• Home  / 
  • Ireland
  •  /  Early Ireland, The Iron Age And The Celts

Early Ireland, The Iron Age And The Celts

By photosearth / June 14, 2017

Stone of Turoe, Co. Galway, Ireland. Phot by Dirk Huth.

The Celts have had a great influence on Ireland. Evidence of this can be found in the early art. A style of art called La Tene, that was practiced in Europe and evidence of this has been found in the northern part of Ireland.  An example of this is the Turo stone, a granite stone decorated in a Celtic style located in the village of Bullaun, County Galway, Ireland. It probably dates to about the period 100 BC to 100 AD. The stone is now positioned in a covered protective structure on the lawn in front of Turoe House, set in a concrete base surrounded by a metal cattle grill. The Turoe stone is National Monument of Ireland.

The Iron Age And The Celts

By Enda McLarnon

The Bronze Age ended as iron was introduced into Ireland, around the sixth century BC. What is interesting is that this knowledge of iron-working reached Britain around 800 BC, and there is very little evidence of the use of iron in Ireland. Some metal objects have been found but mainly in rivers and lakes and this makes them impossible to date with any degree of certainty. Celtic speaking people existed in Europe and it seems pretty clear that they also came to and existed in Ireland. It can not however be assumed that they are responsible for the introduction of the metal iron into Ireland. It is important to note that the Romans never came to Ireland and may explain many of the cultural differences and also a gap in technology.

There is however a style of art called La Tene, that was practised in Europe and evidence of this has been found in the northern part of Ireland. This culture centred in Switzerland around 1500-1000 BC and then expanded across Europe around 400 BC. The culture was removed by the Romans and existed only in places which had not been influenced by the Romans, and Ireland was one of those. This culture is associated with advanced forms of metalwork, decorative ornamentation, jewelry and goldsmithery and these were the strengths of the Celts.

The Celts who had a reputation for being fearsome warriors were defeated due to the political nature of their culture which consisted of a loose network of tribal societies rather than a centralised authority which the Romans clearly possessed. The earlier Hallstatt civilisation was based in Austria and then shifted to the Rhine and the Alps with trade missions to Spain, Britain and Ireland. They settled all of Gaul but their culture impact did vary from region to region, and was based on trade rather than by violence. There are some stones in Ireland that show the wonderful inscriptions of the La Tene culture such as the Castlestrange Stone in County Roscommon.

The weapons of this period point to one thing, the importance of close quarter fighting. Weapons used are swords, spears; bronze trumpets and these were found along with gold ornaments. Another interesting find has been various horse trappings, including bridle bits. We also know that a form of wooden tracking has been uncovered in County Longford.

The most significant that we can ascertain from this period is that Ireland did indeed possess a spoken language. That language was a Celtic one and it became the language of that day. Archaeological evidence does teach us that the Celts came to Ireland between 500 BC and 500 AD. Quite often Gaul is directly associated with the Celts and it is best explained like this. The area known as Gaul included all of France, Belgium and most of Switzerland. The word Gaul does get equated with the word Keltoi or Celt, but not all of Gaul was actually Celtic. There were areas of Gaul that had associations with other races, Iberian, Ligurian, Greeks at Marseilles and Germans from along the Rhine.

Despite this, we know that the legacy of the Celts lives on and we know that because of the language. Celts spoke what is known as an Indo-European language which developed into “P-Celtic,” and this was known as the speech of Britain and Gaul, ancestor of Welsh and Breton, and also into Q-Celtic, the language of the people of Ireland, ancestor of the Gaelic and now the Irish language.

The Celts did have a primitive alphabet known as the Ogam or Ogham which used a series of notches, cut into the edge of a stone. The Q Celts could not pronounce the letter “p” so they either didn’t use it or changed it to a “q” type sound. Speakers of Irish can understand Scots Gaelic but will not be able to understand Welsh or Breton at all, as for the last 2,000 years these languages have grown and developed. What is strange about the Celts is that where other peoples left their various marks on the Irish landscape, that is not the same for the Celts, yet they developed a language that is still surviving and spoken today.

To summarise in P-Celtic the word for son is “Mab” which is linked with Gaul or Brythonic (British), whereas in Q-Celtic the word for son is “Mac” in Goidelic and can be seen on primitive Irish Ogham inscriptions. Remember that the Celts were a loose amalgam of tribes and as such they left little behind except the form of writing known as either Ogam or Ogham. This script was used in Ireland from around the 4th to the 8th Century.

There is very little written evidence in existence to generate a picture of what Ireland must have looked like in these times. There are some small pieces of information available from writers like, Gaius Julius Solinus, a Latin grammarian, Tactitus a Roman historian, and Strabo the Greek. The common theme from all these early writers is that they viewed Ireland as being situated on the edge of the known world at that time, that its inhabitants were classed as barbaric and that Ireland, simply because of its location would be rich in crops and free of any pestilence.

A quite unknown fact and sometimes I think intentionally forgotten was that Solinus actually recorded that there were no snakes in Ireland a good two hundred years before the arrival of Saint Patrick. Hopefully that answers a question I am often asked about Saint Patrick banishing the snakes from Ireland. Snakes did not exist in Ireland since the Ice Age, so he could not have banished what did not exist!

Ireland never was part of the Roman Empire but was no doubt influenced by it as it lay close to its neighbour Britain. Roman power there declined in the fifth century AD and the Irish started to plunder there. The most successful of these was the Dal Riata of the Glens of Antrim who plundered the districts of Argyll and the Hebrides. Again quite an unknown fact was that the Romans called Ireland Scotia, but such was the impact of the Dal Riata community at that time on their successful plundering, the name Scotia was transferred to that area, and as such Scotland was born. This also happened in parts of Wales.

By Enda McLarnon

I am an avid reader of anything to do with Irish History and have been studying this subject for many year. I trust you find this article informative.



Rick Steves Ireland 2017

Rick Steves Ireland 2017You can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when traveling in Ireland.

With this guide, you can explore lively Dublin, quaint Kilkenny, and the moss-draped ruins of the Ring of Kerry. Navigate meandering back roads that lead to windswept crags on the dramatic Dingle Peninsula. Explore Ireland’s revered past by following St. Patrick’s footsteps to the Rock of Cashel. Marvel at Newgrange, the mysterious mound older than the pyramids; then connect with today’s Irish culture by grabbing a pint at the local pub, enjoying the fiddle music, and jumping into conversations that buzz with brogue.

Lonely Planet Ireland (Travel Guide)


Newgrange passage grave. Photo by Shira.

Newgrange is a Stone Age (Neolithic) monument in the Boyne Valley, County Meath. Newgrange was constructed about 5,200 years ago (3,200 B.C.) which is believed to be before Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza.


Brú na Bóinne aerial picture by Pasztilla.


Leave a comment:

Leave a comment: