. The programme is as follows:
Henry Sweet Society
for the History of Linguistic Ideas

Annual Colloquium

Faculty of English, University of Cambridge
Saturday 19 March 2011


9.00: Registration and Coffee
            Faculty of English Foyer

9.50: Opening remarks: Andrew Linn (University of Sheffield)
            Faculty of English Room GR06/07

10.00: Leslie Seiffert Memorial Lecture: Professor Emeritus Richard Hudson (UCL)
‘Why History Matters: From Babylon to Sweet, Tesnière, Chomsky and the National Curriculum’

11.00–11.30: Coffee and refreshments
            Faculty of English Foyer

11.30–13.00: Session I
            Faculty of English Room GR06/07
Chair: Nicola McLelland (University of Nottingham)

11.30–12.00: Hung-yi Chien (National Taiwan Normal University)
The Jesuit grammatology of Chinese from Ricci to Prémare

12.00–12.30: Camiel Hamans (European Parliament, Brussels)
The Reception of TGG in the Netherlands in the sixties of the 20th century

12.30–13.00: Helena Sanson (University of Cambridge)
Women’s language in the ‘Questione della Lingua’ debates of post-unification Italy


13.00–14.00: Lunch
            Faculty of English Foyer

14.00–14.30: Annual General Meeting of the Henry Sweet Society


14.30–15.30: Session II
            Faculty of English Room GR06/07
Chair: Deborah Hayden (University of Cambridge)

14.30–15.00: Toon Van Hal (Research Foundation, Flanders)
From Alauda to Zythus: Collecting and discussing Old-Gaulish words in Early Modern Europe

15.00–15.30: Paul Russell (University of Cambridge)
Irish f-, Latin u-, and the Greek digamma: Medieval Irish perceptions of sound laws, sound change, and linguistic borrowing

15.30–16.00: Coffee and refreshments
            Faculty of English Foyer

16.00–17.00: Session III
            Faculty of English Room GR06/07
Chair: Paul Russell (University of Cambridge)

16.00–16.30: Denis Casey (University of Cambridge)
Teaching Irish to the English Queen

16.30–17.00: Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (University of Leiden/University of Cambridge)
The Bishop’s grammar: Revising Robert Lowth’s status as a prescriptivist

17.00: Closing remarks

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

‘A Land without Shortcuts’ — 2011 Parnell Lecture in Irish Studies

Dr Denis Casey writes:

‘What makes a place out of a locality?’ was one of the many thought-provoking questions posed by Dr Tim Robinson, 2010–11 Parnell Fellow in Irish Studies, in his masterful 2011 Parnell Lecture, delivered at Magdalene College, Cambridge, yesterday.

 Charles Stewart Parnell (image from

Named for Charles Stewart Parnell, the ‘Great Adulterer’ and Magdalene College dropout still beloved of the Irish people, the Parnell Fellowship and Annual Lecture have provided forums for some of the most talented minds in Irish studies. This year the polymath Tim Robinson — author, mathematician, geologist, poet and cartographer (among other things) — skillfully expounded upon potential threats to the landscapes and seascapes of the Aran islands, Burren and Connemara; places on which he has become the greatest commentator and authority since J. M. Synge. His discussion of present day (and potential) adverse human impact upon these areas, both upon the physical environment and our perceptions of place, was set within an impressively large timeline stretching over geological and environmental eons. Questions from the audience, however, indicated that not everyone was in complete agreement with his assessment of modern human impact vis-à-vis that of previous generations and indeed natural forces of much longer duration. I came away feeling that while Robinson has not squared this circle, his answer to the above question, ‘it is the attention which we bring it’, is deserving of deeper reflection somewhere in the ‘long dark night of the intellect’ upon which he has previously written.