The Glories of Ireland by Edited by Joseph Dunn and P.J. Lennox

Produced by GF Untermeyer, Brendan Lane, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. THE GLORIES OF IRELAND EDITED BY JOSEPH DUNN, Ph.D., AND P.J. LENNOX. Litt.D., PROFESSORS AT THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA 1914 TO THE IRISH RACE IN EVERY LAND _Ireland_: “All thy life has been a symbol; we can only read a part: God
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  • 1914
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Produced by GF Untermeyer, Brendan Lane, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.



P.J. LENNOX. Litt.D.,





“All thy life has been a symbol; we can only read a part: God will flood thee yet with sunshine for the woes that drench thy heart.”



We had at first intended that this should be a book without a preface, and indeed it needs none, for it speaks in no uncertain tones for itself; but on reconsideration we decided that it would be more seemly to give a short explanation of our aim, our motives, and our methods.

As a result of innumerable inquiries which have come to us during our experience as educators, we have been forced to the conclusion that the performances of the Irish race in many fields of endeavor are entirely unknown to most people, and that even to the elect they are not nearly so well known as they deserve to be. Hence there came to us the thought of placing on record, in an accessible, comprehensive, and permanent form, an outline of the whole range of Irish achievement during the last two thousand years.

In undertaking this task we had a twofold motive. In the first place, we wished to give to people of Irish birth or descent substantial reason for that pride of race which we know is in them, by placing in their hands an authoritative and unassailable array of facts as telling as any nation in the world can show. Our second motive was that henceforward he who seeks to ignore or belittle the part taken by men and women of Irish birth or blood in promoting the spread of religion, civilization, education, culture, and freedom should sin, not in ignorance, but against the light, and that from a thousand quarters at once champions armed with the panoply of knowledge should be able to spring to his confutation.

To carry out in a satisfactory manner over a field so immense our lawfully ambitious aim was, as we realized at the outset, not possible to any two men who are primarily engaged, as we are, in other work of an exacting nature. Therefore, to render feasible the execution of our undertaking, we decided to invite the collaboration of many scholars and specialists, each of whom could, out of the fullness of information, speak with authority on some particular phase of the general subject. We are glad to say that the eminent writers to whom we addressed ourselves answered with promptitude and alacrity to our call, and have supplied us with such a body of material as to enable us to bring out a book that is absolutely unique.

From each contributor we asked nothing but a plain verifiable statement of facts, and that, we think, is exactly what they have given us, for, while we do not make ourselves personally responsible for everything set down in the following pages, we believe that what stands written therein bears every mark of careful research and of absolute reliability.

Although on many of our subjects little more remains to be said than what appears in the text, yet the treatment on the whole does not claim to be exhaustive, and therefore each writer has, at our request, appended to his contribution a short and carefully selected bibliography, so that those who are interested may have a guide for further reading. For our part, we consider these lists of works of reference to be a highly useful feature.

It is a glorious thing for us, who are proud, one of us of his Irish descent and the other of his Irish birth, to think that the sons and daughters of mother Erin have so conspicuously distinguished themselves in such varied spheres of activity in every age and in so many lands, and that we were privileged to make public the record of their achievements in a form never before attempted.

We have other works in contemplation, and some actually in preparation, which will go far to strengthen the claims put forward in this book. In the meantime, we trust that the reception accorded to it will be such as to encourage us to persevere in making still better known the Glories of Ireland.


_Catholic University of America_,
_Washington, D.C._

November, 1914


Sir Roger Casement, C.M.G.

Very Rev. Canon D’Alton, M.R.I.A., LL.D.

Rev. Columba Edmonds, O.S.B.

William H. Babcock, LL.B.

Rev. P.S. Dinneen, M.A., R.U.I.

Sir Bertram C.A. Windle, Sc.D., M.D.

Laurence Ginnell, B.L., M.P.

W.H. Grattan Flood, Mus.D.

Diarmid Coffey

Louis Ely O’Carroll, B.A., B.L.

Francis J. Bigger, M.R.I.A.

D.J. O’Donoghue

Thomas E. Healy

Joseph I.C. Clarke

John Jerome Rooney, A.M., LL.D.

Shane Leslie

Alice Milligan

Lord Ashbourne

John O’Dea

Michael J. O’Brien

James J. Walsh, M.D.

Marion Mulhall

Brother Leo, F.S.C., M.A.

A. Hilliard Atteridge

Douglas Hyde, LL.D.

Georges Dottin

Eleanor Hull

Sidney Gunn, M.A.


Alfred Perceval Graves

Charles L. Graves

Joseph Holloway

Michael MacDonagh

Horatio S. Krans, Ph.D.

P.J. Lennox, B.A., Litt. D.




The history of Ireland remains to be written, for the purpose of Irishmen remains yet to be achieved.

The struggle for national realization, begun so many centuries ago, is not ended; and if the long story offers a so frequent record of failure, it offers a continuous appeal to the highest motives and a constant exhibition of a most pathetic patriotism linked with the sternest courage.

Irish wars, throughout all time, have been only against one enemy, the invader, and, ending so often in material disaster, they have conferred always a moral gain. Their memory uplifts the Irish heart; for no nation, no people, can reproach Ireland with having wronged them.

When, at the dawn of the Christian era, we first hear of Ireland from external sources, we learn of it as an island harboring free men, whose indomitable love of freedom was hateful to the spirit of imperial exploitation.

Agricola’s advice to the empire-builders of his day was that Rome should “war down and take possession of Ireland, so that freedom might be put out of sight.”

It was to meet this challenge of despotism that the Scotic clans of Alba turned to their motherland for help, and the sea was “white with the hurrying oars” of the men of Erin speeding to the call of their Highland kinsmen, threatened with imperial servitude.

The first external record we possess thus makes it clear that when the early Irish went forth to carry war abroad, it was not to impose their yoke on other peoples, or to found an empire, but to battle against the Empire of the World in the threatened cause they held so dear at home.

In this early Roman reference to Ireland we get the keynote to all later Irish history–a warring down on the one hand, so that freedom might be put out of sight; an eternal resistance, on the other, so that it might be upheld.

It was this struggle that Ireland sought to maintain against every form of attack, down through Danish, Norman, Tudor, Stuart, and Cromwellian assault, to the larger imperialism of the nineteenth century, when, as Thierry, the historian of the Norman Conquest, tells us, it still remained the one “lost cause” of history that refused to admit defeat. “This indomitable persistency, this faculty of preserving through centuries of misery the remembrance of lost liberty and of never despairing of a cause always defeated, always fatal to those who dared to defend it, is perhaps the strangest and noblest example ever given by any nation.”

The resources Ireland opposed to her invaders have been unequal to the founding of a great state, but have preserved a great tradition. The weakness of Ireland lay in the absence of a central organization, a state machine that could mobilize the national resources to defend the national life. That life had to depend for its existence, under the stress of prolonged invasion, on the spontaneous patriotism and courage of individuals. At times one clan alone, or two clans, maintained the struggle. Arrayed against them were all the resources of a mighty realm–shipping, arms, munitions of war, gold, statecraft, a widespread and calculating diplomacy, the prestige of a great Sovereign and a famous Court–and the Irish clan and its chieftain, by the sheer courage of its members, by their bodily strength and hardihood and feats of daring, for years kept the issue in doubt.

When Hugh O’Neill, leagued with Red Hugh O’Donnell, challenged the might of Elizabeth, he had nothing to rely upon but the stout hearts and arms of the men of Tir-owen and Tir-Conail. Arms and armaments were far from Ulster. They could be procured only in Spain or elsewhere on the continent. English shipping held the sea; the English mint the coinage. The purse of England, compared to that of the Ulster princes, was inexhaustible. Yet for nine years the courage, the chivalry, the daring and skill of these northern clansmen, perhaps 20,000 men in all, held all the might of England at bay. Had the Spanish king at any time during the contest made good his promise to lend effective aid to the Irish princes, O’Neill would have driven Elizabeth from Ireland, and a sovereign State would today be the guardian of the freedom of the western seas for Europe and the world. It took “the best army in Europe” and a vast treasure, as Sir John Davies asserted, to conquer two Ulster clans three hundred years ago. The naked valor of the Irishman excelled the armed might of Tudor England; and the struggle that gave the empire of the seas to Britain was won not in the essay of battle, but in the assay of the mint.

It is this aspect of the Irish fight for freedom that dignifies an otherwise lost cause. Ever defeated, yet undefeated, a long-remembering race believes that these native qualities must in the end prevail. The battle has been from the first one of manhood against might. The State Papers, the official record of English rule in Ireland, leave us rarely in doubt. We read in that record that, where the appeal was to the strength or courage of the opposing men, the Irish had nothing to fear from English arms.

Thus the Earl of Essex, in a despatch to Elizabeth, explained the failure of his great expedition in 1599 against O’Neill and O’Donnell. “These rebels … have (though I do unwillingly confess it) better bodies and perfecter use of their arms than those men whom your Majesty sends over.” The flight of the Earls in 1607 left Ireland leaderless, with nothing but the bodies and hearts of the people to depend on. In 1613 we read, in the same records, a candid admission that, although the clan system had been destroyed and the great chiefs expropriated, converted, or driven to flight, the people still trusted to their own stout arms and fearless hearts:

“The next rebellion, whenever it shall happen, doth threaten more danger to the State than any heretofore, when the cities and walled towns were always faithful; (1) because they have the same bodies they ever had and therein they had and have advantage of us; (2) from infancy they have been and are exercised in the use of arms; (3) the realm by reason of the long peace was never so full of youths; (4) that they are better soldiers than heretofore their continental employment in wars abroad assures us, and they do conceive that their men are better than ours.”

And when that “next rebellion” came, the great uprising of the outraged race in 1641, what do we find? Back from the continent sails the nephew of the great O’Neill, who had left Ireland a little boy in the flight of the Earls, and the dispossessed clansmen, robbed of all but their strength of body and heart, gathered to the summons of Owen Roe.

Again it was the same issue: the courage and hardihood of the Irishman to set against the superior arms, equipment, and wealth of a united Britain. Irish valor won the battle; a great state organization won the campaign. England and Scotland combined to lay low a resurgent Ireland; and again the victory was not to the brave and skilled, but to the longer purse and the implacable mind. Perhaps the most vivid testimony to these innate qualities of the Irishman is to be found in a typically Irish challenge issued in the course of this ten years’ war from 1641 to 1651. The document has a lasting interest, for it displays not only the “better body” of the Irishman, but something of his better heart and chivalry of soul.

One Parsons, an English settler in Ireland, had written to a friend to say, among other things, that the head of a colonel of an Irish regiment then in the field against the English would not be allowed to stick long on its shoulders. The letter was intercepted by the very regiment itself, and a captain in it, Felim O’Molloy, wrote back to Parsons:

“I will doe this, if you please. I will pick out 60 men and fight against 100 of your choise men, if you do but pitch your campe one mile out of your towne, and then, if you have the victory, you may threaten my colonel; otherwise do not reckon your chickens before they be hatched.”

