A week too late unfortunately, but I recently became aware of yet another soul destroying sale of important Irish archaeological artefacts – right here in Dublin. On Novemeber 8th last, in their ‘History and Literature’ auction, Whyte’s Auctioneers included two ‘Iron Age stone heads’ for sale, amongst other Irish archaeological items. The stone sculptures could be early medieval in date, particularly the one associated with Lorrha, Co. Tipperary, although the other one bears strong similarities to several other insular stone figures, now housed in Armagh cathedral, including the famous Tanderagee Stone Figure. Whether Late Prehistoric, or Early Christian, such artefacts provide extremely rare evidence of monumentalized ritual sculpture from a very early period of Irish history/prehistory (although, without proper context, they can tell us precious little else about our ancestors).
The provenance of one of them is given as In the ownership of a family at Lorrha, Co. Tipperary for c. 100 years. A hundred years ago: 1912. If they know this, they should have a good idea where it was “found”.
The provenance of the other is given as From a 300 year old house, Claregalway, Co. Galway.
These artefacts are scattered all over the country, in churches, in ruined abbeys, castles, houses, walls, side of the road etc. What is to stop people chiselling away at what surrounds them and then carry them off? Decency and a sense of heritage usually does. But, if people see there is money to be made on these artefacts, they may not last much longer in situ in the countryside.
Aerial View: Tlachta/Hill of Ward, Co. Meath (Bing Maps)
Here’s one to watch: today marks the beginning of a three week archaeological exploration of the late prehistoric multivallate enclosure site at Tlachta/Hill of Ward, Athboy, Co. Meath. The project is led by Dr. Steve Davis of UCD School of Archaeology and Cathy Moore (in addition to a cast of ‘thousands’) and is funded by the Royal Irish Academy, Meath Co. Council, the OPW and the Heritage Council. Steve has been conducting geophysical and computer aerial surveys of the site in recent years and the current project is the result of some very exciting and tantalizing indications arising from same.
Tlachta, considered to be an extremely high status ceremonial enclosure site, is mysterious in terms of its original function and purpose. It loomed large in the medieval political scene and plays a recurring role in myth, legend and dindsenchas (Place Name Lore) – including a dubious, but nevertheless intriguing association with ‘druids’ and Halloween (Samhain). These archaeological investigations are an historic first for the site and hold the prospect of finally answering some of the many questions we have concerning its origin, activity and probable augmentation over time.
Seeing as today is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, I thought I’d share the earliest contemporary historical reference to pagan Irish sun-worship which is found within Patrick’s Confessio, written sometime in the fifth century AD. It occurs at the very climax of the document as Patrick is signing off and declaring his deep Christian faith and belief in his ‘children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ’…
One of many interesting facets of Patrician history and hagiography is the role that the saint has played in the creation and maintenance of both religious and cultural identities throughout Ireland and the rest of the world. Due to the enigmatic nature of his writings and the wholesale absence of ‘fixed’ historical & geographical points within them; Patrick has always been seen as an everyman figure for anyone who wishes to claim him.
Various religious identities in Ireland and Scotland have, at one stage or another, claimed legitimacy and descent from a church allegedly founded by him (Some still do!). Irish emigration in the eighteenth & nineteenth centuries used him as a vehicle for the expression of both ethnic and martial identity abroad. Irish independence in the twentieth century and more recently, increasing devolution within the United Kingdom has resulted in even more cultural avenues that occasionally seek to reach out and connect with him across the centuries.
Allowing for over-simplification, its easy to see why: Patrick was a (fifth century) Briton, most likely from an area bordering modern-day Scotland; who grew up speaking a form of early Welsh (Brythonic); who then spent considerable time in Ireland, speaking Irish, and writing to fellow Christians elsewhere in Latin. To any modern-day audiences seeking to view him in such a light; the historical Patrick offers up the very epitome of an early medieval multicultural mongrel. Continue reading →
No horses allowed! (Image: wallygrom / flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)
This last week has seen much media attention and online mirth concerning the discovery of horse meat in certain high street beef products on sale throughout Ireland and the UK. For a good round-up of the initial reports, see Slugger O’Toole’s post here which contains the following quote from the Chief Executive of FSAI:
“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger…”
The concept of a deep-seated cultural and/or religious abhorrence of horse meat within modern Ireland and Britain struck me as extremely interesting. The disgust expressed in some quarters over the thought of inadvertently ingesting the same reminded me of certain historical and archaeological parallels within our shared cultural legacy.
As far back as the early medieval period, there are indications that both insular and European ecclesiastical authorities not only disapproved of the practice, but actively engaged in efforts to dissuade others from partaking of the same. So apparently successful was this early Christian disparagement, that todays cultural condemnation could perhaps be argued as not only being derived from an early medieval repugnance towards horseflesh consumption; but perhaps even, an underlying revulsion to what it may have represented to early Christian mindsets. Continue reading →