How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
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An Overview:

How the Irish Saved Civilization is an untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medieval Europe. Author Thomas Cahill strives to enlighten us on the historical gap between the fall of the Ancient Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, and how the Irish preserved the “civilized world” in the interim with his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Main Body:

While it is well known that the Irish have a certain amount of bravado and unabashed love for their country, the idea that they have saved civilization seems a rather exaggerated claim. Irish-American Thomas Cahill, however, does not shrink back from this declaration in his historical overview of the Emerald Isle’s important position during the turbulent fall of Rome and following.

So how did the Irish save civilization? Books, of course. And how did this lawless, war loving, country which the Romans considered barely human influence the world? Patrick, of course. In brilliant prose, Cahill explains the advent of Christianity in Ireland, which, the Irish are proud to remind you, was converted without, and even in spite of, Roman occupation.

So, as Augustine, “father of the Inquisition” battles over original sin, dies on the verge of barbarian invasion, Patrick, a British slave and Roman citizen arrives is taken to Ireland where he learns the language and the culture.

He eventually returns home, is ordained and returns to Ireland equipped with some learning, albeit nothing compared to Augustine, and with true compassion for his “adopt people” he begins to bring them the Gospel to them and sets up centers of learning in the form of monasteries and so, as England and Europe were in turmoil, these hubs of learning remained places where literature was honored, copied and preserved.

This is the basis for Cahill’s book. Yet as he builds his case, the succinct and always interesting details about pre-Christian Ireland and the development of their society provide interest that will leave the reader (listener) wanting to know more about this culture and the religious upheavals that continue to shape Western worldviews.

How the Irish Saved Civilization addresses history with a scholarly interest that is always interesting and never dowdy.

The Ancient Roman Empire went down in history as a time of power struggles, refined civilization and great advances in many different areas; then the empire fell and the Dark Ages that ensued became a time of bloodshed and lawlessness, followed by the recapturing of refinement during the Middle Ages.

So how did all the trappings of civilization carry over through a time of illiterate lawlessness to be rediscovered a couple hundred years later? According to How the Irish Saved Civilization…you guessed it, the Irish did it.

Throughout this book author Thomas Cahill strives to capture the final days of the Roman Empire in a not-so-brief synopsis (be prepared to listen for a couple of hours), then goes on to tell how the Irish saved civilization through their traditions and oral histories as well as with the influence and teachings of Patricus…more commonly known today as St. Patrick.

Throughout the narrative we learn of some of the most popular myths and legends in Irish tradition as well as basic facts about some of the most well-known figures of Irish history.

I love history, especially the history of the Celts during the time of the Druids, so this book that promised an explanation of what happened from the time of the Druids until the Middle Ages intrigued me. Unfortunately, How the Irish Saved Civilization failed to deliver.

The author seems to be aiming to catch popular attention with lots of trivia and personal conjecture, but it just drags out way too long and doesn’t really teach much for substantial fact. This book reads more like a novel than anything, so if you’re looking for entertainment on a long road trip this one may work. However, if you love non-fiction because of what you can learn from it, I’m afraid you’ll be quite disappointed in what Cahill has to offer.

The Narration:

This particular audio book is narrated by Donal Donnelly, whose smooth voice and lilting British accent works very well with non-fiction, but not so well with a book that drags on with uninteresting filler for eight hours, Donal Donnelly, who was clearly trained in the theatre, narrates How the Irish Saved Civilization with a commanding, deep voice.

His weighty British brogue is somewhat heavier than the book itself, yet is still a professional, quality presentation. I was in danger of falling asleep at the wheel.

There is, however, an abridged version that goes for only three hours and is read by Liam Neeson that may be a little better choice as much of the flowery conjecture gets cut out.

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