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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.

by Peter Harbison Although one of the last corners of Europe to have been settled by man, Ireland is particularly rich in prehistoric remains.

The great passage-tomb of Newgrange, dating to the fourth millennium BC, has become internationally famous since the discovery of its orientation towards the rising sun at the winter solstice, and excavations at the neighbouring tomb of Knowth have given unprecedented insight into the wealth of Irish megalithic art.

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.

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.

Or, perhaps better, the first of its Golden Ages - the second one being dealt with in Maire and Liam de Paor's , which may be regarded as the sequel to this volume in the Ancient Peoples and Places series.But work both in America and Europe on the number of annual rings contained in tree-trunks which have also been radiocarbon dated, has shown that radiocarbon years do not correspond to actual calendar years, the radiocarbon years often being hundreds of years too young.In order to distinguish radiocarbon years from the actual calendar years before or after the birth of Christ (given in capitals as bc or ad), the radiocarbon dates quoted here are followed by the same two letters, but printed in lower case, thus - bc or ad.But despite the strength of oral tradition in Ireland, the work of the synthesizing historians who composed the Book need not be taken too literally, for the events they purported to describe are alleged to have taken place 1,000 years or more before they were written down.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!