Stone carvings at Newgrange
The approximate date of the arrival of initial migratory tribes or hunting parties.
The development of agriculture and the construction of the first megaliths.
Refinements in agriculture housing construction and
Stoneworks and settlements reach into the southwest, as far as today's Limerick.
Development of larger stone structures such as passage tombs and the complex ritual sites such as Newgrange and Knowth in Meath.
First metals are formed into tools and weapons.
What is known of the early ages of Irish history has been derived primarily from two sources: Archaeological study and mythological lore. The earliest settlers are believed to have arrived in Ireland between eight and nine thousand years ago. It is about the time when the island would have become fertile after the receding of the polar ice fields. This period is referred to by scholars as the Middle Stone Age or Mesolithic era. It is possible, even likely, that there was migrant habitation previous to this time, although no conclusive remains have survived, distinctive of succeeding settlements. It is important to note, that no extensive excavation efforts have been staged as yet to explore the sites which could possibly date to earlier periods.As all information of these first peoples is originated from archeological remains, little is known of their culture. The oldest excavations to date appear primarily in the northeast, not far from the coast. Although the theory is disputed, it would seem from evidence,
The most prominent remains from this period are the many megalithic tombs which populate the countryside. While megaliths are found in several areas of Europe, Ireland possesses the highest concentration of sites. Accepted dating for these structures is between 4,000 and 2001 BCE. There are three primary styles of tombs, the most common were constructed with massive, solid stones consisting of three or four supports and a single cap piece. Larger tombs are also known which were often covered by large earthen mounds. Dating to this same period are the impressive and mysterious tomb chambers at Newgrange, Fourknocks and Creevykeel. There remain many questions about these ancient sites, but it is certain that they were utilized as more than simple burial monuments. There is strong evidence to support the view that they served significantly in the religious rituals of the people who constructed them.
The Neolithic period began around 3000 BCE in Ireland. Wooden structures from this era have been excavated in Galway, Tyrone and other counties. Although there are a greater number of
The Bronze Age arrived in Ireland around 1500 BCE. Many artifacts from this period can be found today in several Irish museums. While they left no written records of their history, we do know from their craft-work that these were a highly cultured and expressive people. Their weapons of war and tools of industry were incorporated with elaborate designs and artistic motifs. At the height of development, trade was established with ancient Britain and Europe. A stable society and successful industry appears to have lasted for several centuries, at least up till 800-700 BCE.
Mythology and History Entwine.
The exists a point in Irish history where what we know of as historical fact meets with and joins the well preserved chronicles of Ireland's mythological lore. Just exactly where that point may be located is no longer possible to accurately determine.
A strong proliferation of wedge tombs mark the dawn of the Bronze age. Several hundred of these have been identified in the west. These sites are located near ore deposits of copper and silver, which were well mined in this period. A healthy metals industry arises with regular exporting established to Britain and beyond.
The survival of Ireland's ancient lore is due primarily to the efforts of the monks of the middle age monasteries. Unlike the obliteration suffered elsewhere under the church, much of Irish culture was preserved by her scholar scribes.
A significant turning point in Irish history occurred with the arrival of Celtic tribes from Europe. Here again we encounter an era much debated by historians. The exact time of when Celts first set foot on Ireland is still uncertain. It is safe to align their ascendancy with the transition between the Bronze and Iron Ages. The tribes of Europe certainly possessed iron before reaching Ireland. If an invasion it was, then the bronze of the native warriors would have been no match for the stronger swords of the Celts. Yet, there is evidence of Celtic influence on late Bronze age designs. The question remains whether the rise of the Celtic population was achieved peacefully, and over a few centuries or more abruptly through conquest.
However their entrance to Ireland occurred, the tall strangers from Europe and Great Britain soon achieved a cooperative truce, and eventually established a new ruling order. The people were divided into many clans or tuatha, in Irish. As certain regions grew these became minor kingdoms with a fair degree of sovereignty. In time, groups of clans would join under a single representative leader, although it would be more than a thousand years before a king of all Ireland would exist. Despite almost nonstop conflicts, a sophisticated society and high culture prospered over the centuries. In the first centuries of the Common Era, the country was divided into five kingdoms - a close approximate to the provinces of today - these were and remain: Connaught, Leinster, Midhe, Munster and Ulster.
Iron age sword, Nineteenth century rendering.
Patrick established monasteries across the country where language and theology could be studied. During the Dark Ages in Europe these monasteries served as sanctuary to many of the continents great scholars and theologians. It was here that the lamp of Latin learning was preserved for the ages. During this age, the great illuminated manuscripts of Ireland were produced. Arguably the finest such work, is The Book of Kells which may still be viewed at Trinity College, Dublin.
Cathedral of St. Patrick on the Rock of Cashel,
just outside Cashel, county Tipperary
age of illumination was brought to an abrupt end by yet another group of invaders.
The Vikings, unlike the Romans before them, did not spare Ireland. During the ninth
& tenth centuries, waves of Norse warriors ransacked the countryside. The Vikings
in sight. The monasteries were favorite targets for their treasures of golden religious
ornaments. The Vikings were eventually driven out, but not before making some contributions
of their own. Many coastal towns, and most significantly, Dublin, owe their establishment
to the invading Norsemen.
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