Early Light

On pilgrimage to Ireland's first Christian sites.

For me, it all started with the music. My interest in Irish culture and history was sparked when a friend gave me a recording of Irish fiddle tunes. It was the beginning of a lifelong love. In Celtic music there seems to be a capacity for expressing great joy and exuberance, yet also a plaintive longing for something unseen.

In The Celtic Way of Prayer, Esther de Waal described the "Celtic refusal to deny darkness, pain, suffering and yet to exult in rejoicing, celebration in the fullness and goodness of life." Understanding this duality is key to understanding the Irish spirit.

What kind of culture spawned such passion? It wasn't until 1995 when my wife gave me a copy of Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization that I began to understand. Although the title overstates reality, Cahill's bestseller brought the story of Ireland's conversion to Christianity, the resulting societal transformation, and its enormous contributions to Western culture to millions of readers. The book motivated me to dedicated reading and research about this early Christian period, eventually leading to this photographic project.

Beginning around A.D. 430, Patrick introduced the Christian faith into the existing Celtic culture of Ireland. His influence not only transformed lives, it also changed the entire culture. The first towns in Ireland emerged as more and more people gathered to live around the monasteries, which were often established in secluded places. A barbaric land was transformed into a more community-oriented society, and unlike most other examples in history, this shift was nonviolent. The best parts of the culture were kept, integrated, and built upon—all at a time when the rest of Western civilization was passing under the ...

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