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“Low the sun; short its course”: Tracing the Celtic ritual cycle through music, manuscript and performance

October 28, 2022 @ 4:30 pm


This lecture-recital by Helen Phelan, Professor of Arts Practice at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick, Ireland, explores the musical and ritualistic evidence for the emergence and continuity of the Celtic ritual cycle, with a focus on the rituals of Imbolc and Samhain, a precursor of Halloween.

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.

This presentation traces the evidence for this ritual cycle in both medieval manuscript sources as well as folkloric traditions. Focusing on music (particularly medieval Irish chant) and story (including the hagiographies or lives of the saints), it suggests a dynamic, syncretic understanding of ritual, moving fluidly between prehistoric, pre-Christian and Celtic Christian practices. It concludes with a proposal concerning the influence of this ritual tradition on contemporary ritual creativity.

About Helen Phelan

helen phelan stands by wrought iron fence holding a book
Photo courtesy Helen Phelan

Helen Phelan is Professor of Arts Practice at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick, Ireland. Her 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 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 research 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.


Tickets & Details

The event is free and open to the public. No advance tickets or registration required.

Get directions and find venue information for the James Stewart Film Theater at 185 Nassau Street.

COVID-19 Guidance + Updates

Per Princeton University policy, all guests must either be fully vaccinated, or have recently tested negative (via PCR within 72 hours or via rapid antigen test within 8 hours of the scheduled visit) and be prepared to show proof if asked, or wear a face covering when indoors and around others.


symbol for wheelchair accessibilityThe James Stewart Film Theater is wheelchair accessible. Visit our Venues and Studios section for accessibility information at our various locations. Guests in need of access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at 609-258-5262 or email LewisCenter@princeton.edu at least one week in advance of the event date.


October 28, 2022
4:30 pm
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Mary O’Connor


James Stewart Film Theater
185 Nassau Street
Princeton, NJ 08544 United States
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