Mary McAleese & The Man Who Saved Europe

Mary McAleese, former Irish President, travels through Europe to uncover the legacy of Columbanus who in AD590 arrived on a European continent that was in crisis. The Roman Empire had collapsed and Europe was divided. Mary McAleese discovers that the message of unity brought from Ireland by Columbanus shows how openness to diversity can offer lessons to the often fractured Europe of today

Columbanus was the product of a social and cultural revolution. Young Irish rejected power and materialism and sought out remote wildernesses to find God. They invented punctuation, developed the skills to artfully craft and illustrate manuscripts and were the first to work out how to write their own indigenous language.

Columbanus spread the fruits of this Irish revolution. Travelling through France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, he established monastic foundations that became major European centres of spirituality and culture during the dark ages. As well as the lifestyle and scholarship of Irish monasticism.

Columbanus felt that if people respected the diversity in their midst they could create a unity that would benefit all. He was one of the first to speak of the sense of being European. After the horror of the Second World War, with the continent in ruins, European leaders met to honour Columbanus’s memory and message at his monastery of Luxeuil, France. They celebrated his vision of a united continent. The meeting is believed to have laid the seeds for what has become the European Union.

Through his disciples, this often difficult and contradictory figure, Columbanus, left a physical legacy of up to 100 monasteries throughout the continent. These monasteries preserved and transmitted not only Christianity but the classics of the Greek and Roman world during the dark ages. They earned Ireland the title of the ‘land of saints and scholars.’

Mary McAleese will uncover the story of the Bangor monk’s achievements, uncover new archaeological evidence in Ireland and France, assess his legacy and argue that his message of unity, diversity and respect has much to teach us today in a world once again in political, religious and now also ecological crisis.

This programme was produced in English and Irish for RTE and BBCNI.

Directed by: Declan McGrath
Produced by: David Kilpatrick
Mary McAleese & The Man Who Saved Europe