Thomas Cahill opens his story describing Rome's fall, "For as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish who were just learning to read and write, took up the just labor of copying all of western literature - everything they could get their hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overwhelmed." (Cahill, p.3) The theme of this book is that the scribes did something unique, they saved civilization, not the masses of people, but literature, the content of "classical civilization." (Cahill, p. 58) One reads of the time from Rome's fall to medieval times learning through the stories of the characters, most notable Augustine and Patrick.
Augustine, his faith based on Roman Chrisitanity, "looked into his own heart and found the anguish of each individual." (Cahill, p. 115) Patrick, the slave turned Christian, escapes only to return to convert the Irish. He was the first missionary to the barbarians beyond Greco-Roman law "who looked into the hearts of others." (Cahill, p. 115)
Cahill notes Ireland is the only land where Christianity is introduced without violence - there were no murdered Irish martyrs. (Cahill, p. 151) He discusses the growth of monasteries in Ireland and their eventual spread to Iona and beyond by Columcille and his "White Martyr" followers. (Cahill, pp. 171- 184) Growth continues as Columbanus establishes the first Italo-Irish monastery where monks continue to pray and copy. Between these two men Irish monasteries were established in England, Scotland, Italy, France and beyond.
Historically the Irish are not credited with a major role in this time period and Cahill attempts to prove the...