October 12, 2022

Fund for Irish Studies at Princeton University presents “Low the sun; short its course”: Tracing the Celtic Ritual Cycle through Music, Manuscript and Performance

Princeton University’s Fund for Irish Studies presents “Low the sun; short its course”: Tracing the Celtic Ritual Cycle through Music, Manuscript and Performance, a presentation by Helen Phelan, Professor of Arts Practice at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Using a lecture and recital format, Phelan explores the musical and ritualistic evidence for the emergence and continuity of the Celtic ritual cycle, focusing on the rituals of Imbolc and Samhain, which is a precursor of Halloween. The event will take place on Friday, October 28, at 4:30 p.m. at the James Stewart Film Theater at 185 Nassau Street. Princeton’s Visiting Leonard L. Milberg ’53 Professor in Irish Letters and Chair of the Fund for Irish Studies Fintan O’Toole will provide a welcome and introduction. The event is free and open to the public; no tickets are required. The theater is an accessible venue, and guests in need of access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at at least one week prior to the event date.

Ritual traditions are frequently transmitted through a combination of sanctioned and sanctified “official” sources, as well as the songs, stories and performances of living communities. The emergence of an agrarian ritual cycle in Ireland, punctuated by four quarter days, is strongly associated with the traditions and practices of the Iron Age Celts, but its roots and shoots can be located in much earlier and later historical periods. Phelan’s presentation traces the evidence for this ritual cycle in both medieval manuscript sources as well as folkloric traditions. Focusing on music, such as medieval Irish chant, and story, including the hagiographies (writings on the lives of the saints), the recital suggests a dynamic, syncretic understanding of ritual, moving fluidly between prehistoric, pre-Christian and Celtic Christian practices. Phelan’s lecture concludes with a proposal concerning the influence of ritual tradition on contemporary ritual creativity.

helen pheland stands near wrought iron gate holding a book. she has dark brown curly hair and wears a green collar shirt and black blazer

Helen Phelan. Photo courtesy Helen Phelan

Phelan’s research focuses on the relationship between music, ritual, and migration. She is an Irish Research Council recipient for her work on singing and the rituals of new migrant communities in Ireland, and she is founder and co-chair of the Singing and Social Inclusion research group at University of Limerick. Her most recent research, funded by the Health Research Institute, brings together an interdisciplinary team to explore singing, health and well-being with culturally diverse communities. Her recent publications include the monograph Singing the Rite to Belong: Music, Ritual and the New Irish (Oxford University Press) and The Artist and Academia (Routledge), co-edited with Graham Welch.

O’Toole’s books on politics include the recent best sellers We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland and Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain. His books on theater include works on William Shakespeare, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Thomas Murphy. He regularly contributes to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Granta, The Guardian, The Observer, and other international publications. In 2011, The Observer named O’Toole one of “Britain’s top 300 intellectuals.” He has received the A.T. Cross Award for Supreme Contribution to Irish Journalism, the Millennium Social Inclusion Award, Journalist of the Year in 2010, the Orwell Prize, and the European Press Prize. O’Toole’s History of Ireland in 100 Objects, which covers 100 highly charged artifacts from the last 10,000 years, is currently the basis for Ireland’s postage stamps. His most recent book is Judging Shaw: The Radicalism of GBS, published by the Royal Irish Academy. He has recently been appointed official biographer of Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney.

The Fund for Irish Studies is chaired this year by O’Toole and affords all Princeton students, and the community at large, a wider and deeper sense of the languages, literatures, drama, visual arts, history, and economics not only of Ireland but of “Ireland in the world.” The lecture series is co-produced by the Lewis Center for the Arts.

Visit the Fund for Irish Studies website for more information about the lecture series events. The fall 2022-2023 series will conclude on November 11 with writer and documentary-maker Manchán Magan. Additional events for the spring are being planned.

The Fund for Irish Studies is generously sponsored by the Durkin Family Trust and the James J. Kerrigan Jr. ’45 and Margaret M. Kerrigan Fund for Irish Studies.

Visit the Lewis Center website to learn more about the more than 100 public performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, lectures, and special events, most of them free, presented each year by the Lewis Center for the Arts.

Press Contact

Steve Runk
Director of Communications