Gaelic Culture and Literature; From Cú Chulainn (Cuchulainn) to the Cultural Revival and Beyond

University of Galway

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Gaelic Culture and Literature; From Cú Chulainn (Cuchulainn) to the Cultural Revival and Beyond

  • Host University

    University of Galway

  • Location

    Galway, Ireland

  • Area of Study

    Celtic Studies, Literature

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview


    Gaelic literature is the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe; the first three lectures in this module will introduce the student to early Gaelic narrative literature and gives insights into the culture(s) which created it. Students read and interpret a selection of texts in translation, including tales of Cú Chulainn and the Ulster Cycle and wonder tales of the Otherworld, and develop skills in engaging critically with this literature. Tracing the vicissitudes of the Irish language and its culture from the seventeenth century onwards, the remaining lectures of this module will explore the emergence and development of modern Gaelic literature from the period of the Cultural Revival in the late-nineteenth century and examine recorded Irish folklore and the oral storytelling tradition in the twentieth century. Through reading selections of Gaelic prose and poetry in translation, students gain insights into the rapid changes within Gaelic culture from the nineteenth century as represented in folklore and literature. While demonstrating an intimate awareness of formal and thematic developments in a broad range of world literatures, contemporary Gaelic prose and poetry engages closely with earlier sources within the Gaelic literary, oral and cultural traditions. The course develops students’ understanding of the dynamic interplay between the traditional and the contemporary within Gaelic literature.

    A knowledge of the Irish language is not a prerequisite for the course; all classes are through English. Introductory classes in the Irish language will be provided to interested students.


    1. Understanding the origins: An introduction to the sources and methods of interpretation of Old and Middle Irish literature.
    2. The reflexivity between sociohistorical context and literature: Tales of the Ulaid (Táin Bó Cúailnge).
    3. Tales of the monastery and beyond: Early Irish hagiographies and voyage tales.
    4. Mise Éire: Literature, language, and the Gaelic Revival.
    5. Rural Reflections: The role of the island autobiography.
    6. Abducted by the Fairies: Exploring Ireland’s National Folklore Collection.
    7. Modern-Irish poetry in translation.


    Students are required to purchase the basic textbook Gantz, J., Early Irish Myths and Sagas, Oxford: Penguin Classics [ISBN: 978-0140443974] – c. $8-10.

    Basic Texts

    Barron, W.R.J. & Burgess, G.S., 2002. The Voyage of Saint Brendan: Representative versions of the legend in English translation with indexes of themes and motifs from the stories Ní Bhrolcháin, M., 2009. An Introduction to Early Irish Literature

    Further Reading

    • Caerwyn Williams, J.E. & Ford, P., 1992. The Irish Literary Tradition
    • Carney, J., 1967. Medieval Irish Lyrics Cross, T.P. & Slover, C.H., 1936. Ancient Irish Tales
    • Cross, T.P., 1952. Motif-Index of Early Irish Literature
    • Dillon, M., 1948. Early Irish Literature
    • Gantz, J., 1981. Early Irish Myths and Sagas
    • Greene, D. & O’Connor F., 1967. A Golden Treasury of Irish Poetry
    • Koch, J.T. & Carey, J., 2004. The Celtic Heroic Age
    • Mallory, J.P., 1992. Aspects of the Táin
    • McCone, K., 1990. Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature
    • McCone, K., 2000. Echtrae Chonnlai and the Beginnings of Vernacular Narrative Writing in Ireland
    • Murphy, G., 1956. Early Irish Lyrics: eighth to twelfth century
    • Welch, R., 1996. The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature
    • Wooding, J., 2000. The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature: An Anthology of Criticism


    There is no textbook required for purchase for Part II of this course.

    Basic Texts

    • Ní Dhomhnaill, N., [trans Muldoon, P.] 1992. The Astrakhan Cloak.
    • Ó Eochaidh, S., Mac Neill, M. and Ó Catháin, S. 1977. Fairy Legends from Donegal/Síscéalta ó Thír Chonaill.
    • Ó Súilleabháin, M., [trans Llwelyn, M. & Thomson, G.] 1933. Twenty Years A-Growing.
    • Pearse, P., Short Stories, available digitally at:

    Further Reading

    • DeBharduin, O., 2021. Why the Moon Travels.
    • Ó Conaire, P., 1986. The Finest Stories of Pádraic Ó Conaire. Dublin: Poolbeg.
    • Ó Duilearga, S., 1999. ‘Irish Tales and Story-Tellers’ in Dundes, Alan (ed.) 1999. International folkloristics: classic contributions by the founders of folklore. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 153-176.
    • Ó Giolláin, D. 2012. ‘Ireland’ in Bendix, R. & Hasan-Rokem, Galit (eds.) A Companion to Folklore. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 409-425.
    • Ó Giolláin, D., 2000. Locating Irish folklore: Tradition, Modernity, Identity, Cork: Cork University Press.
    • O’Leary, P., 1994. The Prose Literature of the Gaelic Revival 1881-1921. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
    • O'Leary, P., 2004. Gaelic Prose in the Irish Free State 1922-1939, Dublin: University College Dublin Press.


    • Attendance at all lectures and participation in seminars.
    • Project using archival material from
    • One essay of 1,500 words on a subject of your choice, subject to the agreement of the Course Professor (those seeking graduate credit must write a 3,000-word paper).

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.

ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits are converted to semester credits/quarter units differently among U.S. universities. Students should confirm the conversion scale used at their home university when determining credit transfer.

Availability of courses is based on enrollment numbers. All students should seek pre-approval for alternate courses in the event of last minute class cancellations


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