Donnchadh Ó Corráin
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Island of saints and scholars
Myth or reality?
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Ireland experienced a golden age in the early middle ages, though the term is used sparingly by more recent writers. This chapter looks at some aspects of the church system and the churches that were the patrons of the Irish golden age. It also looks briefly at violence directed towards clergy, at succession struggles, and finally at battles between churches. The vast estates of the churches were worked by serfs, by the semi-free, by free commoners of various grades, and by slaves. Member churches maintained devotions to the saintly founder, had dedicated altars or other artefacts, for example, crosses and reliquaries associated with the saint. Church superiors, bishops, abbots and professional ecclesiastical scholars belonged, for the most part, to the lordly class, in law and status the equals of the lay nobility. Irish scholars had a self-conscious global view of themselves and their society's past and present.

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