The term ‘Gaelic Ireland’ in this anthology applies to the whole sweep of the historic period during which Irish was the language of a large portion of the ruling classes as well as the people of Ireland, from the fifth century to the slaughter of chieftains at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691. It comprehends not only the political history of the period but also the wider culture, literature, law, beliefs and traditions. Regrettably this is an aspect of Ireland’s experience that has been understudied at university level, particularly as regards the period following the advent of the Anglo-Normans in the late twelfth century.
For a number of years the Standing Council of Chiefs and Chieftains sponsored a competition designed to encourage original research into our Gaelic past. Entries were invited from anyone over eighteen who was not a ‘professional historian’ on the teaching staff of a third-level institute. As an added inducement, History Ireland agreed to publish each year’s winning essay, subject to editorial approval, with reduced footnotes and bibliography .
This volume presents the fruit of the first four years of this experiment, in the form of the four prize-winning essays accompanied by full references and bibliography, as originally required by the competition, together with a selection of entries by the runners-up, similarly referenced. The contributors come from very varied backgrounds, but are united by an intense interest in their subject. In almost every case it appeared that the entrants had been independently engaged in research on various aspects of Gaelic history and society long before they came across the advertised invitation from the Chiefs and Chieftains to enter the competition. Some had already published work in article or book form, and one of the points that emerges in the amalgamated bibliography for this anthology is the wealth of local periodicals and booklets that have been published at parish level as well as the better-known county or diocesan-based local history journals. Another very interesting feature was the ready availability of many original sources for Irish history in general, and Irish family history in particular, on the internet making it possible for researchers living outside Ireland or in Irish towns and villages remote from major libraries to access really detailed information about their own locality in medieval or early modern periods. If this anthology encourages more widespread research of this kind and, by drawing attention to the vivid interest in this field felt by many inside and outside the island of Ireland, raises its profile, or stimulates greater involvement in our third-level institutions, it will have amply accomplished its goal.