May 6 and 7, 2016
Marines’ Memorial Theatre, San Francisco

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From Galatia in modern Turkey to Galicia in northwest Spain, Celtic peoples dominated pre-Roman Europe, a Celtic past evoked in such place names as Paris, Vienna, and Edinburgh. Celtic culture outlasted Roman military rule and generated a rich archive of art (metal and textiles), religious and cultural traditions, and legends that inspired epic and lyric poetry in Europe’s successor languages. Some Celtic polities (Wales, Brittany) were absorbed into larger national units only in the late medieval period, and Celtic cultural identity remains strong wherever Celtic languages are spoken.

The “Romantic Nationalism” of the 18th and 19th centuries rediscovered Europe’s Celtic past and is the spiritual ancestor of contemporary independence movements (Scotland, Catalonia) that look to early modern Europe’s smaller polities. Since the 18th century Celtic musical and literary contributions to the European culture have been notable—from Thomas Moore, the Bard of Erin, to Seamus Heaney.

In collaboration with the UC Celtic Colloquium and the UC Berkeley Celtic Studies Program

Friday, May 6, 2016, 7:30-9:30 pm

Book of KellsThe Celtic World / Daniel Melia (UC Berkeley). Did the druids really burn people in giant wicker statues? Did the Celts worship a mother-goddess? Did they worship trees? Did the Celts build Stonehenge? Was Britain Rome’s Vietnam? Who were these Celts anyway (or were they Kelts)? Where did they come from? And how do we know about them, since they left no substantial written records before the introduction of Christianity in the late Roman Empire? Fortunately, the combination of historical records from the Classical world, modern archaeology, and the discipline of historical linguistics allows us to present a surprisingly full picture of the history of Celtic languages and culture in Europe, though, to be sure, many areas of controversy still remain.

Performance: Patrick Ball presents O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music. Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries was a troubled, tumultuous place. The old Gaelic order had been shattered by the English, and the poets, the bards and the harp players were set walking the roads. Yet, this dark period of Irish history produced a Celtic harper and composer of such brilliance, grace and character that he is, to this day, regarded as his country’s greatest and most beloved musician—Turlough O’Carolan. Conceived and performed by Patrick Ball, and written by Patrick Ball and Peter Glazer, this one-person musical theater piece brings to the stage the legendary life, the turbulent times and the captivating music of this most celebrated Irish artist. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016, 10:00 am-4:00 pm

Celtic Arthurian LegendsStorytellers and their ‘Bag of Tricks’ Through the Ages / Joseph Falaky Nagy (UCLA). Nagy highlights some of the persistent and recurring themes, story patterns, and narrative motifs to be found in medieval Irish and Welsh storytelling, from the middle of the first millennium CE to recent times. Among these story elements with their special Celtic “twists,” some also to be found disseminated throughout Western European literature of the Middle Ages, are the quest, the love triangle, and serial shape-shifting. Nagy will briefly survey the heroic sagas of the so-called Ulster cycle, some early British reflections of Arthurian legend, and the symbiosis of storyteller and hero in Irish and Scottish Gaelic folktales. Consideration will also be given to the functions of storytelling in Celtic cultures.

From Cats to Rattlebags: Medieval Celtic Scribes and Their Books / Elaine Treharne (Stanford). Many significant manuscripts in Latin, Irish, Welsh and Cornish exist from the Medieval period (c. 600-1500). From The Mabinogion to sermons, drama to great national myths, these manuscripts reveal a great deal about the scribes and artists who produced them. The skill and humor, veneration and scurrilousness of insular authors is found in these glorious writings, connecting the present to the past, and bringing to life the things that mattered most to our Celtic predecessors.


Making Celtic Art: Materials and Meaning from the Iron Age to the Internet / Karen Eileen Overbey (Tufts University). How did Iron Age craftsmen fashion intricate gold torcs and richly decorated battle gear – and why did Celtic warriors wear them? What technologies did the Celts use to create the spirals, animal forms, and rich decoration we still recognize (and recreate) today? How and why did medieval Irish artists adapt interlace, triskeles, and other “Celtic” patterns in manuscripts, stone crosses, and metalwork? What do the materials and motifs of Celtic art across the ages tell us about the people that used them? This lecture focuses on the Insular Celts, the medieval Gaelic culture of Ireland, the Irish Celtic Revival of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the modern Celts of the digital age – and explores the role of making in Celtic art across the ages.

