Isle of saints

In Proteus Stephen thinks, "Isle of Saints," and in Cyclops the Citizen exclaims, "Island of saints and sages!" They are voicing a common Irish expression that recalls the early medieval times when Irish monks like Columbanus brought Christian spirituality and learning to Europe after the collapse of the Roman empire. The phrase also evokes the title of a lecture, "Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages," that Joyce delivered in 1907 at the Università Popolare in Trieste, introducing to Italians the notion that his island once housed a great civilization.

John Hunt 2015

Map of pre-Norman Ireland, frontispiece to the Rev. John Healy's Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum, or Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars (Dublin and London, 1912). Red underlinings show centers of monastic learning.

Folio 29r, the Incipit to the Gospel of Matthew, in the Book of Kells held in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Source: Wikimedia Commons.