It was this same spirit of daring, this innate belief in his own manhood, that for three hundred years made every Irishman the custodian of his country’s honor.

An Irish state had not been born; that battle had still to be fought; but the romantic effort to achieve it reveals ever an unstained record of personal courage. Freedom has not come to Ireland; it has been “warred down and kept out of sight”; but it has been kept in the Irish heart, from Brian Boru to Robert Emmet, by a long tale of blood shed always in the same cause. Freedom is kept alive in man’s blood only by the shedding of that blood. It was this they were seeking, those splendid “scorners of death”, the lads and young men of Mayo, who awaited with a fearless joy the advance of the English army fresh from the defeat of Humbert in 1798. Then, if ever, Irishmen might have run from a victorious and pitiless enemy, who having captured the French general and murdered, in cold blood, the hundreds of Killala peasants who were with his colors, were now come to Killala itself to wreak vengeance on the last stronghold of Irish rebellion.

The ill-led and half-armed peasants, the last Irishmen in Ireland to stand in open, pitched fight for their country’s freedom, went to meet the army of General Lake, as the Protestant bishop who saw them says, “running upon death with as little appearance of reflection or concern as if they were hastening to a show.”

The influences that begot this reverence for freedom lie in the island itself no less than in the remote ancestry of the people. Whoever looks upon Ireland cannot conceive it as the parent of any but freemen. Climate and soil here unite to tell man that brotherhood, and not domination, constitutes the only nobility for those who call this fair shore their motherland. The Irish struggle for liberty owes as much, perhaps, to the continuing influence of the same lakes and rivers and the same mountains as to the survival of any political fragments of the past. Irish history is inseparably the history of the land, rather than of a race; and in this it offers us a spectacle of a continuing national unity that long-continuing disaster has not been able wholly to efface or wholly to disrupt.

To discover the Europe that existed before Rome we must turn to the East, Greece, and to the West, Ireland.

Ireland alone among western lands preserves the recorded tradition, the native history, the continuity of mind, and, until yesterday, of speech and song, that connect the half of Europe with its ancestral past. For early Europe was very largely Celtic Europe, and nowhere can we trace the continuous influence of Celtic culture and idealism, coming down to us from a remote past, save in Ireland only.

To understand the intellect of pre-Roman Gaul, of Spain, of Portugal, and largely of Germany, and even of Italy, we must go to Ireland. Whoever visits Spain or Portugal, to investigate the past of those countries, will find that the record stops where Rome began. Take England in further illustration. The first record the inhabitants of England have of the past of their island comes from Roman invasion. They know of Boadicea, of Cassivelaunus, the earliest figures in their history, from what a foreign destroyer tells them in an alien tongue.

All the early life of Celtiberians and Lusitanians has passed away from the record of human endeavor, save only where we find it recorded by the Italian invaders in their own speech, and in such terms as imperial exploitation ever prescribes for its own advancement and the belittlement of those it assails. Ireland alone among all western nations knows her own past, from the very dawn of history and before the romance of Romulus began, down to the present day, in the tongue of her own island people and in the light of her own native mind. Early Irish history is not the record of the clan-strivings of a petty and remote population, far from the centre of civilization. It is the authentic story of all western civilization before the warm solvent of Mediterranean blood and iron melted and moulded it into another and rigid shape.

The Irishman called O’Neill, O’Brien, O’Donnell, steps out of a past well-nigh co-eval with the heroisms and tragedies that uplifted Greece and laid Troy in ashes, and swept the Mediterranean with an Odyssey of romance that still gives its name to each chief island, cape, and promontory of the mother sea of Europe. Ireland, too, steps out of a story just as old. Well nigh every hill or mountain, every lake or river, bears the name today it bore a thousand, two thousand, years ago, and one recording some dramatic human or semi-divine event.

The songs of the Munster and Connacht poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries gave to every cottage in the land the ownership as well as the tale of an heroic ancestry. They linked the Ireland of yesterday with the Ireland of Finn and Oscar, of Diarmid and Grainne, of Deirdre and the Sons of Usnech, of Cuchulainn the Hound of Ulster. A people bred on such soul-stirring tales as these, linked by a language “the most expressive of any spoken on earth” in thought and verse and song with the very dawn of their history, wherein there moved, as familiar figures, men with the attributes of gods–great in battle, grand in danger, strong in loving, vehement in death–such a people could never be vulgar, could never be mean, but must repeat, in their own time and in their own manhood, actions and efforts thus ascribed as a vital part of their very origin. Hence the inspiration that gave the name of Fenian, in the late nineteenth century, to a band of men who sought to achieve by arms the freedom of Ireland. The law of the Fenian of the days of Marcus Aurelius was the law of the Fenian in the reign of Victoria–to give all–mind, body, and strength of purpose–to the defense of his country, “to speak truth and harbor no greed in his heart.”

Some there are who may deny to Finn and his Fenians of the second and third centuries corporeal existence; yet nothing is surer than that Ireland claims these ancestral embodiments of an heroic tradition by a far surer title of native record than gives to the Germans Arminius, to the Gauls, Ariovistus, to the British, Caractacus. This conception of a national life, one with the land itself, was very clear to the ancient Irish, just as it has been and is the foundation of all later national effort.

“If ever the idea of nationality becomes the subject of a thorough and honest study, it will be seen that among all the peoples of antiquity, not excluding the Hellenes and the Hebrews, the Irish held the clearest and most conscious and constant grasp of that idea; and that their political divisions, instead of disproving the existence of the idea, in their case intensely strengthen the proof of its existence and emphasize its power.

In the same way the remarkable absence of insular exclusiveness, notwithstanding their geographical position, serves to bring their sense of nationality into higher relief.

Though pride of race is evident in the dominant Gaelic stock, their national sentiment centres not in the race, but altogether in the country, which is constantly personified and made the object of a sort of cult.

It is worth noting that just as the Brehon Laws are the laws of Ireland without distinction of province or district; as the language of Irish literature is the language of Ireland without distinction of dialects; as the Dindshenchus contains the topographical legends of all parts of Ireland, and the Festilogies commemorate the saints of all Ireland; so the Irish chronicles from first to last are histories of the Irish nation. The true view of the Book of Invasions is that it is the epic of Irish Nationality.” (Professor Eoin MacNeill, in a letter to Mrs. A.S. Green, January, 1914.)

The “Book of Invasions”, which Professor MacNeill here speaks of, was compiled a thousand years ago. To write the history of later Ireland is merely to prolong the “Book of Invasions”, and thus bring the epic of Irish resistance down to our own day. All Irish valor and chivalry, whether of soul or of body, have been directed for a thousand years to this same end. It was for this that Sarsfield died at Landen no less than Brian at Clontarf. The monarch of Ireland at the head of a great Irish army driving back the leagued invaders from the shores of Dublin Bay in 1014, and the exiled leader in 1693, heading the charge that routed King William’s cause in the Netherlands, fell on one and the same battlefield. They fought against the invader of Ireland.

We are proudly told that the sun never sets on the British Empire. Wherever an Irishman has fought in the name of Ireland it has not been to acquire fortune, land, or fame, but to give all, even life itself, not to found an empire, but to strike a blow for an ancient land and assert the cause of a swordless people. Wherever Irishmen have gone, in exile or in fight, they have carried this image of Ireland with them. The cause of Ireland has found a hundred fields of foreign fame, where the dying Irishman might murmur with Sarsfield, “Would that this blood were shed for Ireland”, and history records the sacrifice as made in no other cause.

Ireland, too, owns an empire on which the sun never sets.


Sigerson: Bards of the Gael and Gall; O’Callaghan: History of the Irish Brigades; Mitchel: Life of Hugh O’Neill; Green: The Making of Ireland and its Undoing, Irish Nationality, The Old Irish World; Taylor: Life of Owen Roe O’Neill; Todhunter: Life of Patrick Sarsfield; Hyde: Love Songs of Connacht, Religious Songs of Connacht; O’Grady: Bog of Stars, Flight of the Eagle; Ferguson: Hibernian Nights’ Entertainment; Mitchel: History of Ireland, in continuation of MacGeoghegan’s History.



Unlike the natives of Britain and Scotland, the Irish in pre-Christian times were not brought into contact with Roman institutions or Roman culture. In consequence they created and developed a civilization of their own that was in some respects without equal. They were far advanced in the knowledge of metal-work and shipbuilding; they engaged in commerce; they loved music and had an acquaintance with letters; and when disputes arose among them, these were settled in duly constituted courts of justice, presided over by a trained lawyer, called a brehon, instead of being settled by the stern arbitrament of force. Druidism was their pagan creed. They believed in the immortality and in the transmigration of souls; they worshipped the sun and moon, and they venerated mountains, rivers, and wells; and it would be difficult to find any ministers of religion who were held in greater awe than the Druids.

Commerce and war brought the Irish into contact with Britain and the continent, and thus was Christianity gradually introduced into the island. Though its progress at first was not rapid, there were, by 431, several Christian churches in existence, and in that year Palladius, a Briton and a bishop, was sent by Pope Celestine to the Irish who already believed in Christ. Discouraged and a failure, Palladius returned to Britain after a brief stay on his mission, and then, in 432, the same Pope sent St. Patrick, who became the Apostle of Ireland.

Because of the great work he did, St. Patrick is one of the prominent figures of history; and yet, to such an extent has the dust of time settled down on his life and acts that the place and year of his birth, the schools in which he was educated, and the year of his death, are all matters of dispute. There is, however, no good reason to depart from the traditional account, which is, that the Apostle was born at Dumbarton in Scotland, in the year 372; that in 388 he was captured by the Irish king Niall, who had gone on a plundering raid into Scotland; that he was brought to Ireland and sold as a slave, and that as such he served a pagan chief named Milcho who lived in what is now the county of Antrim; that from Antrim he escaped and went back to his own country; that he had many visions urging him to return to Ireland and preach the Gospel there; that, believing these were from God, he went to France, and there was educated and ordained priest, and later consecrated bishop; and then, accompanied by several ecclesiastics, he was sent to Ireland.

From Wicklow, where he landed, he proceeded north and endeavored, but in vain, to convert his old pagan master Milcho; thence he proceeded south by Downpatrick and Dundalk to Slane in Meath, where, in sight of Tara, the high-king’s seat, he lighted the paschal fire. At Tara he confounded the Druids in argument, baptized the high-king and the chief poet; and then, turning north and west, he crossed the Shannon into Connacht, where he spent seven years. From Connacht he passed into Donegal, and thence through Tyrone and Antrim, after which he entered Munster, and remained there seven years. Finally, he returned to Armagh, which he made his episcopal see, and died at Saul, near Downpatrick, in 493.

