R. A. S. MacAlister

Life
1870-1950 [Robert Alexander Stewart MacAlister; common var. Macalister; occas. Stewart-Macalister; err. MacAllister]; b. Dublin, ed. TCD, Germany, and Cambridge; served as pioneering Dir. of Excavations for Palestine Exploration Fund, 1900-09; Prof. Archaeology at UCD, 1909-43; organist and choirmaster at Adelaide Rd. Church, Dublin; Studies in Irish Epigraphy (3 vols., 1897-1907); Ireland in Pre-Celtic Times (1921); The Archaeology of Ireland (1927, 1944); Tara: A Pagan Sanctuary of Ancient Ireland (1931), treating of Gaelic Goddess of Sovereignty; ed. An Leabhar Gabhála authoritatively for the Irish Texts Society, [Vols. 1-V] (1934-1956); issued Ancient Ireland (1935), 24 pls., 18 ills, maps; issued The Secret Languages of Ireland (1937), a work of synthesis covering Shelta, Ogham, Bog Latin, Bearlagair na Saer [masons’ jargon], and which served as the source of references to ‘sheltafocal’ and Ogham-lore in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake; also works on Monasterboice (1946), Tara [q.d.], and other Irish archaeological sites; his father, author of a geol. work on Co. Dublin (RIA 1911). IF DIW DIB DIH

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Works
  • Side-lights from the Mound of Gezer; a record of Excavation and Discovery in Palestine (1st edn. 1906); Two Irish Arthurian Romances [ITS] (London: Nutt 1908), ix, 207pp.;
  • R. A. Stewart Macalister, MA, FSA, The Memorial Slab of Clonmacnois, King’s County, with an appendix on the materials for a history of monastery [Dub Univ. Press for Royal Society Antiquarians of Ireland] (RIA 1909),158pp.;
  • Muiredach, Abbot of Monasterboice 890-923 AD [ ...] (1914);
  • Pre-Celtic Ireland and Celtic Ireland, IV (c.1917);
  • ed., Robert Downing’s History of Louth [and] ... excavations ... in Galway (1917).
  • Ireland in Pre-Celtic Times (1921);
  • trans., The Latin and Irish Lives of Ciaran (1921);
  • Bible Handbook of Carved Ornament from Irish Monuments of the Christian Period (Dublin: RSAI 1926);
  • The Archaeology of Ireland (1928);
  • Tara: A Pagan Sanctuary of Ancient Ireland (1931), 280pp.;
  • Ancient Ireland: A Study in the Lessons of Archaeology and History (1935), maps, ills.;
  • The Secret Languages of Ireland (Cambridge UP 1937), and Do. [rep. edn.] (Armagh: Craobh Rua Books 1998), 294pp.
  • ed., Lebor Gabála Érenn, 1-5 (Vols. 1-4, 1938-41; Vol. 5, 1956);
  • ed., Book of Uí Maine (1942);
  • Corpus inscriptionium insularum Celticarum (1945);
  • Monasterboice, Co. Louth (1946), ill.
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The Gutenberg Project holds: trans., The Latin & Irish Lives of Ciaran Translations Of Christian Literature [Lives of the Celtic Saints, Series V] (London: SPCK [Macmillan] 1921)
 
Contents: Introduction; A Harmony of the Four Lives of St Ciaran; The First Latin Life of St Ciaran; The Second Latin Life of St Ciaran; The Third Latin Life of St Ciaran; The Irish Life of St. Ciaran; Annotations to the Foregoing Lives; The Latin Text of the Second Life; Index [for extracts, see RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics > Celtiana” [infra], or go online [accessed 02.02.2005.]

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Commentary
Estyn Evans, Irish Folk Ways (1957): ‘As the late R. A. S. Macalister wrote in his last book, perhaps not entirely without malice: 'The importance of Ireland is that, thanks to the “time-lag”, it has rendered to Anthropology the unique, inestimable, indispensable service of carrying a primitive European Precivilization down into late historic times, and there holding it up for our observation and instruction.’ (The Archaeology of Ireland, 1949, p.x; Evans, p.12.)

Damian MacManus, Guide to Ogam (Maynooth 1991), writes: ‘Notwithstanding the generally acknowledged origin of Ogam alphabet in the Latin alphabet itself and the fact that, as we shall see, the cult of these monuments falls within the Christian period, the view that they were essentially pagan in character and were the work of a learned class divorced from if not totally unfamiliar with Latin has often been asserted. This is the position championed by MacNeill (1909, p.301ff., and 1931, p.34) and by MacAlister (Corpus inscriptionium insularum Celticarum, 1945, passim, and Secret languages, 1937, Chap. 1), and though already challenged by Graves in 1876 (pp.446-7) and in 1888 (242ff., see n3.1 above) and again by Thurneysen in 1937 (p.199), the exposure which the works of its proponents have enjoyed would appear to have copperfastened it in the minds of many. &c.’

