Literacy and Orality in Eighteenth-Century Irish Song by Julie Henigan

By Julie Henigan

This research takes factor with the disputed yet continual thought of a dichotomy among the cultures (and even mentalities) of literate and oral societies. concentrating on a number of particular genres of eighteenth-century Irish tune, Henigan demonstrates in every one case that the interplay among the elite and vernacular, the written and oral, is pervasive and attribute of the Irish tune culture to the current day. finally, she argues, it's neither literacy nor orality, yet functionality inside of group that almost all actually defines the culture.

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54 Despite caveats articulated by scholars like Proinsias Mac Cana about the impossibility of devising simple answers to the question of the relationship between orality and literacy in medieval Irish literature or David Dumville’s emphasis on the need for careful, objective evaluation of available evidence,55 it is clear that scholars can still be polarized into camps on the issue, as witnessed more recently, for example, by Kim McCone’s hard-line pro-literary views on the one hand and Seán Ó Coileáin’s more cautious but essentially oral-formulaic approach on the other.

22 Challenging the theory that the use of writing automatically gives rise to the notion of the ‘fixed text, a sense of the unique and original in literature’, Slotkin concludes: Given the attitude of scribes towards their work, we can think of each one of their productions as a kind of multiform of their original. In this sense, the entire nature of a critical edition of a saga is a false concept. 23 This tendency towards ‘variant reproduction’ or ‘multiformularity’ in early Irish literature is particularly evident in the later native Irish romances, notably Fiannaíocht, a body of tales associated with the hero Fionn and his paramilitary band, the fian.

51 Of the many folk versions of both the prose and verse romances, some, like the manuscripts, display great variation and innovation, while others reflect remarkable conservatism in relation to their manuscript sources: As Bruford notes, ‘In Munster at least romances used to be recited almost word for word as in the MSS. 52 Other versions found in oral tradition feature inserted ‘literary’ features (such as syllabic poems), illustrating just how closely the two modes can influence and imitate each other and suggesting that the athláech theory may be just as applicable to the community poet (literate or otherwise) as to the monastic scribe.

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