St. Patrick wrote two short works, both of which have survived, his _Confession_ and his _Epistle to Coroticus_. In neither are there any graces of style, and the Latin is certainly not that of Cicero or Livy. But in the _Confession_ the character of the author himself is completely revealed–his piety, his zeal, his self-sacrifice, his courage in face of every danger and every trial. Not less remarkable was the skill with which he handled men and used pagan institutions for the purposes of Christianity; and equally so was the success with which his bloodless apostolate was crowned.

One great difficulty which St. Patrick had was to provide the people with a native ministry. At first he selected the chief men–princes, brehons, bards–and these, with little training and little education, he ordained. Thus, slenderly equipped with knowledge, the priest, with his ritual, missal, and a catechism, and the bishop, with his crozier and bell, went forth to do battle for the Lord. This condition of things was soon ended. In 450 a college was founded at Armagh, which in a short time grew to be a famous school, and attracted students from afar. Other schools were founded in the fifth century, at Noendrum, Louth, and Kildare. In the sixth century arose the famous monastic schools of Clonfert, Clonard, Clonmacnois, Arran, and Bangor; while the seventh century saw the rise of Glendalough and Lismore.

St. Patrick was educated in Gaul, at the monasteries of Marmoutier and Lerins; and, perhaps as a result, the monastic character of the early Irish church was one of its outstanding features; moreover it was to the prevalence of the monastic spirit, the desire for solitude and meditation, that so many of the great monastic establishments owed their existence. Fleeing from society and its attractions, and wishing only for solitude and austerity, some holy man sought out a lonely retreat, and there lived a life of mortification and prayer. Others came to share his poverty and vigils; a grant of land was then obtained from the ruling chief, the holy man became abbot and his followers his monks; and a religious community was formed destined soon to acquire fame. It was thus that St. Finnian established Clonard on the banks of the Boyne, and St. Kieran, Clonmacnois by the waters of the Shannon; and thus did St. Enda make the wind-swept Isles of Arran the home and the resting place of so many saints. Before the close of the sixth century, 3,000 monks followed the rule of St. Corngall at Bangor; and in the seventh century, St. Carthage made Lismore famous and St. Kevin attracted pious men from afar to his lonely retreat in the picturesque valley of Glendalough.

And there were holy women as well as holy men in Ireland. St. Brigid was held in such honor that she is often called the Mary of the Gael. Even in St. Patrick’s day, she had founded a convent at Kildare, beside which was a monastery of which St. Conleth was superior; and she founded many other convents in addition to that at Kildare. Her example was followed by St. Ita, St. Fanchea, and many others; and if at the close of the sixth century there were few districts which had not monasteries and monks, there were few also which had not convents and nuns.

Nor was this all. Fired with missionary zeal, many men left Ireland to plant the faith in distant lands. Thus did St. Columcille settle in Iona, whence he converted the Picts. Under his successors, St. Aidan and his friends went south to Lindisfarne to convert Northumbria in England; and the ninth abbot of Iona was the saintly Adamnan, whose biography of St. Columcille has been declared by competent authority to be the best of its kind of which the whole Middle Ages can boast. Nor must it be forgotten that the monasteries of Luxeuil and Bobbio owed their origin to St. Columbanus; that St. Gall gave his name to a town and canton in Switzerland; that St. Fridolin labored on the Rhine and St. Fursey on the Marne; and that St. Cathaldus was Bishop of Tarentum, and is still venerated as the patron of that Italian see.

And if we would know what was the character of the schools in which these men were trained, we have only to remember that Colgu, who had been educated at Clonmacnois, was the master of Alcuin; that Dicuil the Geographer came from the same school; that Cummian, Abbot and Bishop of Clonfert, combated the errors about the paschal computation with an extent of learning and a wealth of knowledge amazing in a monk of the seventh century; and that at the close of the eighth century two Irishmen went to the court of Charlemagne and were described by a monk of St. Gall as “men incomparably skilled in human learning”. The once pagan Ireland had by that time become a citadel of Christianity, and was rightfully called the School of the West, the Island of Saints and Scholars.

With this state of progress and prosperity the Danes played sad havoc. Animated with the fiercest pagan fanaticism, they turned with fury against Christianity, and especially against monks and religious foundations. Armagh, Clonmacnois, Bangor, Kildare, and many other great monastic establishments thus fell before their fury. Ignorance, neglect of religion, and corruption of manners followed, and from the eighth to the twelfth century there was a noted falling off in the number of Irish scholars. At home indeed were Cormac and Maelmurra, O’Hartigan and O’Flynn, and abroad was John Scotus Erigena, whose learning was so great that it excited astonishment even at Rome. The love of learning and zeal for religion lived on through this long period of accumulated disasters. After the triumph of Brian Boru at Clontarf, there was a distinct revival of piety and learning; and, when a century of turmoil followed Brian’s fall and religion again suffered, nothing was wanted to bring the people back to a sense of their duty but the energy and reforming zeal of St. Malachy.

Gerald Barry, the notorious Anglo-Norman, who visited Ireland towards the close of the twelfth century, has been convicted out of his own mouth when he states that Ireland was a barbarous nation when his people came there. He forgot that a people who could illuminate the Book of Kells and build Cormac’s Chapel could not be called savages, nor could a church be lost to a sense of decency and dignity that numbered among its children such a man as St. Laurence O’Toole. Abuses there were, it is true, consequent on long continued war, though these abuses were increased rather than lessened by the coming of the Anglo-Normans, and to such an extent that for more than two centuries there is not a single great name among Irish scholars except Duns Scotus.

The fame of Duns Scotus was European, and the Subtle Doctor, as he was called, became the great glory of the Franciscan, as his rival St. Thomas was the great glory of the Dominican, order. But he left no successor, and from his death, at the opening of the fourteenth century, till the seventeenth century the number of Irish scholars or recognized Irish saints was small. Yet, in the midst of disorders within, and despite oppression from without, at no time did the love of learning disappear in Ireland; nor was there ever in the Irish church either heresy or schism.

The attempted reformation by Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth produced martyrs like O’Hurley and O’Hely; and there were many more martyrs in the time of the Stuarts, and especially under the short but sanguinary rule of Cromwell.

Those were the days of the penal laws, when they who clung to the old religion suffered much. But nothing could shake their faith; neither the proclamations of Elizabeth and James, the massacres of Cromwell, nor the ferocious proscriptions of the eighteenth century. The priest said Mass, though his crime was punishable by death, and the people heard Mass, though theirs also was a criminal offence; and the schoolmaster, driven from the school, taught under a sheltering hedge. The clerical student, denied education at home, crossed the sea, to be educated at Louvain or Salamanca or Seville, and then, perhaps loaded with academic honors, he returned home to face poverty and persecution and even death. The Catholic masses, socially ostracised, degraded, and impoverished, shut out from every avenue to ambition or enterprise, deprived of every civil right, knowing nothing of law except when it oppressed them and nothing of government except when it struck them down, yet clung to the religion in which they were born. And when, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the tide turned and the first dawn of toleration appeared on the horizon, it was found that the vast majority of the people were unchanged, and that, after two centuries of the most relentless persecution since the days of Diocletian, Ireland was, in faith and practice, a strongly Catholic nation still.

On a soil constantly wet with the blood and tears of its children, it would be vain to expect that scholarship could flourish. And yet the period had its distinguished Irish scholars both at home and abroad. At Louvain, in the sixteenth century, were Lombard and Creagh, who both became Archbishops of Armagh, and O’Hurley who became Archbishop of Cashel. An even greater scholar than these was Luke Wadding, the eminent Franciscan who founded the convent of St. Isidore at Rome. At Louvain was John Colgan, a Franciscan like Wadding, a man who did much for Irish ecclesiastical history. And at home in Ireland, as parish priest of Tybrid in Tipperary, was the celebrated Dr. Geoffrey Keating the historian, once a student at Salamanca. John Lynch, the renowned opponent of Gerald Barry the Welshman, was Archdeacon of Tuam. And in the ruined Franciscan monastery of Donegal, the Four Masters, aided and encouraged by the Friars, labored long and patiently, and finally completed the work which we all know as the _Annals of the Four Masters_. This work, originally written in Irish, remained in manuscript in Louvain till the middle of the nineteenth century, when it was edited and translated into English by John O’Donovan, one of Ireland’s greatest Irish scholars, with an ability and completeness quite worthy of the original.

On the Anglo-Irish side there were also some great names, and especially in the domain of history, notably Stanyhurst and Hammer, Moryson and Campion and Davies, and, above all, Ussher and Ware. James Ware died in 1666, and though a Protestant and an official of the Protestant government, and living in Ireland in an intolerant age and in an atmosphere charged with religious rancor, he was, to his credit be it said, to a large extent free from bigotry. He dealt with history and antiquities, and wrote in no party spirit, wishing only to be fair and impartial, and to set out the truth as he found it. James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, was a much abler man and a much greater scholar than Ware. His capacity for research, his profound scholarship, the variety and extent of his learning raised him far above his co-religionists, and he has been rightly called the Great Luminary by the Irish Protestant church. It is regrettable that his fine intellect was darkened by bigotry and intolerance.

Far different was the character of another Protestant bishop, the great Berkeley, of Cloyne, a patriot, a philosopher, and a scholar, who afterwards left money and books for a scholarship, which is still in existence, at the then infant Yale College in New England. He lived in the first half of the eighteenth century, when the whole machinery of government was ruthlessly used to crush the Catholics. But Berkeley had little sympathy with the penal laws; he had words of kindness for the Catholics, and undoubtedly wished them well. Nor must Swift be forgotten, for though he took little pride in being an Irishman, he hated and despised those who oppressed Ireland, and is rightly regarded as one of the greatest of her sons.

The short period during which Grattan’s parliament existed was one of great prosperity. It was then that Maynooth College was established for the education of the Irish priesthood. But Catholics, though free to set up schools, were still shut out from the honors and emoluments of Trinity College, the one university at that time in Ireland. Still, Charles O’Connor, MacGeoghegan, and O’Flaherty were great Catholic scholars in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

In the following century, while Protestant ascendancy was still maintained, the Catholics had greater scope. Away back in the days of Queen Elizabeth, Campion found Latin widely spoken among the peasantry, and Father Mooney met country lads familiar with Virgil and Homer. In 1670, Petty had a similar story to tell, in spite of all the savageries of Cromwell and the ruin which necessarily followed. And in the eighteenth century the schoolmaster, though a price was set on his head, was still active. With an inherited love of learning, the Irish in the nineteenth century would have made rapid progress had they been rich. But their impoverishment by the penal laws made it impossible for them to set up an effective system of primary education, and until the national school system came into existence in 1831, they had to rely on the hedge-schools. Secondary education fared better, for the bishops, relying with confidence on the generosity of their flocks, were soon able to establish diocesan colleges. And in higher education, equally determined efforts were made by the establishment of the Catholic University under Cardinal Newman. But in this field of intellectual effort, in spite of the energy and zeal of the bishops, in spite of the great generosity of the people, so many of whom were poor, and in spite of the fame of Newman, it is failure rather than success which the historian has to record.

