Irish saints are a mainstay of Irish history. A sixth-century monk named Brendan, who would later become known as St. Brendan the Navigator, set out in his tiny seal skin boat with his fellow abbots to a far away land called Hibernia, the name given to Ireland by the Greeks. They voyaged across the cold Atlantic shores toward a wild, mostly untamed territory. They were looking for grace or a way to come closer to God.They came from Britannia (England), Germania (Germany), and Rome as well as all over Western Europe. They wrote Latin and poetry, spoke different languages and came from the highest social ranks. After blending with the Irish, they became the record keepers of genealogies and stories. They became known as the most learned men of Europe. Whether they learned from the Celts or the Celts learned from them is inconsequential. The first Irish monks in Ireland were born .. and Ireland would be changed forever by their arrival.. Continue reading
Christian Monks and Pagan Druids lived side by side Sixth Century Ireland is a very unique time in Irish history. My novel, ‘The Sun Palace’ .to be released in 2014, is set right in the center of this mysterious and often neglected section of the Irish past. Christianity was in full force, yet the Druids, who were Pagan were accepted as well. Many of those Druids became Christian monks which fortunately for us, is how the Irish annals were able to record all those wonderful Irish stories which otherwise may have been lost forever, for the Druids believed in committing everything to memory. In ‘The Sun Palace’,, Brighid is training in the Druid tradition yet she was raised by Christian monks. How confusing for a teenager!
The photo above is St. Kevin’s church in Glendalough and one of my favorites thought to go back as far as the sixth century though much of it is rebuilt.
Pagan holidays and rituals are now thought to be Christian. October 31st is classic. It was originally a Pagan holiday called Samhain and celebrated as both a thanksgiving to the gods of the harvests and when the door to the Otherworld was open to the dead. It’s no wonder we celebrate Halloween by dressing up as ghosts and telling ghost stories. The Catholic Church has labeled it All Saint’s Day. And the decorating of the Christmas tree? Trees were sacred to the Druids. In Pagan times, strips of cloth or ribbons were tied onto small trees to give thanks to the gods and goddesses. There are many more facts where the two religions crossed. Perhaps that is why Christianity was so easily adopted by the Pagan Irish.
Freak Storms of the Sixty Century Although it does snow in Ireland, its a rare occurrence I’m told for it stays the same temperature most of the year though it is colder in the winter. I’ve been told there is one snowplow in the whole country!. It does rain a lot and they get what is known as frost which freezes pipelines and glazes the roads which are not salted.
In 2012 a volcano in Iceland erupted from June to early May, repeating a similar history back in the sixth century, what I have referred to in my novel, ‘The Sun Palace’ as the “veiling of the sun.” The ash hung heavy in the air making it look like a great cloud covered the land. How terrifying! These Pagan Irish believed the gods were in everything, in the sea, in the trees, and especially in the sun! There were disastrous consequences of the volcano too. In a society where farming was paramount to survival, crops failed miserably, followed by famine and violent storms, possibly hurricanes and blizzards. Imagine how frightening that must have been to a people who were highly superstitious.
The Sixth Century was a time before the Vikings, before the Normans, before the English invasions, even before the potato!.
Although there were other invasions told to us in stories, the major foreigners had yet to invade Ireland, those same foreigners would write later of finding a people with battle lust in their hearts though what else would one find when faced with violent strangers seeking to kill them and pillage their land? In all fairness I think the Celts were a gentle people yet ferocious when they had to be. They loved poetry and music, wore bright colors and lots of jewelry. They loved their women, their children and took care of their elderly. They welcomed anyone into their homes. In fact the law stated it was required and there were bruideans at every crossroad. ( see Irish Hospitality post) On the flip side there were cattle raids and women abducted by force as well as wars between tribal boundaries. But they weren’t without law. The Brehon laws took into account everything legal one could think of from murder and theft down to who was allowed to scrape bladderwrack from a specific coastline or who could take honey from a bee hive or how many colors a man was allowed to wear. Sixth century Irish were by no means heathens though they did have their share of what we would call crime, though I’m not sure they would have thought of it as such. The sixth century and before is a fascinating time period, filled with Druids and Monks, kings and peasants, wild animals and magic.
To read more ancient history read an excerpt from my historical novel , The Sun Palace by Brighid O’Sullivan . If fiction is not your cup of tea, you can subscribe to this blog. Posts come out about once or twice a month.