By Ray O’Hanlon
And you were worried that there might have been problems with Y2K? Consider yourself lucky to have avoided Y535.
A new television series slated for PBS in May includes an opening episode in which the evolution of the modern Irish nation is linked to a volcanic eruption in Indonesia roughly one hundred years after St. Patrick landed on Irish shores.
Based on four years of research by author and historian David Keys, the first of the series, "Secrets of the Dead," argues that the Irish nation partly owes its existence to the eruption of the infamous volcanic island of Krakatoa in 535 A.D.
Keys believes that the military and political developments that ultimately forged a recognizable Irish nation emerged from the political destabilization caused by a plague epidemic triggered by a Krakatoa-induced climatic convulsion.
The two-hour program dealing with Ireland is entitled "Catastrophe" and will be broadcast on Channel 13/WNET in New York on Monday, May 15.
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According to a release from WNET, Keys uses "ancient climatic, arch’ological and historical evidence, coupled with cutting-edge forensic techniques" to reconstruct the pivotal role in the social formation of Ireland played by Krakatoa, the site of which located between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra.
Given the country that emerged, it goes without saying that 535 Krakatoa blast was more than you would expect from even a few tons of Semtex. It was, according to the WNET release, the equivalent of two billion Hiroshima bombs.
Data compiled by Keys apparently shows that the global climate was dramatically altered for several years as a result of the 535 Krakatoa blast, an eruption that seems to have been far bigger than the more recent bang of 1883, an event that unleashed huge tidal waves and gave the world dramatic color-splashed sunsets for many months.
According to Keys, the 535 cataclysm triggered an unprecedented pandemic of bubonic plague that decimated Ireland in 545, 550 and 553. This plague "destabilized the existing Irish political status quo." Before the plague, Ireland had been relatively peaceful for the period — only 11 battles in 45 years — but in the wake of the plague "all hell broke lose," with 27 battles in 45 years.
Keys points to arch’ological evidence from Crannogs (settlements built on platforms in lakes) and ring forts that indicate an increase in warfare in the years following the plague.
"The plague had the effect of reducing population level differences between fertile and less fertile areas," Keyes said. "This afforded a rare opportunity for post-plague expansion to less prosperous warlords in less fertile and therefore less densely populated districts, especially those furthest from contact with the Continent."
He points to a link between the eruption and its aftermath and the rise to power in Ireland of the Ulster/Connacht borderlands family of the O’Neills.
He believes that a "relatively united Ireland" emerged under O’Neill control as a direct result of a volcanic explosion on the other side of the world in the mid-6th century.
This post-Krakatoa Ireland, he added, "was in embryonic terms the ultimate political ancestor of the modern Irish nation state."
As well as the PBS series, Keys is presenting his theories in a book due for publication at the beginning of February. Entitled "Catastrophe — an Investigation into the Origins of the Modern world," it is being published by Ballantine Books/Random House.