In it, an attempt will be made to summarize the present state of research, taking into account the most recent findings and discoveries.It would not have been possible to write this book without the dedicated work of fellow archaeologists, alive and dead, who may be thanked here one and all for the contributions which they have made to the study of prehistoric Ireland.The Iron Age in Ireland has much to offer the historian of Celtic art, and the great fort of Dun Aenghus on the Aran Islands must surely be regarded as one of the most magnificent barbaric monuments to be found anywhere in Western Europe.It is the archaeology of Ireland's prehistoric period, up to the coming of Christianity, which forms the subject of this book.Not until 1699, however, when the Welsh antiquary Edward Lhuyd paid his initial visit to Ireland, did we have our first record in more recent times of a real interest in Ireland's prehistoric antiquities.
Furthermore, it was contemporary political reasons which led diligent chroniclers to compile genealogies for ruling families in order to trace their noble ancestry back as far as possible - even to the extent of tracing the line back to Adam and Eve!
But, for all their efforts, we can place no reliance on any documentary evidence which tells of happenings or people earlier than the fifth century AD, and it is, therefore, left to the interpretation of the archaeological record to tease out the story of Ireland before St Patrick's christianizing mission.
It is doubtless more than a mere coincidence that it is from the time of the synthesizing historians that we have what may be described as the first Irish archaeological report, in the form of an entry in the old Irish , telling of the finding of an outsize axe and spearhead in the river Galway in the year 1191.
It combines the solid groundwork of earlier generations of archaeologists with the great advances made in research during the last twenty years.
The latest thinking on the astronomical significance of megalithic tombs and the social implications of the great Bronze Age hoards is interwoven with an up-to-date account of the recent major excavations at sites such as Carrowmore, Rathgall and Navan Fort.