Throughout early Irish mythology there exists an enveloping trope of the value of the landscape and the necessity for origin stories to describe how the land has changed over time, as expressed in texts from the Táin Bó Cúailnge to the Acallam na Senórach to the Metrical dindshenchas. This focus on the land is often manifest within ‘ecocentric’ narratives of interactions with the Otherworld, a realm existing both within and without natural topographical features. The textual result develops the land into a type of land genealogy—a landscape layered with mythic and contemporary meaning. This layered landscape signals not only an emphasis on place-names and their societal function but also the formation of an early Irish ‘land ethic’.
The Towneley plays are no longer widely thought to constitute the Wakefield cycle, but the collection has retained a strong Wakefield association, thanks not only to the two mysterious titular Wakefield ascriptions near the beginning of the manuscript, but also to allusions to places such as Goodybower, site of a quarry in medieval Wakefield, in work within the collection long attributed to the ‘Wakefield Master’. Other allusions, however, are proving more elusive. This paper will explore the possibilities other than a Wakefield origin that might have given rise to lines about searching horbery shrogys and drinking ale of hely.