Dáithí Ó Corráin

Life
Scholar and critic; ‘Nationality and kingship in pre-Norman Ireland’, in T. W. moody, ed., ‘National and the pursuit of national independence’, Historical Studies 11 (Belfast 1978), pp.1-35.

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Quotations
Early Ireland: Directions and Re-directions’, in Bullán, 1, 2 (Autumn 1994), pp.1-15: challenges the emphasis on oral origins of Irish legal manuscripts and the culture on which they are founded, a conventional interpretation which was much bolstered by O. Bergin and D. A. Binchy, and summarised by Gerard Murphy in this form: ‘Medieval Irish manuscripts would seem indeed to be related to living storytelling much as the museum today [is] related to living material culture. When, therefore, we form a picture of the orally narrated Irish tale as something immeasurably superior to the suggestions of it a monastic scribe has recorded, we are not creating a figment of the imagination, we are merely restoring to the corpse buried in a manuscript the soul that once animated it.’ (Saga and Myth in Ireland, 1961.) Ó Corráin sees Binchy as ‘the principal shaper of opinion’ in this matter, basing his view on the philological fact that the canonical texts show older features which ‘doubtless go back to the oral teaching the pre-Christian law schools’; Binchy further holds that the fénechas [earliest law texts] are ‘the first precipitation in writing of the oral tradition of the schools, most of it in a primitive form of verse or in rhythmical alliterative poetry like the “rhetorics” preserved in some of the sagas.’ (‘Linguistic and historical value of the law tracts’, Proc. RIA, 1943; Ó Corráin, p.2.) Binchy is seen as perpetuating a jeu d’ésprit of Bergin’s in which the relation between Irish literary and oriental forms of culture such as the rabbinical and the ‘irrelevent Indian legal commentators’ (p.3), before outlining an intensely literary tradition in support of the assertion that: ‘The heroic atmosphere, the Otherworld folk, the world of druidry and taboo of pagan prophecy and portent, are the work of creative artistry, not the self-conscious oral transmissions of a traditional pagan past.’ (p.10.) Of the legal tractsÓ Corráin writes: ‘These texts are not the unaltered records of a pagan past, the oral teaching of pagan lawyers, and thus an artefact of Celtic culture, if not of remote Indo-European antiquity. In fact, the laws are the product of the self-confident and vigorous clerical culture of early Ireland that consciously created a Christian law for a Christian people.’ (p.5.) He instances James Carney’s reservations about the predominance of orality, and the tardy reaction of modern Irish scholarship to his views exemplified by Prionsias Mac Cana and others regarding the oral foundations of Irish literature, and the associated hypothesis of ‘concurrent oral tradition that fed the manuscript record.’ (p.4.)

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