The Celts in Modernist and Contemporary Irish Literature / Catherine Flynn (UC Berkeley). From W.B. Yeats’ visionary Celtic Twilight to James Joyce’s taunting “cultic twalette,” Professor Flynn’s lecture examines strikingly different representations of the Celts in Irish literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. As Irish writers from Yeats to Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Seamus Heaney struggle to form an ethos, a national identity and an aesthetics in a shifting political, social and economic landscape, the Celts are reimagined as mystics, craftsmen, hags, and bog bodies. These Celtic figures allow us to understand these writers’ changing moods and ambitions as they emulate, mock, dig up and speak to a reanimated past.

Panel Discussion with the Presenters

4 pm Conclusion

Related Events

Presenters & Resources



Patrick Ball:O'Carolan 2Patrick Ball is one of the premier Celtic harp players in the world and a captivating spoken word artist. He has recorded nine instrumental and four spoken word albums and tours extensively throughout the English-speaking world. Along with “Celtic Harp and Story,” his beguiling blend of music and spoken word concerts, Patrick has written and currently performs two acclaimed solo musical theater pieces. “O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music” brings to the stage the legendary life, the turbulent times and the glorious music of Ireland’s most celebrated and beloved musician, Turlough O’Carolan. “The Fine Beauty of the Island” is a dramatic musical journey to Ireland’s legendary Blasket Islands in search of a deeply haunting tune and the vanished islanders who played it. Patrick also presents a two ensemble performances. “The Flame of Love” is a spoken word and Early Music retelling of the greatest of medieval legends, The Romance of Tristan and Iseult. “Legends of the Celtic Harp” delves deeply into the myths, magic and fabled history of this most captivating instrument.

FlynnCatherine Flynn (PhD, Comparative Literature, Yale) is Assistant Professor of English at UC Berkeley. She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University’s Introduction to the Humanities Program from 2009 to 2012. She is a native of Ireland and has a B. A. from University College Cork and a B. Arch from University College Dublin. Her book project, James Joyce, Walter Benjamin and the Matter of Modernity, considers Joyce and Benjamin’s radical rejections of the conventions of fiction and theory within a context of urban writing that ranges from nineteenth-century realist fiction to twentieth-century surrealist works. She is also at work on Cruiskeen Lawn, Flann O’Brien’s column for the Irish Times.

Dan MeliaDaniel F. Melia (PhD, Celtic Languages and Literatures, Harvard) is Professor Emeritus of Celtic Studies and Rhetoric at UC Berkeley. A co-founder of the Celtic Studies Association of North America and of the Berkeley Celtic Studies Program, Professor Melia’s academic interests include medieval Irish philology and literature, as well as ancient and medieval rhetoric. Publications include Sources and Analogues of Old English Poetry, II: The Major Germanic and Celtic Texts in Translation with Daniel G. Calder, Robert E. Bjork, and Patrick K. Ford (1983), and numerous articles on legend, epic, orality, textual criticism and folklore and mythology. His teaching has included Old and Middle Irish, middle Welsh, Celtic literature, Classical rhetoric, rhetorical analysis and television judge shows (“Arguing with Judge Judy,” a popular freshman seminar at Cal). He is currently writing a book on St. Patrick’s rhetoric and its implications for the history of early Christianity in Ireland. He is also a five-time Jeopardy! winner and the winner of the 1998 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.

Joseph nagyJoseph F. Nagy, Professor of English at UCLA, has been teaching courses on comparative folklore and mythology, and on medieval Irish and Welsh literature, ever since he came to UCLA in 1978, after receiving his doctorate in Celtic Languages and Literatures from Harvard University. He has written books and articles, as well as edited collections of studies, on most of the major cycles of stories to be found in medieval Irish and Welsh literature.

