Sun Dancing (Geoffrey Moorhouse)

I picked this book up on the recommendation of a friend. It’s unusual. The first half is a set of imagined vignettes of the monks’ lives on Skellig Michael from its founding (circa 6th c) to eventual abandonment (circa 13th c). The second half is a set of non-fiction chapters about various aspects of early Irish history.

The whole book is well worth a look, although it’s good to remember that in the fifteen years since it was published, a fair amount of historical and archeological research has been done, some of which calls into question elements of the non-fiction chapters. For instance, the idea that anyone was wearing kilts (p. 205)this early in Irish (or Scottish) history has been reconsidered. Even so, it’s an accessible, intriguing entrypoint to the time period and culture.

Early Medieval Ireland, 400-1200 (Daibhi O Croinin)

If you’re looking for a good, relatively recent (1995), concise but not too concise, introduction to Ireland from the introduction to Christianity to the 12th century invasion, you could do far worse than this book.

Just under 300 pages plus another 50 or so of resources (glossary, suggestions for further reading, bibliography), it packs a lot into a relatively small package. For comparison, I have two others on the shelf, waiting to be read, at roughly 1000 pages each.

There were places I wanted more detail. For instance on page 39, he describes briefly that “the pre-Christian practice […] reckoned time in terms of three-, five-, ten-, or fifteen-day periods, based on the lunar calendar […] the seven-day week was entirely unknown.” This is fascinating, a huge entrypoint into how people thought about their world and their place within it, but the author gives us nothing further. Bummer.

But overall, it’s a quick, nice introduction to the subject, accessible, even droll in places: “Modern scholars do not quite know what to make of Virgil. Is he just a dotty professor, like many of themselves, and therefore to be humoured?” (212). Very few pages went by without me underlining and/or annotating something in the margin, which is usually a sign of book in which a good time was had by all.

Fake Mermaid Mummy

Goodness sakes, real history is difficult enough to piece back together without the added confusion of intentional fakery. But humans being what we are, fakes exist.

This particular fake, supposedly a mummified mermaid, is mid-19th century in origin. But of course faux relics, etc., were being painstakingly (Shroud of Turin) or not-so-painstakingly (pig bones substituted for saints’ bones) by at least the 12th century.

It’s easy to guffaw, I suppose, about the gullibility of our forebears, who might have thought this proved mermaids existed. But of course this is the same time period in which dinosaur fossils are coming to light for the first time in significant numbers. If those beasties were real, why not this one? She sure looks real.

I find myself simultaneously appalled at the fakery and utterly impressed with the skill and ingenuity that went into creating it.

Never Too Early

So you’re looking for a way to introduce the subject of early Ireland to your children…?

All parents face this problem. It’s never too soon to start the delicate, important conversation about where manuscripts come from.

I’ve found a bit of help: The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C.M. Millen, illustrated by Andrea Wisnewski. Charlesbridge, 2010.

It’s available on Amazon.

Irish History Podcast

I’m new to the world of podcasts but now that I’ve got a mile long walk to take my kids to school, I’ve been looking for Ipod-based entertainment for the daily trek.

One I’ve been enjoying is the Irish History Podcast.

I haven’t been able to get a functioning link inserted here. Hey, if I were good with techy stuff, I’d be off somewhere making webpages and buckets of money. Actually, I take that back. I do okay with technology. So long as it’s 9th century technology.

Anyway, their web address is irishhistorypodcast.ie.