The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape

Part One: From Celtic to Christian, Pre-history to the twelfth century, page 1

Irish history is defined by two key struggles: the external struggle--the conflict between Ireland and the invader; and the internal struggle--the conflict between the Irish themselves.  The internal struggle often turns upon such questions as who is “really” Irish, who should rule Ireland, and especially who belongs to the true, authentic Irish tradition--questions still very alive today. Throughout these two struggles, a number of heroes and key events have emerged, providing a kind of historical mythology that parallels and often overlaps with traditional Irish mythology. 

The idea of the authentic, or native, Irish is vexed from the beginning.  We know little of the people who were “indigenous” to Ireland in prehistoric times. Farming communities existed in Ireland as much as 5,000 years ago, during the Stone Age.  The Irish landscape is marked by the presence of these people, particularly in their enormous burial sites.  The great "Portal Tomb" at Poulnabrune (which dates to perhaps the 4th millennium B.C.) is a fine example of such a site.   So too are the various remains of temples and royal burial chambers, which show evidence of sun-worship, such as the great monument at Newgrange (constructed around 3,100 B.C., centuries before the Egyptian pyramids).  And before historic records, seats of kingship such as the Hill of Tara were prominent in the culture of these Stone and Bronze Age peoples. These magnificent prehistoric sites are often linked to Irish mythology in the hazy mists of legend and folklore.

A general time-frame for the ancient world:

Stone Age: roughly pre-history up to about 3,000 B.C.

Bronze Age: roughly 3,000 to 1,000 B.C.

Iron Age: roughly 1,000 B.C. up to perhaps as late as 2nd or 3rd centuries A.D.


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