On St Patrick and St Gildas, patron saint of immigration restriction

Ireland’s rapid and enthusiastic embrace of the new faith is impressive, in particular their attraction to the originally Egyptian and eastern Mediterranean idea of monasticism. Irish monks loved the austerity and self-inflected misery associated with the religious life, and the country’s harsh environment provided the perfect backdrop; the most extreme was Skelling Michael, off the coast of Kerry, an isolated mountain island that can only be reached on calm days (to a younger generation made famous in the closing scene of The Force Awakens). There seems to have been some competition among Irish men to find the most inconvenient and uncomfortable place to settle down in, to show how holy they were.

In doing so Irish monks helped to preserve many of the ancient texts, and the Irish took to literacy so rapidly they had as far as I know the only war ever held over copyright, called the Battle of the Book. It took place in the kingdom of Cairbre Drom Cliabh in the north-west of the country between 555 and 561, and began after St Columba had illegally copied a version of the Psalms belonging to St Finnian. The battle between the two groups led to ‘thousands’ of deaths.

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