Nor has the love of the Irish for religion, any more than their love of learning, been lessened or enfeebled by time. The mountain side as the place for Mass in the penal days gradually gave way to the rude stone church without steeple or bell; and when steeple and bell ceased to be proscribed, and the people were left free to erect suitable houses of sacrifice and prayer, the fine churches of the nineteenth century began gradually to appear. The unfettered exercise of freedom of religious worship, the untiring efforts of a zealous clergy and episcopate, the unstinted support of a people, who out of their poverty grudged nothing to God or to God’s house, formed an irresistible combination, and all over the country beautiful churches are now to be found.

In every diocese in Ireland, with scarcely an exception, there is now a stately cathedral to perpetuate the renown of the patron saint of that diocese, and even parish churches have been built not unworthy to be the churches of an ancient see. At Armagh, a cathedral has been built which does honor to Irish architecture, and worthily commemorates the life and labors of St. Patrick, the founder of the primatial see; at Thurles, a cathedral stands, the chief church of the southern province, statelier far than any which ever stood on the Rock of Cashel; at Tuam, a noble building, associated with the memory of John MacHale, the Lion of the Fold of Judah, perpetuates the name of St. Jarlath; at Queenstown, the traveller, going to America or returning from it to the old land, has his attention attracted to the splendid cathedral pile sacred to St. Colman, the patron saint of the diocese of Cloyne; and if we would see how splendid even a parish church may be, let us visit the beautiful church in Drogheda, dedicated to the memory of Oliver Plunkett.

Nor are these things the only evidence we have that zeal for religion among the Irish has survived centuries of persecution. Columbanus and Columcille have still their successors, eager and ready as they were to bring the blessings of the Gospel to distant lands. In recent years an Irish-born Archbishop of Sydney has been succeeded by an Irish-born Archbishop; an Irishman rules the metropolitan see of Adelaide; and an Irish-born Archbishop of Melbourne has as his coadjutor a former president of the College of Maynooth. In South Africa, the work of preaching and teaching and ruling the church is largely the work of Irish-born men. In the great Republic of the West the three cardinal-archbishops at the head of the Catholic Church have the distinctively Irish names of Gibbons and Farley and O’Connell; and in every diocese throughout the United States the proportion of priests of Irish birth or descent is large.

Nor must the poorer Irish be forgotten. How much does the Catholic Church, both in Ireland and in America, owe to the generosity of Irish-American laborers and servant girls! Out of their scanty and hard-earned pay they have contributed much not only towards the building of the plain wooden church in the rural parishes, but also of the stately cathedrals of American cities. And many a church in old Ireland owes its completion and its adornment to the dollars given by the poor but generous Irish exiles.

And if the zeal of the Irish for religion has thus survived to the twentieth century, so also in an equally remarkable degree has their zeal for learning. We have evidence of this in the numerous primary schools in every parish, filled with eager pupils and presided over by hard working teachers; in the colleges where the sciences and the classics are studied with the same energy as in the ancient monastic schools; and in Maynooth College, which is the foremost ecclesiastical college in the world. And if there are now new universities, the National and the Queen’s, sturdy and vigorous in their youth, this does not imply that Trinity College suffers from the decreptitude of age. For among those whom she sent forth in recent times are Dowden and Mahaffy and Lecky, to name but three, and these would do credit to any university in Europe.

It would be difficult to find in any age of Irish history a greater pulpit orator than the famous Dominican, Father Tom Burke, or a more delightful essayist than Father Joseph Farrell; and who has depicted Irish clerical life more faithfully than the late Canon Sheehan, whose fame as a novelist has crossed continents and oceans? O’Connell was a great orator as well as a great political leader, and Dr. Doyle and Archbishop John MacHale were scholars as well as statesmen and bishops. We have thus an unbroken chain of great names, a series of Irishmen whom the succeeding ages have brought forth to enlighten and instruct lesser men; and Ireland, in the twentieth century, is not less attached to religion and learning than she was when Clonmacnois flourished and the saintly Carthage ruled at Lismore.


Joyce: Social History of Ancient Ireland (Dublin, 1903); Lanigan: Ecclesiastical History of Ireland (Dublin, 1822); Healy: Ireland’s Ancient Schools and Scholars (Dublin, 1896), Life and Writings of St. Patrick (Dublin, 1905); Bury: St. Patrick and his Place in History (London, 1905); Ussher’s Works (Dublin, 1847); Reeves: Adamnan’s Life of St. Columba (Dublin, 1851); Worsae: The Danes in Ireland (London, 1852); Moran: Essays on the Early Irish Church (Dublin, 1864); Stokes: Ireland and the Anglo-Norman Church (London, 1897); Mant: History of the Church of Ireland (London, 1841); Bagwell: Ireland under the Tudors (London, 1885-90); Moran: Persecutions under the Puritans (Callan, 1903); Murphy: Our Martyrs (Dublin, 1896); Meehan: Franciscan Monasteries of the Seventeenth Century (Dublin, 1870); Lecky: History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1902); O’Connell’s Correspondence (London, 1888); Wyse: History of the Catholic Association (London, 1829); Doyle: Letters on the State of Ireland (Dublin, 1826); O’Rorke: Irish Famine (Dublin, 1902); Gavan Duffy: Young Ireland (London, 1880); Plunkett: Ireland in the New Century (London, 1904); O’Riordan: Catholicity and Progress in Ireland (London, 1905); MacCaffery: History of the Church in the Nineteenth Century (Dublin, 1909); Healy: Centenary History of Maynooth College (Dublin, 1905); D’Alton: History of Ireland (London, 1910).


By Rev. Columba Edmonds, O.S.B.

St. Patrick’s work in Ireland was chiefly concerned with preaching the faith and establishing monasteries which served as centres of education. The great success that attended these efforts earned for Ireland the double title of Island of Saints and a Second Thebaid.

The monastic institutions organized by St. Patrick were characterized from their commencement by an apostolic zeal that knew no bounds. Sufficient scope was not to be found at home, so it was impatient to diffuse itself abroad.

SCOTLAND: Hence in the year 563 St. Columcille, a Donegal native of royal descent, accompanied by twelve companions, crossed the sea in currachs of wickerwork and hides, and sought to land in Caledonia. They reached the desolate Isle of Iona on the day preceding Whitsunday.

Many years before, colonies of Irishmen had settled along the western parts of the present Scotland. The settlement north of the Clyde received the name of the Kingdom of Dalriada. These Dalriadan Irish were Christian at least in name, but their neighbors in the Pictish Highlands were still pagans. Columcille’s apostolate was to be among both these peoples. Adamnan says that Columcille came to Caledonia “for the love of Christ’s name”, and well did his after-life prove the truth of this statement. He had attained his forty-fourth year when King Conall, his kinsman, bestowed Iona upon him and his brethren. The island, situated between the Dalriadans and the Picts of the Highlands, was conveniently placed for missionary work. A numerous community recruited from Ireland, with Columcille as its Abbot, soon caused Iona to become a flourishing centre from which men could go forth to preach Christianity. Monasteries and hermitages rapidly sprang up in the adjacent islands and on the mainland. These, together with the Columban foundations in Ireland, formed one great religious federation, in which the Celtic apostles of the northern races were formed under the influence of the holy founder.

St. Columcille recognized the need of securing permanence for his work by obtaining the conversion of the Pictish rulers, and thus he did not hesitate to approach King Brude in his castle on the banks of the River Ness. St. Comgall and St. Canice were Columcille’s companions on his journey through the great glen, now famous for the Caledonian Canal. The royal convert Brude was baptized, and by degrees the people followed the example set them. Opposition, however, was keen and aggressive, and it came from the official representatives of Pictish paganism–the Druids.

Success, too, attended Columcille’s ministrations among the Dalriadans, and on the death of their king, Aidan Gabhran, who succeeded to the throne, sought regal consecration from the hands of Columcille. In 597 the saint died, but not before he had won a whole kingdom to Christ and covered the land with churches and monasteries. Today his name is held in honor not by Irishmen alone, but by the Catholics and non-Catholics of the land of his adoption.

There are other saints who either labored in person with Columcille or perpetuated the work he accomplished in Caledonia; and their names add to the glory of Ireland, their birth-land. Thus St. Moluag (592) converted the people of Lismore, and afterwards died at Rosemarkie; St. Drostan, St. Columcille’s friend and disciple, established the faith in Aberdeenshire and became abbot of Deer; St. Kieran (548) evangelized Kintyre; St. Mun (635) labored in Argyleshire; St. Buite (521) did the same in Pictland; St. Maelrubha (722) preached in Ross-shire; St. Modan and St. Machar benefited the dwellers on the western and eastern coasts respectively; and St. Fergus in the eighth century became apostle of Forfar, Buchan, and Caithness.

DISTANT ISLANDS: But Irish monks were mariners as well as apostles. Their hide-covered currachs were often launched in the hope of discovering solitudes in the ocean. Adamnan records that Baitan set out with others in search of a desert in the sea. St. Cormac sought a similar retreat and arrived at the Orkneys. St. Molaise’s holy isle guards Lamlash Bay, off Arran. The island retreats of the Bass, Inchkeith, May, and Inchcolm, in the Firth of Forth, are associated with the Irish saints Baldred, Adamnan, Adrian, and Columcille. St. Maccaldus, a native of Down, became bishop of the Isle of Man.

Remarkable, too, is the fact that Irish monks sailed by way of the Faroe Islands to distant Iceland. These sailor-clerics, who settled on the southeast of the island, were spoken of by later Norwegians as “papar.” After their departure–they were probably driven away by Norwegian pagans–these Icelandic apostles “left behind them Irish books, bells, and croziers, wherefrom one could understand they were Irishmen.”

But St. Brendan, the voyager, is the most wonderful of the mariner monks of Ireland. He accomplished apostolic work in both Wales and Scotland, but his seafaring instincts urged him to make missionary voyages to regions hitherto unknown. Some writers, not without reason, have actually maintained that he and his followers traveled as far as the American shore. Be this as it may, the tradition of the discoveries of this Irish monk kept in mind the possibly existing western land, and issued at last in the discovery of the great continent of America by Columbus.

