Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2008
Practical as well as conceptual difficulties lie in the way of describing this phase of writing in the Irish language. More manuscript sources survive for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries together than for any other stage in the Gaelic past. While influenced by print and showing traces of interaction with the oral world, barriers to publishing, accompanied, paradoxically, by the spread of literacy, ensured that the handwritten documentary tradition inherited from medieval times remained the main means of transmission for all forms of creative composition. Most of these original codices have yet to be described (properly or even at all), with their full complement of texts professionally extracted from them. Work in this regard has been under way, particularly from the beginning of the 1900s, approximately, but it too poses its own problems. Early twentieth-century scholarship is characterised by the shortcomings of a newly developing domain: incompleteness of coverage, the tentative nature of either text or translation, and the restricted context in which the material is discussed. Because these editions are often still the only immediate point of contact with the evidence, the present chapter will have to rely on them frequently (and does not underestimate their considerable strengths), without the opportunity to comment in full on any identifiable deficiencies. A brocade of previously unpublished original material must therefore be introduced from time to time to augment the account where necessary.