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It was into this Ireland of warrior princes and cattle-raids that St. Patrick brought the Christian faith in the mid-fifth century.

His missionary work was concentrated on the northern half of Ireland. The marriage of Christianity and Celtic cultures produced in Ireland a society that was essentially conservative; hence some of its features remained unchanged until the overthrow of Gaelic Ireland in the early seventeenth century. It was basically a rural society with no cities or towns. While some of the more important monasteries like Clonmacnoise, Armagh, Clonard and Bangor grew into centers with a large population, one has to wait for the Vikings to see the rise of towns as commercial centers.

Gaelic civilization placed great emphasis on family relationships. The normal family group was the derbhfhine made up of all those who were descended from one great-grandfather.


The freemen of the tuath elected him when the throne became vacant. The system had the advantage of ensuring that an imbecile or a cripple would scarcely ever become king, but it had the terrible disadvantage of provoking conflict between two or more equally qualified heirs. The ownership of land was also vested in the family group. These were more than poets; they were regarded as seers and visionaries as well.

After the conversion of Ireland to Christianity they inherited much of the prestige of the earlier druids.

History of the Celts

They wrote praise-poems for the king on appropriate occasions, preserved and updated his genealogy and were richly rewarded for their services. If the honorarium did not come up to expectations, they sometimes had recourse to satire, and were feared not only for their sharpness of tongue, but also for the magical powers which had been associated with the druids of old.

Like most positions in Gaelic Ireland the learned professions tended to become hereditary. The craftsmen have often ensured remembrance by engraving their name on their work: Noonan on the shrine of St.


The Celts left many marks on Ireland and its people that have remained. Later settlers added to them and adapted them, but the core remains unmistakably Celtic. They now provide a rich inheritance for the whole people of Ireland. English became the language of legal, political and administrative life, and overwhelmingly the language of economic and commercial life as well.

It was the language of literacy, and in the course of time became the language of liturgy also. Those who were successful or who aspired to succeed under the new English order abandoned Irish and adopted the English language as quickly as the opportunity presented itself.

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By a quarter of the population was Irish-speaking. By this had fallen to only five per cent, while less than a quarter of the population admitted to being able to speak the language at all.

Fighting in the buff?

The heavy famine mortality among the poorer elements in Irish society dramatically reduced the population of Irish-speakers, while large-scale emigration from Ireland from the second quarter of the nineteenth century largely to English-speaking countries strongly reinforced the desire to acquire English, and in effect, though not necessarily, to abandon Irish as obsolete and unprofitable in the modern world. You must be logged in to post a comment. Much of the book is devoted to Mr. Robb writes. But he contends that when the known portions are connected, they form a straight line from southwestern Portugal to the base of the Alps.

Robb, challenging other scholars, posits that Hannibal, the Carthaginian commander, crossed the mountains in the Second Punic War, consciously following the footsteps of Hercules and, he argues, making use of a path first marked by the Celts.

Along the way, the route passes through important Celtic settlements — Andorra, Nimes — indicating that the Celts founded communities largely only in spots deemed propitious by their druid astronomers. A fanatical bicyclist who does not own a car, Mr. Robb stumbled onto his theory while researching cycling routes across the Pyrenees.

Robb said.

The Rise of the Celts

With the scarcity of written documents in Celtic and a significant lack of physical evidence — the Celts built in wood, the Romans in stone — Mr. Dietler said. For months, Mr. Robb said, he tried to disprove his own theory of the solstice lines. The Celts named some of their settlements Middle Earth, or Mediolanum, in Latin, which was the Latin name for Milan, one of the largest such outposts.

The notion of these Celtic settlements was adopted by J. Robb argues that with their location dictated by astronomy, these Middle Earths were well positioned to communicate with one another long before they came under the administrative control of the Roman Empire. The paths Mr. Robb has pursued, on his bicycle and in his research, are a manifestation of the very process of making sense of history, pursuing endless dead ends, seeking out patterns.