NORTHUMBRIA: Turn now to Northumbria. Adamnan writes that St. Columcille’s name was honored not only in Gaul, Spain, and Italy, but in Rome itself. England, however, owes to it a special veneration, because of the widespread apostolic work accomplished within her borders by Columcille’s Irish disciples. The facts are as follows: Northumbrian Christianity was well-nigh exterminated through the victory of Penda the pagan over Edwin the Christian, A.D. 633. St. Paulinus, its local Roman apostle, was driven permanently from his newly founded churches. Meanwhile Oswald and his brother Edwith sought refuge among the Irish monks of lona, and received baptism at their hands. Edwith died and Oswald became heir to the throne. A battle was fought. The day before he met the pagan army, between the Tyne and the Solway, Oswald beheld St. Columcille in vision saying to him: “Be strong and of good faith; I will be with thee.” The result of this vision of the abbot of Iona was that a considerable part of England received the true faith. Oswald was victorious; he united the kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia, and became overlord of practically all England, with the exception of Kent. There was evangelization to be done, and St. Oswald turned to Iona. In response to his appeal, the Irish bishop, St. Aidan, was sent with several companions. They were established on the island of Lindisfarne, in sight of the royal residence at Bamborough. These monks labored in union with, and even seemed to exceed in zeal, the Roman missionaries in the south under St. Augustine. However great the enthusiasm they had displayed for conversions in Iona, they displayed still greater on the desolate isle of Lindisfarne. In the first instance St. Aidan and his monks evangelized Northumbria. Want of facility in preaching in the Anglo-Saxon tongue was at first an obstacle, but it was speedily overcome, for king Oswald himself, who knew both Gaelic and English, came forward and acted as interpreter.

When St. Aidan died in 651, Iona sent St. Finan, another Irish bishop, to succeed him. Finan spread the faith beyond the borders of Northumbria and succeeded so well that he himself baptized Penda, king of the Mid-Angles, and Sigebert, king of the East Saxons. Diuma and Cellach, Irish monks, assisted by three Anglo-Saxon disciples of St. Aidan, consolidated the mission to the Mercians.

ANGLIA: While Christianity was thus being restored in Northumbria, other Irish apostles were teaching it in East Anglia. St. Fursey, accompanied by his brother St. Foillan and St. Ultan and the priests Gobham and Dicuil, landed in England in 633, and began to labor in the eastern portions of Anglia. In his monastery at Burghcastle, in Suffolk, the convert king Sigebert made his monastic profession, and in the same house many heavenly visions were vouchsafed to its founder.

The South Saxons had in Dicuil an apostle who founded the monastery of Bosham in Sussex, whence originated the episcopal see of Chichester. Another Irish monk named Maeldubh settled among the West Saxons and became the founder of Malmesbury Abbey and the instructor of the well-known St. Aldhelm.

Thus did Irish monks contribute to the conversion of Great Britain and its many distant islands. They built up the faith by their holy lives, their preaching, and their enthusiasm, and wisely provided for its perpetuation by educating a native clergy and by the founding of monastic institutions.

They were not yet satisfied, so they turned towards other lands to bring to other peoples the glad tidings of salvation.

GAUL: In 590 St. Columbanus, a monk of Bangor in Ireland, accompanied by twelve brethren, arrived in France, having passed through Britain. After the example of St. Columcille in Caledonia, they traveled to the court of Gontram, king of Burgundy, in order to secure his help and protection. During the course of the journey they preached to the people, and all were impressed with their modesty, patience, and devotion. At that epoch Gaul was sadly in need of such missionaries, for, owing partly to the invasion of barbarians and partly to remissness on the part of the clergy, vice and impiety everywhere prevailed. Columbanus, because of his zeal, sanctity, and learning, was well fitted for the task that lay before him. One of his early works in Burgundy was the founding of the monastery of Luxeuil, which became the parent of many other monasteries founded either by himself or by his disciples. Many holy men came from Ireland to join the community, and so numerous did the monks of Luxeuil become that separate choirs were formed to keep up perpetual praise–the “laus perennis”. But Columbanus did not remain at Luxeuil. In his strict uncompromising preaching he spared not even kings, and he preferred to leave his flourishing monastery rather than pass over in silence the vices of the Merovingians. He escaped from the malice of Brunehaut, and, being banished from Burgundy, made his way to Neustria, and thence to Metz. Full of zeal, he resolved to preach the faith to the pagans along the Rhine, and with this purpose set out with a few of his followers. They proceeded as far as the Lake of Zurich, and finally established themselves at Bregentz, on the Lake of Constance.

By this time his disciple St. Gall had learned the Alemannian dialect, which enabled him to push forward the work of evangelization. But Columbanus felt that he was called to labor in other lands while vigor remained to him, so, bidding his favorite follower farewell, he crossed the Alps and arrived at Milan in northern Italy. King Agilulph and his queen, Theodelinda, gave the Irish abbot a reverent and kind welcome. His zeal was still unspent, and he worked much for the conversion of the Lombard Arians. Here he founded, between Milan and Genoa, the monastery of Bobbio, which as a centre of knowledge and piety was long the light of northern Italy. In this monastery he died in the year 615, but not before the arrival of messengers from King Clothaire, inviting him to return to Luxeuil, as his enemies were now no more. But he could not go; all he asked was protection for his dear monks at Luxeuil.

It has been said most truly that Ireland never sent a greater son to do God’s work in foreign lands than Columbanus. The fruit of his labors remained; and for centuries after his death his influence was widely felt throughout Europe, especially in France and Italy. His zeal for the interests of God was unbounded, and this was the secret of his immense power. Some of his writings have come down to us, and comprise his Rule for Monks, his Penitential, sixteen short sermons, six letters, and several poems, all in Latin. His letters are of much value as evidence of Ireland’s ancient belief in papal supremacy.

SWITZERLAND: Gall, Columbanus’s disciple, remained in Switzerland. In a fertile valley, lying between two rivers and surrounded by hills, he laid the beginnings of the great abbey which afterwards bore his name and became one of the most famous monasteries in Christendom. St. Gall spent thirty years of his life in Helvetia, occupying himself in teaching, preaching, and prayer. He succeeded where others had failed, and that which was denied to Columbanus was reserved for Gall, his disciple, and the latter is entitled the Apostle of Alemannia.

Other districts had their Irish missionaries and apostles. Not far from St. Gall, at Seckingen, near Basle, St. Fridolin was a pioneer in the work of evangelization.

Towards the close of the seventh century St. Kilian, an Irishman, with his companions, Totnan and Colman, arrived in Franconia. He was martyred in Wuertzburg, where he is honored as patron and apostle.

Sigisbert, another Irish follower of St. Columbanus, spread the faith among the half-pagan people of eastern Helvetia, and founded the monastery of Dissentis in Rhaetia.

St. Ursanne, a little town on the boundaries of Switzerland, took its origin from another disciple of St. Columbanus.

OTHER APOSTLES AND FOUNDERS: Desire for solitary life drew St. Fiacre to a hermitage near Meaux, where he transformed wooded glades into gardens to provide vegetables for poor people. This charity has earned for Fiacre the title of patron saint of gardeners.

St. Fursey, the illustrious apostle of East Anglia, crossed over to France, where he travelled and preached continuously. He built a monastery at Lagny-sur-Marne, and was about to return to East Anglia when he died at Mezerolles, near Doullens. St. Gobham followed his master’s example, and like him evangelized and founded monasteries. St. Etto (Ze) acted in like manner. St. Foillan and St. Ultan, brothers of St. Fursey, became apostles in southern Brabant.

The monastery of Honau, on an island near Strasburg, and that of Altomuenster, in Bavaria, owe their foundation to the Irish monks Tuban and Alto, respectively.

Not far from Luxeuil was the Abbey of Lure, another great Irish foundation, due to Deicolus (Desle, Dichuill), a brother of St. Gall and a disciple of St. Columbanus. So important was this house considered in later times that its abbot was numbered among the princes of the Holy Roman Empire.

Rouen, in Normandy, felt the influence of the Irish monks through the instrumentality of St. Ouen; and the monasteries of Jouarre, Rebais, Jumieges, Leuconaus, and St. Vandrille were due at least indirectly to Columbanus or his disciples.

Turning to Belgium, it is recorded that St. Romold preached the faith in Mechlin, and St. Livinus in Ghent. Both came from Ireland.

St. Virgilius, a voluntary exile from Erin, “for the love of Christ”, established his monastery at Salzburg, in Austria. He became bishop there, and died in 781.

Moreover, the Celtic Rule of Columbanus was carried into Picardy by St. Valery, St. Omer, St. Bertin, St. Mummolin, and St. Valdelenus; but the Irish Caidoc and Fricor had already preceded them, their work resulting in the foundation of the Abbey of St. Riquier.

ITALY: Something yet remains to be said of the monks of Ireland in Italy. Anterior to St. Columbanus’s migration, his fellow countryman, St. Frigidian (or Fridian), had taken up his abode in Italy at Monte Pisana, not far from the city of Lucca, where he became famed for sanctity and wisdom. On the death of the bishop of Lucca, Frigidian was compelled to occupy the vacant see. St. Gregory the Great wrote of him that “he was a man of rare virtue”. His teachings and holy life not only influenced the lives of his own flock, but brought to the faith many heretics and pagans. In Lucca this Celtic apostle is still honored under the name of St. Frediano.

St. Pellegrinus is another Irish saint who sought solitude at Garfanana in the Apennines; and Cathaldus, a Waterford saint, in 680, became Bishop of Taranto, which he governed for many years with zeal and great wisdom. His co-worker was Donatus, his brother, who founded the church at Lecce in the Kingdom of Naples.

Of the two learned Irishmen, Clemens and Albinus, who resided in France in the eighth century, Albinus was sent into Italy, where at Pavia he was placed at the head of the school attached to St. Augustine’s monastery. Dungal, his compatriot, was a famous teacher in the same city. Lothair thus ordained concerning him: “We desire that at Pavia, and under the superintendence of Dungal, all students should assemble from Milan, Brescia, Lodi, Bergamo, Novara, Vercelli, Tortona, Acqui, Genoa, Asti, Como.”

It was this same Dungal who presented the Bangor psalter to Bobbio; therefore it may be reasonably conjectured that he came from the very monastery that produced Columbanus, Gall, and Comgall.

Fiesole, in Tuscany, venerates two Irish eighth-century saints, Donatus and Andrew. The former was educated at Iniscaltra, and Andrew was his friend and disciple. After visiting Rome, they lingered at Fiesole. Donatus was received with great honor by clergy and people and was requested to fill their vacant bishopric. With much hesitation he took upon himself ihe burden, which he bore for many years. His biographer says of him that “he was liberal in almsgiving, sedulous in watching, devout in prayer, excellent in doctrine, ready in speech, holy in life.” Andrew, who was his deacon, founded the church and monastery of St. Martin in Mensola, and is known in Fiesole as St. Andrew of Ireland, or St. Andrew the Scot, that is, the Irishman.

