It was the Egyptians, not the Romans and not even St. Patrick!

Zachariah the Hare
Zachariah the Hare

In my historical novel about early Christian Ireland: The Hare’s Vision, the story moves from Egypt to Ireland in the sixth century for a good reason. People have asked me: ‘Why Egypt?’ ‘Should it not be Rome?’ Click here.

No. The connection with Rome did not come until much later – in the late twelfth century in fact. When the Normans – at the behest of Rome – invaded and conquered Ireland removing the Celtic church and replacing it with the Roman or European system of Christian churches and monasteries.

The earliest influence on Ireland’s form of Christianity came from the Egyptian desert. In truth the connection between Ireland and Egypt goes back very much further to the time of the pharaohs when around 1700BC the daughter of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, and wife of Tutankhamen, Princess  Scotia went to Ireland with one thousand followers to avenge the death of her husband in battle. She settled there and gave her name to Ireland – Ireland was known as Scotia by the Romans. It was transferred to Scotland after the Irish colonised Scotland from the seventh to tenth centuries. It is said Princess Scotia is buried near Tralee.

Then in early Christian times the Egyptian desert became the centre of the monastic tradition under the influence of an Egyptian monk, Anthony later St. Anthony, Father of the Monks. It was he that began the ascetic hermit tradition which flourished in the Egyptian desert, becoming known as the Desert Fathers. So much so that the area was regarded as the ‘Holy Land’ rather than Judea, especially as Jesus’ family fled to the Egyptian desert to escape Herod shortly after the boy’s birth and is held to be the place of his upbringing.

The early Irish monks modeled their lifestyle on the Desert Fathers. They too sought solitude and an ascetic lifestyle forgoing worldly comforts. For this reason several place names in Ireland carry the word ‘desert’ – Desertmartin, Desertcreat, Disert, Killadysert and many more.

In the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris there is still preserved a guidebook for the use of Irish monks travelling to Egypt in order to visit the Fathers of the desert.

The artistry in the Book of Kells

Book of Kells
Book of Kells

           is very similar to the Coptic art..

Coptic Christ
Coptic Christ

There is similarity also in the design of the Coptic Cross   (left) and the Celtic Cross (right).

Celtic Cross
Coptic cross
Coptic Cross

Likewise with the Irish monastic round towers which originated in Egyptian monasteries as a means, it is thought, of anchoring divine or celestial energy in the earth.

Devenish Island
Devenish Island, Ireland
Round tower, Cairo
Round tower, Cairo

See this from the Antiphonary of Bangor, Ireland (7th century):  “… House full of delight Built on the rock And indeed true vine Translanted from Egypt …”

‘Seven monks of Egypt in Disert Uilaig [Co. Antrim], I invoke unto my aid, through Jesus Christ.’  Litany of Oengus the Culdee, an early ninth century monastic bishop of Clonenagh (Co. Offaly).

The Faddan More Psalter, dating from around 800 AD, found in a bog in Co. Tipperary in Ireland, is lined with papyrus, leading to suggestions of links between the early Irish Christian Church and the Middle Eastern Coptic Church.

All this encouraged me to place our hero the Irish monk, Cormac mac Fliande, in the western desert of Egypt as a desert father at the start of The Hare’s Vision: a new Irish myth. Click here

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