In 21st century Ireland we find ourselves… lost. We’ve lost connection to our roots comprising of our history, our culture and our language. Are we Celts? Gaels? Mileseans? How did we get here? In short we’ve lost sight of who we are as a people and without that vision, without roots, it’s practically impossible to figure out where it is we are trying to get to and what it is we are trying to achieve. So in this section we try to help people start their journey in reconnecting with these things and ultimately get to grips with the question of who they are, who the Irish people are, who we are.
“There are few nationalities in Europe with so ancient a culture. The Latin domination over Europe had obliterated in France, in England, in Spain, wherever it reached, almost all traces of the culture which had preceded it. In Ireland, which was never a part of the Roman Empire, this was not so.
It is a sign of immense cultural antiquity when a nation has its own cosmic and creation myths, and literature in Gaelic is so ancient that its Sagas go back to a period comparable with the Homeric stories in the character of the civilization they reveal.”
- George William Russell
So who are we? This is where history comes in. Now, we should realize that care is needed in this area as history is, to use two famous quotes ‘a lie agreed upon’ and ‘written by the winners of wars’. When it comes to Ireland these quotes are particularly applicable. For example if you refer to the period from 1845-1850 in Ireland with the use of the word ‘famine’… then more care is needed!
However, if we are to reconnect to our past, our culture and heritage then we need to start somewhere and we cannot possibly begin to debate and discover our true heritage until we at least first understand what the current ‘generally accepted’ story is. Most of us have only a very superficial knowledge of even this and disputing the official story is impossible without first knowing what it is. That is not to say what follows is all ‘lies agreed upon’ but think of it as more of a groundwork upon which informed debate, alternative arguments and opinions can then proceed from.
The first hugely important fact about Irish history is that we’re told in pre-Christian Ireland it was an oral tradition passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth through stories, poems and songs. Make of that what you will but available Irish history in written form begins with the arrival of Christianity and more specifically with Saint Patrick. We will begin our journey of discovery of our roots through some key classic texts and hopefully over time we will be able to add to this section, delve into the truly ancient history, the mythology and the alternative narratives. But for now this is where our story begins...
From the outset let us state that for the purposes of discovery of Irish history it does not matter what personal spiritual or religious beliefs you may hold. Should you consider yourself Christian, pagan, atheist or anything else the fact is that Christianity plays a central role in the surviving written story of Ireland and the story is the same regardless of personal preference in this regard.
For a lot of us Saint Patrick was a slave who brought Christianity to Ireland, drove out all the snakes, spent 40 days up Croagh Patrick and has a feast day mid March where most of us tend to overindulge. Details after that tend to be scare for most of us so if we really wish to understand our culture better we really ought to become a bit more familiar with this historical figure.
Confessio (Confession of St Patrick) is the oldest Irish historical text we have and where Irish history begins in written form. Patrick was said to have arrived in Ireland circa 432 A.D. and died 461 A.D. so the text is from sometime mid 5th century. Originally written in Latin the oldest surviving copy is in the Book Of Armagh from around 807 A.D.
Confession here is in the old sense of the word so rather than meaning a guilt from wrongdoing it is closer to modern day ‘profession’ i.e. profession of faith, or testimony or the telling of the greatness of God through Patrick’s life experiences, although some parts do seem to be in line with the more modern usage.
It goes through his life story from slave boy to bishop and how he found God. It tells of his fears to speak the truth and how he overcame them with the help of spirit and scripture. So why is it important in respect to answering the questions of who we are and where did we come from? Well asides from being oldest substantial historical text we have access to, it also begins to paint a picture of Irish society at that time. At that time Ireland was going through a major change and its ‘modern’ identity was beginning to emerge. The clan-based culture which had been in place for a very long time remained, but now a new layer of social society was being built atop this, that of Christian values.
Read Saint Patrick's Confessio - Full text
The next substantial text we will look at is the Senchus Mór (the great tradition) as this text gives us insight into another important aspect of the Irish society that came before and how we used to live, namely the law.
The phrase ‘the law’ means something different to us now than it did back then. When we talk of ‘the law’ now we tend to think of a restricting set of rules set by a central governing body, an endless list of dos and do nots that if not strictly followed will result in some sort of punitive punishment ranging from paying the government money through to incarceration (prison). ‘The law’ in ancient Ireland was something very different, its purpose was not to punish people for the crime of breaking the law, its purpose was to compensate an injured party for a loss and as such had no concept of a victimless crime (unlike today). It was more of a set of agreed traditions that were sensible, fair and humane which everyone had a hand in creating, which made life better for everyone and people were generally happy to observe.
When it comes to the the law of ancient Ireland most of us are familiar with the name, Brehon Law (or the Brehon Laws) and we might know a snippet or two about them, but for most of us our knowledge regarding them is rather lacking. There’s arguably a good reason for that, they weren’t written down and this is where the Senchus Mór (and other books of law) come into the picture. This is where these laws were recorded in text (codified) for the first time.
