Saturday, 12 November 2011

Christianity in Ireland Before St Patrick

Early Christianity in Ireland Explained

It is intriguing and interesting to read about the impact on Irish History by Christianity in Ireland. Allow me to paint a picture of Ireland just before the arrival of what we now know to be Christianity.

Taking a brief look backwards we had the first people in Ireland who lived a very primitive lifestyle, hunting and fishing and living in huts.  Then we had the introduction of farming and of settlement followed by those who had arrived to pursue their trade of iron work and metal works.

These were clearly the dominant people in Ireland until the arrival of the Celts and most historians agree that the Celts came in two waves, one directly from the continent and the next wave from those having already conquered Britain.  They were establised for at least a century before the arrival of Christ.  They then dominated Ireland for nearly a thousand years despite many challenges from other cultures.

Before the arrival of Saint Patrick Ireland was divided into five major kingdoms and Ulster and Connacht were at war.  Cu Chulainn was defending the north against the forces of Queen Maeve.

The Ulster capital at Eamhain Macha (Navan Fort) was overthrown by Connacht in the middle of the 5th Century AD.  Niall of the Nine Hostages was the most powerful of the Connacht ruling family and he annexed the ancient ritual site of Tara.  His desecendents set up a new provincial kingdom in north-west Ulster into which they later included the central part of the province.

Each provincial kingdom had a set of smaller kingdoms known as “tuatha” and so the country of Ireland had around 100-150 of these and local wars were frequent and usually involved cattle raiding and skirmishes in a battle for more land.  This was the situation that Saint Patrick found himself upon entering Ireland and he decided on Eamhain Macha in Armagh, still believing this to be the capital of Ulster and therefore made it his centre for the spread of Christianity in Ireland.

A little known fact is that most people believe that Saint Patrick was the first Christian influence on Ireland, but in fact, Pope Celestine I appointed a deacon from Auxerre called Palladius to come to Ireland in AD 431.

This appointment was made to help regulate the affairs of the Christians in Ireland and therefore suggests that some existence of Christianity already existed. How that came to be is unknown. There is however no further mention of Palladius and no further reference are made to him in any written documentation.

The story of Saint Patrick is however well documented and its impact was immense. He began his mission in AD 432 and lasted for about 30 years. In fact, it is Patrick himself who is mainly responsible for the earliest written documents in Ireland's history. Although the story of Saint Patrick is well known, I still believe it to be worth documented in any history of Ireland.

He left behind two texts one called the Declaration (Confession) and a letter he wrote to the soldiers of Coroticus, and from these we can gather some information. So as you can see the impact on Irish History of early Christianity in Ireland was significant. Please see the separate post about Saint Patrick Ireland for much more detail.