What is an Irish clan?
By Cathy Swift
Paper given at the Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2015 conference, on October 10, 2015
Medieval Irish historiography bristles with words such as clan, sept, dynasty, lineage and tribe but although some of these have been investigated over the years by scholars, many have been left undefined and their relationship to the Irish words used to describe the structures of their own society – words like cenal, ciniud, fine, sliocht and tuath – are often never clarified.
This paper looks at the discussion to date of these terms by Irish historians and compares the data to some of the Scottish clan structures in the medieval period. A particular focus is on landholding which is a huge and difficult topic and one which is almost entirely unexplored; how much land did these various types of units control and what political structures did they use to do so?
Dr Cathy Swift, University of Limerick, runs the Irish Studies teaching programme in Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick. Mphil. in Archaeology at the University of Durham; a second Mphil. In Old-Irish Language and Culture from Trinity College Dublin. Her Dphil. at Oxford examined the history of the cult of St Patrick. She has taught in many universities, served ten years as organising Secretary of the Irish Conference of Mediaevalists, and runs summer schools in Old Irish in Limerick when she’s not off gallivanting across Europe with her pilgrim staff, knapsack and tent.