Karen Overbey at London WallKaren Eileen Overbey (PhD, Art History, NYU) is Associate Professor of Art History at Tufts University, where she teaches courses including Early Irish Art, Medieval Architecture, and “Vikings!” Her research focuses on the art of medieval Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England; a particular interest is the depiction of the past in medieval art and in modern culture. She is the author of Sacral Geographies: Saints, Shrines, and Territory in Medieval Ireland (2012) and co-editor of Transparent Things (2013) and The Bayeux Tapestry: New Interpretations (2009). Her recent publications include a study of early Insular clothing relics and an essay on a thirteenth-century Scottish rock crystal shrine. She is a founding member of both the American Society for Irish Medieval Studies and the Material Collective, and the editor-in-chief of the online journal Different Visions.

TREHARNEElaine Treharne (PhD Medieval Literature, University of Manchester) is Roberta Bowman Denning Professor of Humanities, Professor of English, and, by courtesy, German Studies, at Stanford. She is also Director of the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies. A Welsh medievalist, she specializes in manuscripts from c. 500-1400. She has published some two-dozen books, and over fifty articles on Medieval Literature and textual culture, more broadly. She is currently working on The Phenomenal Book, 600-1200 and she directs the Stanford Text Technologies project, as well as the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies. She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, of the Royal Historical Society, and of the English Association.



Selected Resources for The Celts: History, Culture, Legend, May 6-7, 2016

Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon. “Joyce’s Agon with Shakespeare.” 1995.

Budgen, Frank. James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses. 1934.

Burgess, Anthony. Rejoyce. 1968. [A fascinating and straightforward tour through Joyce’s work].

Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (The Hinges of History #1). 1996.

Davies, Norman. Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe [Kindle Edition]. 2011.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. 1983.

—. Yeats: The Man and the Masks. 2000. 

Nagy, Joseph. Conversing With Angels And Ancients: Literary Myths Of Medieval Ireland. 1997.

—. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition.1985; new edition forthcoming.

—. Ed. Writing Down The Myths. 2013. [a collection of comparative studies of mythography]

Kenner, Hugh. A Readers Guide to Samuel Beckett. 1996.

Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. 2004.

McGarry, Fearghal. The Rising: Ireland Easter 1916. 2016 (Centenary Edition).

Overbey, Karen. Sacral Geographies: Saints, Shrines, and Territory in Medieval Ireland. 2012.

Vendler, Helen. Seamus Heaney. 2000.

—. Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form. 2007.

Wells, Peter. Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered. 2008.

—. The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe. 1999. [named “Outstanding Title of 1999” by the Profession and Scholarly Division of the Association of American Publishers]

—. Image and Response in Early Europe. 2008.

Williams, Maggie M. Icons of Irishness from the Middle Ages to the Modern World. 2012.

Young, Simon. The Celtic Revolution: In Search of 2000 Forgotten Years that Changed the World. 2009.

Yeats, W.B. Fairy and Folktales of Ireland. 2012 (Modern Library/Kindle Edition).

—. Mythologies. 1998.

Selected Online Resources:

Celtic Art/Culture. Associate Professor of Art History Dorothy Hoogland Verkerk at the University of North Carolina has created an online catalog of Celtic art.

The De Young exhibition “Treasures of Early Irish Art: 1500 B.C. to 1500 A.D” at the de Young Museum from February 21 through May 21, 1978. Access the exhibition catalog online: . The collection of over seventy objects were on loan from the National Museum of Ireland, the Royal Irish Academy, and Trinity College, Dublin.

Mitchell, G. Frank, et al., and photography by Lee Boltin (1977).

Treasures of Early Irish Art, 1500 B.C. to 1500 A.D. Out of print. Read online at

Supplemental Reading List

Supplemental Resource List, Celtic Storytellers, Professor Joseph Nagy, UCLA

Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales

(Thames and Hudson, 1961).

Jeffrey Gantz, trans., Early Irish Myths and Sagas (Penguin Classics, 1981).

Thomas Kinsella, trans., The Tain (Oxford University Press, 1970).

Ann Dooley and Harry Roe, trans., Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Oxford World’s Classics, 1999).

Sean O’Sullivan, trans., Folktales of Ireland (University of Chicago Press, 1967).

Sioned Davies, The Mabinogion, (Oxford World’s Classics, 2007).

Patrick Ford, trans., The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales (University of California Press, 1977).