and Early Europe
and Occasional Writings on Art and Culture
Studies Review (1999)
volume contains thirty-four essays written by the archaeologist, historian,
lecturer and journalist Liam de Paor between 1968 and 1993, but mostly
before 1975. Some have not been published before, but most appeared
in the Irish Times, which accounts for their short average length and
lack of bibliographic details. De Paor was a prolific writer of
that erudite brand of scholarly journalism so well exemplified in the
Irish press, and his Portrait of Ireland (1985) was similarly
composed from over three decades of column-writing. He also published
a number of well-received books spanning five decades, including Early
Christian Ireland with his first wife, Maire, in 1958 and Saint
Patrick's World in 1993. Whilst the appearance of this collection
might be taken as something of an unintended valediction (de Paor died
in August 1998) the content of Ireland and Early Europe has been
well-selected. An idle scan carried out in order to fasten upon
the factually and conceptually obsolescent would be largely unrewarded.
is partly because de Paor's work, in retrospect, has a revisionist
tinge to it. There is no explicit declaration, but the totality
is placed at some remove from nationalist orthodoxy, which asserts
rather different emphases on accounts of the origins and early development
of Irish identity. He famously declared that the Irish were in part
English, and lectured on the emancipatory and inclusive brand of '1798'
republicanism, which he espoused, in the months before his death.
His writings across the decades, sampled in this volume, reach out
to contextualise the acknowledged wonders of ancient Ireland within
a European geographical and intellectual setting. For de Paor,
this context unavoidably involves the neighbouring islands as much
as it does more distant points of contact, such as la Tène,
the Rhenish and Danubian Schottenklosteren or Bobbio.
He takes us across the Irish Sea more regularly than Sealink - in
late prehistory, through the twilit Celtic periods and into Norman
times, in order to make and remake the theme to which the collection
is explicitly devoted: that Ireland was most renowned in art and intellect
when it was least isolated, or perhaps least isolationist.
These early phases of openness and accompanying productivity could
well be compared, in the reader's mind, with shifts in culture and
politics during the course of the present century.
period covered by these essays concentrates on the first millennium
AD, especially those early centuries often labelled Early Christian,
Ireland's 'Golden Age' in the orthodox nationalist discourse.
Characteristically, de Paor embraces the Pictish, British, Frankish,
Byzantine and English contributors to this period of intense cultural
activity. 'Beneficent influence of empires' might be a fair
summary of much of this oeuvre. Needless to write, this same
period has been crucial to Irish nationalist scholarship for decades,
containing as it does the raw materials for building the origin-myth
of the de Valeran Republic. De Paor argues that the art styles
commonly known as 'Irish' or 'Celtic' were actually blends: Hiberno-Norse,
and more provocatively, Hiberno-Saxon. In one article, he adds
an update to a 1963 broadcast script on the Book of Durrow in order
to emphasise the Germanic style of interlace used in its illumination.
Some pieces dwell on themes not centrally Irish: early Northumbria
and the episcopal history of Arles, for instance. Taken together
this serves to broaden the scope of the collection, the result being
notably less Hibernocentric than Frank Delaney's later TV celebrations
of the Celtic, and of the quality of Irish light illuminating the
English and continental Dark Ages.
Paor's shorter and earlier articles are largely concerned with individual
sites and artefacts which have achieved iconic status as symbols of
Irishness and the Irish State the Tara brooch, the Ardagh chalice,
Tara itself, the books of Kells and Durrow, hermit cells, church architecture,
enamel work. He situates these in webs of exchange and influence
extending far beyond Ireland's shores. There is in this writing
no lack of scholarly detail, nor any lack of pride in Irish achievement.
To conclude that de Paor succeeds in balancing essentialist evocations
of early Ireland, distinctive and aloof, with a territory intersected
and defined by a traffic in ideas, inevitably influenced more than
influencing, would be too superficial. This volume lies closer
to the genre of writing about broad European historical themes which
self-consciously crosses borders, intellectual and territorial, to
demonstrate that hunger for exotic stimulus and inspiration which
is perhaps the most durable and atavistic of European traits ...’
Robb, Irish Studies Review, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1999.
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