National pilgrims

Traveling a sanctified landscape with Saint Patrick

in A landscape of words
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Chapter 4 looks at the late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century Acallam na Senórach, medieval Ireland’s longest piece of literature at 8,000 lines. Set in the fifth-century past, the Acallam resurrects both Saint Patrick and the pagan hero Caílte to lead a pilgrimage through a reimagined Irish topography, merging sacred and secular to posit a revalorized, sanctified Ireland for a post-conquest audience. The Acallam advocates walking and physical movement through a green Ireland as knowledge-creating, while also promoting the benefits of imaginative engagement with a storied environment. The Acallam furthermore deploys a geospatial poetics to ‘naturalize’ Patrick: as in the Irish legends of kingship and sovereignty, Patrick is endorsed by the land. His actions show an increasingly harmonious relationship with the environment and culminate in his composition and delivery of Irish-language topographical poems. Patrick becomes a saintly practitioner of the Irish poetics of place, and the British-born foreigner is by the end of the text embraced as Ireland’s patron saint. By modeling Irish spatial practices through a range of characters transformed over the course of the narrative, the Acallam shows the diverse members of Irish (and English) society how to engage with Ireland as a richly storied, sanctified nation.

A landscape of words

Ireland, Britain and the poetics of space, 700–1250

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