Monasticism in Ireland
Ireland was greatly affected by the arrival of monasticism. Tradition maintains that in AD 432, St. Patrick arrived on the island and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity. On the other hand, according to Prosper of Aquitaine, a contemporary chronicler, Palladius was sent to Ireland by the Pope in 431 as "first Bishop to the Irish believing in Christ", which demonstrates that there were already Christians living in Ireland. Palladius seems to have worked purely as Bishop to Irish Christians in the Leinster and Meath kingdoms, while Patrick, who may have arrived as late as 461, worked first and foremost as a missionary to the Pagan Irish, converting in the more remote kingdoms located in Ulster and Connacht.
Ireland developed a set of ecclesiastical institutions peculiar to itself. It’s population was grouped in clans. The clansmen often lived in small, scattered settlements, coming together for special purposes in the village in which the hereditary chief of the clan resided. Irish Christianity adapted to these circumstances. Monasteries were established in virtually each of the many clans that made up the population, and the abbots became in many ways as much clan chieftains as monastic rulers. Many such abbots were regarded in their lifetime as saints, and there are stories in which entire monasteries, each under their own saintly abbot, did battle with each other for one reason or another.
The Irish monks attempted to follow the eastern mode of an ascetic life, but they were also convinced of the need to spread the word of Christianity and went about it in a unique way. They would board one of the flimsy boats that were used in those times, push out to sea, and go wherever the current took them. One place they landed was the island of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland, where they founded what became a famous and influential monastery. The monks of Iona soon managed to convert southern...