This was my critical analysis review for my analytical essay in my expos. writing class.
| It is a day when we wear green for fear of getting pinched. People gather in bars to eat corned beef and cabbage and drink green beer. It is a day when we celebrate St. Patrick, who supposedly drove all the snakes out of Ireland, and people proudly express their Irish heritage. But why are the Irish so celebrated? Thomas Cahill explains this in his article “Turning Green With Literacy,” published in the New York Times on March 17, 2010. He asks, “Why should we celebrate the Irish?” In the next few pages of his article, he explains why.
Thomas Cahill wrote several best-selling books such as: How The Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, and Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World. He is known for teaching history by writing about people who are less well-known who affected big changes on culture and civilization. Cahill emphasizes preserving Western heritage in his book about the Irish and describes the impact that all of the ancient civilizations had on present culture.
When one reads Cahill’s article, it seems like he describes the Irish as completely uncivilized. He states that they were the “most barbaric of barbarians” and were totally cut off from the western world. One fallacy stated was that the Irish practiced human sacrifice, cattle rustling, human trading, and going into battle “stark naked.” However, many civilizations practiced those traditions in the past and many practice them today. In fact, there are many places in the wilderness of Africa, Australia, and South America where it is highly likely that these practices are everyday occurrences.
While the sixth century Irish were indeed barbaric, it seems like they were in the perfect position to change their ways when the Roman Empire had a breakdown. Cahill tells the basic history of St. Patrick, who was bought into slavery while growing up in Britain. St. Patrick made his escape back to Britain and then decided to become a priest and bishop, although these details weren’t mentioned by Cahill. He also does not mention that there many others who attempted to spread Christianity through Ireland. And although many people know St. Patrick for driving the venomous snakes out of Ireland, Cahill does not mention that part of the story.
Calhill uses an educated yet colorful voice to describe the Irish’s feat in recording the world’s books. While one is learning about this history, it still easily keeps one’s attention. He describes how the Irish were fascinated by the glories of Christianity and how that fasciation was especially brought out by books. It is stated in the article that there was nothing in their heritage that blocked their acceptance of the Christian faith, although it is known that the gaelic Irish were pagans, and many Christian holidays and sacred rituals were adapted to fit the pagan ideas, which makes one wonder if the Irish would have had problems with Christianity had it not been for the pagan converts before them.
Since the western world was amidst a collapse and St. Patrick opened the Irish’s eyes to Christianity, it seems the Irish took it upon themselves to salvage the literature and ensure it would be around for the future. According to Cahill, St. Patrick’s converts “put down their weapons and took up their pens.” They even copied Greco-Roman texts that they didn’t understand. They then reassembled libraries and taught the medieval texts to others.
Cahill seems to think that the best part of the salvage of the texts is how the Irish seemed to “infuse the emerging medieval world with a playfulness previously unknown.” The Irish scribes doodled in the margins, seeming to reflect on their own worlds. It could even make one wonder if maybe these were the forerunners of illustrated texts.
“Turning Green With Literacy” states that the Irish were able to remain “unjaded” and “full of wonder at the unexpectedness of human life.” They were not preoccupied with misconceptions set by Greco-Roman history.
Since Cahill has written several books on cultures and their affect on the world today, so it is easy to assume he would have a vast knowledge on the medieval culture of Ireland. He describes how the Irish scribes put themselves into copying down the manuscripts. The scribes made comments in the margins of the texts and also at the ends or between sections in which different scribes worked together to copy down one text. And while Cahill says that the Irish had the first vernacular language of Europe to be written down, one wonders what the medieval texts were written down if not in a learned language.
Cahill has indeed researched the history of the Irish and the fall of the Roman Empire. The major fallacy in his article is that the Irish had nothing in their intellectual heritage to block their receptivity to the Christian faith. The only way that this could be true would be if the Irish were blank slates. Because the Irish were pagans, they probably celebrated a mid-winter holiday, a mid-summer holiday, and most likely worshipped the sun and the earth. When Christianity made it to Ireland, it had already been adapted to fit most pagan cultures. The mid-winter holiday became Christmas, the birth of Christ, and the day of worshipping the sun, Sunday, became the widely accepted day of Sabbath for Christians. The Irish culture may have accepted Christianity easily, but if that is the truth, it is only because Christianity had already been adapted to fit the pagan lifestyle.
Cahill is a talented and celebrated author of many books. He is very good at capturing one’s interest and telling the tale of civilizations long past. However, he seems to leave out some important information in order to make his stories ring true. Cahill may not be trying to deceive his readers, but by leaving out important details, it shows he is quite capable and willing to manipulate anyone who is not educated about the histories he writes about. Cahill’s audience could be just about anyone who is able to read. It is easy to comprehend and enjoy his literary works, but one should be cautioned against taking his stories as pure fact.
“Turning Green With Literacy” was an excellent article to be published on St. Patrick’s Day. So many people today don’t know the history behind some of the most popular holidays and don’t even know where to look for that information. Cahill presents the world with a quick and easy explanation and many details as to why the Irish are so important to world history. It is up to the audience, however, to use their own judgement as to whether or not they need to seek out their own information on Ireland’s history and how the Christian world changed Ireland and the pagan converts before them.