Much of our knowledge of early medieval Ireland comes from a rich literature written in a variety of genres and in two languages, Irish and Latin. Who wrote this literature and what role did they play within society? What did the introduction and expansion of literacy mean in a culture where the vast majority of the population continued to be non-literate? How did literacy operate in and intersect with the oral world? Was literacy a key element in the formation and articulation of communal and elite senses of identity? This book addresses these issues in the first full, inter-disciplinary examination of the Irish literate elite and their social contexts between ca. 400-1000 AD. It considers the role played by Hiberno-Latin authors, the expansion of vernacular literacy and the key place of monasteries within the literate landscape. Also examined are the crucial intersections between literacy and orality, which underpin the importance played by the literate elite in giving voice to aristocratic and communal identities. This study places these developments within a broader European context, underlining the significance of the Irish experience of learning and literacy. Elva Johnston is lecturer in the School of History and Archives, University College Dublin.
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