Ireland as a Setting for a Game – 400 AD
Today’s post is complete with footnotes for those who might be interested in more information. This time period is one of my favorite in early history. Everything here hangs by a thread. The Irish to the west and the barbarians to the east make it a challenging time to become, well, civilized. To a degree, we see some of this in heavily abstracted in my favorite game series, Civilization. Sid has yet to make the Celts their own civilization, though.
A conquering race which began its thousand-year journey across the continent from near what is modern-day Armenia, the Celts subsumed different people and races while building their own identity. By the third century B.C., there is evidence of their arrival in Ireland. They were a tribal culture of tuaths who formed alliances with one another, but wars and raids were just as likely. The tuaths each had a leader – a ri – and occasionally an Ard-Ri would attempt to rise and assert power over all. The position was at best shaky and always temporary. Yet, the Celts were also a reverent and moderately advanced people for the time who had integrated fili (poets), druids (priests), and brehons (jurists) into their culture. By 400 AD, the Celts were well established in Ireland.
This is a pretty incredible and fertile setting for a variety of narratives, both real and fictional. We have, of course, already seen many druids show up in games, though their origins are often ignored and their original purposes in the culture missed. There is also warrior culture to consider. My first Irish history prof opened his class with a question: “Who has Irish ancestry?” Many raised their hands. He proceeded to tell us with genuine enthusiasm that each and every one of us was there today not by chance, but because someone in our family was a skilled warrior and a “hell of a fighter.” I don’t at all do his delivery justice, but everyone left the class that day feeling energized by the Irish inside.
During this time, there is also tremendous potential for trouble in England. It is not a large country, and the Celts were not a particularly neighborly people. On the main continent as well as on the island of England, the situation was tenuous. The Roman Empire had been sacked in 410 AD, and with its troops in Britain dramatically reduced, England found itself in between a dangerous rock and a hard place.[ii] It was exposed “more than ever to the depredations of the Germanic Anglos and Saxons in its eastern shore and to the even more terrifying slave raids of the Celts of Ireland along its jagged western bays… and no tribe was fiercer or more feared than the Irish.”[iii]
It was, in fact, during this time that a young Roman named Patrick was kidnapped and brought to Ireland. He would escape and return to the people voluntarily years later as a priest. Today, he’s the person we know as St. Patrick.
[i] Hatchey, Hernon, Jr., and McCaffrey, The Irish Experience, 3.
[ii] Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, 37.
[iii] Ibid, 37.