Anchor Books (1996), 246 pages
Charity Shop, €2
How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe is an amusing and erudite look at how Ireland provided a light for Europe during the so-called Dark Ages. Cahill interweaves the Classical and Celtic traditions. The lives of St. Augustine and St. Patrick are fleshed out as they are portrayed as exemplars of the age. St. Patrick is seen as a driving force in Ireland’s modernisation. The simple monotheistic values of Christianity transform Irish society, “With the Irish – even the kings – he succeeded beyond measure. Within his lifetime or soon after his death, the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and intertribal warfare, decreased” (p.110).
It was Irish monks who Cahill highlights as the real heroes of his thesis that the Irish saved civilization. The ascetic and scholarly values of Irish Christianity were transmitted, first to Britain, and then to Europe by Irish monks. Their exceptional skills as scribes enabled the creation and dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe and is a legacy whose effects can still be felt today.