Hospitality in Medieval Ireland, 900-1500
Hospitality was one of the most important social institutions and cultural customs in medieval Ireland. The fundamental principles governing the provision of hospitality were rooted in both the secular and religious traditions of Irish culture, and were represented in both the public and private spheres of Irish life. Legal texts, court records, ecclesiastical decrees concerning the privileges of high-ranking clerics and secular statements regarding the rights of kings reveal that the practice of hospitality was largely contractual and generally involved the mutually self-interested transactions of mundane affairs. Yet an ethos of generosity, strongly linked to a cultural code of honor, suffused the Irish practice of hospitality with an air of moral uprightness and decorousness. Gnomic literature provided a series of adages, maxims and proverbs reminding individuals that the path to virtuous living began with charity, liberality and good housekeeping, while sagas and bardic praise poetry underscored the influence hospitality had in determining one's standing in society. Still, hospitality was not wholly secular, nor exclusively Irish for that matter. It was a basic Christian duty sanctioned by the Church and observed throughout the medieval world. Christian precept and example had a major impact on native Irish concepts of hospitality, and how the practice was played out in everyday life.
Publication Date: 2/26/2004