Latin, the Lingua Franca
Latin, the language of the former Roman Empire, became the language of the Christian church. All religious documents and correspondence, including the Bible, were written in Latin, and the Mass was performed in Latin. The Irish monks who entered the Church in the sixth century spoke the Irish language, but all of them had to learn Latin in order to write.
The Irish had to start from scratch in learning their new language. New Christians in other parts of Europe had been in contact with the Romans and their traditions and often knew the basics of Latin; French and Spanish are largely derived from it. But the Irish language is not closely related to Latin. The Irish needed a book that described Latin from the very beginning.
Studying Latin Grammar
This was apparently the first time this problem had ever come up — there weren't any basic Latin grammars. So the Irish took on the task of producing one (generations of students of Latin have them to thank for their suffering). An obscure scholar named Asper took a grammar by the Latin grammarian Donatus and adapted it for the Irish market. This grammar, called the
The Irish have always loved language, which can be seen today in the huge body of Irish literature. Irish monks not only learned Latin, but also quickly added Greek and Hebrew. They even invented their own private language based on Latin that is used in a text called