Re-creation of European Culture, 600-1100 A.D.

From The Historic Case for Irish Independence by Darrell Figgis

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4. Out of such an Ireland there grew a flower, the fragrance of which has remained in Europe to this day. When Huns, Vandals, Franks, Alemanni, Langobards, Angles and Saxons swept across Europe and threw the greater part of the Continent back into barbarism, Ireland remained the only country where culture, learning and scholarship kept touch with their elder sources. Alone in Western Europe during the sixth century, in Ireland a pure Latin was written, and Greek so much as understood. Alone in Western Europe, in Ireland a wide culture existed, based not only on the study of classical authors and the sciences of the time, but especially active in the creation of a national literature, legendary and historical. During these years Ireland earned her title, Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum. Therefore Continental scholars, flying before the barbarian hordes, passed over into Ireland with their books. They were welcomed and honoured. Being now the repository for the libraries of Western Europe, Ireland became the scene of extraordinary activity in scholarship. North and south, east and west, great seminaries and colleges of learning arose; and as the fame of these grew with the years, scholars came from far afield to study in the Irish schools. They came in such numbers that the lawyers, in National Assembly, were compelled to devise laws to knit them into the fabric of the State, seeing that it was contrary to the tradition of hospitality in the nation that they should be put to any charge for their schooling or their entertainment. And when towards the end of the sixth century peace again came to Europe, Irish scholars set forth with their books to repair the ruin that had been caused. They found a Europe that was as though it had wholly lost its memory of Christianity and culture, and where the care of civilisation was not even a forgotten dream. The link with the older world of civilisation and letters had been lost. It was only maintained through Ireland, and therefore Irish missionaries and scholars came to the peoples that now inhabited Europe as the heralds for the most part of a new theme. They were the first evangelisers of England, and instructed its first poet in his letters.

The schools founded by Charlemagne were in all cases inspired by Irish scholarship, and were in most cases prompted by Irish scholars, and founded and conducted either by them or their pupils. In Germany also, in the northern lowlands, among the Alps and in Northern Italy, schools and seminaries were established. As far afield as Iceland, Syria and Egypt, these missionaries of civilisation went, carrying their books. When, therefore, centuries later, at the Council of Constance, 1416, it was admitted that Ireland ranked as one of the four original constituent States of Europe, taking its place after Rome and Byzantium, and before Spain, this was but an accurate statement of a truth then clearly recognised. From the sixth century to the eleventh the riches of Rome and Greece flowed over Europe through the Sovereign State of Ireland. It is an axiom that modern Europe is based upon those elder civilisations. Modern Europe, therefore, owes a vast unpaid debt to Ireland, for it was Ireland that placed Europe in touch with those elder civilisations, the memory of which had been blotted out in the general ruin and disrepair. Yet this service could not have been given Europe during the critical centuries at the close of the first millenium but for the fact that Ireland was an independent State, tending and caring for its own affairs without the distraction of any serious foreign invasion.

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