By Paul F. State
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Additional resources for A Brief History of Ireland
From the sixth to the 12th centuries, Irish monasteries served as leading educational centers in Europe and as places of outstanding artistic creativity. The heritage produced by scribes, metalworkers, and stonecutters in magnificently illuminated manuscripts, gem-encrusted sacred vessels, and ornately etched stone crosses gave to seventh- and eighth-century Ireland a cultural golden age. 21 A Brief History of Ireland The larger monastic settlements became important economic centers as well. Society was exclusively rural, ruled by the agricultural seasons, by church-imposed laws, and by a host of kings and petty kings.
The two schooling systems were completely separate, but in the seventh century they began to borrow from each other. Irish-language poets learned to read and write, and the native language was studied in the church schools. Religious authorities drew on secular laws—the lawyers now having been converted—in drafting ecclesiastical legislation. Irish monks, who wrote the lives of the saints in excellent Latin verse, were raised on the old Celtic tales of kings and heroes, and they began to commit them to paper in recognizing that the secular heritage, while not as essential as the spiritual, merited remembering.
Stories of Finn’s life include defeating a fire-breathing fairy called Aillen and falling in love and marrying Sadbh, a woman turned into a deer by a druid, then turned woman again by Finn’s love, and turned deer once more by an angry druid. The druids in the tale attest to the powerful place these pagan priests, who lived and worshipped in sacred groves, occupied in Celtic society, a world in which superstition, legend, dreams, and rituals were all-important. Druids carried out sacrifices of crops, animals, and, during particular festivals, humans.
A Brief History of Ireland by Paul F. State