I am of Irelaunde

Juliene Osborne-McKnight’s love for Irish history and Irish historical fantasy shines through her novel I Am Of Irelaunde. She continues her exploration of the Irish history in Daughter of Ireland, combining fine historical research with skillful storytelling in her texts.

After meticulous research, she skillfully interweaves documented history with Celtic myths and legends. In Donna Scanlon's words, “In true storyteller tradition, Osborne-McKnight takes the old stories and sources and makes them her own.”

Osborne-McKnight wants her readers to know that the process of converting pagan Ireland and egging them on towards another religion was no easy cakewalk for St. Patrick. For the Irish, it was a gentle and pleasant outgrowth of the old ways rather than a brutal replacement.

Patrick knew that he needed to win the love and affection of the Irish. He preached Christianity in such a manner that it seemed to amalgamate with the pagan traditions. St. Patrick succeeded in the their conversion around 431 A.D., and it was the only conversion that did not involve any violence or bloodshed “Much of the…religious system of Ireland already in place fitted in with Christianity. There was convergence and accommodation as many pagan practices were absorbed into the Celtic Irish church, making the new religion easier to accept.”

Patrick ensured that pagan rituals be incorporated into his Christian lessons. He used bonfires to celebrate Easter - this is what the Irish did to honor their pagan gods. And in order to make the cross look less foreign to the Irish people, he placed a sun at the intersection of the wooden sections - thus the Celtic cross and the Celtic style of Christianity was born.

St. Patrick explained the similarities between Christianity and Celtic spirituality to the populace, and taught them about one true God. Diane Ursu notes, “Whereas the ancient Celts worshiped pagan gods for nearly every natural setting, Celtic Christians praised God's design and creation of all things natural. The hills, the sky, the sea, the forests were not God, but their spiritual qualities revealed God and were connected to God.”

Patrick taught the Irish about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity by demonstrating to them the shamrock, a three-leafed plant, using it to illustrate the Christian teaching of 'three divine persons in the one God.' The shamrock was considered sacred even in the pre-Christian days in Ireland. Three was a sacred number in the pagan religion.

One primary character, without whom, Patrick’s self-evolution would not have been possible is Osian - an ancient pagan Irish warrior, living for the past 200 years, he has followed a summons to help Patrick understand the people he seeks to convert. “Osian tells him about his father Fionn and the other Fenians, and Patrick is drawn into the power of Osian's tales in spite of himself. Following Osian's example, he becomes a storyteller and gradually comes to understand that he can choose to convert the Irish people [either] through fear and force [or through love and joy; he chooses the latter.]”

Osian tells Patrick that the Celts had the belief of going to the place of Tir Nan Og. This was their heaven, the place they go after death. “It is the land of the eternal youth, the place of laughter and feasting” (Osborne-McKnight, Juliene, I Am Of Irelaunde, page 78).

The similarity to the Christianity's life after death and living in the light of the lord in heaven was notable. The close similarities helped the Celtic people understand this part of the new religion better.

Patrick initially was incredulous about Osian’s origins. He didn't believe that Osian is who he claims to be. “He smiled crookedly and I felt my heart wrench in pity. I shook my head to chase such weakness away. One should never pity these barbarians; they take advantage of such weakness.” (Osborne-McKnight, Juliene, I Am Of Irelaunde, Chapter 1)

What he didn't realize is that he was on the cusp of a marvelous transformation. This transformation, though, was never going to be easy.

In pagan times, there was no one supreme God. Instead, there were many gods. “There was little of prayer, and no settled general form of worship. There were no temples: but there were altars of some kind erected to idols or to the gods of the elements (the sun, fire, water, &c.), which must have been in the open air.” (Joyce, P.W., A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland', 1906) Druids figure conspicuously in the Irish traditions, and the religion of the pagan Irish is commonly designated as Druidism.

“In pagan times the druids were the exclusive possessors of whatever learning was then known. They combined in themselves all the learned professions: they were…judges prophets, historians, poets, and even physicians.” (Joyce, P.W., A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland', 1906)

It was important for Patrick to realize the significance that the druids played in the lives of the Irish, and then to replace them with one supreme power, even in the minds of the populace. After winning over the minds of the Irish, Patrick now had to win over the druids. He encountered the Druids at Tara and abolished their pagan rites.

Another important pagan symbol that Patrick had to do away with was the serpent, as in many old pagan religions, serpent symbols were common and often worshipped. Pious legend credits St. Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, chasing them into the sea after they assailed him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a hill. Driving the snakes from Ireland is an analogy of putting an end to the pagan practice.

Eventually, Patrick wins over one and all in Ireland. The first person narrative of the text is energetic and immediate, and St. Patrick's personality develops convincingly. It is never portrayed as a larger than life characterization. The reader understands his anger and his stubbornness and revels as much as Patrick does in his transformation. He wins over even the readers’ hearts, as he comprehends that faith cannot be erased or inculcated in a day, which is why he was more successful than his predecessors in doing so. He respected and honored the early traditions, rituals and symbols of the pagans.


Osborne-McKnight, Juliene, I Am Of Irelaunde

Joyce, P.W., A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland', 1906

http://www.rambles.net/osborne_irelaunde.html retrieved on 2000.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ancientireland/religion.html retrieved on 2000.

http://www.moronacity.com/catholic-journal/celtic-spirituality-and-its-influence-on-christian-tradition/ retrieved on 18 Oct 2010.

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