The Greek crisis exposes how the European Union has taken a wrong direction.

OXI

The European Union was founded on principles of social democracy.  Rooted in the Christian principles of “Rerum Novarum” the European experiment used to sit comfortably between the extreme worlds of US Capitalism and Russian Communism.  It offered a particular type of bargain, with protections for those at the bottom of society, and controls on rampant exploitation of people and workers.

In any politically led economic system we find politicians struggling to make sense of the complex interplay of economic factors.  A populist politician is unlikely to have a PhD in economics.  When politicians run into a capability gap they rely on specialist advisers.

Ideally these advisers should be free of vested interests, and should give dispassionate counsel.  At the most senior levels of the EU, and the respective national governments, we are seeing a different dynamic at play.

In the USA the nickname for the Treasury Dept in the Whitehouse is Government Sachs or the “Goldman Sachs” dept, referring to the large number of treasury secretaries from that investment house.  If you recruit stockbrokers to run government they create policies that favour the interests of big finance.  They push for lower corporate taxes, they cut welfare, government spending and reduce government regulation of industry.

These are exactly the forces we are seeing now in the European Union.  The post 2007 austerity programme was a philosophy designed by bankers for bankers.  For the average European the austerity programme has been a failure.   For bankers it has been an unqualified success.  The banking sector has recovered from near collapse, and the recovery has been paid for by ordinary citizens.

At last the Greeks have called time on the troika of the IMF, ECB and the European Commission.  Syriza was elected into power in Greece on an anti-austerity ticket.  That should have been a warning signal to the troika.  Instead of heeding the warning they blithely drove forward with their programme to steamroll the Greeks into paying banks back for bad loans.

The troika have tried and tried again to bully Tsipiras and his party into submission.  In response the Greek premier pulled out the most potent weapon in his arsenal “Democracy”.  He is resorting to the will of the people to gauge their support for his non-cooperation with the austerity agenda.

This does not sit at all well with the “Goldman Sachs” style banking & stockbroking mandarins who currently drive EU economic policy.  They are not accustomed to having their policies questioned even by politicians.  The concept of populist support is anathema to them.  They have no time for debt forgiveness or for wishy-washy neo-Keynesian economic policies.

The democratic prerogative should be no stranger to the politicians in the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. These are the people we have elected and appointed to guard the interests of the ordinary people of Europe.  These are the people who are failing.  They have given over too much power to the vested interests.

A thin understanding of economics is no excuse for the abrogation of responsibility that we see in the politicians in Europe.  The Greeks will speak on Sunday.  I expect them to come back with a resounding no, OXI!

Then we need to understand how we can help the economy at the bottom of our EU society.  This is Europe, not the USA.  This is about unification and inclusion, not about punishment and exclusion.

It is time to fix the EU model.

If you fancy an addition good read on this subject check out this link:  The Austerity Delusion

Biker Gang

Cyclists

When you drive you drive alone.  When you ride you are part of a tribe.

As I cycled through Dublin earlier this week I observed something profoundly interesting.

A lady on a bicycle had an accident.  She caused the accident in fact.  She broke a red light and cycled into a taxi that was turning right.  She hit the front of his car from the side, tumbled over the bonnet and landed hard on the road.

At this point I hopped off my bike, placed it against a lamp post and ran over to see if she was hurt.  She was fine, just a little shocked.

Then I looked around and realised that five or six other cyclists had done the same as me.  She was surrounded by a lycra clad, high viz vest and bicycle helmet gang.  The driver of the taxi stepped out of his car.  Although he was totally in the right he was visibly nervous of the situation.  He was in the right but alone.  She was blatantly in the wrong, but she had a gang.

Other drivers did not get out of their vehicles to support him.  They were frustrated at the stoppage.  They just wanted the accident cleared so they could get to work.  One driver even began to honk his horn.

This little moment highlighted for me the key difference between cyclists and drivers.

Cyclists are engaged in the real world.  We are in constant danger from drivers and we can’t rely on the drivers to look out for our safety.  Our lives are in our hands.  As a result we are wide awake to our environment.  We are not enclosed from the world, we are out in the open.  We can make an easy transition from cyclist to pedestrian and back again.

If something happens nearby the cyclist is part of it.  If someone falls over they may check to see if they are OK.

