Patrick Gleeson (PhD Candidate)

Landscapes of kingship and the power of place in Early Medieval Ireland

Supervisor: Dr. Tomás Ó Carragáin
Early Medieval and Viking Research Group

E-mail: p.a.gleeson@student.ucc.ie

Overview

Interpreting the material remains of the past and the stories, histories and mythologies inscribed thereon was intrinsically important to legitimising power in early medieval Ireland. Through exploring the role of place and landscape in the construction of early medieval Irish kingship (c.400-1100A.D.), this study will assess the relationship between the social, economic and ideological roles of the king in Irish society. Kingship in Ireland was vested in places and archaeology provides material perspectives often missing from text-based histories. Through multidisciplinary approaches, including archaeology, history, sociology and anthropological studies, and integrating different strands of evidence concerning social identity, power and ideology, mentalities, economy, and symbolic beliefs, it is hoped to write a distinctive narrative of early medieval kingship.

Ireland possessed a hierarchy of kingship and a proliferation of kings. This research considers the material apparatus of such kingships and explores the role of places in kingship construction. Many previous studies of kingship have placed primacy on the prominent institutions. In contrast to the wealth of archaeological and historical work on centres like Tara, Cruachain, and Emain Macha, Cashel, Munster’s provincial centre, has been subjected to no systematic archaeological analysis. Despite being central to understanding this period, its landscape and kingship has been wholly neglected. This thesis will redress such bias. The early medieval environs of Cashel will be reconstructed through survey and G.I.S. As the main case study the results will provide a valuable contribution to the study of the construction and evolution of Irish kingship. The emphasis on provincial centres as places of power and performance is undisputed, but consequently the interweaving of different scales of kingship has thus far been neglected. To this end, a number of kingdom based case studies will be analysed in conjunction with the Cashel analysis. These will be geographically diverse, allowing appreciation of variability, and temporal and spatial development in order to enable understanding of both the intimate and wider scales of social life and experience.

Diverse sites articulated together to create royal landscapes. Places of inauguration, Óenach (assembly) sites, and the locations of Rígdála (king-meetings), for example, were imbued with symbolic resonance. Unfortunately, institutions such as Rígdála and Óenach are under researched and imperfectly understood. This study, therefore, intends to systematically examine such institutions in the case study kingdoms and articulate how they developed and contributed to constructing kingship in early medieval Ireland.

This study exploits various forms of archaeological survey alongside historical analysis to reconstruct different landscapes of kingship and analyse expressions of art, architecture, monumentality and cosmologies. Through analogy and documentary research medieval perceptions of landscape will be analysed and the experiential aspect of landscapes of royalty and kingship discussed.

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