As the story goes with the introduction of Christianity to Irish culture the laws of the land needed to be ‘updated’ to make sure they were in line with the new societal norms. This presented a large problem because as already stated, they were not written down anywhere. They existed in the collective knowledge of the Brehons (the judges), varied somewhat from place to place, could be changed if deemed necessary and were widely subject to the interpretation of the presiding Brehon.
This would not do so in 438A.D. (as the story goes) Saint Patrick requested that the laws all be written down. Laegaire Mac Neill, the high King Of Ireland appointed a committee of 9 people, himself and Patrick included, to undertake the task. After 3 years the work was complete, a full codified version of Irish law had been produced. Of course, anything which conflicted with the Christian doctrine had now been edited or removed but nonetheless this is the first written account of ancient Irish law. This is the Senchus Mór. It was actually a 5 volume work but the Senchus Mór is the largest and most important volume.
The Senchus Mór did more than codify a Christianised Irish law, it also gave us some real insight into the societal structure of Gaelic Ireland at that time. It was not a simple system of clans based around a family, but more of a society of small kingdoms (or chiefdoms, or túatha) which varied in size and power. Each túath had a king and some commanded the loyalty of other túatha. For the purposes of the Senchus Mór each túath was its own jurisdiction and generally the kings did not involve themselves in the area of law-making.
Ireland and its rich ancient legal system of Brehon law is a fascinating journey of discovery of our ancient heritage which one can easily spends months if not years investigating. We only touch on it here of course but the reason we do so is that the Senchus Mór reveals to us some deep insights into that question of what ancient Gaelic Ireland looked like and establishes a better understanding of how it functioned. In doing so it clears the fog another little bit when trying to ask that ultimate question of who we are.
For the next piece of the 'who we are' puzzle we'll skip forward to 1317 and a key text entitled 'Remonstrance of the Irish Chiefs to Pope John XXII'.
A remonstrance is a formal complaint or protest, in this case a letter to the pope from the leaders of Irish society at the time and is interesting for a number of reasons. As it's directed at the pope it attempts to strike a delicate balance between forcefulness and diplomacy but in a nutshell it says:
Just so you're completely aware, the English which rule over us with your blessing are committing genocide, here's some examples for proof. Our clergy are mostly useless, theirs are animals and we've had enough. We've spoken to Robert The Bruce's brother over in Scotland and we're going to join forces with him, go to war with the English and take our county back, presumably with your blessing.
One of the most interesting things about the remonstrance is that it preserves a unique expression of Irish identity. At this time the English were portraying the Irish as a barbarous, uncivilized people (a lie that lasted for centuries, see Senchus Mór for the real picture) and were using this image as justification for Ireland needing to be ruled by England... the civilized people. The truth being the opposite of what we're told has being going on for quite a while!
The remonstrance preserves the Irish counter to these claims. It describes a people whose heritage goes back 3,500 years to the time when the three sons of Milesius along with 30 ships (of Mileseans) by God's will arrived on the shores of an uninhabited Ireland. How from then 136 kings without any foreign blood have assumed monarchical duties over Ireland until the time of Laegaire Mac Neill when Saint Patrick was sent 'at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit'. Since then an orderly succession of kings 'excellently instructed in the faith of Christ' has protected and enriched the church in an Ireland which follows a Rome-centred Christian orthodoxy. It therefore describes a deeply spiritual people with a long, rich history and culture and any claims of needing to be 'civilized' or 'Christianised' as completely untrue and fraudulent.
The chiefs' account of Irish heritage is the main reason this letter is so interesting to us as it certainly begins to flesh out the picture of who the Irish actually are, who we are. It should be noted that the Milesean story is not the 'generally accepted' history of Ireland at present and it has been demoted to mere legend in academic circles so this is one of those many areas where debate will no doubt ensue. The story of the Mileseans is covered in the Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of Invasions), an 11th century text which interestingly was the accepted Irish history up until the 19th century. As we are in pursuit of the question of who we are, we will no doubt get to in time.
Spoiler alert! The pope did not support the Remonstrance’s plea, the revolt failed and Robert the Bruce’s brother was killed.
Read Remonstrance of the Irish Chiefs to Pope John XXII
The question of who the Irish are cannot be understood without looking deep into history, but of course this needs to connected to more recent times in order to begin to see the overall picture of where we find ourselves today. To that end we will now jump forward to a few short generations ago, to the weeks just before the 1916 rising.
It was at this time Padraig Pearce, one of the leaders of that rising, penned his essay ‘The Sovereign People’ which were to be the last words he would write. In it he defines what Irish freedom and the Irish nation, phrases which can sometimes feel like abstract and difficult concepts to describe, mean to him in practical terms. In short, what is was they were actually fighting for.
In addition he attempts to provide context to his words by trying to show how his vision aligned with that of those that had gone before, what he calls the ‘Four gospels of the new testament of Irish nationality’. The authors of those four gospels being:
The nutshell summary is that the Irish nation is quite simply the Irish people (and no-one else) and Irish freedom is the Irish people deciding for themselves (and no-one else) how they will live.
