CAWCS Reader delivers prestigious John V Kelleher Lecture

Posted on 11 November 2014
Ann Parry Owen

Dr Ann Parry Owen

Organised and hosted by the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures of Harvard University, the Annual Harvard Celtic Colloquium has been attracting students and scholars from around the world since 1981.

Welcoming papers dealing with any aspect of the Celtic languages, their literatures and their cultures in any period, the Colloquium is held each year in October, and opens with the John V. Kelleher Memorial Lecture.

This year, Dr Ann Parry Owen, Reader at the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) and project leader of The Poetry of Guto’r Glyn project, was invited to deliver the 11th Kelleher lecture on her work on medieval Welsh poetry.

The John V. Kelleher Lecture commemorates Harvard’s first professor of Irish Studies. John Kelleher was a distinguished scholar and legendary teacher in many areas, and in inviting the Kelleher Lecturers, the organisers seek out the finest scholars in the world of Celtic studies, and speakers whose range and depth is worthy of John Kelleher’s legacy. Previous speakers from Wales have included Professor Patrick Sims-Williams and Richard Suggett.

Entitled “An audacious man of beautiful words” Ieuan Gethin (c.1390–c.1470), Dr Parry Owen’s lecture discussed the little-known fifteenth-century gentleman-poet of Baglan, near Swansea. Ieuan Gethin was described by a contemporary as a prifardd (chief poet), and was very accomplished at composing in cynghanedd, the downfall of many a lesser poet who often sacrificed sense and meaning at the expense of fulfilling the technical requirements of the metre.

Speaking about her subject matter, Dr Parry Owen explained:

“Whereas the mainstay of the professional poet’s output was traditional praise poetry and elegies composed under commission, an amateur gentleman-poet, such as Ieuan Gethin, had more freedom to sing on topics that appealed to him. Only ten of his poems have survived, but each one is a gem, giving us a unique insight to many aspects of life in fifteenth-century Wales. Alongside extremely entertaining narrative-style poetry based on unfortunate events that happened to him or to others, he also has two important poems about Owain Tudor (the grandfather of King Henry VII), and two extremely touching poems written following the death of his daughter and his young son, Siôn, who died of the black plague. “

CAWCS’ links to the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures of Harvard University goes back to the early days of the Centre. Professor Catherine McKenna, the Harvard Chair of Celtic Studies, collaborated on the Centre’s first research project, The Poets of the Princes, editing the the works of the two poets named Llywelyn Fardd as well as some poems by Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch and Bleddyn Fardd.

Speaking about her time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr Parry Owen said:

“The audience appreciated the wide scope of the topics covered in the poetry, as well as their entertainment value. I feel really grateful to the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard for inviting me, and for their extremely generous hospitality. I am especially grateful to Professor Catherine McKenna, the Harvard Chair of Celtic Studies, who ensured that I felt very welcome.”

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