Kilpatrick, Kelly A., “The historical interpretation of early medieval Insular place-names”, unpublished D.Phil thesis, University of Oxford, 2012.

  • unpublished D.Phil thesis
Citation details
The historical interpretation of early medieval Insular place-names
University of Oxford
Abstract (cited)
This study examines the textual and social roles of place-names in Insular sources from the seventh through eleventh centuries. Place-names are analysed within the framework of textual narrative to uncover the function of place-names in early texts and to reveal ways in which medieval Insular societies interpreted 'place' and place- names. The sources analysed in this thesis have been carefully selected where the geography recorded represents a particular culture or geographic region so as to provide an adequate representation of the early medieval Insular world.

Chapters One through Three examine place-names in hagiographical sources. Chapter One focuses on the island-names in the Vita Sancti Columbae. This chapter investigates the relationship of Columban foundations in the Hebrides, the early Christian interpretations of 'place' and the role of place-names in Biblical exegesis. Chapter Two analyses the place-names in the medieval dossier of St Brigit. Toponymic differences between Latin and vernacular sources are examined and compared. Special attention is given to tracing Brigit's journeys throughout medieval Ireland, and comparing the place-names in the Lives with Brigit's constituencies. Chapter Three examines place-names in the Vita Sancti Guthlaci. The Anglo-Saxon perceptions of prehistoric monuments and the fenland landscape are analysed, and evidence for early medieval frontier-zones are considered.

The material examined in Chapter Four dates to the later centuries of the early medieval period, and analyses place-names in Middle-Irish senchas tracts concerned with the cemeteries of mythological individuals. These sites were symbolic centres commonly characterised by monumental landscapes. Comparison with external literature reveals a wealth of information about these places, their perceptions and their social functions in medieval Ireland.

The Conclusions of this thesis highlight the differences in 'place' interpretation and also examine widespread functions of place-names in early texts and society.
Subjects and topics
C. A., Dennis Groenewegen
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May 2020, last updated: February 2021