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Search tags: 5th-6th-century-ireland
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review 2017-02-09 18:52
Confessions of a Pagan Nun
Confessions of a Pagan Nun - Kate Horsley

Ireland, c500 AD

 

Giannon's home was a configuration of branches, stones, and mud. A dome and a shed of these materials leaned against one another like old drunken warriors at a banquet. All around these structures was a variety of grasses, blossoms, and bushes that I had never seen before. Drying herbs, jars on tethers, and staffs of yew and oak hung on the sides of his dwelling so that it reminded me of Giannon himself when he travelled beneath a tangle of druidic accessories. The clearing with its gardens and dwelling was empty of human life, though a ragged gray wolf scampered into the woods from there. Some might say that the wolf was Giannon transformed, but I only had the sense that the wolf was hungry and weak, for the past winter had been fiercely cold.

 

I entered the dwelling and found the inside also strung with dried plants, jars, and staffs. There were shelves on which a chaos of boxes and jars sat along with feathers and scrolls and dust. The only furnishings were a table, a small bench, and a bed made of straw covered with the skins of bear and fox. More scrolls, codices, and tablets sat upon these furnishings, as though the originals had multiplied in some orgy when their master was away.

 

I walked carefully through this strange chamber, afraid that all of Giannon's belongings and the dwelling itself were capable of collapsing into a dusty pile of rubble. And I believed that a druid's dwelling could likely be set with spells from which I would emerge transformed into a beetle or a bee. I waited for Giannon outside, until the world grew dim and I could see wolves running along the tree line beyond the small clearing in which Giannon's home nested. Finally I saw Giannon approach …

 

This book has as its setting the period when the Church moved in and took over Ireland. It is the story of Gwynneve, who trains as a Ban-druí (druidess) under a surly and disillusioned druid watching his order pass into history as the tonsured monks and priests swarm over the land.

 

But two stories run concurrently, in alternate chapters. Gwynneve's story of her childhood with her wonderful mother -

 

My father accused my mother of starving me by filling me up with stories instead of food. Everyone in my túath was hungry, especially during the months of thick frost. But I did not want food as much as I craved her stories, which soothed me. I listened to my mother weave words together and create worlds, as though she were a goddess. Words came from her mouth and dispelled my loneliness, even when she was not with me. She began every story with the phrase "It was given to me that …"

 

- and then, when her mother died, her story of her life with Giannon the druid. Meanwhile, in the other chapters, we learn about the life she leads now as a nun among other Christian nuns who are drifting helplessly under the authority of a monk, Brother Adrianus, one of a small band who joined the nuns at the shrine of St Brigit and who has assumed the title and dignity of Abbot.

 

It is, let me say at once, depressing in parts. How could it not be? But as Gwynneve the nun, in the convent that is becoming daily more like a prison (and longing for her druid lover) writes her story on her treasured parchments, it is also very moving and uplifting.

 

Take some of Gwynneve's views and comments (recorded in the secret diary). Faced with unbelievable ignorance and stupidity, she writes: "I admonish myself and all who read this not to be ignorant on any matters of which knowledge is available. Do not be afraid of the truth …"

 

And later: "For we both both were weak in doctrine and strong in questions. But we both loved effort and knowledge, though I saw Giannon become weary in his eyes. I do not understand a man who does not want to know all that he can know."

 

On the loneliness of incarnation: "Among all the wisdom and facts I learned from Giannon, I also learned the loneliness of incarnation, in which there is inevitably a separation of souls because of the uniqueness of our faces and our experiences."

 

On God and nature: "I cannot see that any religion is true that does not recognize its gods in the green wave of trees on a mountainside or the echo of a bird's song that makes ripple on a shadowed pool […] This land is full of holiness that I cannot describe.  Brigit knows this. Brigit to me is the wisest of all the saints. She knows the value of ale and the comfort of poetry."

 

On Christ and kindness: "That Christ fed fish and bread to the poor and spoke to the outcast whore makes me want his company on this dark night. The world is full of immortals but sorely lacking in kindness."

 

It is indeed. And the end is truly shocking. Not depressing, no, on second thoughts. Tragic.

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review 2015-04-04 20:07
Review: Ireland by Paul Johnson
Ireland: A History from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day - Paul Johnson
I expected it to not go very in dept about any part of Ireland's history, since it's subtitle is "A Concise History from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day".  I think this one was a little too concise.  I don't think I've read a history of a entire country before, even one that spans less than 1000 years.  The history books I read tend to focus on one point in time (like Elizabethan England) or one person (like Catherine the Great), so maybe this concise overview is standard.  

