Irish Myth
curriculum vitae

Ronald Hicks, Ph.D.       Portrait

Current Research:

In broad terms, my research is concerned with the nature of the pre-Christian religion of Ireland and with the way this is expressed in myth and on the landscape. Basic to my approach is the assumption that the religion bore a close relationship to, and was reflective of, the way of life of the ancient Irish, which was dominantly transhumant pastoralism. Thus one would expect both the mythology and traces of the religion on the landscape to be concerned with the annual agricultural cycle. In conventional terms, this means my research tends to fall within the areas known as landscape and cognitive archaeology, including archaeoastronomy, although it also involves interpretation of myth more broadly.

After Greece and Roman, Ireland has the largest surviving body of early literature of any culture in Europe. And much of that early literature consists of myth--tales of the deities and their activities. Places are also very important in these tales, so important that there is a large compilation made up entirely of tales explaining how places got their names. This provides the body of data that is the starting point for my research, which involves analyzing Irish myth in an attempt to gain an understanding of its underlying meaning, determining the geographic locations of the hundreds of places mentioned, determining the nature of any prehistoric remains surviving at those places (through fieldwork), and looking at the relationships among the places in the context of the myth. Often site orientations or intersite relationships reflect calendrical or other astronomically related concerns, such as the seasonal festivals and significant movements of the sun and moon. Thus the landscape was seen as sacred and intimately related to the belief system.

Recent Publications:

The Lughnasa Triangle:  Symbolism and Astronomy in the Ancient Irish Sacred Landscape. 
    Archaeoastronomy 25:114-124.  [cover date 2012-13]

    a) The Sacred Landscape of Ancient IrelandArchaeology 64(3):40-45.  For full text click here.

    b) Some Correlations between Henge Enclosures and Oenach Sites.  Journal of the Royal Society of
        Antiquaries of Ireland
139:35-44.  [cover date 2009]

    Review:  Newgrange (Stout & Stout).  CSANA Newsletter 28(1):3-7.

    a) Place and Time in the Tána.  In Ulidia 2:  Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the
        Ulster Cycle of Tales, edited by Ruairí Ó hUiginn & Brian Ó Catháin, pp. 296-312.  Maigh Nuad
        (Maynooth):  An Sagart.
Cosmography in Tochmarc Étaíne.  Journal of Indo-European Studies 37:115-129. 

    a) Dún Ailinne's Role in Folklore, Myth, and the Sacred Landscape.  In Dún Ailinne: Excavations at an
        Irish Royal Site 1968-1975, edited by Bernard Wailes & Susan Johnston, pp. 183-194. 
Philadelphia: University Museum.
    b)  Destination:  Castle Roche.  Archaeology 60(3):16.
    c)  Archaeological Method and Theory and the M3. Originally published on
    d)  On the Significance of Lismullin. Originally published on Tarawatch (now defunct).

    Review:  Current Studies in Archaeoastronomy (Fountain & Sinclair, eds.).  American Anthropologist
 108: 586-587.

Astronomy and the Sacred Landscape in Irish Myth. In The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena,
        edited by Nicholas Campion, pp. 121-134.  Bristol:  Culture & Cosmos/Cinnabar Books.

