Pre-Christian Ireland, to the best of my current knowledge

Celtiberian Days

At this point, I am uncertain where the first inhabitants of Ireland came from, but science is saying that they shared DNA with the early inhabitants of Iberia, so maybe they were a branch off that a same tree. Or maybe they came down from Scotland. Whoever they were, archeologists believe they got there somewhere between 7,000 and 6,000 BC. We are told that they lived by farming, fishing and gathering food such as plants and shellfish. They mostly lived on the seashore or along rivers and lakes where food and water were both easier to get. They hunted deer, birds, wild boar and seals.

About the time one of those skeletons I mentioned in my earlier article, 4,000 BC, lived, farming came about. The farmers raised  sheep, pigs, cattle and crops. They made pottery during this time, too. For hundreds of years, the farmers lived right alongside the hunter-gatherers but in time, farming prevailed and the old lifestyle faded.

These early farmers cleared the forests, built monuments (burial mounds called court cairns) and cremated their dead before burying them in stone galleries which they covered with earth.

Dolmens, created by these early Irish folks, were burial sites where massive vertical stones were lined up with horizontal stones on top of them to create a passage way then covered with earth. It was during these early pre-Celtic times that Stonehenge and other amazing, mysterious structures were built. William Stuklely, I think it was, linked the Celts (Druids) to the building of these megalith monuments, but the Celts hadn’t even arrived yet when these places were built. For the record, dolmens aren’t only found in Ireland. They can be found in Basque Country and as far away as Russia. There are even dolmens in Korea (but I don’t think they’re connected to the Irish ones). Click here to visit a site that shows you what they looked like.

Around 2,000 BC, bronze showed up in Ireland and people began using it to make tools. During this period, they erect large stone circles and built crannogs or habitations on the lakes. These lake homes were easier to defend than just building on the shore.

ALONG CAME THE CELTS

People think of Ireland as being Celtic but it wasn’t until about 5oo BC that the Celts actually arrived, bringing with them iron tools and weapons. Scholars don’t really agree on where the Celts originated, but they moved across Europe during the 4th and 5th centuries. The British Isles, in time, came to be known as the “six Celtic Nations,” which included Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Briton and the Isle of Man. There were four major Celtic dialects that came to the Isles with them: Breton, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, and Welsh. The warlike Celts, divided Ireland into many small kingdoms that constantly fought with each other, but the Celts didn’t just subdue the original Irish, they absorbed their culture into their own until the new Irish culture was a blend and Irish Celts were heavily influence by Pre-Celtic Ireland. Evidence of this is found in the engravings at Newgrange which include lozenges, spirals, double spirals, concentric semi-circles, zigzags and so forth, all of which were found in Ireland before the coming of the Celts but is found afterwards in Celtic works.

So, the Celts left no religious monuments in Ireland that I am aware of. However, they did bury weapons and metalworks in the ground as sacrifices wot their gods and they did leave behind decorative pagan stone sculptures. The Celts buried their chieftains and leaders with their weapons, tools, drinking horns, food bowls and other things they might need in the afterlife. It seems that much of what archaeologists know of the Celts has come from burial sites.

When the Celts went to battle, they painted their bodies and faces, taking pride in their battlefield appearance. They wore personal adornments and carried elaborately ornate swords, shields, helmets and trumpets. Their metalworks were of gold, silver, bronze and other metals.

Next time, Christianity Comes to Ireland.

Here is a link to a timeline of Irish history for anyone interested.

 

Author: Darlene Franklin-Campbell

Poet, novelist, artist

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