It is for us as it was for the Irish Monks of the early medieval period, to carry the embers is to risk burning one’s hands. —Pam, 2021
*Pencil and pencil crayon drawing.
For a quick overview of the contribution to scholarship made by these educators and guardians of ancient wisdom, I include the conclusion to Graham’s The Early Irish Monastic Schools: A study of Ireland’s Contribution to Early Medieval Culture (1923), as follows,
INFLUENCE OF IRISH SCHOLARSHIP:
… It is only in very recent years that we have begun to realise how much native Irish literature and history owes to the Irish monastic schools. In the wider field of European scholarship there is still much room for investigation before we can confidently assign to Irish monastic scholarship its proper place. The superiority of Irish classical learning has been demonstrated and is now acknowledged by practically all scholars who have made an intensive study of the early Middle Ages. But as a discerning historian has remarked, “what is of greatest significance is the fact that there reigned not only among the professed scholars but among the plain missionaries (whose name was legion) a classical spirit, a love of literature for its own sake and a keen delight in poetry. They brought imagination, they brought spiritual force to a world well nigh sunk in materialism. … Their lighter productions show but one side of their Scottish nature [note: before the 9th or 10th century, all Gaels inhabiting Ireland and the north UK were Scotti (Latin) or Scots — Pam]. Their earnest single pursuit of learning in the widest sense attainable, their solid hard work as scholars is no less characteristic. Ireland was once the university not only of Northern England, but of the Frankish realm and if that progress was arrested after the fatal inroads of the Norsemen after 795 A.D. the seed which the Scots had sown in other lands grew to a nobler maturity than ever it reached on its own soil. … Wherever they went they founded schools.”
Many other tributes to Irish monastic scholarship might be quoted. We have selected but two of these partly because of the weight of authority rightly associated with the author’s name in each case and partly because they summarise the detailed evidence we have presented during the course of our study.
Turner says: “The Irish teachers left a lasting impression on their own and succeeding generations. Not only were they the chief teachers of grammar, poetry, astronomy, music, and geography when these branches had no other, or scarcely any other, representative on the continent of Europe, but they also profoundly influenced the course of mediæval thought in matters of philosophy and theology. Their elucidation of the Gospel of St. John and their commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul formed a new school of exegesis. … They introduced the Neo-Platonic point of view in metaphysical speculation and carried the art of dialectic to a higher point than it ever before attained. It is no exaggeration to say that they were the founders of scholasticism and that Ireland is the Ionia of mediæval philosophy.”
Zimmer too shows that the Irish missionaries were not merely the representatives of Christianity: “they were instructors in every branch of science and learning of the time, possessors and bearers of a higher culture than was at that time to be found anywhere on the Continent, and can surely claim to have been the pioneers,—to have laid the corner stone of western culture on the Continent.”
We have reached the end of our study. We have traced the rise, growth, and influence of the Irish monastic schools during the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries. Their work and influence lasted for several centuries after the ninth, but during the period which we have investigated their influence was a dominant one in the history of European education. In the later centuries other factors contributed to the advancement of learning in Western Europe and while the Irish contribution was by no means negligible it was less distinctive, less significant, than during the period ending with the ninth century. If, then, we would form a correct idea of the position that Irish monastic schools occupy in the history of western culture, we have but to contrast the actual state of contemporary learning in the rest of Western Europe with that available in these schools; or to recall their large number and wide distribution, noting the liberal nature of the course of studies pursued therein and the generosity with which that learning was extended to all irrespective of race or social position. In either case we are driven to the conclusion that these schools were indeed the greatest educational factor of early mediæval times, that they were, in reality, the universities of the West, the lights that illumined the (so-called) Dark Ages.
Graham, Hugh. The Early Irish Monastic Schools: A study of Ireland’s Contribution to Early Medieval Culture. The Talbot Press Limited, 1923 : Project Gutenberg. Released April 27, 2020. [EBook #61956] Retrieved February 27, 2021, from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/61956/61956-h/61956-h.htm .