The Irish seem to pop up in the most unlikely places. It has been estimated that there are approximately 70 million people worldwide of Irish extraction. Because Ireland is a trading nation but a small country, this has led to periods of emigration in search of work whenever the global economy took a downturn. Let’s not worry too much about the precise figures but I know from my own experience working abroad that there are many people around the world who feel a kinship with Ireland because they believe they have at least one ancestor from the Emerald Isle.
Well, if you are one of those lucky ones, how much do you know about the land of your ancestors? We all inherit traits from our ancestors and if you have Irish ancestors can you recognise anything particularly “Irish” in your make-up? Well, to do that youwill need to learn more about Ireland and its people. And I am not limiting that to those people who now, today, live in Ireland. I am thinking back over the long history of the country. That is why I am building my web site slowly but with the specific purpose of presenting information from the old manuscripts, dating back over 1,000 years.
It has been said that history is written by the conquerors after a war, but mythology is the “people’s” history. Ireland is lucky in that it has a very rich heritage of these stories, originally part of our oral tradition, where stories about the heroic past were told around camp fires with the purpose of emphasising and imparting knowledge down the generations about what it meant to be Irish, how our ancestors saw their lives, the principles by which they organised their society. Mythology is a record of what is important in the spirit of the people, their beliefs, their values, their aspirations.
Ireland was the third country in the region that we now call “Europe”, to develop a written story of their country, the other two being the Romans and the Greeks. Those three countries preserved the old oral tradition in the written records of the manuscripts. From them we learn about the Heroic Age of Ireland, of Cúchulainn and the Red Branch Warriors, of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna, and of the various tribal leaders who have been recorded in those ancient tales. But those manuscripts were written in Old Irish and in Latin. Many of the manuscripts have been translated into English and other modern European languages but they have been the preserve of scholars mostly and it has not been easy for ordinary folk to access accurate information or even read those tales.
That is why I am embarking on developing a web site with a focus on presenting those tales in an easily accessible medium, with commentaries to explain the background to each. Even more importantly, I want to show how nearly 2,000 years ago, on a small island which was then deemed to be at the edge of the known world, had developed a sophisticated society, with a unique legal system, and its own way of resolving social and political issues that still have relevance today. One example of that is the story of “The Law of the Innocents”.
In 691 A.D. the Abbot of the Monastery at Iona, organised a Synod in Birr, Co. Offaly to which tribal and other leaders from the region now described as Ireland and the United Kingdom were invited. Remember that in those days these two islands did not have a system of national and regional governments as we have today but were organised on the basis of tribes and clans. These tribes were regularly at war with one another over a variety of issues. Nevertheless over a thousand representatives attended the Synod as is recorded on manuscripts of the time. They passed a law outlawing violence against women. Those attending the Synod contributed to a fund to enforce that Law because there was no central authority to do so. This was done over 1,000 years before the “Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen” was passed by France’s National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, or before Thomas Paine published his “Rights of Man” in which he explored the idea that government based on true justice should support not only mankind’s natural rights (life, liberty, free speech, freedom of conscience) but also its civil rights (relating to security and protection).
Other stories from the ancient manuscripts describe how the Irish people organised their society, how they coped with spiritual issues as well as those temporal ones. For instance, in the time of the Druids, we read that there were comprehensive rules governing society. The Druid was similar to the Shaman in other indigenous cultures. They had the power to step between tribal armies on the point of war and impose a cessation of hostilities while they adjudicated on the merits of each side. Even before the introduction of paper in Europe, it appears that the Druids had memory sticks long before the computer industry stumbled on the idea. Yes, they used memory sticks as an aide memoire for the oral tradition of remembering and recalling the ancestral stories! I am at present preparing that story with details about how you may use their technique with investing in computer peripherals!
For those reasons above, I am keen to investigate how relevant the learning from those ancient times is for us today. The web site is aimed at the general reader and will provide resources in response to requests. I hope that you will find information there to whet your appetite enough to learn more about your Irish ancestry, and even if you have no Irish ancestry, I am sure that you will find something there to interest you.