By Jasmin Bovendeert
Carnival, Vol.2, Issue 35 (2000)
Introduction: There is an era in Ireland’s history with a very shining reputation: the early Middle Ages. While the rest of Europe was suffering from the fall of the Roman Empire, the Migration and the raids of the Danes, a Christian civilisation was flourishing over there in Ireland, on the edge of the world. The Irish Church has a very distinctive character from the Roman Church on the European continent, and had its own rules and traditions. The English invasion in the 12th century ended those glory days. Since then the history of Ireland has become a sad chain of misery and suppression.
In the 19th century those glory days attracted the attention of historians, who could not help seeing the rift between those times and their gloomy present situation. In the 19th century Ireland was still occupied by the British. The majority of Ireland was Catholic, but the elite mainly consisted of Protestants. A lot of Catholics despised the English, and revolted against British rule. But the clergy condemned those uprisings, because a good Catholic person was to respect the authority, for all authority derived from God. Some Protestants were afraid of Irish independence because of the Catholic majority in Ireland. Others, mainly young romantic nationalists, sought Ireland’s freedom. It was a turbulent period.
With respect to the writing of history in general and the writing of the history of the Middle Ages in particular, the 19th century witnessed three developments which influenced the way historical science was conducted. The first was the rise of nationalism during the century. Secondly, there was the rise of scientific history writing according to Leopold von Ranke’s methods. These historical cliches are known to every student of history. The third characteristic, the increasing popularity of the Middle Ages, deserves some more attention.