HOSPITALIA: Thus Irish monks were to be found in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, and even in Bulgaria. So numerous were they and so frequent their travels through the different countries of Europe that hospices were founded to befriend them. These institutions were known as “Hospitalia Scottorum” (“Hospices for the Irish”), and their benefactors were not only pious laymen but the highest ecclesiastical authorities. Sometimes the hospices were diverted to purposes other than those originally intended, and then Church Councils would intervene in favor of the lawful inheritors. Thus in 845 we read that the Council of Meaux ordered the hospices in France to be restored to the dispossessed Irishmen. In the twelfth century Ireland still continued to send forth a constant succession of monk-pilgrims, renowned for faith, austerity, and piety.

RATISBON: Special monasteries were erected to be peopled by the Irish. The most renowned of these dates from 1067, when Marianus Scotus (“Marianus the Irishman”), with his companions, John and Candidus, left his native land and arrived in Bavaria. These holy men were welcomed at Ratisbon by the Bishop Otto; and on the advice of Murcherat, an Irish recluse, took up their residence near St. Peter’s church at the outskirts of the city. Novices flocked from Ireland to join them and a monastery was erected to receive the community. In a short time this had to be replaced by a still larger one, which was known to future ages as the Abbey of St. James’s of the Scots (that is, Irish) at Ratisbon. How prolific was this parent foundation is evidenced from its many offshoots, the only surviving monasteries on the continent for many centuries intended for Irish brethren. These, besides St. James’s at Erfurt and St. Peter’s at Ratisbon, comprised St. James’s at Wuertzburg, St. Giles’s at Nuremberg, St. Mary’s at Vienna, St. James’s at Constance, St. Nicholas’s at Memmingen, Holy Cross at Eichstatt, a Priory at Kelheim and another at Oels in Silesia, all of which were founded during the twelfth or thirteenth century, and formed a Benedictine congregation approved of by Pope Innocent III., and presided over by the Abbot of Ratisbon. These Irish houses, with their long lines of Celtic abbots, in the days of their prosperity did much work that was excellent and civilizing, and rightly deserve a remembrance in the achievements of Ireland’s ancient missionaries.

Ratisbon and its dependent abbeys, as is set forth in the papal briefs of 1218, possessed priories in Ireland, and, from these, novices were usually obtained.

But evil days came for the Congregation of St. James, and now it is extinct. The subjugation of Ireland to England, says Wattenbach, contributed no doubt to the rapid decline of the Scotic (that is, Irish) monasteries. For from Ireland they had up till then been continually receiving fresh supplies of strength. In this their fatherland the root of their vitality was to be found. Loss of independence involved loss of enterprise.

SCHOLARSHIP AND INFLUENCE: Irish monks were not only apostles of souls, but also masters of intellectual life. Thus in the seventh century the Celtic monastery of Luxeuil became the most celebrated school in Christendom. Monks from other houses and sons of the nobility crowded to it. The latter were clearly not intended for the cloister, but destined for callings in the world.

There were outstanding men among these missionaries from Ireland. St. Virgilius of Salzburg in the eighth century taught the sphericity of the earth and the existence of the Antipodes. It was this same teaching that Copernicus and later astronomers formulated into the system now in vogue.

St. Columcille himself was a composer of Latin hymns and a penman of no mean order, as the Book of Kells, if written by him, sufficiently proves. In all the monasteries which he founded, provision was made for the pursuit of sacred learning and the multiplication of books by transcription. The students of his schools were taught classics, mechanical arts, law, history, and physics. They improved the methods of husbandry and gardening; supplied the people, whom they helped to civilize, with implements of labor; and taught them the use of the forge, an accomplishment belonging to almost every Irish monk.

The writings of Adamnan, who spent most of his life outside his native land, show that he was familiar with the best Latin authors, and had a knowledge of Greek as well. His “Vita S. Columbae” (“Life of St. Columcille”) has made his name immortal as a Latin writer. His book “De Locis Sanctis” (“On the Holy Places”) contains information he received from the pilgrim bishop Arculfus, who had been driven by a tempest to take refuge with the monks of Iona. On account of the importance of the writings of Adamnan and because of his influence in secular and ecclesiastical affairs of importance, few will question his right to a distinguished place among the saintly scholars of the West.

Irish monks, abroad as well as at home, were pre-eminently students and exponents of Holy Scripture. Sedulius wrote a commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul; John Scotus Erigena composed a work, “De Praedestinatione” (“Concerning Predestination”); Dungal was not only an astronomer, but also an excellent theologian, as is clear from his defence of Catholic teaching on the invocation of saints and the veneration of their relics. His knowledge of Sacred Scripture and of the Fathers is exceedingly remarkable.

St. Columbanus, besides other works, is said to have composed an exposition of the Psalms, which is mentioned in the catalogue of St. Gall’s library, but which cannot now be identified with certainty. The writings of this abbot are said to have brought about a more frequent use of confession both in the world and in monasteries; and his legislation regarding the Blessed Sacrament fostered eucharistic devotion.

Marianus Scotus is the author of a commentary on the Psalms, so precious that rarely was it allowed to pass beyond the walls of the monastic library. His commentary on St. Paul’s Epistles is regarded as his most famous production. Herein he shows acquaintance with Saints Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, and Leo, with Cassiodorus, Origen, Alcuin, Cassian, and Peter the Deacon. He completed the work on the 17th May, 1079, and ends the volume by asking the reader to pray for the salvation of his soul.

TRANSCRIPTION: In all the monasteries a vast number of scribes were continually employed in multiplying copies of the Sacred Scriptures. These masterpieces of calligraphy, written by Irish hands, have been scattered throughout the libraries of Europe, and many fragments remain to the present day. The beauty of these manuscripts is praised by all, and the names of the best transcribers often find mention in monastic annals. The work was irksome, but it was looked upon as a privilege and meritorious.

It remains to speak of that glorious monument of the Irish monks, the abbey of St. Gall, in Switzerland. It was here that Celtic influence was most felt and endured the longest. Within its walls for centuries the sacred sciences were taught and classic authors studied. Many of its monks excelled as musicians and poets, while others were noted for their skill in calligraphy and the fine arts. The library was only in its infancy in the eighth century, but gradually it grew, and eventually became one of the largest and richest in the world. The brethren were in correspondence with all the learned houses of France and Italy, and there was constant mutual interchange of books, sacred and scientific, between them.

They manufactured their own parchment from the hides of the wild beasts that roamed in the forests around them, and bound their books in boards of wood clamped with iron or ivory.

Such was the monastery of St. Gall, which owes its inception to the journey through Europe of the great Columbanus and his monk-companions–men whose lives, according to Bede, procured for the religious habit great veneration, so that wherever they appeared they were received with joy, as God’s own servants. “And what will be the reward,” asks the biographer of Marianus Scotus, “of these pilgrim-monks who left the sweet soil of their native land, its mountains and hills, its valleys and its groves, its rivers and pure fountains, and went like the children of Abraham without hesitation into the land which God had pointed out to them?” He answers thus: “They will dwell in the house of the Lord with the angels and archangels of God forever; they will behold the God of gods in Sion, to whom be honor and glory for ever and ever.”


Lanigan: Ecclesiastical History of Ireland (Dublin, 1829); Montalembert: Monks of the West (Edinburgh, 1861); Moran: Irish Saints in Great Britain (Dublin, 1903); Dalgairns: Apostles of Europe (London, 1876); Healy: Ireland’s Ancient Schools and Scholars (Dublin, 1890); Barrett: A Calendar of Scottish Saints (Fort Augustus, 1904); Stokes: Six Months in the Apennines (London, 1892), Three Months in the Forests of France (London, 1895); Fowler: Vita S. Columbae (Oxford, 1894); Wattenbach: Articles in Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 7 (Belfast, 1859); Gougaud: Les Chretientes celtiques (Paris, 1911); Hogan: Articles in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 1894, 1895; Drane: Christian Schools and Scholars (London, 1881).



The beginning of Irish navigation, like the beginning of everything else, is hidden in the mist of antiquity. Vessels of some kind obviously must have borne the successive waves of immigrants or invaders to the island. Naturally they would remain in use afterwards for trade, travel, exploration, and war. Irish ships may have been among those of the Breton fleet that Caesar dispersed at Vannes after an obstinate struggle. Two or three centuries later we find Niall of the Nine Hostages making nautical descents on the neighboring shores, especially Britain: and there is every probability that ships of the island conveyed some at least of the “Scots” (Irish) whom Gildas in the sixth century describes as joining the Picts in furiously storming the Roman wall.

The equally adventurous but more pacific work of exploration went on also, if we may judge by that extraordinary series of Irish sea-sagas, the _Imrama_, comprising the Voyages of Bran, Maelduin, the Hui Corra, and St. Brendan–the last-mentioned deservedly the most famous. These vary in their literary merits and in the merits of their several parts, for they have been successively rewritten at different periods, receiving always something of the color, belief, and adornment which belonged to the writer’s time; but under all may be dimly traced, as in a palimpsest, the remote pagan original. At their best they embody a lofty and touching poetry very subtle and significant, as when we read of Bran’s summoning by a visitant of supernatural beauty to the isles of undying delight, where a thousand years are but as a day; his return with a companion who had been overcome by longing for Ireland and home; the man’s falling to ashes at the first touch of the native soil, as though he had been long dead; and the flight of Bran and his crew from the real living world to the islands of the blessed. At least equally fine and stirring is St. Brendan’s interview with the exiled spirit of Heaven, whose “sin was but little”, so that he and his fellows were given only the pleasing penance of singing delightfully, in the guise of beautiful birds, the praises of the God who showed them mercy and grace, amid the charms of an earthly paradise. “Then all the birds sang evensong, so that it was an heavenly noise to hear.”

It is not very surprising that St. Brendan’s legend, with such qualities in prose and verse, made itself at home in many lands and languages, and became for centuries a widespread popular favorite and matter of general belief, also influencing the most permanent literature of a high contemplative cast, which we might suppose to be out of touch with it altogether. Certain of its more unusual incidents are found even in Arab writings of romance founded on fact, as in Edrisi’s narrative of the Magrurin explorers of Lisbon and the adventures of Sinbad related in the Arabian Nights; but perhaps here we have a case of reciprocal borrowing such as may well occur when ships’ companies of different nations meet.

The most conspicuous, insistent, and repeated feature of all these _Imrama_ is a belief in Atlantic islands fair enough or wonderful enough to tempt the shore dwellers of Ireland far away and hold them spell-bound for years. It is easy to ascribe these pictures to sunset on the ocean, or the wonders of mirage; but all the time, within long sailing distance, there actually were islands of delightful climate and exceeding beauty. These had been occasionally reached from the Mediterranean ever since early Carthaginian times, as classical authors seem to tell us; why not also from Ireland, perhaps not quite so distant? It is undoubted that the Canary Islands were never really altogether forgotten, and the same is probably true of the Madeiras and all three groups of Azores, though the knowledge that lingered in Ireland was a distorted glimmering tradition of old voyages, occasionally inciting to new ventures in the same field.

