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Prof. Etienne Rynne leading a UCG Arch Soc group on Scattery Island, Co. Clare, in 1996 (© Chapple Collection)
Prof. Etienne Rynne passed away on the 22nd of June 2012. Since that time I’ve wanted to write something about him for this blog. And herein lies the difficulty: Etienne and I had – to put it mildly – a tempestuous relationship … at times we were the best of friends … and at other times … less so. In the aftermath of his death I thought about putting pen to paper … but what could I write? The appreciation that appeared, from Terry Barry, in Antiquity is fine insofar as it goes, but it’s a rather dull affair, giving little more than a list of places and dates, publications authored and edited, and positions held. It’s all good stuff, but it hardly gives a deep sense of what the man was like in person. Nonetheless, Barry does note his ‘engaging style of public speaking that countless students had enjoyed in lectures in Galway.’ The obituary published in the Irish Times covers the same ground, only really enlivened by a couple of quotes from him and one from Prof. John Waddell. By far the best of Etienne’s obituaries is the one by Paul Gosling in the Summer 2012 issue of The Newsletter of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland. It again gives the obligatory names, places, publications and dates, but also attempts to convey more of the personality of the man. Gosling makes particular note of ‘the vivid colours of his 35mm slides were matched by his breadth of knowledge and vibrant delivery’. And that’s where I left it! In the face of these three obituaries, I didn’t feel that I had much to add beyond a list of scurrilous stories that generally involved either alcohol or the two of us shouting at each other … quite often both together. I’m not ruling out ever recording a few of these … but not just yet!
For a number of reasons, I recently found out that it is relatively easy to transfer audio tapes to digital files … so long as you have a working tape player! As I was hunting through my attic, looking for long unlistened to bootleg recordings of various artists, I was reminded that I was once given some recordings of a very different kind. In the period from 1993 to 1995 NUIG organised a diploma course in archaeology, aimed at non-archaeology graduates. A good friend of mine bootlegged almost the entire course, eventually passing on all the audio tapes to me. They’ve moved house with me several times and have gone from one storage area to another, unlistened to for almost 20 years. My understanding is that Etienne gave three lectures as part of this course, covering early monasteries, illuminated manuscripts, the Tara Brooch along with the Ardagh and Derrynaflan Chalices. In amongst the bag of recordings are two audio tapes with recordings on three sides made in October 1994 (hence the reference to the 1982 Genesis album).
The first of these, an introduction to the early monasteries, is presented here and the others will follow in due course. While the audio recordings are, obviously, missing the necessary visual accompaniment they do give a much richer feel for his near unique presentation style and manner in which he interacts with the audience. Throughout he notes that he is giving only the most superficial of introductions to these subjects and that with his regular students these topics would be covered in greater depth and over a much longer period. They also capture his sense of humour, the anecdotes that he studded his lectures with, his running misogyny, and sheer joy at baiting his audience. Insofar as I am aware, these recordings comprise a unique account of his public speaking style. I also see these recordings as having an importance beyond themselves in that they may be used as a rough baseline to judge more recent developments and discoveries in the field of Early Christian studies.
Former students who did not attend these specific lectures will easily recognise many of his jokes, anecdotes, and general mannerisms, along with his obsession with hand-outs, his continual war with the slide projector, and the general sense of mayhem that seemed to accompany him wherever he went. For those who did not know him and never had the opportunity to hear him speak, I hope there is still much to enjoy here too.
As an aid to understanding the structure and progress of the lectures, I’ve provided roughly time stamped notes on topics covered and, on occasion, quotes from both the lecturer and a number of audience members that can be heard in the background.
0:15 ‘Security is now on its way’ to open the projection booth
0:45 passing out the hand-outs
2:05 audience member: ‘Jesus, he’s a terrible fu*king schoolmaster’
3:23 Early monasteries … it’s all in the hand-out!
3:33 Early Manuscripts is going to be a rush job – nice picture show!
4:00 No bloody way am I going to do just the Ardagh chalice
4:40 I saw you come in late!
5:10 – still giving out hand-outs
6:10 Audience member 1: ‘Do you be at this sort of thing when you’re lecturing?’
Audience member 2: ‘what?’
Audience member 1: ‘Do you be at this sort of sh*t when you’re lecturing?’
Audience member 2: ‘If I was quarter of an hour late there’d be nobody there!’
8:10 ‘if you want to see details in the Tara Brooch or details in the Book of Kells, I’d advise you sit as close as possible’
8:55 note about upcoming conference in Claremorris
11:10 ‘Come back to our mutton’
12:27 about those hand-outs
14:15 ‘let’s get back to what we were talking about – early monasteries!’
14:30 how to recognise an early monastery
15:25 the Vallum
15:55 ‘Because the Romans never came’
16:20 St Patrick & the Roman army
16:53 Holy wells
17:35 Navan Fort
18:00 Loughnashade trumpets
18:30 St Bridget
19:02 ‘Round towers are not features of early monasteries’
20:00 ‘Celtic Church in inverted commas’
21:20 ‘everyone is a hermit’
21:41 ‘Anyone could be made a bishop – you didn’t even have to be intelligent’
23:10 ‘We got cut off from Rome by the influx of Barbarians everywhere except Ireland’
24:00 Circular vs rectangular enclosures & the Celtic love of curves
25:00 Inishmurray as pagan Celtic site
28:00 Cursing stones are not Christian
28:25 Nendrum as pagan Celtic cult site
32:25 Church Island, Cork
33:02 ‘What did the churches look like?’
35:10 McDarra’s Island
36:20 ‘We have one good description of an early church from the seventh century’
36:30 The Church of St Brigit, Kildare
37:00 technical difficulties
39:50 Athenry Rood Screen
40:02 Battles with slide projector: ‘That’s not working now … but ye saw it before, damnit!’
40:05 ‘that was taken in a Greek church in Paris … there’s a very nice little church there … on the rive gauche … well don’t go to mass in it! Well, I went to mass thinking it was a very handy, thinking I’d get a mass next to where I was staying … it went on and on and on ... and they were all singing and they were all marching around … never stopped … it was lovely but I didn’t have three hours to spare’
41:15 ‘I hope you have enough in your hand-outs …’
Prof. Etienne Rynne discussing a reused Romanesque fragment in the church
on Scattery Island, Co. Clare, in 1996 (© Chapple Collection)
Part II | Part III >