History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

28 January 2007

Lynna Banning: The Pre-history of Ireland

By 30,000 B.C., Native Americans were walking from Russia to Alaska by land bridge. While land bridges did link Ireland and Britain, there is no archeological trace of people in Ireland until 10,000 B.C.Archeologists have found evidence of flints worked into ax heads as early as 7000 B.C., when hunter-gathering tribes began arriving either by land bridge or boat (coracle or the larger curragh). These people settled in bands of about 25, built shelters, and domesticated the Irish wolfhound. By 4500 B.C. the first farmers started to migrate in gradual waves from southwest Scotland. The land was covered with pine, oak, elm, and hazel trees and by bogs. Immigrants trickled in, family by family, over a period of a thousand years at a time when Jericho, Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus Valley were developing urban centers. The newcomers formed small farmsteads of 10 or so people.At most the population of all Ireland during this era was only a few thousand; 200 building sites have been discovered, usually located near water, either the coast, lakes, or rivers. The inhabitants built round huts 20 feet in diameter out of tree branches and animal skins, andthey survived on fish (mostly salmon and eel), plus domesticated pig, hare, wild birds, nuts, and wild pears. They grew wheat and barley, fenced their fields with dry stone walls, and raised pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle. Cattle ownership later became the primary source of status. Ireland was not homogeneous at this time; instead it was a potpourri of differing customs, rituals, and pagan religions which co-existed. By the Bronze Age, 2400 B.C., copper was mined and craftsmen worked in gold, though no gold mines have been found. The few weapons discovered indicate a peaceful lifestyle, with status deriving from ancestral lineage and only later from ownership of prestigious material goods. Religious festivals were held among circles of “standing stones.” Writing did not come to Ireland until the 5th century A.D. with the arrival of Christian monks. Instead, scholars memorized and recited history and Brehon law.In 1159 B.C. a single environmental event occurred (shown by painstaking study of tree rings)–possibly a volcanic eruption-- which brought 18 years of failed harvests, disruption, and chaos throughout Europe, lasting until 1141 B.C. Interestingly, under the stress of that era, the Irish tribes and other peoples across Europe became both more warlike and more religious. This later gave rise to the growth of rival Irish kingdoms and, even later, to the concept of a “high king.”
–Lynna BanningPrimary source: Carmel McCaffrey, In Search of Ancient Ireland


Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Fascinating, Lynna. I read your post and try to picture what the people looked like, how they dressed, and what their customs were about marriage and coming of age, health and death. So much to imagine. What I'd love to see is a color atlas of "what life must have been like" in Ireland, 10,000 BC. Primal, tough and mystic I bet.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Lynna, I hope you don't mind my asking a question about later Irish history. . . I read a romance a long time ago that was based in Ireland around the time of the Roman colonization(??) of the British Isles. Ireland was tribal at the time (and warlike) and the men all lived together in dormitory-like housing. They did NOT live with their families, and very close relationships with other men (think Greek, ahem, ahem) was encouraged. Marriage was strictly for procreation and not for companionship.

Have you ever heard of this? Is it true? I was struck by it, because I'd never heard anything of the like it in Western civilization outside someplace like Sparta.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

The answer I wrote you apparently didn't get published...
or did it?

11:26 AM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Answer for Vicky...
The Romans never reached Ireland...
Only the Roman soldiers in Britain lived in the dorm housing; but other colonizing Roman families did live in Britain, in houses (remains of mozaic floors, etc. can still be seen). If someone laid all this culture on an Irish setting, they're confused.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Now I'm gonna have to look into this mystery! Maybe it was Scotland (I read it a long time ago), but the Romans weren't directly involved in the story. Hmmm. I'll get back to you.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Maire Claremont said...

Hi! I studied Ireland while in University and am Irish, myself. Romans never colonized Ireland (Hibernia). They tried but didn't want to deal with the people who were two fierce and battled beside their wives. Its an interseting note, that roman generals reported that the wives fought beside their husbands in battle. Their overall Goddess was female, Danu. I am a little confused as to Ireland's first writing. They did have a written, though primitive written language known as Ogham.
Some fantastic books about Irish life and mythology are: The world of the druids by Miranda Green, Mythology of the Celtic People by Charles Squire, Celtic Mythology by Geddes and Grosset.

10:58 AM  

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