In Preparation or Planning

a)  The Rout of Ailill and Medb:  Myth on the Landscape
b)  The Hollow Hills:  Sídhe in Irish Myth and on the Landscape.
c)  Understanding the Sacred Landscape of Ancient Ireland (book)
d)  Breasts of the Goddess {Considers whether the placement of cairns on breast-like hilltops was a deliberate effort to produce an effigy of the goddess of the land.]
e)  Henges and Similar Monuments in Ireland [Provides a comprehensive listing of known henge enclosures in Ireland and discusses their nature and probable roles in ancient Irish society as well as in Irish myth]
f) A Royal Ritual Complex at Cashel? [Describes a complex of monuments extending south from the Hill of Cashel that seems similar to the royal sites in the other four provinces.]
g)  Sacred Places on the Landscape--Bíle and Bruidhe  [Discusses the locations, pattern of distribution, and other aspects of sacred trees and hostels and their roles in early Irish manuscripts]
h)  Caves in Irish myth
i)  Royal Sites--Emain Macha, Cruachan, and Tara in Their Folklore, Myth, and Landscape Contexts.
j)  Eochaid, Macha, and Horses in Irish Myth and Folklore [Discusses the evidence for the horse as a an aspect of the principal deities in Late Iron Age Ireland.
k)  Significance of Animal Names for Characters in Irish Myth
l)  Samhain Sites in the Dindshenchas and Their Distribution [Discusses possible significance of site distribution.]
m) The Roles of Druids in Irish Myth [Discusses the light that is shed on the nature of the druids via their roles in Irish Myth]
n) Beneath the Isodorean Overlay:  What Lebor Gabála Ërenn May Tell Us.[The Book of the Takings may conceal, beneath the Christianization, a true origin myth for Ireland.]
o)The Role of Boundaries and Neighboring Territories in the Lughnasa Festival [Considers the location of some sites on territorial boundaries and historical references to the festivals as occasions for contests (& faction fight) between neighboring groups.]
p)  Faction Fights and Ritual Battles [Looks at the possibility that Lughnasa faction fights, and Cath Maige Tuired, may reflect an ancient ritual battle in which the harvest is wrested from the gods for humans.]
q) Aspects of the Distribution of Lughnasa Assemblies [Looks at the various types of assembly sites recorded historically and their distribution]
r)  Significance of Alignments in Irish Henge Clusters. [Considers the possible reasons for lines of three henges found at a number of places in Ireland]
s)  The Learned Class in Ancient Ireland [Discusses the evidence for the nature of the system that produced the learned class in ancient Ireland, for the nature of their learning, and for its survival in later times]
t) Myth and Symbolism in the Bend of the Boyne [Discusses the apparent symbolism if one considers the mythology, archaeology, and relationships on the landscape of the monuments in the Bend of the Boyne complex]
u)  Ritual Aspects of the Landscape in "The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne" [Traces the route of the pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne in the Fenian cycle of tales and offers an explanation of its significance.]
v)  The Travels of Cúchulainn
w) The Cyclical Nature of Time in Irish Myth
x)  On the Role of Irrus Domnann in Irish Myth
y)  "Firsts" in Irish myth
z)  Cú Chulainn, Cú Roi, and Other Dogs in Irish Myth
aa)  The Landscape of De Chopur in Dá Muccida (Quarrel of the Two Swineherds)
ab)  Division of the Year in Ancient Ireland
ac)  White Enclosures
ad)  Hunting mounds or "mound of chase" - What does this refer to?  Can they be identified?
ae)  Work on individual dindshenchas
af)  Do study of Midir -
ag)  The route of Cuchullain in Mesca Ulad
ah)  Stone Circles of Ireland (book) - This is meant as a guide for the general public covering everything we know, or suspect, about Irish stone circles, from archaeology to astronomy to folklore.
ai)  Role of Irrus Domnan in Irish myth
aj)  The role of places named Cruachán/Croghan in Irish myth.
ak)  The place of vegetation--tree branches, flowers--in seasonal festival celebrations.
al)  Phucas on the landscape and in folklore
am)  Fionn in Irish placename lore
an)   Places of the sun (greine) - see Joyce, vol. 2, pp. 240-246.
ao)  Fomorians - the Bad Guys of Irish Myth
ap)  Dogs named Ailbe
aq)  Dian Cecht/Diancecht
ar)  A Closer Look at Cú Chulainn's journey in Tochmarc Eme
as)  The route in Mesca Ulad
at)  Migration patterns among Indiana pioneers and the role of religion.
au)  The Táin on the Ground - Photos of places in the Táin (grave of Fraech=O'Conor inauguration mound)
av)  Very Short Introduction to Irish Mythology - Oxford U. Press.
aw)  Female messengers in ancient Ireland


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Revised August 2014