Posts Tagged ‘How the Irish Saved Civilization’

R.I.P., Thomas Cahill

October 30, 2022

Ah, sure, an’ in what class of a donnybrook would ye be without us so?

The scholar and scribe Thomas Cahill has gone west. He was 82.

Cahill is perhaps best known for his book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.” (You’re welcome, by the way.)

It was to be the kickoff to a seven-part series about critical moments in Western European civilization, according to The New York Times; he wrote six before his death Oct. 18 in Manhattan.

In his introduction, Cahill argues:

“And yet … Ireland, a little island at the edge of Europe that has known neither Renaissance or Enlightenment — in some ways, a Third World country with, as John Betjeman claimed, a Stone Age culture — had one moment of unblemished glory. For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of western literature — everything they could lay their hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overwhelmed.”

Without “the Mission of the Irish Monks,” he continues, “the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one — a world without books. And our own world would never have come to be.”

By the end of “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” Cahill seems to wonder whether the worlds of then and now are really all that different.

He writes:

“As we, the people of the First World, the Romans of the twentieth century, look out across our Earth, we see some signs for hope, many more for despair. …

“Perhaps history is always divided into Romans and Catholics — or better, catholics. The Romans are the rich and powerful who run things their way and must always accrue more because they instinctively believe that there will never be enough to go around; the catholics, as their name implies, are universalists who instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family, that every human is an equal child of God, and that God will provide.

“The twenty-first century, prophesized (André-Georges) Malraux, will be spiritual or it will not be. If our civilization is to be saved — forget about our civilization, which, as (St.) Patrick would say, may pass “in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scattered by the wind” — if we are to be saved, it will not be by Romans but by saints.”