Nine years ago today, I woke up on St. Patrick’s Day in Greystones, Ireland. I was right in the middle of a semester of studying and hiking around the emerald isle with a great group of students from Taylor University. It remains one the great blessings of my life. Great community, great scenery and great lessons all made my time in Ireland better then I can describe or fully remember.
We were in Ireland the one year the St. Patty’s Day parade in Dublin was cancelled (due to foot and mouth disease). The government was trying to prevent the spread, so we were walking through pales of soap everywhere we went. One time, they even stopped our bus and sprayed the tires with a soapy solution.
Of all the great lessons we learned that semester, one stands out on this St. Patty’s Day nine years later. We civilized folk owe a great deal to the ancient Irish for what we now enjoy as civilization. Perhaps Thomas Cahill says it best:
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 this Service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly re-founded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, 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.” (Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization)
Most of what we now know about Greek and Roman culture would have been lost had the barbarians had their way. But the humble Irish copied and copied, so that now we can study the writings Homer, Plato, Socrates and so many others. The cumulative impact of these “saints and scholars” is unimaginable.
So today, offer the Irish around you a hug or a kiss and celebrate with them how their ancestors participated in the saving of civilization. Of the many great events in history, surely the Irish preservation of civilization must be counted as one.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!