Ancient Ireland: Life Before the Celts, by Laurence Flanagan

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

–“A Drinking Song,” W.B. Yeats

Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re going to find when you pick up a book off the library shelf.

Flanagan is an archaeologist and the former Keeper of Antiquities at the Ulster Museum, Belfast. As the subtitle says, this is about life in Ireland before the Celts. As far as how people really lived, it’s all pretty speculative, but there is some evidence–mostly from tombs and hoards. There are some human remains to examine, but not many. The author says that the acidic soil dissolves most bones unless they were from cremated remains.

Settlement of Ireland is thought to have begun at Mount Sandel. The author never explains where that is or puts it on any of the numerous maps in the book. I had to look it up on Wikipedia–it’s in the north, in County (London)Derry. Some scholars speculate that the first colonists came from Scotland, but if Sandel truly was the first landing site, it would not have been visible from Scotland. But Flanagan also points out that no ancient settlements contemporary with those found at Sandel have been located in Scotland.

There are chapters on manufacturing, nutrition, clothing, but the bulk of the book is devoted to what is actually known–the daggers, axes, and tombs that were left. The cover has a photo of a “portal tomb” or dolmen–the way that the makers of Stonehenge wrote pi.

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