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.
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
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
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.