St. Patrick and the Irish Contribution

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

      It would fall to the Irish to be the people who would restore classical learning to a Europe destroyed by ravaging hordes of vandals.

In Irish folk tale, Ireland was first populated by Greeks and Scythians a thousand years before Christ. Maybe so, but digging in the ground reveals evidence of a culture there at least as far back as 6,000 BC. In any case we know that about 500 BC tribes (clans) of Celts have arrived from locations in Europe, and will forever remain clanish - "cities" are not a part of Irish history. It is a culture of incessant warfare - clan against clan. Dead Irish are buried in a standing position, that they may continue warfare in the grave. Women have a noble place in this society, and some are leaders and warriors. Druids conduct a polytheistic religion, and first-borns are regularly sacrificed. Poetry is well constructed (oral), and a primitive alphabet appears as patterns of linear scratches.

Called "Scotti" by the Romans who govern Britain, a word meaning "raider", the Irish are a constant thorn to the Romans, and never subdued. The Irish raids are conducted mainly to secure children as slaves. On one such raid, a 16 year old boy named Patricius is carried off to Ireland, on or about 405 AD.
When the "Scotti" migration - as Gaels - extended to the east of the main island, they would give the name Scotland to that portion of Britain.
During his 6 year enslavement as a herder of pigs, naked and cold, Patrick considered long and deep on his Christian upbringing, and developed a deep piety. One day (he would write) the Lord would say to him "Your hunger has been redeemed. A ship awaits." (Or something to that effect.) He slips aboard a boat bound for the continent, returns to Britain, and shortly thereafter, feels a call to return to Ireland as a missionary to a warlike people. He is ordained, made Bishop, and enters Ireland in 432.

It is likely (barring divine intervention) that it was his lack of fear that brought him success in a culture in which killing, for small reason, was commonplace. He converted many of the pagans, but he also established, first, one "center of learning", and then many, which attracted not only the Irish, but Europeans from afar. In Irish monasteries, the classical literature of Greece, Rome, and the Middle East - the profane as well as the Godly - and the copying of books and creation of books, would find sanctuary from a "Western Civilization" that was systematically, everywhere else in Europe, being destroyed by waves of vandals - looting and burning.

When the fires went out, as a Sixth Century dawned, deep in the Dark Ages , the elements of Western Civilization were waiting in the schools of Ireland, ready to be reseeded throughout a continent. For that we can give Patrick and the Irish who preserved the literature and the learning our considerable debt.

* * * *
It was after this mission was fulfilled that the Irish would pay for it. Ireland, though spared the ravaging hordes which collapsed the Roman Empire, was soon enough discovered by the Vikings, who came to destroy a Celtic culture grown soft by surrendering warfare to the fineries of learning. The Vikings would conquer, establish Ireland's first cities, and be subdued and pacified by the Catholic religion.

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