2nd Trinity Medieval Ireland Symposium - T-MIS 2
"The Irish-Scottish World in the Middle Ages"

Thomas Davis Theatre, Trinity College

18 September 2015

 

Good afternoon,

You’re all most welcome to Trinity College Dublin for the second Trinity Medieval Ireland symposium, or “T-MIS 2” as I believe it’s being termed.

I welcome our conference speakers, visiting delegates, and members of the public. I’m delighted that this symposium, established in 2013 by Sean Duffy and Peter Crooks from our history department, is a public one. And I’m delighted at the response, which is evident in the numbers gathered here today.

I absolutely share the view of the organisers that cutting-edge historical scholarship should be accessible to those who are interested in researching or learning more, and I thank Seán, Peter, and David Ditchburn, for acting on their views and convening this distinguished gathering.

I recall the first medieval symposium – “T-MIS 1” – which was held in Trinity in 2013. It was the focal point of a national millennium commemoration of the Battle of Clontarf, and it attracted great interest. This year we’re commemorating the 700th anniversary of the invasion of Ireland by Edward, brother of Robert the Bruce, Kings of Scots; hence the chosen theme for ‘T-MIS 2’ is: the ‘Irish-Scottish World in the Middle Ages’.

I’d like to acknowledge the generous support of the Ulster-Scots Agency and of the ministerial advisory group on the Ulster-Scots Academy, through the Arts & Social Sciences Benefactions Fund.

Their support has enabled this high level symposium, which draws speakers from universities in the United States, in Canada, and of course in Scotland itself. There have been few occasions in the past when so many experts on all aspects of medieval Ireland’s complex relationship with Scotland were gathered together in one location.

Fittingly, the outcome will last a lot longer than these two days - this Symposium will result in a peer-reviewed book, published by Four Courts Press, comprising the contributions of all the speakers and covering every aspect of the story of Ireland and Scotland in the Middle Ages: the literary and artistic links, the cultural and ecclesiastical bond, the complicated political and military overlap.

The links between Ireland and Scotland are profound and continue to this day, and it’s fascinating – and not only for historians – to explore the roots of those links.

For obvious geographical reasons no part of Ireland has been more closely connected with Scotland than Ulster. The Ulster-Scots Agency, which has been instrumental in planning and organising this conference, was set up under the Good Friday Agreement.

Fostering strong cross-border links is crucial to the continued success of the Good Friday Agreement and it’s something which public, and indeed private, institutions, North and South, should commit to. Uncovering the close historical links between Scotland and Ireland gives a sense of context and continuity to those from the Ulster-Scots tradition.

Trinity feels a particular obligation, and desire, to foster cross-border links because of our long-standing connection with Ulster. Trinity has always been an all-Ireland university, and for centuries it was the university of choice for Ulster students.

In recent decades student numbers from Northern Ireland have fallen off, largely because of the creation of two separate university admissions systems on the island, UCAS and the CAO. We regret this deeply and we’re now moving to reverse it. In Trinity we are recalibrating the A Levels/Leaving Cert conversion scales, with the aim of tripling our intake of students from Northern Ireland.  

Boosting the presence of Northern Ireland students on campus will naturally foster better cross-border links. Orienting our research and education programmes to include the Ulster experience will further cement good relations. In this context, the theme of this conference is particularly inclusive and of interest to the whole island and to all its traditions.

Perhaps nothing encapsulates the essence of Ireland’s link with Scotland in the Middle Ages better than the Book of Kells, because, as is well known, while we think of it as the greatest masterpiece of Irish art, it was more than likely not compiled in Ireland at all, but in Iona, off the coast of Scotland.  We are very conscious of our responsibilities - curating, research and educational - as custodian of this marvellous book. Our Keeper of Manuscripts, Bernard Meehan, is the world’s leading authority on the Book of Kells, and later today we will hear from Bernard on the art of medieval Ireland and Scotland.

I’m also pleased to announce that the College will shortly advertise for an Ussher Assistant Professorship in Early Medieval Irish History, to enable us to expand our expertise in this period traditionally known as Ireland’s ‘Golden Age’. This strategic new-blood appointment will serve to emphasise Trinity’s commitment to the study of medieval Ireland and underscore our position as a world leader in this area. I am sure this announcement will be of interest to this symposium – and perhaps particularly to some of the PhD students of the distinguished speakers here today, since the Ussher lectureships are aimed at academics at the start of their careers.

And now I won’t keep you any longer from this fascinating symposium. I hope you all have a particularly stimulating two days in Trinity and in Dublin and I look forward to reading the book that will ensue.

Thank you.

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