An interesting thing about the Sovereign People is that no matter what your political or economic persuasions, from hard left to hard right, from liberal to authoritarian or from socialist to capitalist you will find yourself nodding in agreement at some parts while shaking your head at others. This is largely Pearce’s point, these are the debates and disagreements that the Irish people need to have among themselves and whatever they decide is fine, as long as it was they, the Irish people who decided it (and no-one else!)
The no-one else Pearce refers to is of course England, his essay is written on the back of 800 years of brutal subjugation and horror, but today while there are still unresolved issues in that respect a much bigger 'no-one else' has now presented itself in this time, in our generation. These are the globalists through institutions such as the EU, UN, WEF, WHO etc. and the ‘class’ Pearce warns of are those in power who serve the interests of these globalists in Ireland to satisfy their own greed to the detriment of the Irish nation, the Irish people.
One other interesting point Pearce makes in his essay is done through Lalor’s remarks on the push to repeal the Act of Union. Lalor is scathing of this, of the divide it was causing among the Irish people and how it was blinding them all to the only thing which was important, the bigger picture of what they all wanted, Irish freedom.
This last point is one of the main reasons why Sovereign People, in direct reference to this essay, was adopted as the name of this movement. It seemed apt. There are many groups in Ireland today and each seems to have its own particular niche or view on some particular aspect of the problems that have been left to this generation of Irish men and women to face. Let us not get mired in that particular point to the detriment of all else, to the bigger picture, to the fact that while we may disagree on this point or that we all want the same thing, to be free to decide for ourselves how we live, and no-one else, to be Sovereign individuals in a Sovereign nation, to be Sovereign People.
Read Sovereign People by Padraig Pearce
Keeping with the time period of the 1916 rising any analysis of who the Irish people are would be incomplete without taking into consideration the thoughts, feelings and opinions on the matter of Ireland’s greatest general, Michael Collins.
The Path To Freedom is a collection of articles and speeches given by Michael Collins and is an invaluable read if you are looking to understand his mind on a number of subjects straight from the horse’s mouth as the saying goes. Given his pro-treaty stance his feelings on this subject are obviously of particular interest but for our purposes here the chapter dealing with the ‘Distinctive Culture’ of ‘Ireland’s Ancient Civilisation’ is the chapter we are most interested in.
What is particularly useful in this text is that it is not simply an attempt to describe the roots of the Irish people and culture, it also attempts to directly link them to the Ireland of today and lay out the difficult path of what it is we need to do to restore our nation and people to their former glory. The text is of course 100 years old but the core elements of the solution are the same today as they were a century ago.
In this chapter Collins begins by describing the deep history of the Irish people and the rich, complexed and unique culture that defined it. He explains that it was this rich and attractive culture that protected us over the centuries as outsiders, even those that were hostile to it, were eventually seduced and assimilated by it. He elaborates on the essence of this culture and how beyond having a unique political, economic, legal and social system which was developed by the Irish people specifically for the Irish people that the core element which united the entire society was its shared spirituality.
This is a really interesting perspective on our shared Irish culture and is much needed as it goes a long way to explaining how it is we feel so lost today. It explains how the influence of foreign cultures does not enrich us at all, in fact quite the opposite. This helps to explain the predicament we find ourselves in today, the struggle we all feel but aren’t quite able to put into words, the struggle within Ireland against this relentless push for globalisation driven by the European Union and why it is not in the interest of the Irish people despite our government and media telling us non-stop ad nauseam that it is. Deep down we know it’s not, but we lack the words to explain why. This text not only helps us to finally articulate why but even more importantly it provides concrete advise on how to resist and reverse this trend and get back to being to who we really are, Irish.
The link below is for the chapter described above but if you have not read ‘The Path To Freedom’ we strongly recommend that you do, it's a short read, only about 80 pages. In this section we have been discussing the cultural aspect but this book is from a time when Ireland had just attained a degree of freedom and was trying to figure out the best way forward. As such, in addition to the cultural question many other aspects of the debate such as economy etc. are addressed and provide much insight that are still very much (if not more!) relevant today. A link to the full book can be found using the link below.
Read The Path To Freedom by Michael Collins
We hope you find exploring our history and culture section enjoyable and informative. What we have presented above of course only scratches the surface but we hope it has at least begun to spark the fire of interest as to who the Irish (who you) really are. We are Gaols. We are an ancient civilisation with a history so deep and a culture so rich and complex that it can rival any other. It’s true that we have drifted from our roots in recent times, but in 21st century Ireland we are finally beginning to realize that mistake, and we are slowly drifting back!
We intend to grow this section over time, delve more into the history but also begin to explore the mythological side of Irish culture. So if you'd like to learn more and be informed when new additions are made to this section please subscribe to our weekly email using the box below which also provides up to date information on events around the country on a weekly basis.