General research interests

  • Early Irish glossaries and early lexicographical traditions.
  • Education and scholarship in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages.
  • Language learning and teaching in the early medieval West (Irish, Latin, Greek, Hebrew).
  • The transmission of learning in glosses and glossaries.
  • The interaction of Latin and vernacular languages in the early medieval classroom.
  • Historical linguistics (especially Classical and Celtic languages).
  • Palaeography.
  • Textual criticism.
  • Digital humanities: new technologies for teaching and research.

Research projects

Early Irish glossaries

Irish glossaries are like encyclopaedic dictionaries, comprising lists of Irish headwords with notes and explanations of various kinds, mostly etymological. The best known are Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary), O’Mulconry’s Glossary and Dúil Dromma Cetta (DDC) and these are generally regarded as having been compiled in the Old Irish period (c. 600–900) with some later additions. Sanas Cormaic is the longest, with about 1,300 entries, though O’Mulconry has 877 and DDC 646.

I became interested in Irish glossaries when researching some of the strange vocabulary in the work of Virgilius Maro Grammaticus, while working on a research masters in 2002. This turned into a PhD project, supervised by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and submitted at NUI Galway in 2007, titled ‘Sacred language and Irish glossaries: Evidence for the study of Latin, Greek and Hebrew in early medieval Ireland’. (Bizarrely, the Exams Office at NUI Galway originally changed the first part to ‘Scared languages’.)

After the PhD thesis, I worked from 2007 to 2009 as a postdoc at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic in Cambridge on the Early Irish Glossaries Project (EIGP), established by Paul Russell, also in collaboration with Sharon Arbuthnot. The aim of the project was to produce a digital edition containing diplomatic texts for the manuscripts of all of the above glossaries, and some related minor ones, as well as new critical editions in print. I launched the digital edition in 2008 (building on an earlier collaboration with Paul Russell during my PhD work). The scale of the editing work was such, however, that the print editions are still in progress.

After a hiatus from 2009 to 2011 (see below), I resumed my editing work in 2011, on a project to complete the edition of both O’Mulconry’s Glossary and a smaller text titled Irsan.

St Gall Priscian glosses

From 2009 to 2011 I worked as an IRCHSS Postdoctoral Fellow on the St Gall Priscian glosses. These are notes (c. 9,400!) written in Old Irish and Latin between the lines and in the margins of a ninth-century Irish manuscript, contain the vast treatise on the Latin language written by the sixth-century grammarian Priscian. The glosses have been highly valued for being among the oldest writing in the Irish language. My research focused on their broader contexts, however: what they tell us about how Latin was studied, the interaction between Irish and Latin in the early medieval classroom, what books were available to the glossators and how scholarly activity in Ireland (represented by this manuscript) related to that taking place in Britain and on the Continent around the same time.

Part of the project involved creating a new digital edition, publishing a full transcription of all of the glosses for the first time. (The text was generously supplied by Rijcklof Hofman, who published the first part in print in 1996.)

I am also working on a short monograph exploring the broader contexts mentioned above, which I hope to complete next year, when my work on O’Mulconry/Irsan is finished.