Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
In Search of Ancient Ireland
Cartographer's Journey
Fortress Ireland
Culture and Commerce
About the Film
Lesson Plans

Music From The Series

Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin's album "Templum" features the theme from In Search of Ancient Ireland.

The CD is available through Virgin Records.

Listen to the music clip

About The Film: Filmmaker Q & A

Page: 1 | 2 | 3

In this section:
About the Episodes
Filmmaker Q & A
Production Diaries
Broadcast Schedule
Web and TV Credits
Leo Eaton
"The Irish are Celtic culturally but not archeologically."
You've said that the Irish aren't really Celtic. Why?

The Celtic myth is really quite a modern invention. In the 19th century, a Celtic revival in Ireland seized on the old myths and legends as a way to give Ireland its own national character, separate from the "occupying" English. But these myths and legends were actually created more than a thousand years earlier by Christian monks and scholars who reinvented earlier folk memories as a way to Christianize a pagan country.

Central to these myths is that Celtic warriors invaded Ireland from Europe around 500 B.C. Archeological evidence clearly shows this never happened. Yet it is undeniable that Ireland developed a Celtic culture and language. Historians now believe this spread from Europe over hundreds of years, an invasion of ideas rather than people. So the Irish are Celtic culturally but not archeologically. They have little connection with the Celtic tribes who ruled most of Europe prior to the triumph of the Roman Empire.

What about Saint Patrick? Did he really use a shamrock to convert the Irish to Christianity and expel all the snakes in Ireland?

St. Patrick
St. Patrick did not have a great impact on Ireland during his lifetime.
Patrick was a real person -- we can even read his letters -- born in Roman Britain and first brought to Ireland as a slave. He later returned as a missionary in the middle of the 5th century, but he was only one of many early missionaries. Since Ireland was still largely pagan after his death, he doesn't seem to have had much of an impact during his lifetime.

However, one church founded by Patrick -- at Armagh -- had ambitions centuries later to become the leading church of Ireland. This meant convincing everyone that its founder was Ireland's most important saint. Armagh created a legend around Patrick and allied itself with a ruling dynasty until at last it became the senior church in Ireland. So Patrick became the senior Irish saint -- and the center of a heroic fiction. As for the snakes, Ireland never had any, although the story of their expulsion is a good parable about casting out pagan beliefs. And the shamrock? That story comes from the Middle Ages, a thousand years after Patrick's death.

What other misconceptions do we have about Irish history?

We think of Ireland as a small country off the west of Europe, yet there've been many times when Ireland stood at the center of European culture. Around 800 B.C., it seems to have been the wealthiest place in Europe, its gold ornaments and beautiful bronze musical instruments unequalled anywhere north of Egypt. By the 10th century, no royal court in Europe thought itself civilized unless it had Irish scholars advising its king. After the fall of Rome, Ireland kept the light of civilization alive in Europe and ultimately carried it back to new barbarian kingdoms rising among the ruins.

This small island has had a tremendous impact throughout history. A Viking king in Dublin came close to uniting all of England and Scotland under his rule. Just imagine a British Isles ruled from Dublin. I think audiences will find most of what they think they know about Ireland is a misconception. That's what makes the series so exciting.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 Continue to page 3