LETTER: High culture in medieval Ireland

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The Independent Online
Sir: Andrew Barr (letter 22 March) suffers from the same culpable ignorance that afflicted his English ancestors in the 12th century, when they "really did believe that the Irish were a backward people".

Where does he think the Book of Kells came from? Could a people "barely emerged from the Stone Age" have produced it?

Before the Anglo-Normans set foot in Ireland, that country was world renowned as a centre of literary, medical and religious studies. Irish monks spread their learning throughout Europe and the Anglo-Saxon lands.

Among their social classes - elected kings, warriors, priests, poets, lawyers and farmers - land was held in common and women had a high status. Their sophisticated Brehon laws were more concerned with resolving disputes than inflicting punishment. Backward?

S Smyth

London NW7

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