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18 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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Gaelic society embraced contemporary European culture
- Professor Donnchadh Ó Corráin

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The Irish clerics of the twelfth century were engaged in the Gregorian reform of their church and they had done so successfully and brought it to a successful conclusion in 1152, which they had set up contemporary-style (diocese and primacy and archbishoprics and provinces and all that). It is also true that they were wide open to the cultural movements in twelfth century Europe: we find them being up-to-date in the learning of contemporary European society, there are Irish people studying in Germany, in Paris - studying medicine and law - and coming back with this kind of knowledge.

And we find, for instance, books at Glendalough in the twelfth century that are bang up-to-date with the latest teachings of Peter the Lombard in the University of Paris, so there’s no lack of cultural vigour; there’s no lack of an open view towards contemporary European society. For example, they radically revolutionised their own monastic structures, they brought in the Order of Savigny, the Cistercians, the Augustinians. They are doing exactly the same thing as is happening in France and Germany in the twelfth century.

There’s no reason to believe that they wouldn’t have behaved in the same way, and developed as another interesting part of the civilisation of western Europe, and one which had its own particular reading of Christian culture. That is to say, they were never unorthodox but they had their own readings of Christian culture and their own attitudes and their own practices. But also they had inherited a powerful cultural matrix from their Early medieval past that made them self-assured; they had written the most important, the most original and the most extensive vernacular literature in western Europe - they had done all this way before 800.

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