Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Jon Porter


Those who study European society after the fall of the Roman Empire up until the dawn of the Renaissance can attest to the misogyny found in social, political, and religious institutions. Women were relegated to the corners of society for the sake of their modesty and their families' honor. Why, then, are the female characters in pre- Christian Irish mythology so humorous, powerful, intelligent, fierce, sensual, and respected when the theology which preserved their characters viewed femininity in a much different light? Ireland had been solidly Christian since the 400's CE, and Irish society was influenced by the newly introduced sense of Christian morality. From this setting of the story, one would think that the pre-Christian viewpoints, or at least the story lines, would be censored to fit within the context of the new ideals of womanhood and sanctity.

In this thesis I will argue that the unique preservation of female characters (specifically those within the Ulster and Finn Cycles) was based on Irish monks' cultural ties to these characters. The Irish culture, while looked down upon by the continental empires, was a conglomeration of Norse, Irish, and British societies, to which the educated monks brought the literature of Greece, Italy, and even Africa. Irish monks I Tain 80 Cualnge. Trans. Cecile O'Rahilly. (Dublin: School of Celtic Studies, 2004) pp 137-138. Rutledge 3 (both native and immigrant) used pre-existing pagan elements to cement Christianity in Ireland. This created a unique Christeo-pagan praxis of "Peter, and Paul, and the Druids.'? Though the preserved versions of oral stories were often accompanied by statements about the "demons" in the narrative, or an appendix testifying to the falsity of the plot, Irish monks ultimately protected their childhood heroines through an almost ethnographic understanding of the mythology as part of their own history and culture, and therefore worth the costly art of manuscript writing. The conflict between the Christian ideal of a dutiful and passive wife and the Irish reality of a hardworking and assertive woman is evidenced in the versions of the myths monks chose to write down, as well as their own writings on the matter.