Drivers are enclosed in a glass and metal box.  They are in their own private world.  They look at our world through a window.  They see it but are not part of it.  They are physically and psychologically disengaged from the reality of life outside.  They are possibly elsewhere, on a phone call, or listening to the radio.

If someone falls nearby they observe it as though they are watching it on TV.  It is not a part of their reality.  Besides, it is a lot of trouble for a driver to disengage from the vehicle, to become a pedestrian, to walk over to the person who fell, and to see if they are OK.  And if they do that the other drivers will get frustrated with you leaving your vehicle.  They will honk at you to get moving again.

It is easier to sit in your vehicle and wait for some passing pedestrian or cyclist to check out the situation.

When a driver has an accident the other drivers nearby do not empathise with the driver.  They do not get out of their cars and stand around in a group, unless it is a particularly unusual situation.  in the normal day to day world of fender-benders you stay in your car and wait it out.

If a cyclist is in an accident the situation is very different.  Other cyclists seem to appear from nowhere.  They come in droves.  They are like white blood cells racing to a point of injury in the body.  Before you know what has happened there is a gang of yellow, pink and orange people in strange space-age outfits.  They identify with each other.  They are a flock, a band, a gang.

What is true for cyclists is doubly true for bikers, and may explain a lot about why biker gangs seem so threatening.

Life should not be a journey to the grave

with the intention of arriving safely

in a pretty and well preserved body,

but rather to skid in broadside

in a cloud of smoke,

thoroughly used up,

totally worn out,

and loudly proclaiming

“Wow! What a Ride!

Hunter S. Thompson

St John’s Eve

Bonfire

Last night was St John’s Eve.  In rural areas of Ireland it is  bonfire night.

This is a classic case of a pagan festival that the catholic church tried to muscle into the Christian sphere by shoehorning a Saint into the mix.  It is remarkable in that it celebrates the birth of St John the Baptist.  Most Saints and Martyrs are commemorated on the day of their death.

St John’s day replaces a Celtic Summer Solstice festival which honoured the Goddess Áine.  She was a goddess of light, fertility and kingship.  The concepts of fertility and kingship were inexorably linked in the Celtic pantheon.  The Lammas Kings (also known as Corn Kings) were “married” to the land (and celebrated at Lughnasa).  They lived the high life as long as the land produced.  But they typically reigned for only seven years.

In some traditions the king was sacrificed for the continued fertility of the land.  In other traditions young clansmen could compete for the opportunity to challenge the corn king in single combat to the death.

It is easy to see how this ancient tradition of Kings tying their lives to the fate of the people could be molded and replaced with the central mystery of Christianity, a saviour who dies on our behalf.

The festival of Áine was marked by bonfires lit on the solstice, the shortest night of the year.  The Christian festival shifted out three days.  Who knows why? Maybe to separate the Christian and Pagan traditions?  To identify those holding on to the old ways, so they could be targeted for conversion?

In the Pagan Lammas tradition the Solstice might have represented the last celebration of the existing Corn King, before he faced sacrifice or replacement.  Indeed the bonfire tradition may have originated from the sacrifice of the Corn King.  There are many details of Celtic religions lost to us because they were not documented, and they were expunged by Christian proselytisers.

If you go to the cities in Ireland nobody will know that this is bonfire night, especially in Dublin.  But rural people live close to the land.  They retain old traditions, especially those linked to the fertility of the land.  Always good to have a backup deity on standby 🙂

So if you want to celebrate with a bonfire on St John’s Night go to the most rural areas of Ireland.  Go west!

Bonfire 2

Monster Moth

I turned into an Etymologist today.  Found this monster on my bicycle this morning.

From the benefit of my many seconds of experience and a knack for using Google I would say it looks like an elephant hawk moth.

My camera phone is not exactly brilliant for this kind of thing, so I attach a better photo from the Internet.  Really beautiful moth.

He gets the “Elephant” part of his name because as a caterpillar his mouth looks a bit like an elephant trunk.  I didn’t know that five minutes ago.  But then, five minutes ago I didn’t know anything about this amazing creature.  Ain’t life great, every day is a day at school!

