**First published in Volume I Issue I of Air n-Aithesc**
Title: Early Christian Ireland – Introduction to the Sources
Author: Kathleen Hughes
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Copyright: 1972, 1977, 1979, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-521-07389-9 (paperback)
Pages: 320 including Bibliography and Index
Synopsis: [From book back cover] In discussing the various kinds of source material for early Irish history, the problems each kind raises and the sort of questions it will answer, the author discusses the major historical issues.
Review: Early Christian Ireland analyzes the main sources of Irish history between c. 400 and c. 1170 CE, a time period during which a lot of the vernacular records of Ireland were written. The book discusses important issues like the effect of the Vikings and Christianity on Ireland.
Kathleen Hughes died in 1977 so this text should be read with that in mind. The book consists of nine chapters: Archaeology, the Secular Laws, Ecclesiastical Legislation, the Annals, Secular Literature, Ecclesiastical Learning, Hagiography, Art and Architecture, and finally eleventh and twelfth century Histories and Compilations.
Looking at the above-mentioned chapters it is obvious that the linguistic aspect is missing, an omission the author acknowledges in her own Preface. Her reason is that this is an introduction for people who have little to no Irish, and she advises the reader to take a university course on the subject.
The book delivers on its promise of giving an introduction to the sources—all of them. There are sources in there that I have honestly never seen discussed elsewhere, and this book unites them all in one place. There is a great chunk of information in this book that, given when it was written, needs to be updated. For example, the author’s chapter on archaeology is behind the times as there are many new finds that have happened since the book was written. However, even that doesn’t detract from its worth.
The author, in the publication, dissects the sources and gives the reader all the information needed to evaluate said sources. She tells the reader exactly what these sources are good for, what they are not good for, and the kind of questions they would answer. As an example, in Chapter Five secular laws are discussed. Hughes takes great care in telling the reader that these texts are essential for the historian to understand how a society claims to function, and how important they are to the understanding of early Irish history, but they are not the whole picture or the real picture. For that complete picture, the historian must go to other supplemental sources.
The only real problem I see with the book is that it was a little dry. I couldn’t read more than one chapter at a time, and perhaps that is a good thing so that the reader can digest the information and cross-reference and update it.
All in all, it is a good resource to have at one’s disposal.