How the Irish civilized England

From the Catholic Herald Christmas edition

Monasticism had begun in the deserts of Egypt under St Anthony, but after the practice spread west and was popularised by Benedict of Nursia it was keenly taken up by the Irish. Like the Egyptians, they found plenty of harsh, unforgiving places where they could get closer to God.

Nowhere was more unforgiving than Skellig Michael. The monastery there was founded before the 8th century and at some time became associated with the archangel (churches on mountains and hills are often named after Michael). The monks survived off their vegetable gardens, birds’ eggs and whatever else they could find, cut off from civilisation entirely during the winter months. It was bitterly cold. It was tough. It was on the edge of existence. And that’s where God could be found.

It was in places like Skellig Michael that monks laboured in freezing cells to preserve many of the ancient texts. Indeed, Irish monks were so obsessed with books they even started a war over one, a debacle called the Battle of the Book. This took place in the kingdom of Cairbre Drom Cliabh in the north-west of the country between 555 and 561. Two clans fought after St Columba had illegally copied a version of the Psalms belonging to St Finnian. It’s most likely the only war to have been waged over copyright infringement, and it led to “thousands” of deaths.

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