In a Word . . . Europe

The Irish are linked to old European history by an ancient saint to modern slogans

Photograph: Getty Images

Photograph: Getty Images

 

Way back in the last millennium the Industrial Development Authority identified two of Ireland’s key strengths as its young, well-educated workforce and membership of the European Union.

In the 1980s it ran a very successful international advertising campaign, titled The Young Europeans. It featured a photograph of UCD and Trinity graduates with the slogan: “Hire them before they hire you”.

Later, when the economy dipped, the same photograph was used mercilessly to show how many of those same Young Europeans had to emigrate.

The IDA has recently launched another such campaign, aimed at China and Japan, urging them to “Make Ireland your European home, because this is where Europe’s heart is”. And it is.

Today, the children of those 1980s Young Europeans remain among the most committed members of the EU. This is as it should be because it would appear the first European was also Irish.

Born in 540 AD, on the Carlow/Wexford border, he was St Columbanus.

Columbanus is the patron saint of all those who now seek to build a united Europe

In 2008, no less than Pope Benedict XVI said there was good reason to call Columbanus a European saint and drew attention to the expression “totius Europae – of all Europe” which first appeared in a letter Columbanus wrote to Pope Gregory the Great in AD 600.

Columbanus (also known as Columban) was part of that great Irish missionary movement eastwards which helped lay the foundations for modern Europe. He founded monasteries at Annegray, Luxeuil, and Fontaines, in France, then at Bregenz in Austria, and finally at Bobbio in Italy where he died in 615 AD.

As if to underline Columbanus’s claim to be the first European, in 1950 a congress was organised at Luxeuil to mark the 1,400th anniversary of his birth. It was the idea of then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, later a founder of the EU.

He spoke there of Columbanus as “this illustrious Irishman who left his own country for voluntary exile, willed and achieved a spiritual union between the principal European countries of his time. He is the patron saint of all those who now seek to build a united Europe.”

Then taoiseach John A Costello told the congress: “History records that it was by men like him that civilisation was saved in the 6th century.”

We are the old Europeans.

Europe from Latin Europa and Greek Europe, after Europa, a princess in Greek mythology.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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