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The History of Ancient Irish Civilization

[Pg v]
This little book has been written and published with the main object of
spreading as widely as possible among our people, young and old, a
knowledge of the civilisation and general social condition of Ireland
from the fifth or sixth to the twelfth century, when it was wholly
governed by native rulers. The publication comes at an appropriate
time, when there is an awakening of interest in the Irish language,
and in Irish lore of every kind, unparalleled in our history.
But the book has a further mission. There are many English and
many Anglo-Irish people who think, merely from ignorance, that
Ireland was a barbarous and half-savage country before the English
came among the people and civilised them. This book, so far as it
finds its way among the two classes above mentioned, will, I fancy,
open their eyes. They will learn from it that the old Irish, so far from
being barbarous,
[Pg vi]
were a bright, intellectual, and cultured people; that they had
professions, trades, and industries pervading the whole population,
with clearly defined ranks and grades of society, all working under an
elaborate system of native laws; and that in the steadying and
civilising arts and pursuits of everyday life they were as well
advanced, as orderly, and as regular as any other European people
of the same period. They will find too that, as regards education,
scholarship, and general mental culture, the Irish of those early ages
were in advance of all other countries of Europe; that they helped
most materially to spread Christianity, and to revive learning, all over
the Continent; and that to Irish missionaries and scholars, the Anglo-
Saxons of the Heptarchy were indebted for the greater part of their
Christianity, and for the preservation and restoration of learning when
it was threatened with extinction all over England by the ravages of
the Danes.