After arriving in Britannia in the 1st century the Romans refused to invade Hibernia, the other large nearby island which was likewise inhabited by Celtic tribes. That excluded it from the Romanization effects until the 5th century of our era, when a Christian evangelist conquered it by the force of words and writing. Today that island is Ireland (Éire in Gaelic) and neither the passing of time nor the numerous invasions or wars have been able to end with the Irish people’s tough sense of identity.

Text: Josep Mª Roselló
Pictures: Josep Mª Roselló/Jaume Cluet


The first inhabitants arrived about 9,000 years ago, after the last deglaciation, and the Neolithic Agrarian Revolution colonised the island approximately 6,000 years ago. This interesting period left some monuments which today are place of pilgrimage for thousands of astonished visitors all over the world. In the following millennia new settlers arrived in the island. The most famous were the Celtic peoples who got progressively there in different crowds between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC.

During the 4th and 5th centuries of the Christian era, the Celtic pirates from Ireland changed the coast of Great Britain and the Romanized west lands into an unsafe place. They were looking for the spoils and the kidnapping of people, who ended their lives as slaves or were used by the druids in human sacrifices. In one of these razzias (raids), somewhere inward the present England or Wales (other sources ensure it was in Scotland), a young Christian was captured and later deported to Ireland where he was enslaved. As the legend explains, some years later this young person, who became a hardened man by the roughness of captivity, was able to escape from the Irish forced exile and promised to come back to the pagan Ireland to convert it to Christianity. Perhaps he has been the most well-known British from Ireland until today; the legendary patron saint of the island called Saint Patrick.

The Celtic kingdom of Ulster, located in the northeast, was the Irish place which was longer loyal to paganism. Maybe that is why traditions tell us that it was there where Patrick arrived, somewhere near the current town of Downpatrick, where he had to make a greater effort to Christianize it. The same tradition explains the rationale for paying homage to the adventures of the evangelistic saint of the island in this area of the eastern coast of Ulster in Saint Patrick’s route. It goes between the cities of Bangor and Armagh, from the east to the southeast of the capital (Belfast), along different scenes such as churches and abbeys (most of them in ruins) of patrician tradition. That means that it is supposed that the saint was in, went around or founded some of these monasteries that are spread along the route.

Before Patrick the island was visited from the 3rd century on by some evangelists who were not very successful. From Great Britain or the continent some hermits arrived to emulate the existential scarcities and the life of praying and complete retreat of the first Christian hermits who moved away to deserted, sheer areas of the Roman provinces from northern Africa or the Near East. Those first solitary Christians from Ireland retreated to almost inaccessible places such as small islands and cliffs far from any peoples, and trying to survive with difficulty and really hard conditions.

The saint brought about the miracle by Christianizing the Celtic elites, which let him found monasteries and motivated to transcribe the classical Greek and Roman texts that later gave birth to the superb school of Irish copyists. In conclusion, he laid the foundation stone of the Irish church. His ministry brought not only Christianity to Ireland but also the spreading of the alphabetic writing, which was unknown until that moment in the island. Moreover, it started the slavery decline, which was eradicated in few years, and the arbitrary, horrible death liturgies supported by the druidic religion, whose pantheon was always eager for blood and human sacrifice, were finished.

However, the Christianity which proliferated in Ireland was different, not like we know it today but the Celtic manner. Otherwise, how could have the preacher achieved captivating the soul and heart of so many Irish in few decades? That form of Christianity explained to the Celtic pagans did not make up any current in itself inside the Christianity but was the way and tool to bring the new religion closer to that society. It has been historically known as Celtic Christianity. Nevertheless, when Rome and its orthodoxy were consolidated over other Christian currents, the young Irish church got called on the carpet to accept the precepts and conventions of the Roman Catholic orthodoxy. The Irish church had no objection to accepting the imposition and remained faithful to it and the Roman designs until the present days.

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