Some have supposed, though without sufficient evidence, that Saint Brendan even made his way to America, and parts of that shore line in several different latitudes have been selected as the scene of the exploit. His first entry into serious geography is in the fine maps of Dulcert, 1339, and the Pizigani, 1367, both of which plainly label Madeira, Porto Santo, and Las Desertas–“The Fortunate Islands of St. Brandan.” That there may be no possibility of misunderstanding, the Pizigani brothers present a full-length portrait of the holy navigator himself bending over these islands with hands of benediction. The inscription, though not the picture, was common, thus applied, on the maps of the next century or two, and no other interpretation of his voyage found any place until a later time.

Of course the fourteenth century was a long way from the sixth, when the voyage was supposed to have been made, and we cannot take so late a verdict as convincing proof of any fact. But it at least exhibits the current interpretation of the written narrative among geographers and mariners, the people best able to judge; and here the interval was much less. The story itself seems to corroborate them in a general way, if read naturally. One would say that it tells of a voyage to the Canaries, of which one is unmistakably “the island under Mount Atlas”, and that this was undertaken by way of the Azores and Madeira, with inevitable experience of great beauty in some islands and volcanic terrors in others. Madeira may well have been pitched upon by the interpreters as the suitable scene of a particularly long tarrying by the way. Of course magic filled out all gaps of real knowledge, and wonders grew with each new rewriting.

Whatever Brendan did, there is no doubt that Irish mariner-monks, incited by the great awakening which followed St. Patrick’s mission, covered many seas in their frail vessels during the next three or four centuries. They set up a flourishing religious establishment in Orkney, made stepping stones of the intervening islands, and reached Iceland some time in the eighth century, if not earlier. The Norsemen, following in their tracks as always, found them there, and the earliest Icelandic writings record their departure, leaving behind them books, bells, and other souvenirs on an islet off shore which still bears their name.

Did they keep before the Norsemen to America too? At least the Norsemen thought so. For centuries the name Great Ireland or Whitemen’s Land was accepted in Norse geography as meaning a region far west of Ireland, a parallel to Great Sweden (Russia), which lay far east of Sweden. The saga of Thorfinn Karlsefni, first to attempt colonizing America, makes it plain that his followers believed Great Ireland to be somewhere in that region, and it is explicitly located near Wineland by the twelfth century Landnamabok. Also there were specific tales afloat of a distinguished Icelander lost at sea, who was afterward found in a western region by an Irish vessel long driven before the storm. The version most relied on came through one Rafn, who had dwelt in Limerick; also through Thorfinn, earl of the Orkneys.

Brazil, the old Irish _Breasail_, was another name for land west of Ireland–where there is none short of America–on very many medieval maps, of which perhaps a dozen are older than the year 1400, the earliest yet found being that of Dalorto, 1325. Usually it appears as a nearly circular disc of land opposite Munster, at first altogether too near the Irish coast, as indeed the perfectly well-known Corvo was drawn much too near the coast of Spain, or as even in the sixteenth century, when Newfoundland had been repeatedly visited, that island was shifted by divers mapmakers eastward towards Ireland, almost to the conventional station of Brazil. Also, not long afterwards, the maps of Nicolay and Zaltieri adopted the reverse treatment of transferring Brazil to Newfoundland waters, as if recognizing past error and restoring its proper place.

The name Brazil appears not to have been adopted by the Norsemen, but there is one fifteenth century map, perhaps of 1480, preserved in Milan, which shows this large disc-form “Brazil” just below Greenland (“Illa Verde”), in such relation that the mapmaker really must have known of Labrador under the former name and believed that it could be readily reached from that Norse colony.

It seems altogether likely that “Brazil” was applied to the entire outjutting region of America surrounding the Gulf of St. Lawrence–that part of this continent which is by far the nearest Ireland. Besides the facts above stated, certain coincidences of real geography and of these old maps favor that belief, and they are quite unlikely to have been guessed or invented. Thus certain maps, beginning with 1375, while keeping the circular external outline of Ireland, reduce the land area to a mere ring, enclosing an expanse of water dotted with islands; and certain other maps show it still nearly circular externally, and solid, but divided into two parts by a curved channel nearly from north to south. The former exposition is possible enough to one more concerned with the nearly enclosed Gulf of St. Lawrence and its islands than with its two comparatively narrow outlets; the second was afterward repeated approximately by Gastoldi’s map illustrating Ramusio when he was somehow moved to minimize the width of the Gulf, though well remembering the straits of Belle Isle and Cabot. There are some other coincidences, but it is unnecessary to dwell on them. Land west of Ireland must be either pure fancy or the very region in question, and it is hardly believable that fancy could guess so accurately as to two different interpretations of real though unusual geography and give them right latitude, with such an old Irish name (Brazil) as might naturally have been conferred in the early voyaging times. That an extensive region, chiefly mainland, should be represented as an island is no objection, as anyone will see by examining the maps which break up everything north of South America in the years next following the achievements of Columbus and Cabot. There was a natural tendency to expect nothing but islands short of Asia.

It seems likely, therefore, that America was actually reached by the Irish even before the Norsemen and certainly long before all other Europeans.


Babcock: Early Norse Visits to North America, Smithsonian Publication 2138 (1913); Baring-Gould: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages; Beauvois: The Discovery of the New World by the Irish; Cantwell: Pre-Columbian Discoveries of America; Daly: The Legend of St. Brandan, Celtic Review, vol. I, A Sequel to the Voyage of St. Brandan, Celtic Review, Jan. 13, 1909; Hardiman: The History of Galway; Hull: Irish Episodes of Icelandic History; Joyce: The Voyage of Maelduin; Nutt: The Voyage of Bran; Stokes: The Voyage of Maelduin (_Revue Celtique_, vol. 9), Voyage of Snedgus (_Revue Celtique_, vol. 9), Voyage of the Hui Corra (_Revue Celtigue_, vol. 14); Moran: Brendaniana.



“The distinguishing property of man,” says Cicero, “is to search for and follow after truth. Therefore, when disengaged from our necessary cares and concerns, we desire to see, to hear, and to learn, and we esteem knowledge of things obscure or wonderful as indispensable to our happiness.” (_De Officiis_ I., 4).

I claim for the Irish race that throughout their history they have cut down their bodily necessities to the quick, in order to devote time and energy to the pursuit of knowledge; that they have engaged in intellectual pursuits, not infrequently of a high order, on a low basis of material comfort; that they have persevered in the quest of learning under unparalleled hardships and difficulties, even in the dark night of “a nation’s eclipse”, when a school was an unlawful assembly and school-teaching a crime. I claim, moreover, that, when circumstances were favorable, no people have shown a more adventurous spirit or a more chivalrous devotion in the advancement and spread of learning.

Love of learning implies more than a natural aptitude for acquiring information. It connotes a zest for knowledge that is recondite and attainable only at the expense of ease, of leisure, of the comforts and luxuries of life, and a zeal for the cultivation of the mental faculties. It is of the soul and not of the body; it refines, elevates, adorns. It is allied to sensibility, to keenness of vision, to the close observation of mental phenomena. Its possessor becomes a citizen of the known world. His mind broadens; he compares, contrasts, conciliates; he brings together the new and the old, the near and the distant, the permanent and the transitory, and weaves from them all the web of systematized human thought.

I am not here concerned with the extent of Ireland’s contribution to the sum of human learning, nor with the career of her greatest scholars; I am merely describing the love of learning which is characteristic of the race, and which it seems best to present in a brief study of distinct types drawn from various periods of Irish history.

In the pre-Christian period the Druid was the chief representative of the learning of the race. He was the adviser of kings and princes, and the instructor of their children. His knowledge was of the recondite order and beyond the reach of ordinary persons. The esteem in which he was held by all classes of the people proves their love for the learning for which he stood.

Patrick came: and with him came a wider horizon of learning and greater facilities for the acquisition and diffusion of knowledge. Monastic schools sprang up in all directions–at Clonard, Armagh, Clonmacnois, Bangor, Lismore, Kildare, Innisfallen. These schools were celebrated throughout Europe in the earlier middle ages, and from the fifth to the ninth century Ireland led the nations of Europe in learning and deserved the title of the “Island of Saints and Scholars.” Our type is the student in one of these monastic schools. He goes out from his parents and settles down to study in the environs of the monastery. He is not rich; he resides in a hut; his time is divided between study, prayer, and manual labor. He becomes a monk, only to increase in devotion to learning and to accentuate his privations. He copies and illuminates manuscripts. He memorizes the Psalms. He glosses the Vulgate Scriptures with vernacular notes. He receives ordination, and, realizing that there are benighted countries ten times as large as his native land beyond the seas, and, burning with zeal for the spread of the Gospel and the advancement of learning, sails for Britain, or passes into Gaul, or reaches the slopes of the Apennines, or the outskirts of the Black Forest. The rest of his life is devoted to the foundation of monasteries to which schools are attached, to the building of churches, and to the diffusion around him of every known branch of knowledge. He may have taken books from Ireland over seas, and, of these, relics are now to be found among the treasures of the ancient libraries of Europe. Columcille, Columbanus, Adamnan, Gall, Virgilius occur to the mind in dwelling on this type.

The hereditary _seanchaidhe_, who treasured up the traditional lore of the clan and its chief, was held in high honor and enjoyed extraordinary privileges. He held a freehold. He was high in the graces of the chief, and officiated at his inauguration.

An important type is the Irish ecclesiastical student abroad in the penal days. School teaching, unless at the sacrifice of Faith, was a crime in Ireland, and the training required for the priesthood had to be obtained on the continent. The Irish out of their poverty established colleges in Rome (1628), Salamanca (1593), Seville (1612), Alcala (1590), Lisbon (1593), Louvain (1634), Antwerp (1629), Douai (1577), Lille (1610), Bordeaux (1603), Toulouse (1659), Paris (1605), and elsewhere. As late as 1795 these colleges contained 478 students, and some of them are still in existence. The young student in going abroad risked everything. He often returned watched by spies, with his life in danger. Yet the supply never failed; the colleges flourished; and those who returned diffused around them not only learning but the urbanity and refinement which were a striking fruit and mark of their studies abroad.

Another type is the Irish scribe. In the days of Ireland’s fame and prosperity and of the flood-tide of her native language, he was a skilled craftsman, and the extant specimens of his work are unsurpassed of their kind. But I prefer to look at him at a later period, when he became our sole substitute for the printer and when his diligence preserved for us all that remains of a fading literature. He was miserably poor. He toiled through the day at the spade or the plough, or guided the shuttle through the loom. At night, by the flare of the turf-fire or the fitful light of a splinter of bogwood, he made his copy of poem or tract or tale, which but for him would have perished. The copies are often ill-spelt and ill-written, but with all their faults they are as noble a monument to national love of learning as any nation can boast of.

