When the Barbarians kicked in the door of the Roman Empire and all hell broke loose, the world turned to a small island on the edge of the earth for safety. The Dark Ages was a time when it seemed that the world just forgot to learn! It is probably at this point that scholars were thankful that the Romans did not invade Ireland! Why?
After the Roman Empire collapsed, the world fell to it’s knees at the hands of Barbaric tribes. Learning and discovery was put on hold in almost every corner of the vast western Roman Empire. Ireland however, was not a statistic in this downfall. Many people traveled from Europe to Ireland which was seen as a beacon of light for learning, culture and religion. Ireland’s recent introduction with Christianity was now a relationship in overdrive. Ireland in the 6th-10th centuries was the religious hub of the world with monasteries such as Glendalough filled with people from all over the continent.
Not only were people coming to Ireland at this time, but Ireland was exporting Christianity. Monasteries were now being founded abroad. St. Colmcille went to Scotland and founded a monastery in Iona. St. Columbanus and his followers traveled to France and Italy and founded many monasteries also. The Irish brought with them their manuscripts in the Irish style and converted non-Christian tribes to Christianity. For Irish people today, St. Columbanus wouldn’t be very well known. I don’t mean it in an ignorant way of course, but he is probably not as celebrated as other saints. Yet, go to the region around Piacenza in Italy, most notably to the small town of Bobbio, and Columbanus is the name that rolls off people’s tongues. Having set up a monastery there, himself and St. Cummian, who is also Irish are both key religious figures and an integral part of that community. Both men are buried there.
Historians would argue that this is the “GOLDEN AGE” in Irish learning. So to be Irish means what exactly? We have exported Guiness, the craic, U2, GAA and Heaney amongst many more; but is our greatest export Christianity? Well, I will leave that up for you to decide!
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