Celtic Cultural Memory (CCM) proposes a Scottish and Irish application of some key concepts:  Pierre Nora’s loci memoriae; Jan Assman’s communicative versus cultural memory; Astrid Erll on the mediality of cultural memory; Ann Rigney on the dynamics of remembrance in the memory-forgetting perspective. Students are invited to compare local Irish commemorative practices and institutions to Scottish ones.  From The Royal Irish Academy in Dublin and the importance of the manuscript tradition of clerical (religious) centres and families before and after 1600, responsible for declaring Ireland a land of saints and scholars, we move to Daniel Corkery’s The Hidden Ireland, which links the acknowledged Irish cult for poetry and poets (surviving in the popularity of W.B. Yeats or Seamus Heaney) to the eighteenth-century resistance of Catholic Ireland to Protestant colonization. The constitution of Irish lieux de memoire  woven around Cu Chulainn and FinnMacCool is followed  in Irish fairytales, expert folklorerecitals (of the seanachie), in dinnseanchas (place lore), in modern monumental  translations and cultural institutions (e.g. The Field Day Theatrical Company in Derry), in film and music. For Scotland, we focus on the Gaelic (i.e. linguistically Celtic) element in an ages-long culturally diverse and plurilingual country: key Early Christian sites, looking also at the later romanticizing of “Celtic Christianity” and ideological instrumentation of the mysterious Picts; the song tradition of modern Scottish Gaelic, stressing the expression of women’s experience in lullabies and work songs and the passage of these songs from centuries of oral transmission to the concert stage and recording studio; commemorating the tumultuous history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Gaelic Scotland; changing approaches to the collection and archiving of Gaelic oral tradition and material culture, from the manuscript to the digital sound archive.

Course Instructors: Dr James Christian Brown, Dr Ioana Zirra


Week 1: From the archaeologists’ Celts to the Scottish and Irish Celtic heritage areas. Cultural, political and communicative memory. Methodological concepts: Lieux de mémoire (Pierre Nora); the experiential, mythical, antagonistic and reflexive discourse modes.

Readings: The archaeological encyclopaedia I Celti (in the British Cultural Studies library); Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de mémoire” in Representations, No. 26, Spring 1989, pp. 7-24; Jan Assmann, “Communicative and Cultural Memory” (pp. 109-18) and Astrid Erll, “Literature, Film and the Mediality of Cultural Memory” (pp. 390-5), in Erll, Astrid and Ansgar Nunning (ed.) Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook (Walter de Gruyter, 2009)

Week 2: Early Celtic sites of memory in Scotland

  1. Iona (“Celtic Christianity”, the Book of Kells, placename lore, romanticism)
  2. Meigle (museum of Pictish scultpture, the mystery of Pictish identity);
  3. Glen Shee (Diarmaid and the boar – pan-Gaelic mythical tradition).

Readings: E. Mairi MacArthur, Columba’s Island: Iona from Past to Present (Edinburgh University Press, 1995), pp. 3-30; or John Murray, Literature of the Gaelic Landscape: Song, Poem and Tale (Whittles Publishing, 2017), pp. 22-37

Week 3: The Royal Irish Academy in Dublin and the importance of the manuscript tradition before and after 1600.  Post-Jacobite Celticness in action – poetic remediation, canon-making, political resistance .

Readings: Robert Welch (ed.), The Oxford Companion of Irish Literature (Oxford University Press, 1996), entries: “Manuscripts before 1600”; “Manuscripts after 1600”; Daniel Corkery, The Hidden Ireland, 1924 (Gill & Company, 1983); Fergus Kelly, A guide to early Irish law (Dublin Institute of Advanced Study (DIAS), 1988), pp. 43-49: Poet/Woman Poet/Illegal Satirist

Week 4: Singing cultural memory in Gaelic Scotland

  1. The Book of the Dean of Lismore (classical Gaelic verse in Scotland);
  2. Waulking songs and lullabies (women’s voices from the 16th and 17th centuries)

Reading: Michael Newton, A Handbook of the Scottish Gaelic World (Four Courts Press, 2000), pp. 77-107

Week 5: Heroic Lieux de Mémoire (Finn Mc Cool and Cu Chulainn): the dynamic of discourses that remediate Celtic cult names in etymology, (affective) geography, modern translations and political writings 

Readings: Room, Adrian (1988) A Dictionary of Irish Place Names (Appletree Press, 1988), entries: Carrickfergus/ Carraig na Ri /Carrick (rock/stone); The Tain, translated by Thomas Kinsella with illustrations by Louis Le Broquy, 1969 (extracts to be supplied); Lady Gregory Cuchulainn of Muirthemne (1902) and  William Butler Yeats “Cuchulainn’s Fight with the Sea”; “Cu Chulainn and the V 32”, in Eamonn Hughes (ed.), Culture and Politics in Northern Ireland (McGraw-Hill, 1991)

Week 6: Monuments of loss and resistance

  1. Glenfinnan, Culloden (the ’45 – end of the old clan order);
  2. Lewis (monuments to the clearances and land wars – vernacular and modern);
  3. Hallaig (as immortalized poetically by Sorley MacLean).

Readings: Sorley MacLean, “Hallaig” [author’s English translation]; John Murray, Literature of the Gaelic Landscape: Song, Poem and Tale (Whittles Publishing, 2017), pp. 147-168; or Ian Robertson and Tim Hall, “Memory, Identity and the Memorialization of Conflict in the Scottish Highlands”, in Heritage, Memory and the Politics of Identity: New Perspectives on the Cultural Landscape (Ashgate, 2007), pp. 19-35

Weeks 7 and 8: The Seanachie and the Dinnseanchas tradition in Ireland;  Urban folklore themes; Brian Friel’s play Translations (1980) in the institutional context of the Field Day Theatrical Company; the UCDublin Irish Folklore Institute.

Readings: Brian Friel, “Translations” (1980), in Deane, Seamus (ed.)(1991)The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Field Day Publications, Faber and Faber, 1991), vol. III, pp. 1207-36; Seamus Heaney, “The Sense of Place”, in Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968-1978 (Faber & Faber, 1984); Seamus O’Sullivan (ed.), Folktales of Ireland (University of Chicago Press, 1966);James Stephens, Irish Fairy Tales,

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Irish_Fairy_Tales_(Stephens); Batt and Maura Burns, “The World of the Seanachie”,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2Uq3-k4PfM

Week 9: Collection and preservation of Scottish Gaelic tradition

  1. J.F. Campbell and Alexander Carmichael (pioneering folklore collectors);
  2. Kingussie (Highland Folk Museum);
  3. The National Mod (festival of music and poetry).

Readings: to be supplied

Week 10: New publics, new technologies

  1. Tobar an Dualchais (C20 folklore archives online);
  2. Local history groups and museums in Gaelic Scotland;
  3. Gaelic song from ceilidh house to recording studio.

Readings: to be supplied


  • A minimum of 50% attendance
  • Participation in class discussions, counting for 30% of the final mark
  • An essay on a relevant theme agreed with the course teacher, to be handed in during the examination session, counting for 70% of the final mark