How the Irish Save Civilization – Thomas Cahill

Doubleday, 1995
Enjoyable pop-history of how Ireland rescued higher learning and humanist Christianity during the Dark Ages.
The book wastaken with me on my recent San Francisco trip as reading material. I finished a few days after I came back. This was the first of Cahill’s history quintilogy (the other volumes looking at Jesus, the Jews, and two other as of yet unwritten subjects), and it’s a good primer for studying Irish history and/or early British literature. Cahill backs up at the start and talks about St. Augustine (the first autobiographer in the West), then gets around to the savior of Ireland, St. Patrick, who, though he didn’t chase the snakes out, did convert the natives from a warrish paganism to a calmer Christianity without causing the country to implode in corpses. Just for that he should be admired. But he also brought with him a promotion of learning, and very humane idea of how the church should interact with the populace, and (most importantly) a love of books and an inspiration to text copyists, who rescued as many Latin books they could and went ur-Kinko’s on them.
Cahill often relies too much on quoting songs and poems at length when only a line or two would do, but he makes his case. That the Irish would later come to be known as a lesser people by the English is a major tragedy, and a prejudice that can still be felt (to put it mildly).

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