I have been going on about archeological and geological times frames, periods and epochs recently and I want to try and put this into some kind of framework with regard to Ireland and the first people to inhabit the island.
The tables below show the most recent information I can find with reference to the periods mentioned.
pre 8800 BCE
8800 – 4900 BCE
4900 – 2100 BCE
|Nomadic hunting and gathering groups||Transition between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, the “Middle Stone Age”. Start and end dates vary by geographical region. begining with the Holocene warm period and ending with the start of the Neolithic era. Ireland initially colonised during this period, most probably from Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales through existing land bridges.
|c. 3800 – Farming widely adopted in Ireland over just a few centuries. Herding, polished stone axes, megalithic tombs and pottery almost identical to those found in Britain, suggesting a common origin or on-going contacts between the islands. Late Neolithic Grooved style pottery replaced by new Beaker tyle ceramics c. 2500 BCE|
2100 -500 BCE
1100 – 1 BCE
56 BCE – 420 CE
The arrival of the irish language?
|2100- 750||2100- 1500
The megaliths and the use of copper and tin, ushered in the early Irish Bronze Age
|Early Iron Age
|Developed Iron Age
400 – 1 BCE
Initial contact with Roman World
|Late Iron Age
AD 1 – 400
|1500 – 1200|
|1200 – 500|
Before I go any further I want to assert the fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the earliest inhabitants of Ireland – during the Meseolithic and / or Neolithic Era – spoke Irish, Gaelic, or any form of a Celtic language until thousands of years after the first arrivals, no matter what the Lebor Gabála Érenn, The Book of the Taking of Ireland or, as it is more commonly known, The Book of Invasions, claims. This is a collection of poems and prose narratives that presents itself as a chronological “history” of Ireland and the Irish, the earliest of which was compiled by anonymous scribes during the 11th century and is regarded as part of the Mythological Cycle of Old irish documents followed by the Ulster Cycle, from which I drew the the inspiration for my novel, Raiding Cooley. Updated in the 12th century with Christian overtones, the aim of which was to provide Ireland and its kings with a genealogical lineage dating back to the earliest biblical times.
The difficulty here is trying to match the Mythological origins of Ireland with the hard archeological, genetic and linguistic evidence currently available.
The Lebor Gabála tells of Ireland being invaded six times by six groups of people:
The people of Cessair, the descendants of Noah, (direct evidence that biblical stories were incorporated into a sanitised version of the mythology), who first came to Ireland clung to the coast but later abandoned the country. Next were the people of Partholón, but he and his people died of a plague. Nemedians, supposedly from Scythia, were next but they left, having been continually harrassed by fierce sea robbers, the Formorians, from their base on Tory Island.
The Fir Bolg, (or Bag Men), descendants of the Nemedians returned, supposedly from Greece but more likely from Gaul and are credited with the erection of the great stone forts such as Dún Aengus on the Aran Islands as well as the division of the island into the five fifths – Ulaidh, Laighin, Connachta, Dá Mumhain and the central territory of Midhe. The fifth group were the Tuatha Dé Danann who were credited with magical powers and later came to represent Ireland’s pagan gods. Under their king, Nuada of the Silver Hand, they defeated the Fir Bolg and later destroyed the power of the Formorians who still infested the island. To them, the great passage tombs at Newgrange are ascribed as well as the Stone of Destiny upon which the High Kings of Ireland were later crowned on the Hill of Tara.
The final group, the Milesians, represent the Irish people (the Gaels) and arrived sometime between 1700 – 1000 BCE after extensive travelling from (again) Scythia, Greece, Egypt (?) and Spain.
Archeologically, it seems certain then that different groups of people, some from the north of Atlantic Europe and some from the South, reached Ireland at different times since the start of the Meseolithic period.
So, who were these first people, and where did they come from? I will come back to this in later blogs.