As Murt Mac Garraidhe wrote in his book, Strangers at Home, the early Irish considered the Christian idea of man having dominion over the beasts of the earth, the fishes of the sea, and the birds of the air, an arrogant lunacy. So too was the Christian assertion that animals had no souls. Any notion of dominion over a soulless Earth was even more ludicrous. For Éire, the land we know today as Ireland, has both soul and sovereignty.
Murt’s words echo those of Chief Sealth in his famous letter to President Pierce as his people were being forced off their ancestral land. How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. For this land is sacred to us. Owning the land was unthinkable. However for both Chief Sealth’s people and the Irish, this sacred world view would prove fatal.
When the English arrived in Ireland they were surprised and ultimately pleased to find a culture of scattered tribes living in a reciprocal and balanced relationship with a wild, untamed land. Murt sums it well. The new invaders found Éire an inhospitable wilderness and tended to regard the Gaeil as primitive savages who failed to ‘progress’ as others had and who knew nothing of agriculture. To them, the Gaeil were throwbacks to a past that had long since disappeared in much of northern Europe: they were like some wandering nomadic tribe that had escaped from the books of the Old Testament, and were obviously not meant to be in possession of such a fine land.
Basically, if the Irish didn’t consider themselves owners of the land they didn’t deserve to own it. If they weren’t exploiting the landscape and its resources they didn’t deserve the landscape and its resources. The English were happy to take the land off their hands. And they did, by slaughter, starvation and deportation. As Murt wrote, their commercially oriented society, and the ways in which they exploited the landscape and its resources to support themselves, were to have a profound effect on the ecology of Éire, the legacy of which we are living today. I would argue not only the ecology but also the spirit and soul of Éire and her people.