In the Leap year 684 AD, a disciplined and well-armed military force, commanded by king Egfrids’ top ealdorman Berht, sailed out from their settlements on the western edge of Northumbria and made way for a staging post on the Isle of Man. Like their counterparts the Vikings, who would follow their lead a century later, the Anglo-Saxons had death, plunder and pillage on their collective mind. The target on that night was the royal Irish kingdom of Brega at Midhe (Meath) the seat of Irish power. Their oft used methods were highly successful, had always worked perfectly in the past and would be no different this time either. Move fast, use the night shroud of darkness to surprise, unearthly noise to scare and bewilder, and the sword and axe to subdue. Spare no-one, save the hostages, as they could be used as barter later.
When they were sated, the invaders retreated; in their wake, a bare, devastated wasteland as far as the horizon. Smoke from still smoldering fires in the fields and storehouses hung heavy on the air, choking and stinging the eyes of the few remaining survivors. Butchered corpses of both human and animal lay strewn in grotesque indifference where they fell, the royal enclosure breached, sacked and burned, was left in ruin. The headless corpses of the nobles, mutilated in a frenzied orgy of bloodlust, silenced; the royal lifeforce seeping into the earth. The church and monastery, which once sang the praises of both king and creator, reduced to piles of scorched, scattered stones, forlorn. The houses, usually filled with love, laughter and joyous celebration, now razed with violent hatred, a pitiful sight. Everything of value, including surviving livestock, religious artifacts and hostages, the women and children, were then dragged to the Saxon ships for transport to Northumbria…
As an avid follower of author John A, Brennan, whom I discovered from his well wrought essays on the online, Irish community The Wild Geese, I bought this book knowing I would savor it, and I am. Though I have yet to finish this engaging book, I have been committed and look forward to turning to its pages nightly, for Brennan puts a poetic hand to everything he writes, and Out of the Ice: Ireland then and Now is such an example. There is much to cherish in this historical account of Ireland. I am enjoying this book immensely, for Brennan has arranged this thorough book in a wieldy manner that does not overwhelm. It is historical, yes, but Brennan is a storyteller of the highest order, and he gifts his readers with the highlighted facts of how Ireland evolved by naming the significant people who triggered pivotal events in a plausible cause and effect tapestry that both educates and engages the reader. If one seeks to know the undercurrent of Ireland– the repercussive nuances and minutia of what shaped the island and left its indelible handprint on its everlasting soul to this very day, then I recommend this book. It is crafted with respect and reverence, as the dedication reads, “To all who went before and paved the road.“