In our gallery of types we must not forget the character whom English writers contemptuously called the “hedge-schoolmaster.” The hedge-school in its most elemental state was an open-air daily assemblage of youths in pursuit of knowledge. Inasmuch as the law had refused learning a fitting temple in which to abide and be honored, she was led by her votaries into the open, and there, beside the fragrant hedge, if you will, with the green sward for benches, and the canopy of heaven for dome, she was honored in Ireland, even as she had been honored ages before in Greece, in Palestine, and by our primordial Celtic ancestors themselves. The hedge-schoolmaster conducted the rites, and the air resounded with the sonorous hexameters of Virgil and the musical odes of Horace.

In the Irish-speaking portions of the country the hedge-schoolmaster was often also a poet who wrote mellifluous songs in Irish, which were sung throughout the entire district and sometimes earned him enduring fame. Eoghan Ruadh O’Sullivan and Andrew MacGrath, called _An Mangaire Sugach_ or “the Jolly Pedlar,” are well-known instances of this type.

The poor scholar is another type that under varying forms and under various circumstances has ever trod the stage of Irish history. From an ancient Irish manuscript (See O’Curry, _Manners and Customs_, II, 79, 80) we learn that Adamnan, the biographer of St. Columcille, and some other youths studied at Clonard and were supported by the neighborhood. The poor scholar more than any other type embodies the love of learning of the Irish race. In the schools which preceded the National, he appeared in a most interesting stage of development. He came from a distance, attracted by the reputation of a good teacher and the regularity of a well-conducted school. He came, avowedly poor. His only claim on the generosity of his teacher and of the public was a marked aptitude for learning and an ardent desire for study and cultivation of mind. He did not look for luxuries. He was satisfied, if his bodily wants were reasonably supplied, even with the inconveniences of frequent change of abode. A welcome was extended to him on all sides. His hosts and patrons honored his thirst for knowledge and tenacity of purpose. He was expected to help the students in the house where he found entertainment, and it may not have been unpleasing to him on occasion to display his talents before his host. When school was over, it was not unusual to find him surrounded by a group of school-companions, each pressing his claim to entertain him for the night.

Despite the hospitality of his patrons, the poor scholar often felt the bitterness of his dependent state, but he bore it with equanimity, his hand ever eagerly stretched out for the prize of learning. What did learning bring him? Why was he so eager to bear for its sake

“all the thousand aches
That patient merit of the unworthy takes”?

Sometimes he became a priest; sometimes his life was purposeless and void. But he was ever urged onward by the fascination of learning and of the cultivation of the nobler part of his nature.

As might have been expected, the Irish who have emigrated to the American and Australian continents have given touching proof of their devotion to the cause of learning. I have space only for a few pathetic examples.

An Irish workman in the United States, seeing my name in connection with an Irish Dictionary, wrote to me a few years ago to ask how he might procure one, as, he said, an Italian in the works had asked him the meaning of _Erin go bragh_, and he felt ashamed to be unable to explain it.

A man who, at the age of three, had emigrated from Clare in the famine time, wrote to me recently from Australia in the Irish language and character.

An old man named John O’Regan of New Zealand, who had been twelve years in exile in the United States and forty-eight on the Australian continent, with failing eyesight, in a letter that took him from January to June of the year 1906 to write, endeavored to set down scraps of Irish lore which he had carried with him from the old country and which had clung to his memory to the last.

“In my digging life in the quarries,” he says, “books were not a part of our swag (prayerbook excepted). In 1871, when I had a long seat of work before me, I sent for McCurtin’s Dictionary to Melbourne. It is old and wanting in the introductory part, but for all was splendid and I loved it as my life.” (See _Gaelic Journal_, Dec., 1906.)


Joyce: A Social History of Ancient Ireland (2 vols., 2d ed., Dublin, 1913); Healy: Ireland’s Ancient Schools and Scholars (Dublin, 1890), Maynooth College Centenary History (Dublin, 1895); O’Curry: Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, (3 vols., Dublin and London, 1873), Manuscript Materials of Irish History, reissue (Dublin, 1873); Carleton: Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, especially vol. 3, The Poor Scholar; Montalembert: The Monks of the West, authorized translation, (7 vols., London, 1861); Meyer: Learning in Ireland in the Fifth Century (Dublin, 1913); Dinneen: Poems of Eoghan Ruadh O’Sullivan, Introduction (Dublin, 1902), The Maigue Poets, Introduction (Dublin, 1906); Boyle: The Irish College in Paris 1578-1901, with a brief sketch of the other Irish Colleges in France (Dublin, 1901); Irish Ecclesiastical Record, new series, vol. VIII, 307, 465; 3rd series, vol. VII, 350, 437, 641.



_President, University College, Cork_.

We may divide our survey of the debt owed to Ireland by science into three periods: the earliest, the intermediate, and the latest.

In the earliest period the names which come before us are chiefly those of compilers such as Augustin, a monk and an Irishman who wrote at Carthage, in Africa, in the seventh century, a Latin treatise on _The Wonderful Things of the Sacred Scripture_, still extant, in which, in connection with Joshua’s miracle, a very full account of the astronomical knowledge of the period, Ptolemaic, but in many ways remarkably accurate, is given. There are, however, three distinguished names. Virgil the Geometer, _i.e._, Fergil (O’Farrell), was Abbot of Aghaboe, went to the continent in 741, and was afterwards Bishop of Salzburg. He died in 785. He is remembered by his controversies with St. Boniface, one of which is concerned with the question of the Antipodes. Virgil is supposed to have been the first to teach that the earth is spherical. So celebrated was he that it has been thought that a part of the favor in which the author of the _Aeneid_ was held by medieval churchmen was due to a confusion between his name and that of the geometer, sometimes spoken of as St. Virgil.

Dicuil, also an Irish monk, was the author of a remarkable work on geography, _De Mensura Provinciarum Orbis Terrae_, which was written in 825, and contains interesting references to Iceland and especially to the navigable canal which once connected the Nile with the Red Sea. He wrote between 814 and 816 a work on astronomy which has never been published. It is probable, but not certain, that he belonged to Clonmacnois.

Dungal, like the two others named above, was an astronomer. He probably belonged to Bangor, and left his native land early in the ninth century. In 811 he wrote a remarkable work, _Dungali Reclusi Epistola de duplici solis eclipsi anno 810 ad Carolum Magnum_. This letter, which is still extant, was written at the request of Charlemagne, who considered its author to be the most learned astronomer in existence and most likely to clear up the problem submitted to him.

Before passing to the next period, a word should be said as to the medieval physicians, often if not usually belonging to families of medical men, such as the Leahys and O’Hickeys, and attached hereditarily to the greater clans. These men were chiefly compilers, but such works of theirs as we have throw light upon the state of medical knowledge in their day. Thus there is extant a treatise on _Materia Medica_ (1459); written by Cormac MacDuinntsleibhe (Dunleavy), hereditary physician to the clan of O’Donnell in Ulster. A more interesting work is the _Cursus Medicus_, consisting of six books on Physiology, three on Pathology, and four on Semeiotica, written in the reign of Charles I. of England by Nial O’Glacan, born in Donegal, and at one time physician to the king of France.

O’Glacan’s name introduces us to the middle period, if indeed it does not belong there. _Inter arma silent leges_, and it may be added, scientific work. The troublous state of Ireland for many long years fully explains the absence of men of science in any abundance until the end of the eighteenth century. Still there are three names which can never be forgotten, belonging to the period in question. Sir Hans Sloane was born at Killileagh, in Ulster, in 1660. He studied medicine abroad, went to London where he settled, and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. He published a work on the West Indies, but his claim to undying memory is the fact that it was the bequest of his most valuable and extensive collections to the nation which was the beginning and foundation of the British Museum, perhaps the most celebrated institution of its kind in the world. Sloane’s collection, it should be added, contained an immense number of valuable books and manuscripts, as well as of objects more usually associated with the idea of a museum. He died in 1753.

The Hon. Robert Boyle was born at Lismore, in the county Waterford, in 1627, being the fourteenth child of the first Earl of Cork. On his tombstone he is described as “The Father of Chemistry and the Uncle of the Earl of Cork”, and, indeed, in his _Skyptical Chimist_ (1661), he assailed, and for the time overthrew, the idea of the alchemists that there was a _materia prima_, asserting as he did that theory of chemical “elements” which held good until the discoveries in connection with radium led to a modification in chemical teaching. This may be said of Boyle, that his writings profoundly modified scientific opinion, and his name will always stand in the forefront amongst those of chemists. He made important improvements in the air-pump, was one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal Society, and founded the “Boyle Lectures.” He died in 1691.

Sir Thomas Molyneux was born in Dublin, in 1661, of a family which had settled in Ireland about 1560-70. He practised as a physician in his native city, was the first person to describe the Irish Elk and to demonstrate the fact that the Giant’s Causeway was a natural and not, as had been previously supposed, an artificial production. He was the author of many other scientific observations. He died in 1733.

We may now turn to more recent times, and it will be convenient to divide our subjects according to the branch of science in which they were distinguished, and to commence with


of whom Ireland may boast of a most distinguished galaxy.

Sir William Rowan Hamilton (b. in Dublin 1805, d. 1865), belonged to a family, long settled in Ireland, but of Scottish extraction. He was a most precocious child. He read Hebrew at the age of seven, and at twelve, had studied Latin, Greek, and four leading continental languages, as well as Persian, Syriac, Arabic, Sanscrit, and other tongues. In 1819 he wrote a letter to the Persian ambassador in that magnate’s own language. After these linguistic contests, he early turned to mathematics, in which he was apparently self-taught; yet, in his seventeenth year he discovered an error in Laplace’s _Mecanique Celeste_. He entered Trinity College where he won all kinds of distinctions, being famous not merely as a mathematician, but as a poet, a scholar, and a metaphysician. He was appointed Professor of Astronomy and Astronomer Royal whilst still an undergraduate. He predicted “conical refraction,” afterwards experimentally proved by another Irishman, Humphrey Lloyd. He twice received the Gold Medal of the Royal Society: (i) for optical discoveries; (ii) for his theory of a general method of dynamics, which resolves an extremely, abstruse problem relative to a system of bodies in motion. He was the discoverer of a new calculus, that of Quaternions, which attracted the attention of Professor Tait of Edinburgh, and was by him made comprehensible to lesser mathematicians. It is far too abstruse for description here.

Sir George Gabriel Stokes (born in Sligo 1819, d. 1903) was, if not the greatest mathematician, at least among the greatest, of the last hundred years. He was educated in Cambridge, where he spent the rest of his life, being appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1849, and celebrating the jubilee of that appointment in 1899. He was