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Scholars will shine new light on a 400-year-old golden age of Irish writing during the annual Aigse Cholm Cille symposium this weekend at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus.

Leading experts and academic researchers from across the island are heading to Magee to explore afresh a remarkable era of creative, historical and genealogical scholarship by annalists, theologians and poets born in Ulster.

The quality and volume of their work, produced in hand-written manuscripts and on early printing presses in Continental Europe, kept alive a torch of learning that was in danger of dying following the demise of the Bardic tradition in the wake of the epochal Flight of the Earls in 1607.

A highlight of Friday's opening will be the official launch of The Flight of the Earls /  Imeacht na nIarlaÃ, a ground-breaking new analysis of the history-making episode which has been co-edited by University of Ulster historians Dr Éamonn Ó Ciardha and Marie-Claire Peters, who are based at Magee.

The theme of this year’s annual Éigse Cholm Cille is the Literary Tradition of Ulster in 17th and early 18th centuries. Tonight and tomorrow (Saturday) speakers will focus on the growth and lasting impact of Irish scholarship during the life span of two renowned Ulster writers, Aodh Mac Aingil (1571-1626) and Pádraig Mac a Liondain (1665-1733).

Prof. Ailbhe Ó Corráin (pictured) of the University's Magee campus, who is Director of the University’s Irish and Celtic Studies Research Institute, says: “The 17th century was a watershed, a period of radical transformation, in Irish history.  It marked the end of Gaelic supremacy in Ireland and the demise of the Irish learned classes.  It saw the land of Ireland change hands and the beginning of the spread of English.  

“Yet this period also witnessed a remarkable resurgence in Irish writing.  This renaissance began, not in Ireland but in Louvain, in what is now Belgium, where in 1606 Irish Franciscans established what was essentially a Research Institute of Irish Learning, devoted in particular to hagiography, history and catechesis. The Irish College in Louvain attracted a series of scholars from Ulster such as Aodh Mac Aingil.”

Born in Saval, Co. Down, Mac Aingil was tutor to the sons of Hugh O’Neill and later became a leading theologian on the Continent. The end of the period witnessed a further renewal, this time in South East Ulster, in a new form of song poetry emanating from poetic schools such as that established by Pádraig Mac a Liondain in his native Co. Armagh. He was a contemporary of Turlough O’Carolan and friend and colleague of Séamus Dall Mac Cuarta.

Dr Malachy Ó Néill, a Lecturer in Modern Irish at Magee and one of the organisers, says the period was “a golden age” in Irish literature and composition. “It saw a proliferation of Irish-language historical texts, hagiographical works, biographies, diaries, social commentaries and epic poems penned by Ulster diarists, annalists, theologians, philosophers and poets.

“It is particularly appropriate, too, that Éigse Cholm Cille will host the official launch of The Flight of the Earls /  Imeacht na nIarlaÃ. This compelling and voluminous series of essays and papers, co-edited by our Magee colleagues Éamonn Ó Ciardha and Marie-Claire Peters, is a seminal contribution to understanding an event and an era that shaped the history of modern Ireland, Britain and Europe.”

Friday night’s keynote address by the renowned historian of early modern Ireland, Katharine Simms, of Trinity College Dublin, will provide an insightful introduction to the theme of the conference. She will speak on ‘The Ulster Literary Tradition until the Sixteenth Century’.

Her address will be in English while Saturday’s lectures will be delivered entirely in Irish. Speakers will assess the relevance of native Irish texts in the study of the period and in the context of modern Irish society. There will also be analysis of the importance of the manuscript tradition in Irish scholarship with particular emphasis on Ulster literature.

Éigse Cholm Cille was established at Magee in 2002 to promote reading and writing in Irish and to celebrate writers of the extensive north-west Ulster area known in Bardic-times as Cineál nEoghain, which includes Inishowen and the Sperrins.

Events begin at 7.30 p.m. in The Great Hall on Friday and re-convene on Saturday at 9.30 a.m. in Lecture theatre MD108. Admission to lectures is free. For further information please contact Dr Malachy Ó Néill: +44 (0) 28 713 75219 or email