The Atlantean Irish: Ireland’s Oriental and Maritime Heritage
Foreword by Barry Cunliffe, Professor of European Archaeology
Irish identity is best understood from a maritime perspective. For eight millennia the island has been a haven for explorers, settlers, colonists, navigators, pirates and traders, absorbing goods and peoples from all points of the compass. The reduction of the islanders to the exclusive category ‘Celtic’ has persisted for three hundred years, and is here rejected as impossibly narrow. No classical author ever described Ireland’s inhabitants as ‘Celts’, and neither did the Irish so describe themselves until recent times. The islanders’ sea-girt culture has been crucially shaped by Middle Eastern as well as by European civilizations, by an Islamic heritage as well as a Christian one. The Irish language itself has antique roots extended over thousands of years’ trading up and down the Atlantic seaways.
Over the past twenty years Bob Quinn has traced archaeological, linguistic, religious and economic connections from Egypt to Arann, from Morocco to Newgrange, from Cairo and Compostela to Carraroe. Taking Conamara sean-nos singing and its Arabic equivalents, and a North African linguistic stratum under the Irish tongue, Quinn marshalls evidence from field archaeology, boat-types, manuscript illuminations, weaving patterns, mythology, literature, art and artefacts to support a challenging thesis that cites, among other recent studies of the Irish genome, new mitochondrial DNA analysis in the Atlantic zone from north Iberia to west Scandinavia.
The Atlantean Irish is a sumptuously illustrated, exciting, intervention in Irish cultural history. Forcefully debated, and wholly persuasive, it opens up a past beyond Europe, linking Orient to Occident. What began as a personal quest-narrative becomes a category-dissolving intellectual adventure of universal significance. It is a book whose time has arrived.
BOB QUINN, writer, photographer, film-maker and television director, is a member of Aosdana and has lived in Conamara in the West of Ireland since 1970. He is author of Sit Down and Be Counted (1969); Smokey Hollow (1991), a fictional memoir; An Tir Aneol (1995), a photographic record of Conamara; and Maverick (2001), a critique of modern broadcasting.