A Brief History of Ancient Ireland

One thing I love about spending time in Ireland is the strong sense of history one feels in the place. Ireland is loaded with ancient sites. There are over 1,200 huge stone tombs, dating back to at least the Neolithic period (Stone Age) as well as numerous smaller passage tombs, court tombs, wedge tombs, and portal tombs. On any ramble through the countryside you are likely to encounter an ancient site. So I thought I’d share a brief history of prehistoric Ireland to give a feel for how ancient the history of Ireland really is.

Ireland emerged from the Ice Age sometime between 12,000 BC and 8,000 BC and plants and animals colonized via the land bridge that connected Ireland and Great Britain before sea level rose making Ireland an island surrounded by stormy seas. The first people probably arrived in Ireland around 7,000 BC.  As hunters and gatherers they didn’t leave much evidence of their presence beyond the remnants of campsites and round huts woven from branches. We do know that they chose to live where food was easily found including fish, berries, wild pig, salmon, trout, pigeons and ducks, and hazelnuts.

By 5,000 BC the hunter-gatherers developed farming communities with walls and fences enclosing people and their livestock. This made their existence easier and allowed the development of religion, art and myths. Around 4,000 BC, it appears farming people came by boat from the mainland bringing livestock, seeds and the tools needed to build more extensive communities. Using Neolithic axes, they gradually turned land that had been thick with oak forests into pastures and fields for crops.

These people were not only good farmers with highly organized communities but they were also extraordinary stone masons. They built Megalithic monuments that are a thousand years older than the Egyptian Pyramids and a thousand years older than Stonehenge. By the time work was actually begun on the Pyramids these Irish sites had already been abandoned.

The grandest achievement by these Neolithic builders is found in the Boyne River Valley, north of Dublin. Called the Valley of the Kings, it is home to Newgrange, the largest and best preserved of the monuments. Covering about an acre the entrance to the circular tomb is perfectly aligned so that at sunrise on Winter Solstice, around December 21, sunlight reaches all the way into the center. So we know that they had knowledge of the movements of the planets and stars.

Over thousands of years, legends, tales, stories, and religions have been passed down to explain the meanings of the Megaliths and the ceremonies held within. These ancient sites speak of power, respect for life death, and honoring the land. Yet no one knows for sure who they were and what there lives were like. Still I think the land of Ireland herself holds the memory of this. If you are open you can feel it when you spend time in these places.

If you enjoyed this blog subscribe to my free newsletter. Just click on the Mail List Subscribe tab in the column on the left and just enter your email or if you are interested in the trips I lead to to Ireland check out the Ireland Journeys tab.

Leave a Reply