The Keane Edge by Brendan Patrick Keane
The learned Irish tradition was first written in the trees
Posted on Wednesday, October 06, 2010 at 03:09 PM
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The Irish have a learned tradition that is unique to Europe and which helped flip the continent from barbaric illiteracy in Dark Ages, to the illumination and bookishness that would become western civilization.
Important European universities began as Irish monasteries, built by literati that left Ireland with the education to teach the chaotic post-Roman world to read.
Old Irish books are tortured creatures, made from skinned calves, and often fated to the bonfires of Europe's philistine streak. In the bonfires of conquerors the independent scholarly tradition of Ireland's proto-universities was almost destroyed, as with the round towers and sanctuaries along the Shannon.
The Irish--however broken their Gaelic Order had become--maintained secret hedge schools and continued to write unpublished books in the candlelight of a private Irish Dark Ages under colonial rule. Keeping alive their learning, is what let the Irish mind survive eradication to know to seek freedom in modern times.
The oldest Irish teachers, the Druids, used trees to understand the workings of the human brain. Tree branching imitates the branching of animal neural networks, and trees provide an external model for 'seeing' the mind within.
The old books tell us that Ogma used birch wood to invent writing. Birch has white bark with black stripes, and Ogham, the first Irish writing system imitates these stripes in the form of notches on either side of a central line.
The Irish alphabet is a set of equivalents, where letters or notches refer to particular trees, colors and moods. Through these associations, boiled down to a codified alphabet, the druids--we see in charts in The Book of Ballymote--made codes and memorized secrets. Innocent conversations or poetic performances could be used to spell out secondary messages in Ogham, that the uninitiated missed.
Ogham survives as a writing system today for talismans and honorific objects, such as that received by Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, whose name was inscribed in Ogham on an oaken branch and presented to him by a member of Irish parliament.
The burden of being Irish is the learning. To be Irish, is to learn to be Irish, which means learning to read the trees planted in the palimpsest manuscript of Ireland.