Medieval Life

Medieval History of Ireland

Ireland's relative isolation by water left this magical land with many of its medieval treasures intact. With the fall of the Roman Empire, much of Western Europe lost its scholarship as Christianity tended to withdraw into its own sanctuaries. The medieval church in Ireland was powerful and brilliant. Splendid reminders of early Irish Christianity can be found in the stone, high crosses, that melded the country's pagan roots with the newly imported faith.

Medieval Ireland also saw the rise of Patrick, its patron saint. A 16-year-old boy named Patricius was captured by a band of Irish marauders and taken to Ireland. After spending six years of captivity as a herdsman in county Antrim or Connacht, he received visions urging him to escape. He fled Ireland to northern Gaul (France), where he was ordained a priest. His using a shamrock to explain concepts of the Trinity has become more legend than fact, but two surviving documents, the "Confessio" and Patrick's "Letter to Coroticus," are the basis for his place in historical fact.

Ireland's conversion to Christianity was unique. Erin would never be Roman, and so the church in Ireland would never quite have the Roman flavor found throughout the rest of Europe, and it became uniquely Celtic.

Irish monks established early-medieval art in the mid-8th century. They became especially proficient in the art of illuminated manuscripts. The greatest surviving product of these monks is the Book of Kells, an illuminated bible that can be seen today in the library at Trinity College in Dublin. Viking defeats in the 11th and 12th centuries by the Normans also influenced medieval Irish culture. In 1204 Dublin Castle becomes the base of British power on the Emerald Isle. Failed attempts were made throughout these early centuries to rid the island of these new invaders. However, the Normans became less and less British in their loyalties, and Ireland soon became British in name only.

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