Elephanthawk elephant_hawk_moth_5

Very Large Moth; by Craig Arnold
Your first thought when the light snaps on and the black wings
clatter about the kitchen is a bat

the clear part of  your mind considers rabies the other part
does not consider knows only to startle

and cower away from the slap of  its wings though it is soon
clearly not a bat but a moth and harmless

still you are shy of it it clings to the hood of the stove
not black but brown its orange eyes sparkle

like televisions its leg  joints are large enough to count
how could you kill it where would you hide the body

a creature so solid must have room for a soul
and if  this is so why not in a creature

half  its size or half its size again and so on
down to the ants clearly it must be saved

caught in a shopping bag and rushed to the front door
afraid to crush it feeling the plastic rattle

loosened into the night air it batters the porch light
throwing fitful shadows around the landing

That was a really big moth is all you can say to the doorman
who has watched your whole performance with a smile

the half-compassion and half-horror we feel for the creatures
we want not to hurt and prefer not to touch

Ramadan

Iftar

Spare a thought today for Muslims living in Ireland.  Ramadan begins today at the height of the Irish Summer.

There are 50,000 muslims in Ireland.  They are not supposed to eat in the hours of daylight.

Daylight is defined as when you can tell a black thread from a white one.  That means they can’t eat or drink from 3am until 11pm.  So they go 20 hours of the day with nothing to eat or drink.  They need to wait until 11pm at night before they can sit down for the iftar meal and then, they have to rise only a couple of hours later at 2am if they want a bite of breakfast at suhoor.

The only way to cope with this situation is to sleep in the early evening when you come home from work.  Then dine through the late hours of the night and then go back to bed just as the sun begins to rise again.

Honestly, I don’t know how you are supposed to get through a working day like this.

Ramadan; by Kazim Ali

You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month’s

nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?

If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.

Hunger opens you to illiteracy,
thirst makes clear the starving pattern,

the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,
the angel stops whispering for a moment—

The secret night could already be over,
you will have to listen very carefully—

You are never going to know which night’s mouth is sacredly reciting
and which night’s recitation is secretly mere wind—

Bloomsday

Cycle

The 16th of June was the first day that James Joyce went out on a date with Nora Barnacle, who later became his wife.

Joyce then chose this day, in 1904, to be the canvas for the events that unfolded in his Opus Magnum, Ulysses.  The central character of that novel was Leopold Bloom, and the name Bloom’s Day derives from this source.

Today Bloomsday is a world wide celebration which usually involves dressing up in Fin de Siecle garb, impersonating James Joyce, re-enacting scenes from Joyce Novels, consuming the inner organs of beasts and fowls, cycle rallies on old style delivery bicycles, wearing sandwich boards, interminable readathons and generally hanging around in groups speaking in vaguely intellectual terms.

My Love is in a light attire; by James Joyce

My love is in a light attire
Among the apple-trees,
Where the gay winds do most desire
To run in companies.

There, where the gay winds stay to woo
The young leaves as they pass,
My love goes slowly, bending to
Her shadow on the grass;

And where the sky’s a pale blue cup
Over the laughing land,
My love goes lightly, holding up
Her dress with dainty hand.

Street Art

It was a beautiful sunny day today in Dublin and I took a stroll down the canal to the Patrick Kavanagh Lock.  The poet wrote the  following lines when he was alive.

Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin; by Patrick Kavanagh

‘Erected to the memory of Mrs. Dermot O’Brien’

O commemorate me where there is water,
Canal water, preferably, so stilly
Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
Commemorate me thus beautifully
Where by a lock niagarously roars
The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.
A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges –
And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
And other far-flung towns mythologies.
O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb – just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.

After he died his friends erected a bench in his favourite spot on the Grand Canal, just off Baggot Street.  This is the bench below.

Kavanagh Memorial Bench

Kavanagh Memorial Bench

To be honest it is a bit worn and scruffy.  But that is the true memorial to Kavanagh.

However, there is now also a statue of Kavanagh sitting on a bench very near to the memorial. It now seems to attract all the attention at the site.  Today I saw some American Tourists trying to take photos of the statue.  They seemed to be upset because there was a girl sitting on the bench eating her lunch and there was a guy sitting on Kavanagh’s knee talking to her.  They probably felt this was a bit disrespectful of the artwork.

