The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape
 Part One: From Celtic to Christian, Pre-history to the twelfth century, page 4

This was also the high period of early Irish art, particularly the magnificent achievements of the Celtic workers in gold and the early Christian achievements in jewelry, sculpture, and illuminated  manuscripts.  The Celts were amazingly accomplished at metalwork, especially the fashioning of torcs or collars, bracelets, and armbands.  Early Christian artists turned these skills to such magnificent achievements as The Tara Brooch (early 8th c.) and The Ardagh Chalice (early 8th c.).  The Irish monks devoted their lives to illuminating the sacred texts, culminating in the unsurpassed Book of Kells (probably late 8th c.).

During this era, roughly the 6th through the 11th centuries, Ireland was ruled by a number of "High Kings," usually from a single family group, or clan, the Ui Neill or O’Neills, and emanating from their seat of Kingship at Tara. [see map] But in the 8th century, raids from the Norsemen, or Vikings, began along the Irish coast, as the rich and largely undefended monasteries made attractive targets for these pirates. The Vikings terrorized the Irish coasts for centuries, until Brian Boru, then the High King of all Ireland, defeated the last of them in the famed Battle of Clontarf in 1014.  Boru’s legend--the great leader who drove out the foreign invaders--would resonate throughout Irish myth and story all the way into the 20th century as an example to be followed, or as a mythic standard against which Ireland’s current leaders fell pathetically short. (Indeed it becomes the subject of one of Lady Gregory's history plays, Kincora, produced at the Abbey Theatre in 1905 and 1909.)

This period stands in Irish imagination as a kind of golden age, when Irish Kings ruled in their marble halls over an Ireland that was peaceful, spiritual, in harmony with the natural world and the heavenly world, and unified in a single Irish character. This of course is a poetic construction quite in contrast with the reality, which saw endless internecine wars between various small chieftain/kings raging fairly constantly throughout Ireland. These internal disputes erupted spectacularly in the next stage in Irish history. [end chapter 1]

End of Chapter 1

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