Tomás Ó Cathasaigh’s article, “Pagan survivals: the evidence of early Irish narrative,” is primarily concerned with elucidating the approaches used by scholars in the study of the literature. The article begins with a discussion concerning the relationship between pre-existing traditions and Christianity’s entrance into Ireland. Ó Cathasaigh questions W.G. Wood-Martin’s assessment that the influence each entity had on the other is easily disentangled. However, he remarks that Ireland has the benefit of a large body of literature from an early medieval time, a set of literature marked by an evident interest in pre-Christian mythology. While potential avenues of discussion regarding these works are vast and equally complex, the article instead chooses to limit itself to an overview of the methodology utilized for the study of early Irish narrative.
The purpose of the overview is to afford the reader insight into how evidence is extracted from its sources when approached from a variety of perspectives. The author supplements this outline by acknowledging certain issues scholars encounter through the use of one approach or another in this field of study. Ó Cathasaigh structures his overview by drawing on a system derived from the work of Mark Abrams that divides the content of the article into four distinct sections; the work, the artist, the universe, and the audience. Ó Cathasaigh notes that even though the work should be and is frequently at the heart of any scholarly inquiry, the artist and the universe just as often find themselves a central focus considering the unique context of early Irish literature. A fifth and final section includes an excerpt from Cath Maige Tuired and commentary in order to demonstrate the practice of these four perspectives.
In discussing the artist via the topics of authorship and transmission, Ó Cathasaigh makes two distinct points. The first concerns the origin of the written texts regarding the time period of their genesis. The manuscripts are significantly younger than the stories themselves, and there are no specific authors that the latter can be attributed to. Furthermore, dating the content is problematic due to texts being a result of a gradual formation rather than a singular event. The second point deals with the texts’ origin regarding the communities responsible for their existence. Since the advent of writing in Ireland is inextricably tied to the arrival of Christianity, a text that precedes the Church’s presence is non-existent. Ó Cathasaigh references scholar James F. Kenny in order to argue that, despite the presence of secular, literate communities alongside monastic communities, the evidence more consistently points to the latter as the chief medium through which these narratives survived.
Using the origin of the narratives as a segue, Ó Cathasaigh addresses the relationship between the oral and written traditions. The author points out that the oral tradition is not available...