Kestrel's Nest

Celtic Studies

Snowdon from Ynys Môn, November Dawn

Yr Wyddfa o Ynys Môn, Gwawr, Mis Tachwedd
Snowdon from Anglesey, November Dawn
© Angela Grant 2004

Sometimes it is very strange how things work out. Back in 2004 a young friend of mine, who was then reading for a MPhil in Anthropology at Oxford, and who knew of my interest in matters Celtic, suggested that I might attend the Celtic Graduate Seminars at Jesus College. I came to one and asked the Professor of Celtic, Thomas Charles-Edwards, if I might attend them on a regular basis. He readily agreed, and that set a train of events in hand of which, I am sure, neither of us had any expectation at the time. Through attending those seminars I became friends with Mark Williams, then a lecturer in Celtic at Oxford and now a Fellow and Tutor at Merton College, Oxford, and early in 2006 he offered to teach me Middle Welsh. I jumped at the chance, as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. At some point during the year, probably around May, I asked what was involved in reading for a Masters Degree at Oxford. Mark was a little economical with the truth (if he had given me the full story I would never have attempted it!). So I put together an application to read for a two year MPhil in Celtic Studies at Jesus College. In doing so I do believe I considered it more as an intellectual exercise, wondering at what stage they would throw it out. I mean, people like me didn't go to Oxford! So when the letter offering me a place finally dropped through the letter box no one was more surprised than I was! Under the circumstances I could hardly say 'no', could I? Even so, I don't believe it was until, in October 2006, I was in the Sheldonian Theatre at Matriculation and heard the Vice-Chancellor utter the Latin formula that made me, and all those with me, members of the University, that I really realised that I'd done it. Of course, then the work really started, but I have enjoyed it immensely, and that is the important thing!

I spent a wonderful first year at Oxford but by the end of the summer term 2006 it was clear I was less than well. By Michaelmas Term 2007 I had worsened enough that the University allowed me a year out to recover. At the end of September 2008 I was greatly recovered but too late to restart that year. However, I was sufficiently well that they agreed to allow me back in October 2009 to complete the course. It was a more difficult second year. I had to work hard to complete the thesis and extended essay on time. Then there was a massive amount of revision to do to prepare for the exams. I then presented myself in gown and sub-fusc (black skirt and stockings and white shirt) and sat, with all the other students, in the vast Examination Schools writing hard to get as much down as I could remember in three hours, and to do that twice: once for Irish and once for Welsh. But it was worth it. At 65 years of age I became a graduand of the degree of Master of Philosophy in Celtic Studies. The graduation ceremony in the Sheldonian was memorable. Much bowing and doffing of caps and Latin phrases. Oxford has had some centuries of practice at this sort of thing and does it to perfection.

But the story doesn't end there. After the viva for the MPhil I was told I could go on if I wanted. So I quickly put together a proposal for a DPhil (equivalent to a PhD elsewhere) and had it accepted, and so I became a Probationary Research Student. Time passed, working both at Oxford, and in the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth, and in the Archives of Bangor University, and I gained Transfer of Status and was accepted as a DPhil student. After some ups and down with my health, I then had to run the further gauntlet of Confirmation of Status. I found the DPhil much harder work than the MPhil as it requires much dedication and persistence and the ability to work alone. I will admit I stretched the University's and my supervisor's patience by applying for as many extensions as I could get, and, when poor health demanded it, suspensions, but finally I got to finish the thesis and, alongside a college friend for mutual support, deposited the completed work at the Examination Schools in Oxford. Again I had to don gown and sub-fusc to face my two examiners, one internal, the same Mark Williams whose economical words got me into this mess in the first place, and one external, the historian Huw Pryce from Bangor. They were surprisingly gentle with me, in fact they seemed to like the thesis. I did have 'minor corrections' to go through, which took longer than expected so I only got the revised thesis back just within the time limit. Thankfully the corrections were accepted, I have deposited my thesis at the Bodleian Library, and am now waiting for my graduation in November.


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