Latest Event Updates

The Classical Association in Northern Ireland

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Centre for Public History

In our latest blog, Dr John Curran outlines the activities of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland:

In 2015, a new partnership between the ancient historians at Queen’s and the broader public led to the formation of The Classical Association in Northern Ireland/Cumann na gClasaicí i dTuaisceart Éireann. The Association seeks to bring a number of different constituencies together to explore and celebrate the history and heritage of Classical antiquity.


Already, distinguished scholars from Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland have delighted audiences with lectures on a wide range of subjects from ancient Greek music to Rome’s trade with India. Poetry evenings have celebrated the unique interpretation of ancient Classical culture by Northern Ireland’s most distinguished poets Michael Longley and Seamus Heaney and provided a platform for the next generation of writers in Belfast and beyond. Film nights have featured Queen’s historians examining the…

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“The Earliest Latin Lives of St Patrick: Hagiography and History” Dr Elizabeth Dawson Review

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The Classical Association in Northern Ireland’s 2017-2018 public programme was successfully launched, as an impressive crowd braved the miserable autumn weather to attend Dr Elizabeth Dawson’s lecture on “The Earliest Latin Lives of St Patrick: Hagiography and History”.

Having completed a PhD in early medieval history at UCD, Dr Dawson is currently a lecturer of history at Queen’s University Belfast, focusing on the cults and lives of early Christian saints, and the development of the Patrician cult from the fifth to twelfth century.

Dr Dawson began her talk by discussing the fifth century writings of St Patrick; the ‘real’ Patrick. The Confessio and Epistola ad Coroticum are the only surviving Latin works that can be attributed to Patricks own authorship. All information regarding the ‘real’ Patrick is gathered from these two highly significant sources. The Epistola is a letter of denunciation against a chieftain named Coroticus. Dr Dawson explained that with this source the historian gains an insight into Irish conversation in the 4th/5th century.


However, Patrick’s Confessio is more informative. Written as a defence against his ecclesiastical superiors in the British church, the Confessio provides crucial biographical information.  Patrick (born c.410) was of Romano-British origin and was brought to Ireland as a slave at a young age, escaping after six years. Patrick then became a priest and when encouraged by a vision he returned to Ireland as a missionary. There is currently a scholarly dispute on how well-educated Patrick was. Dr Dawson stated that she agrees with David Howlett who claims that Patrick must have been relatively well-educated to have written the Confessio and the Epistola ad Coroticum.

A major part of Dr Dawson’s talk was dedicated to two 7th century hagiographers, Tírechán and Muirchú. These two earliest Latin lives are not only essential to the establishing of the narrative of St Patrick but also to gain an understanding of Irish politics and society in the 7th century. However, both are accused of being Armagh propagandists (especially Muirchú) who were trying to use the authority of St Patrick as a way for Armagh to establish ecclesiastical dominance in Ireland.


There is very little biographical information on Tírechán as he does not feature in any annals or genealogies. All information we have on the hagiographer comes from the Book of Armagh which was written two centuries later. Dr Dawson labels Tírechán the ‘underdog’ of the two writers since he is often criticized by academics for his ‘crude writing’ and ‘low Latinity’. But there is merit to be found in Tírechán’s Collectanea, as he names numerous locations, cult sites, dynasties and early church characters.

Dr Dawson then proceeded to discuss the Vita that was constructed by Muirchú, whose hagiography has seen more academic treatment than that of Tírechán. Muirchú appears to have been of greater social importance than his fellow hagiographer, as he is a signatory on the Lex Innocentium; a treaty created to help protect innocents during times of war.  Furthermore, Muirchú claims to be the foster son of Cogitosus, the author of St Bridget’s Vita, which would suggest that he comes from a hagiographical tradition. Dr Dawson explained that miracles feature heavily in Muirchú’s Life of St Patrick, especially where Patrick was trying to convert local kings. In many of the conversion stories the Irish kings were faced with two choices; conversion or divine retribution culminating in the king’s death. Dr Dawson claimed that the purpose of these stories was to show that Christianity was superior to secular power. Muirchú was using the conversion stories as an analogy; ecclesiastical Armagh was St Patrick and the secular powers were the pagan kings.


Dr Dawson concluded her lecture by showing that although the two Latin lives were narratively different, when woven together they provide an interesting picture not only of St Patrick but also of politics, society and the Patrician cult in 7th century Ireland.  The Classical Association in Northern Ireland are extremely grateful to have had an expert on Patrician hagiography on our 2017-2018 event programme.

Barry Trainor

Check out our Gallery of photos from this event.

BBC @ Mount Stewart Conversations 2017

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The BBC’s Mount Stewart Conversations 2017, will see two talks hosted in the gardens of Mount Stewart over the weekend of 14-15 October.

Stories and People from the Ancient World – Classical Connections;  12.45pm – 2.00pm, Saturday 14 October

Professor Edith Hall and Geraldine McCaughrean will be in conversation about… stories and ideas from the ancient world and their enduring influence and appeal. Our guests will be discussing the ways in which Classical themes have resonated down the centuries, and how Greek and Roman myths have been re-imagined for new generations – including books for children. We’ll also spend some time chatting about Homer’s Odyssey (prompted by the fact that Lady Londonderry was also known as Circe and can been read about here – and how this epic tale of adventure and curiosity has inspired countless books, poems and BBC programmes.

(Professor Edith Hall is a celebrated author and broadcaster and one of the UK’s foremost classicists. Her most recent book, Introducing the Ancient Greeks, has been described as “masterly” and “terrifically good”. Geraldine McCaughrean is a popular and critically acclaimed children’s author. She is a prolific storyteller and is well-known for her adaptations of Classical stories.)

Brock, Edmond, 1882-1952; 'Circe and the Sirens': A Group Portrait of the Honourable Edith Chaplin (1878-1959), Marchioness of Londonderry, and Her Three Youngest Daughters, Lady Margaret Frances Anne Vane-Tempest-Stewart (1910-1966), Lady Helen Maglona Va

Standing Up for The Classics – Ancient History and Modern Life;  12.45pm – 2.00pm, Sunday 15 October

Natalie Haynes will be in conversation about… the ancient world and its enduring relevance and appeal. She will be discussing how the Classics have influenced many different aspects of everyday life, from how “screenwriters learn from Sophocles, politicians echo Cicero and doctors take the Hippocratic oath.” Our conversation will also explore Natalie’s career as a writer, broadcaster and former stand-up comedian and her popular BBC Radio 4 series, Natalie Haynes Stands Up For The Classics. And as Book Week comes to its close on BBC Northern Ireland, we will hear about Natalie’s re-imagining of the Oedipus and Antigone stories in her new book, The Children of Jocasta.


(Natalie Haynes is a writer and broadcaster. She has written several books, including The Ancient Guide to Modern Life. She was awarded the Classical Association Prize in 2015 for her work in bringing Classics to a wider audience.)

The event is not just limited to these two classical talks. Between 3-15 October, in the BBC Blackstaff Studios and Mount Stewart Gardens, the Mount Stewart Conversations 2017 will include talks by Dan Cruickshank, David Starkey, Alister McGrath, Jonathan Lynn, Fiona Stafford, John Lloyd, Cathy Rentzenbrin, Robert McCrum and Julian Baggini on a variety of subjects such as the Reformation, C.S. Lewis, fake news, political comedy, books and heartache, the stories surrounding some of our most common trees, and the historical and cultural lessons to be learned from architecture.

For more information, check out the official events page –