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

Geographic Reference
Ross Island

Deposits of copper at Ross Island fueled Ireland's first industrial revolution.

Page 1 Page 2
Irish calligraphy
With the arrival of Christianity, copying books became a growth industry in Ireland.
Christianity brought literacy, an innovation very attractive to Ireland's rulers. As the supply of books from Europe dried up in the aftermath of barbarian invasions, Irish monasteries developed the scriptorium as the center of activity. Copying books was a growth industry -- not just everyday books for study and prayer, but masterworks of calligraphy and illumination, like the Book of Kells. Irish books were exported as Irish scholars carried literature and learning back to Dark Age Europe. Monasteries were centers of art and technology; their craftsmen the greatest metalworkers in Europe, creating masterpieces like the Tara broach and the Ardagh Chalice. They'd improved on Roman enameling techniques and discovered superior ways of working gold and silver. Monastery stoneworkers carved beautiful Celtic crosses as "bibles for the poor," full of carved pictures from the gospels for those who couldn't read.

Irish monasteries were becoming Ireland's first towns and -- because of their wealth -- were prime targets when Vikings began raiding in the 9th century. Viking long-ships represented the best ship technology of the age, but otherwise, Irish and Viking weapon technology were on par -- except when it came to cavalry. With the horse increasingly a weapon of war, Viking technology was better: modern words like "stirrup" and "spur" come from Old Norse. As raiding turned to settlement, Vikings built shipyards in Dublin and their other new towns. Irish-made Viking ships and weapons were now exported overseas.

The Vikings also introduced coined money and new decorative metalworking styles that were adopted by the Irish. By the 11th century, the Viking cities were replacing monasteries as manufacturing centers. Many times over the preceding millennia, Ireland had led Europe in technological innovation. But by 1167, when Norman invasion brought a whole new military technology of warfare and defensive castles to Ireland, those times were over.

56k T1 Real Player