Sunday, March 20, 2011

How the Irish Saved Civilization

The first in Thomas Cahill’s Hinges of History series, How the Irish Saved Civilization, tells the story of how Ireland was transformed from a barbarian land to a cultured society through the good works of St. Patrick during the waning years of the Roman Empire and how the Irish, now converted to Christianity, established monasteries with scriptoriums saving literature for future generations by transcribing Greek, Roman, and Latin works during the Dark Ages.

Though a short book of just over 200-pages, it was an exceedingly long read, being tedious and hard to follow at times.  It did contain some interesting information in bits and pieces - the life of St. Patrick, the evolution of peoples in what is now Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales), and how England and Scotland got their names, to list just a few.

Cahill relates the story of St. Patrick (Patricius) from his kidnapping at the age of sixteen by marauding Irish, to his life of isolation as a Shepard, his escape and journey back to Briton, and his ultimate return to Ireland as a missionary where he converted the Irish people to Christianity.

He also puts into perspective the relationship of many early peoples - Picts, Britons, Celts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Romans, Vikings, Goths – and how they effected one another.  The story of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes driving the Celtic Britons into what is now Wales and Cornwall was most interesting.  Cahill’s writing of early Irish customs was also of interest.

The author gets bogged down when he tries to describe the waning years of the Roman Empire.  His contrast and comparisons of the Roman Catholics to the monastic Christian leaders of Ireland is tiresome.   

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