A landscape of words

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

In recent decades, spatiality—the consideration of what it means to be situated in space and place—has become a key concept in understanding human behavior and cultural production across the disciplines. Texts produced by and about the medieval Irish contain perhaps the highest concentration of spatial writing in the wider medieval European milieu, and only in Ireland was a distinct genre of placelore formalized. As Mulligan shows, Ireland provides an extensively documented example of a culture that took a pre-modern ‘spatial turn’ and developed influential textual models through which audiences, religious and secular, in Ireland and Europe, could engage with landscapes near and far. Ireland’s peripheral geographic position, widespread monastic practices of self-imposed exile and nomadism, and early experiences of English colonialism required strategies for maintaining a place-based identity while undergoing dispossession from ancestral lands. These cultural developments, combined with the early establishment of Latin and vernacular literary institutions, primed the Irish to create and implement this poetics of place. A landscape of words traces the trajectory of Irish place-writing through close study of the ‘greatest hits’ of (and about) medieval Ireland—Adomnán’s De locis sanctis, Navigatio Sancti Brendani, vernacular voyage tales, Táin Bó Cualnge, Acallam na Senórach, the Topographia and Expugnatio Hibernica of Gerald of Wales, and Anglo-Latin accounts of Saint Patrick’s Purgatory. A landscape of words provides rigorous source analysis in support of new ways of understanding medieval Irish literature, landscape and place-writing that will be essential reading for scholars on medieval Ireland and Britain. Mulligan also writes for non-specialist students and researchers working on the European Middle Ages, travel and pilgrimage, spatial literature, and Irish and British history and culture, and allows a wide readership to appreciate the extensive impact of medieval Irish spatial discourse.


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