It is often assumed that Ireland entered recorded history with the emergence of organized Christianity on the island at some point in the fourth or fifth century C.E. This assumption has meant that the histories of late antique and early medieval Ireland are primarily viewed through the lens of conversion. Religious identities, frequently imagined as a binary opposition of “Christian” and “pagan,” have been a dominant historiographical focus. This essay argues that it is more fruitful to examine the relationship between Ireland and its neighbors from c. 150–c. 550 C.E. through a frontier dynamic, a dynamic in which religious identity was but one factor among many. By recasting the Irish experience in this way, it is possible to take a more comparative approach which cuts against the grain of Irish exceptionalism. Moreover, situating Ireland within the scholarly discourse of late antiquity allows for a new and nuanced understanding of the social and religious changes that characterized this period on the island.
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