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Quotations
The Latin & Irish Lives of Ciaran (London: SPCK [Macmillan] 1921), Introduction: ‘In studying all these documents we must bear in mind that none of them are, in any modern sense of the word, biographies. A biography, in the proper definition of the term, gives an ordered account of the life of its subject, with dates, and endeavours to trace the influences which shaped his character and his career, and the manner in which he himself influenced his surroundings. The so-called lives of saints are properly to be regarded as “homilies”. They were composed to be read to assemblies of the Faithful, as sermons for the festivals of the saints with whom they deal; and their purpose was to edify the hearers by presenting catalogues of the virtues of their subjects, and, especially, of their thaumaturgic powers. Thus they do not possess the unity of ordered and well-designed biographies; they consist of disconnected anecdotes, describing how this event or that gave occasion for a miraculous display. / It follows that to the historian in search of unvarnished records of actual fact these documents are useless, without most drastic criticism. They were compiled long after the time of their subjects, from tales, doubtless at first, and probably for a considerable time, transmitted by oral tradition. It would be natural that there should be much cross-borrowing, tales told about one saint being adapted to others as well, until they became stock incidents. It would also be nothing more than natural that many elements in the Lives should be survivals from more ancient mythologies, having their roots in pre-Christian beliefs. Nevertheless, none of these writings are devoid of value as pictures of life and manners; and even in descriptions of incredible and pointless miracles precious scraps of folk-lore are often embedded. In most, if not in all, cases, the incidents recorded in the Lives are to be criticised as genuine traditions, whatever their literal historicity may be; few, if any, are conscious inventions or impostures.’ (p.2.) [For full text of Introduction, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, infra.]

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References
Stephen Brown
, Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), gives bio-data: Prof. of Irish Archaeology, NUI; works on Palestine, the Philistines, Ecclesiastical vestments; Irish Epigraphy, Archaeology, &c.; Two Irish Arthurian Romances [ITS] (London: Nutt 1908), ix, 207pp., containing wonder tales, ‘The Story of the Crop-Eared Dog’ and ‘The Story of Eagle Boy’; text and trans. on facing pages; quotes MacAlister’s Introduction, ‘[t]he dreamland of gruagachs and monstrous nightmare shapes is here as typical a creation of Irish fancy as in any of the stories of the Finn cycle’; Eagle Boy displays ‘no small constructive ingenuity and literary feeling’ (Do.).

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Hyland (Catalogue No. 214) lists Bible Side-lights from the Mound of Gezer; a record of Excavation and Discovery in Palestine (1st edn. 1906); Ancient Ireland, A Study in the Lessons of Archaeology and History (1st edn. 1935), maps, ills.

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Emerald Isle Books (Catalogue No. 95) lists RAS Macalister with H. S. Crawford, Handbook of Carved Ornament from Irish Monuments of the Christian Period (Dublin: RSAI 1926).

Belfast Central Public Library holds Ancient Ireland (1935); The Archaeology of Ireland (1928); Ireland in Pre-Celtic Times (1921); Monasterboice (1946); The Secret Languages of Ireland (1937); Tara, A Pagan Sanctuary of Ancient Ireland (1931).

University of Ulster Library (Morris Collection) holds The Archaeology of Ireland (1928); Ireland in Pre-Celtic Times (Maunsel 1921); The Latin and Irish Lives of Ciavan (1921); Muiredach, Abbot of Monasterboice 890-923 a.d. ... (1914); Pre-Celtic Ireland and Celtic Ireland, IV (c.1917); Robert Downing’s History of Louth [and] ... excavations ... in Galway (1917); Tara, A Pagan Sanctuary ... (1931) 280pp.; Teamhair, Tara (1935), 7pp.

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Quotations
Irish language: ‘The Irish language is, in Ireland, the monument to the most savage and bloodthirstly invasion which that country ever suffered - the raid of the brachycephalic horde [...] coming doubtless out of the land now called England [...] They had few virtues: later, but still contemporary, authority (Strabo) describes them, with some reserve, as cannibals [...] the ethnological evidence that this new people, who established a dominant aristocracy, was of Teutonic blood, is absolutely unshakeable.’ (R. A. S McAllister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, 1937; rep. edn. Armagh: Crua Rua Books 1997, p.36; cited in Mary Burke, ‘Phoenicism and the Irish “Gipsies”’, New Voices Conference, Galway, 2-4 Feb. 2001 [lecture hand-out].)

Talking in riddles has at all times a favourite amusement among the Celtic peoples’ (The Secret Languages of Ireland, 1937, p.73; cited by Ross Chambers, Irish Studies List, 1.2.1997.)

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Notes
He believed Ogham to have originated in a druidic sign-language based using five fingers developed in Cisalpine Gaul c. 500 b.c.

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