Contributions to journals
Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib ‘The war of the Irish and the Foreigners’, one of the best known medieval Irish historical sagas, celebrates the deeds of the Irish king Brian Boru, culminating in his victory and death at the battle of Clontarf in ad 1014. The text did much to establish Brian’s reputation and the fame of the battle of Clontarf in Irish historiography. While most of the saga records Brian’s achievements, the early parts treat of events prior to his reign. This paper is an analysis of the function and chronology of these early sections. The conclusion is that the term ‘annalistic section’, often applied to them, is misleading. Such a term conceals the artistry and purpose of the author and conveys a mistaken view of their historicity.
Early Irish communities of religious women have never been adequately studied. However, Irish hagiography, unique among medieval saints' lives because of the incidental details it offers, provides much evidence about nuns and nunneries. Because the Irish saints' lives were written by monks, this information also reveals the monastic attitude towards nuns. Hagiography shows that many nunneries were established before the seventh century. But these communities began to disappear soon after, so that today only the location of a dozen or so are known to historians. Women's religious communities disappeared for a combination of reasons, political, social, economic, and spiritual. Secular society was hostile towards these communities from the start because they consumed a resource considered precious by men: unmarried women. Male ecclesiastics held an ambiguous attitude towards nuns and nunneries. They believed that women could attain salvation as well as themselves. Yet the entire church hierarchy of Ireland was dominated by supposedly celibate men, whose sacral functions and ritual celibacy were threatened by women, especially women's sexuality. Hagiography expressed this threat with the theme of sinful, lustful nuns; even the spirituality of women vowed to chastity and poverty was suspect. This attitude affected the structure, organization, and eventually the survival of women's monastic enclosures in early Ireland.
Downham, Clare, “Scottish affairs and the political context of Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh”, in: Cooijmans, Christian [ed.], Traversing the inner seas: contacts and continuity in and around Scotland, the Hebrides, and the North of Ireland, Edinburgh: Scottish Society for Northern Studies, 2017. 86–106.
Downham, Clare, “Living on the edge: Scandinavian Dublin in the twelfth century”, in: Smith, Beverley Ballin, Simon Taylor, and Gareth Williams (eds), West over sea: studies in Scandinavian sea-borne expansion and settlement before 1300: a Festschrift in honour of Dr. Barbara E. Crawford, The Northern World 31, Leiden: Brill, 2007. 33–52.