Contract signed with Four Courts Press: Athassel Priory and the Cult of St Edmund in Medieval Ireland

The ruins of Athassel Priory today

I am pleased to say that I have just signed a contract with Four Courts Press, Ireland’s leading academic publisher, for a book entitled Athassel Priory and the Cult of St Edmund in Medieval Ireland, to be published in 2020. It will be the first book-length history of Athassel Priory as well as the first book dedicated to the Irish cult of St Edmund, King and Martyr (although my article on the latter subject was published in Downside Review earlier this year).

I became aware that St Edmund’s Irish cult was a woefully neglected subject during the course of writing my book Edmund: In Search of England’s Lost King (2018), so exploring the Irish dimension seemed the obvious next step in my research. In the same way that the cult of St Edmund in England is intimately bound up with the institutional history of one monastery (Bury St Edmunds), so in Ireland the cult of St Edmund cannot be separated from the monastery that primarily fostered it, the Augustinian Priory of St Mary and St Edmund, King and Martyr at Athassel, Co. Tipperary. Although Athassel is not well-known outside Ireland, within Ireland it is renowned as one of the country’s largest complexes of monastic ruins, and there is a good literature on the material remains of Athassel by archaeologists and building historians. The institutional history of the monastery, however, has hitherto received little attention.

The forthcoming book will be much more than just a history of Athassel Priory, however. It will also trace the evolution of the cult of St Edmund in Ireland from the Anglo-Norman invasion to the post-Reformation period, when Edmund/Edmond (and its Irish equivalent Éamon) became popular personal names. The book sets the cult of St Edmund within the broader context of other cults of English saints in Ireland, and argues for a new concept of ‘devotional Englishness’: the idea that people of Anglo-Norman descent who defined themselves as ‘the English of Ireland’ did so partly via identifying themselves with distinctively English saints. The cult of St Edmund was thus a component of identity for people who considered themselves ‘English’ in medieval Ireland, but it may also have played more complex roles. The book will thoroughly analyse the cultural and political functions of the cult, arguing that although the cult was ultimately a devotional failure, it left behind cultural debris that remain part of Ireland to this day – not least the popular name Éamon and dozens of Edmund-derived place-names.

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