Their tales descend from olden days, when the first Celtic societies settled the rugged, green Irish landscapes. They were conquered, in time, by invaders from Gaul (modern France). Slowly, the population of original ancient Celtic inhabitants shrunk, becoming the “little people” of legend. Whenever something odd happened, the developing Irish culture blamed the wee folk—leprechauns and fairies, giving birth to tales of mischief, delighting generation after generation. Fanciful stories of faerie folk and little green people of questionable temper have their place in the realms of make-believe, cherished side-by-side with the Bible and books brought to Irish shores by St. Patrick.
“Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books . . . tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had one tied to their waists their enemies’ heads. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they re-established literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe.”
Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization
Perhaps the most recognized legend and emblem of Ireland, next to St. Patrick’s story and shamrock, is the beautiful symbol of the Claddagh.
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The Irish understood the power of story and were instrumental in restoring literacy and learning to Western Europe after the fall of Rome thrust civilization into the dark ages.
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Photo Credit: By I, Royalcladdagh, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2432908