England under the Normans and Angevins, 1066-1272

By H. W. C. Davis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
THE CONQUEST OF IRELAND

THERE is a striking contrast between the fortunes of the Celtic and Teutonic races. The latter climb, slowly and painfully it is true, but with a steady and continued progress, from stage to stage of civilisation. The former, after soaring at the first flight to a comparatively elevated point, are inclined to be content with their achievement, and are not only overtaken but even passed by their more deliberate competitors before they have realised that their superiority is challenged. It is the old story of the hare and tortoise. The apologists of the Celtic genius have explained this precocity and incompleteness of development as if it were entirely due to the accidents of geographical position; and in the case of Ireland the influence of geography upon national destiny is more than usually apparent; here more than elsewhere the Celt has both gained and suffered by his banishment to the outer verge of Europe. Their remoteness from the main theatres of conflict between the Roman and barbarian gave the Irish an advantage over other peoples during the transition from the ancient to the modern world, when the antithesis of old and new was mainly one of brute force and intelligence, when culture and conservatism were synonymous. Secure against invasion in their island fortress the latest converts to Roman Christianity were able to meditate and study while their teachers were struggling for existence; when the death-throes of the Western Empire were at an end the Irish issued forth, with a vigour unimpaired by conflicts and a faith unweakened by defeats, to share in the conversion of the victorious barbarians. Nor were the illiterate heathen their only pupils. Even for the older centres of intellectual and religious life, for the great cities and religious houses which had survived the general cataclysm, Ireland had a message; she who had been a

Early Irish History

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