Me, on the other hand, I think it is great.  I love to see art that people engage with.  There is no doubt that Irish people love Kavanagh as a poet and we respect his work.  But we also love him for his accessibility, and this translates into the way people engage with his statue today.  They dress him with hats, or rain-gear.  They paint his shoes red.  They put scarves around his neck.  They put their arms around him and have their photo taken.  This is street art, living art, relevant art.

Kavanagh

The rain came down

holy-cross-abbey

Back in 1993 the days of the week were one day off where they are this year, with the 11th of June on Friday and Saturday being the 12th. On Thursday morning I got up very early to go to the flower market in Dublin. It started to rain at about 6am on the 10th.

I bought a huge number of flowers and put them in the boot of my clapped out Renault 4, the beige one with the sunroof.

That is still my favourite car. We had so many good times in that rusty heap of garbage, driving on rainy days with plastic bags on our feet, there were so many holes in the floor. That was the car I drove in college, bringing a third of the rugby team to matches. It’s the car we went to Donegal in when we finished our exams in 1990. On sailing holidays I had no problem slinging an inflatable dinghy on the roof, what was another scratch on the paintwork? And as for that boot, you could get a washing machine or a fridge into the Renault 4 without any hassle. Legend!

So there is me with a car full of flowers and it’s raining. I go home and pick up Louise and all the luggage, and off we go to Tipperary. The rain just kept coming down all day on the 10th.

On the 11th of June, 22 years ago, we spent the morning turning the flowers into floral displays and little wreaths. Myself, Louise, Mrs H and Jim Hourihane in the kitchen in Turtulla Rd, chatting away as we cut stems and arranged flowers. Mrs. H was boiling hams to make sandwiches for the next day. The two boys, Liam and Vincent, were in and out all day on little jobs. Delivering bread, drinks and other food. Leaving out shirts to be ironed by the mother. Taking cars off to wash them. It was still raining. It rained all day on the 11th.

In the afternoon we brought all the flowers over to Holy Cross Abbey to place them on the Altar. We laughed so much. The flower arrangements that looked huge in the kitchen were lost in the church. They were a joke. Ecclesiastical floral displays are enormous. But luck was on our side. There was a mission in the church that morning and they brought proper huge installations. Our efforts provided a little extra garnish on the side.

Still it kept raining. Dublin was flooded, as were large sections of the N7. Friday June 11th 1993 was a day of chaos for Dublin traffic. All those grumpy commuters stuck in their cars, windscreen wipers keeping time to the tracks on the radio. Ace of Base on top of the charts with “All that she wants”, with UB40 in number 2 slot “I can’t help falling in love with you”. House of Pain were in the charts with “Jump Around”, a song that never seems to get old. “Everybody Hurts” from R.E.M. was probably more appropriate to the weather. “What is Love” by Haddaway was also in the charts, another old song that still sounds fresh.

We took a spin out to Dundrum, to the Rectory, to deliver out our bags and our music for the reception. The Rhododendrons were in full bloom and looked fantastic. Shame about the rain, but what can you do. We lived in hope that it would clear off by morning.

That night I went to bed for the last time as a single man.

Have You Ever Seen The Rain? ; by John Cameron Fogerty
as performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm,
I know; it’s been comin’ for some time.
When it’s over, so they say,
It’ll rain a sunny day,
I know; shinin’ down like water.

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?

Yesterday, and days before,
Sun is cold and rain is hard,
I know; been that way for all my time.
‘Til forever, on it goes
Through the circle, fast and slow,
I know; it can’t stop, I wonder.

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?

 

The Temple Mount

Tiling

I have always been interested in the history of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Why is there a mosque sitting on the site most sacred to the Jewish religion?

The Al Aqsa mosque sits upon a rocky outcropping at the centre of the temple mount.  This is alleged to be the rock where Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son by Jehovah.  When he demonstrated his obedience God stayed his hand, so the dogma goes.

I have my own ideas on this.  I believe that Abraham was an intelligent Rabbi and spiritual leader of his people.  He figured out that you did not have to kill people to worship God.  For me the lesson here is “Don’t kill children, you can substitute them with a Goat or a Lamb, or a Dove, or a Fatted Calf.”

Abraham is important because he is a father to three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  All three lay claim to his legacy.

