I recently came across this cartoon which quietly tickled my fantasy. In itself, the caricature is quite amusing but the cartoon also effectively captures the immense societal change in in Ireland from pre-history (as in ‘before records were kept’) to the early medieval period. The Cúchulainn and Fionn mac Cumhaill tales all predate the introduction of literature in Ireland and most had probably been circulating in oral recitation for centuries beforehand.
Literature (reading and writing) came to the island with the Church sometime in the fifth century (supposedly with missionaries like Saint Patrick) and helps to clarify how and why religion spread so rapidly. The skills of reading and writing conferred huge advantages to those who learned them, not in terms of improved management or societal standing but also in terms of intellectual interest, etc.). Sadly however, those who controlled the pen also controlled the recording of history and thus the record of many of the existing cultural belief systems were belittled and eventually transformed into children’s stories. Literature was the beginning of the end for early Irish/Celtic belief cultural beliefs and their view of the world in which they lived.
PS: The cartoon is by the talented Scott Maynard of Happletea.com and can be found here