I did like the book, it was easy to read and didn't confuse me with a lot of dates.  I don't know that much about Irish history, so I felt a little lost at some points and that's the main reason that I'm a little annoyed with the whole concise thing.  I didn't really think about what that would really mean until I downloaded the audiobook and it was only 8 hours long!  I've read novels that have been longer than that!  

I feel a little unfair, since the subtitle should have been a give away, but it seemed like too much time span for such a short book.  It was a good general overview, but I still feel a little cheated, somehow.
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review 2014-12-21 17:11
Behold a Pale Horse
Behold a Pale Horse: A Mystery of Ancient Ireland - Peter Tremayne

Another story set in Peter Tremayne's strange 7th-century Ireland, a free, democratic and egalitarian society where kings are elected, there is complete equality between men and women, slavery is unheard of, and everyone has a hot bath every evening.

 

Actually, this story is set in Italy, not Ireland, but Fidelma keeps making invidious comparisons, so neither we nor anyone else around her is allowed for one moment to forget that Italy is a very backward and primitive place compared with the south-east of Ireland.

 

I am beginning to wonder whether not just fictional characters but you and I – "real" people in the "real" world – have different pasts, different histories; that we in fact inhabit different worlds.

 

I am an only child, but I have friends who assure me that their childhood memories are different from those of their siblings – and as regards certain important incidents, totally different. My own memories do not altogether coincide with those of my mother and grandmother. That we might expect. But it amazes me to find, when I sit down with old school friends to chat and reminisce over a drink, that our memories often differ dramatically.

 

So why should I be surprised that Peter Tremayne's idea of 7th-century Ireland is so different from mine? Perhaps we both lived previous lives in early medieval Ireland – but a different early medieval Ireland, in what were obviously different worlds, different universes.

 

I am not carping. I love Tremayne's Ireland – and Europe – and I adore Fidelma. She is everything I would wish to be if I were fortunate enough to live a life in that Ireland at that time.

 

And now, on with the story.

 

Tremayne begins by telling us that on a visit to the Trebbia Valley in Italy, he was persuaded to set a Fidelma story in the famous Abbey of Bobbio. As it was difficult to arrange chronologically, he broke his usual habit of writing the books in sequence and set this one immediately after Shroud for the Archbishop, when Fidelma was on her way home from Rome where she had been with Brother Eadulf and whom she had no reason to believe she would ever meet again. (I love knowing what is going to happen later!)

 

After being caught in a storm, the ship she is on puts in at Genua (sic) for urgent repairs. And while she is waiting for another ship to come along on which she might take passage, she learns that her one-time teacher, Brother Ruadan, now an old man, is at the Abbey of Robbio. He has apparently been set upon by robbers and is not expected to live more than a few days. Naturally, she hastens there to bring him comfort, only to find that it was not robbers at all. He had been beaten up and left for dead because he got wind of a conspiracy of some kind centred in the Abbey itself. At least one person had already been killed, and others will follow as Fidelma begins asking questions and the conspirators start to panic.

 

Various monks keep taking her aside and telling her she is in danger, she should leave now, immediately, but that of course only makes her more determined to stay and solve the mystery.

 

As does being abducted and taken to the lair of a mountain war-lord, one of whose various sources of income is selling young females who fall into his hands to slavers! Would Fidelma ever see Ireland – or even Italy! – again?

 

A good story, one of Tremayne's best, replete as always with distinctive characters, and his handling of the return to the young and less self-confident Fidelma is flawless.

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review 2014-01-01 00:00
Scholars and Rebels: In Nineteenth-Century Ireland
Scholars and Rebels: In Nineteenth-Century Ireland - Terry Eagleton Eagleton manages to take an interesting topic and through postmodern academic masturbatory prose render it lifeless.
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review 2003-11-01 00:00
Ideology and Ireland in the 19th Century - Timothy P. Foley,Sean Ryder I haven't read every essay in this collection, but my favorites were Luke Gibbons' "Between Captain Rock and a Hard Place: Art and Agrarian Insurgency" and Niamh O'Sullivan's "Iron Cage of Femininity: Visual Representation of Women in 1800s Land Agitation."

Did you know that in the 19th century there was a "Ladies' Cage" in which women observing Commons were kept physically isolated? The cage restricted women from seeing or hearing everything that was going on, but conversely also gave them the freedom to discuss or sleep, which male observers were not permitted to do. Also, there were times when men who were not members of Commons had to withdraw, but this did not apply to women (presumably because the cage was off-limits to men so no one could enter to expel the women).

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