The rock on the temple mount became the central focus of the Jewish religion.  At some time around 832 BCE Solomon is held to have constructed the First Temple.  However there is no archaeological record for this construction.  This temple was allegedly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar after the siege of Jerusalem in 589-587 BCE.  The Jews were clearly a problem for the Babylonians who felt it necessary to exile the leadership to their capital where they could monitor them.

In 538 BCE Cyrus the Great allowed the Jewish leaders to return to the city of Jerusalem.  They immediately set about re-establishing the temple, but not without opposition from others in the area.  Some form of Jewish Temple existed on Mount Zion until the Hellenistic Period.

Following the conquest of the east by Alexander the Great, and the division of his empire, Judea became a pressure point between the Ptolemaic Egyptian lands and the Seleucid lands.  In 167 BCE Antiochus III drove out the Egyptians under Ptolemy V.  The Seleucids clearly saw the Jews as loyal to the Ptolemies and set about reducing their power base.  The temple was looted, services were stopped and the buildings were dedicated to Zeus.  Judaism was effectively outlawed.

In 160 BCE following the revolt of the Maccabees the Temple site was again back in Jewish hands and was cleansed and re-dedicated.

Between 20 and 18 BCE the temple was totally rebuilt by Herod the Great, a client king of the Roman Empire.  This is the Temple where the Christian Jesus is alleged to have overturned the tables of the moneychangers.

The temple was the centre of Sadducee control of Judaism.  Jesus was from a Pharisee sect and did not hold that worship needed to be tied to a particular pile of stones.  The money changing incident was a demonstration of belief by Jesus.  Abraham said “don’t kill children – kill animals instead” and Jesus said “don’t kill animals – the simple act of breaking your daily bread can be worship of God”.

This is not a message designed to sit well with the Sadducees, who made a profit on every sacrificial animal sold on the temple mount, and who also made a fortune on the Currency Exchange market when the rural hicks found that their silver was no good in the temple.  They had to buy “Temple Silver” to purchase their sacrifice.  No wonder the Sadducees had a problem with Jesus!  He was threatening their entire economic foundation.

Ignoring the economics and religious dogma, the Jews were not comfortable citizens of the Roman Empire, and rose up in rebellion (notice a pattern here?).  The “Great Revolt” lasted from 66-70 CE.

The Roman Emperor Vespasian sent in his son Titus, who besieged Rome in 70 CE, punished the population and burned the temple to the ground.  The destruction of the temple removed the power base from the sects that were centralised there.  In this power vacuum the new “Christian“  religion was able to prosper.

The subsequent Bar-Kokhba revolt in 132-136 CE sealed the fate of the Temple Jews, who were massacred by Hadrian’s troops in large numbers.   It also firmly established the distance between Judaism and Christianity.  Following the revolt both Sects were barred from Jerusalem.

By this time the Christians had already established Golgotha as their primary site of worship.  There is no doubt that the Jews would have had issues with Christian worship on the Temple Mount, despite their common link to Abraham.

The Christians therefore opted to venerate the site of Christ’s death and the associated tomb.  When Hadrian expelled the Jews and Christians from the city he had a temple dedicated to Venus constructed on the Christian site, presumably to remove their power base.

From here we roll forward to the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Golgotha.  In 325/326 CE Constantine the Great began construction of two interlinked churches over the tomb and the peak the hill of Calvary.  This firmly established the Christian centre of Jerusalem as separate to the Jewish site.

Under Byzantine rule the Jews and Samaritans faced increasing persecution which led to a number of Jewish and Samaritan revolts.  The final revolt occurred when the Jews sided with the invading Sassanid Empire against the Byzantines.  In 602 CE under Sassanid occupation the Jews re-established control over Jerusalem for a short time, but the Sassanids ended up siding with the majority Christian population by 617.

The Jews then played the other side of the coin and supported the reconquest of Jerusalem by the Byzantines under Heraclius in 630 CE.  There were attempts by the Jews to re-establish a temple on Mount Zion during the Sassanid occupation and during the subsequent Byzantine re-occupation, but they were torn down and the site was left as a ruin.  It seems no ruler wanted to see the rise of a new Jewish power base.

So it was when Umar led the victorious Islamic armies into Jerusalem in 638 CE.  By agreement with the Christian Bishop his entry was a peaceful one.  Umar was invited to pray at the Holy Sepulchre.  He declined on the basis that Muslims might subsequently claim it as a Mosque, and invalidate his promise to protect Christian interests.  Instead he had the Temple mount cleared, and constructed a wooden mosque on the site.

