Creation of a National Polity, 300-1000 A.D.

1. FROM the dawn of the Christian era Irish history comes into the light of sharper certitude and within reach of historical criticism. A unified code of laws appear in these early centuries, embodying and ordering an elaborate social system, that was assuredly not evolved in a few years; the remains of a literature appear, the strength of which has been acknowledged by European scholars attracted to their study; but the processes by which both law and literature came to be remain beyond the reach of criticism. From the second to the tenth centuries, however, a continual effort may be seen to perfect and render stable a National Polity. That stability was the harder to achieve because, singular in the political doctrine or practice of the time, the rights of a nation of freemen had to be considered as well as the powers of a central executive. A solution was sought to a problem that has not yet been answered: the balance between a centralised and de-centralised State; and the Law-books and History of the time shew that a success was achieved so remarkable that it is perhaps as great a tragedy to the political thought of the world as it was to the Irish Nation that a militarist system, whose only problem was conquest and spoliation, should have broken in upon that State at a moment of political crisis and such dissolution as is, in the teaching of History, the prelude to repair. It is but simple truth to say that the Polity evolved in Ireland during the first millenium displayed a political, social and economic thought in advance of anything known in Europe at that time. It held the modern problems of aristocracy and democracy in solution; and made them, indeed, to appear as false identities, each then being an interchangeable expression of the other. It dealt with the facts of national livelihood, not with theories or black-letter abstractions and pleadings: the records in the law-books only appearing after the decisions in Life. Thus the Polity was in a continual state of growth and development, was marked by great reality, and yet was distinguished by a high idealism. It was in process of answering its gravest weakness when its development became interrupted.