I came across How the Irish Saved Civilization a few times in the past and was always intrigued. Finally I decided to take the plunge. Since reading Trinity by Leon Uris a few years back I’ve been interested in Irish history. For me, it’s entirely new. I knew where Ireland is and I got the St. Patrick’s Day connection, but really that’s as far as my knowledge went. Studying Irish history has been eye-opening. I’m familiar with the broad strokes of English history, but learning it from a different and contrary position, like the Irish perspective, is fascinating. Reading Trinity was the first time I stopped to think “oh, wow, the British were real jack-asses”. And since having that revelation, it has certainly changed the way I look at history.
How the Irish Saved Civilization was another “new” for me, as this was the first time I read about the Dark Ages outside of school. Meaning, this is the first time I read about the Dark Ages and remembered anything. Written from an Irish perspective, How the Irish Saved Civilization illuminates the invaluable contribution Irish monks and monasteries made to history and literacy after the fall of Rome. The author first writes an cursory history of the ancient world (for those of us not super familiar with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire). After giving a rounded picture of Rome, he switches to the outskirts of the outskirts and gives a concurrent history of Ireland. In describing the fall of the Roman empire, and the influx of pagan hordes into the civilized world, the author makes it clear what is at stake — the barbarians are not only disinterested with writing, they openly scorn it. Philosophy, Theology, History, Poetry and Literature of the ancient world are threatened to extinction.
And indeed the works of the ancient world may have been lost, were it not for the Irish. Christianity peacefully came to Ireland with St. Patrick. From his time forward, Christianity continued to grow and develop thriving monastic communities. It is primarily in these communities where the works of the ancient world were learned, memorized, taught and most importantly, copied. The Irish monks relished language and learning; the art of the written word flourished in their monasteries. They saved not only the words and thoughts of the world before them, they preserved the joy of learning. What good is having a full library if you don’t care to read?
The preservation of the written word and the joy of learning is the main way the Irish saved civilization. Obviously the author writes a much fuller account full with many other historical nuances for which we are indebted to the Irish. How the Irish Saved Civilization was truly educating and a joy to read. I understand the author has a new book out on this same time in history, that I look forward to reading.