Umar found a prime piece of real estate in Jerusalem, at the heart of the city, good location, nice views and absent of a formal place of worship.  So he took it over.

Subsequently the Ummah defined the site as “The Furthest Mosque” (al-Masjid al Aqsa), revealed to Muhammed on his mystical night journey undertaken in 621 CE.  This cemented the al-Aqsa Mosque  as the third holiest site in the Islamic world.

Over the years Caliphs improved the mosque.  It was destroyed by an earthquake in 746 and rebuilt.  It was destroyed by another earthquake in 1033 (a religious Jew might take this as a sign).  The current mosque largely dates from the 1035 reconstruction.

Under Crusader rule of Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187 the Al Aqsa was used as a palace.  It was restored as a mosque by Saladin and has remained as such to the present day.

During the six day war in 1967 when the Israeli forces gained control of the old city of Jerusalem they secured Jewish access to the Western Wall.  There were suggestions from some hawks that only a few sticks of dynamite stood between the Jews and their ancient site of worship.  But cooler heads prevailed on that day.

Shaping Europe

June 8th is an interesting date from a western European perspective.  Two separate, unrelated, events happened on the 8th of June, separated by hundreds of years and by thousands of miles.  Yet these two events went on to define and shape Europe and continue to do so today.

The first of these events happened in the year 632 CE when the Prophet Muhammed died.  Under his leadership Islam was established firmly in the Arabian Peninsula.  It was in the period of the Rashidun Caliphate, following the death of Muhammed, that Islam literally exploded across the modern day countries of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt.  The speed of their advance was especially notable in desert areas, where they were masters of the terrain.

In subsequent regimes it continued to expand, following established Arabic trade routes, Westwards across North Africa and into Spain, and Easwards to India, China, Indonesia and Indochina.  To the North the Arabs spread into the Byzantine Empire, setting off a chain of events that led to the Crusades.  In the West the Islamic armies drove North across the Pyrenees.  The events that followed led to the unification of the Franks under Charles Martell, and subsequently saw the rise of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire.  The Reconquista by the Visigoths went on to define Modern Spain and Portugal.

To the South Islam found converts along the East African seaboard to Zanzibar.  The Eastern penetration of Islam would eventually encounter the Westward expansion of the Mongols in the middle ages.

On the one hand Islam represented a threat to Europe.  The rapid expansion of the Arab empire led to a unification of Frankish and Germanic state-lets which began a process towards nationalism.  On the other hand Islam became a bulwark against the continued Westward expansion of the Mongols, helping to protect Europe from being over-run.

The clash of Christian and Islamic cultures continues to define and shape the world today.

One hundred and sixty years after the death of Muhammed, again on June 8th, we met Vikings for the first time.  More correctly we met Norsemen who were Viking.  Going Viking is an activity, like going golfing.  Calling them Vikings is like calling the guys in the country club “Golfings”.

On June 8th, 793 AD the monastery at Lindisfarne was sacked and the Viking era began.  As the Muslims were shaping the Europe of Spain and the Balkans so too did the Norsemen shape Europe in the North Atlantic, the Baltic, Russia, Ukraine, Normandy, Sicily and Southern Italy.  Unlike the Arabs, who conquered most successfully by land, the Vikings excelled on water.  They could attack the most inhospitable coastlines and their shallow draft longboats were perfect for accessing river systems.  This allowed them to move right through the Baltic republics, Russia and Ukraine down into the Black Sea.

Initially it was only raids and attacks at soft targets for portable wealth and slaves.  That turned into a land grab and settlements by Vikings.  Over time they established permanent trading hubs and kingdoms.  This ultimately led to the creation of England.  Without external pressure from the Danes and Norsemen there would have been no Alfred the Great.  Similarly in Ireland there was a unification of tribal groupings manifest in the rise of Brian Boru to position as high king and “Imperator”.  Normandy was created by Vikings, who went on to conquer England.  The power struggles between England and France defined the state of Modern France.

Below is an anonymous poem written in Irish by a monk in the margins of a manuscript.

Bitter is the wind tonight

It tosses the ocean’s white hair

Tonight I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway 

Coursing on the Irish sea