Celtic tribes of Ireland

Iron Age Ireland

The earliest references to Ireland come from Ancient Greek travellers. Yet these records come at a time when trade with Ireland was in decline, as Europe moved from the Bronze to the Iron Age. Ireland's deposits of gold and copper had once brought prosperity. Goldsmiths flourished in Bronze Age Ireland, leaving a wealth of jewellery and other art work. Leaner times were ahead. A climate change added to the woes of the Irish. More rain and less sun reduced farming in Ireland to a grim subsistence level. There was a decline in human activity and a related increase in wetlands and forest broadly from about 250 BC until 250 AD. The population must have fallen. Warfare was endemic.1C.S.M. Turney et al., Holocene climatic change and past Irish societal response, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 33, no. 1 (January 2006), pp. 34-38; D. Ó Cróinín (ed.), A New History of Ireland, vol 1: Prehistoric and early Ireland (2005), pp. lx, 140-7.

The tribal and place-names in Ireland listed by Ptolemy were Celtic, and many survive in Old or Middle Irish forms. The deduced Celtic name for Ireland - Iverio - from which its present name was derived, was known to the Greeks by the 4th century BC at least, possibly as early as the 6th century BC. The name meant the fertile land. It was Latinised to Hiernia or Hibernia. Its people were the Iverni. Significantly they were restricted to the south-west of Ireland by Ptolemy's day. Here cultural continuity can be traced from the Bronze to the Iron Age. It was the region of Ireland least affected by the incoming Hallstatt and La Tène styles. This adds up to strong evidence that Celtic speech arrived in Ireland long before the Iron Age. 2J. T. Koch, An Atlas for Celtic Studies (2007), pp. 13, 15, 18; J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-Europeans (2006), p. 261; Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1.

La Tène Culture

Distribution of beehive quernstones in IrelandBeehive quern at Bracken Hall Countryside Centre and Museum, Baildon, West YorkshireThe La Tène Culture of the Central European Celts spread into Britain in the late Iron Age. It arrived in northeastern Ireland from northern Britain around 200 BC and spread across the island north of a Dublin-Galway line. Along with it came the first rotary querns in Ireland. These were a particular type of beehive quern known also in northern England and southern Scotland. Although the humble quern tends not to be found on the same sites as high-status La Tène objects, they are part of the same picture. Three have been found with ornament of La Tène type. The rotary quern was a technological leap forward from the saddle quern which had been in use since Neolithic times. For millennia grinding corn was back-breaking work, using a hand stone to crush the grain on the large, concave saddle stone. Rotary querns took some of the labour out of grinding before the invention of the water-mill. The Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-M222 is found in Northern Ireland, Lowland Scotland and Northern England and may reflect the arrival of La Tène in Ireland (see Uí Néill). 3J. T. Koch, An Atlas for Celtic Studies (2007), pp.19, 150; S. Caulfield, The beehive quern in Ireland, Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland Journal, vol. 107 (1977), pp. 107-39; G. Mulrooney, It takes two to Tango: a review of beehive querms, Proceedings of the Association of Young Irish Archaelogists: Annual Conference 2006 , ed. K. Cleary and G. McCarthy (2006), pp. 39-52.

Five provinces

Irish peoples and polities c.800 AD. Click to enlarge in new window Early Irish literature preserves a tradition of the division of Ireland into five provinces or kingdoms (cúige - literally meaning fifth part), four of which are familiar from historic times: Connachta, (Connaught), Laighin (Leinster), Mhumhain (Munster) and Ulaidh (Ulster). Generations of scholars have been bemused to see so little correspondence between Ptolemy's map and this early medieval political structure. Of the kingdoms, only Ulaidh (Ulster) can be equated with one of Ptolemy's tribal names. Certainly there was considerable political change in Ireland post-Ptolemy. Boundaries were fluid. Dynasties rose and fell. The Uí Néill, descendants of Niall, so prominent on the map of Ireland by 800 AD, gained their ascendancy from around the 6th century AD. 4D. Ó Cróinín, Ireland, 400-800, in D. Ó Cróinín (ed.), A New History of Ireland, vol 1 (2005), pp. 182-234. Yet one boundary is centuries older than Ptolemy's record. The Black Pig's Dyke is an intermittant linear earthwork that seems to mark the ancient boundary of Ulster. One stretch of it in Co. Monaghan has been dated between 500 BC and 25 BC BC. Surviving stretches link natural boundary or defensive features such as rivers, lochs and bogs, creating one long deterrent to invasion or cattle raiding.5J. T. Koch, An Atlas for Celtic Studies (2007), p. 110 and map 14.1; Aidan Walsh, Excavation at the Black Pig's Dyke, Clogher Record, Vol. 14, No. 1 (1991), pp. 9-26.

See also Irish Surnames and Y-DNA.

Notes

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  1. C.S.M. Turney et al., Holocene climatic change and past Irish societal response, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 33, no. 1 (January 2006), pp. 34-38; D. Ó Cróinín (ed.), A New History of Ireland, vol 1: Prehistoric and early Ireland (2005), pp. 140-7.
  2. J. T. Koch, An Atlas for Celtic Studies (2007), pp. 13, 15, 18; J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-Europeans (2006), p. 261; Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1.
  3. J. T. Koch, An Atlas for Celtic Studies (2007), pp.19, 150; S. Caulfield, The beehive quern in Ireland, Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland Journal, vol. 107 (1977), pp. 107-39; G. Mulrooney, It takes two to Tango: a review of beehive querms, Proceedings of the Association of Young Irish Archaelogists: Annual Conference 2006, ed. K. Cleary and G. McCarthy (2006), pp. 39-52.
  4. D. Ó Cróinín, Ireland, 400-800, in D. Ó Cróinín (ed.), A New History of Ireland, vol. 1 (2005), pp. 182-234.
  5. J. T. Koch, An Atlas for Celtic Studies (2007), p. 110 and map 14.1; Aidan Walsh, Excavation at the Black Pig's Dyke, Clogher Record, Vol. 14, No. 1 (1991), pp. 9-26.
  6. G. Toner, Identifying Ptolemy's Irish places and tribes, in D.N. Parsons and P. Sims-Williams (eds.), Ptolemy: Towards a Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-Names of Europe (2000), 73-82.
  7. J. T. Koch, Celtic Culture: a historical encyclopedia (2006), pp. 284-5.
  8. Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1.
  9. R.A.S. Macalister, Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum, vol. 1 (Dublin 1945), no. 244.
  10. J. Carney, Language and literature to 1169 in D. Ó Cróinín (ed.), A New History of Ireland, vol. 1 (2005), pp. 477-8, 485.
  11. Annals of the Four Masters.
  12. Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B. 502, olim The Book of Glendalough (written c. AD 1130), section 23, no. 265. Electronic edition compiled by Donnchadh Ó Corráin: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G105003/index.html.
  13. G. Toner, Identifying Ptolemy's Irish places and tribes, in D.N. Parsons and P. Sims-Williams (eds.), Ptolemy: Towards a Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-Names of Europe (2000), 73-82.
  14. G. Toner, Identifying Ptolemy's Irish places and tribes, in D.N. Parsons and P. Sims-Williams (eds.), Ptolemy: Towards a Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-Names of Europe (2000), 73-82; J. E. Fraser, From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795 (2009), pp. 159-160; J.T. Koch, Celtic Culture: a historical encyclopedia (2006), p. 556.
  15. J.T. Koch, Celtic Culture: a historical encyclopedia (2006), p. 750; P. de Bernardo Stempel, Linguistically Celtic ethnonyms: towards a classification, in Juan Luis Garcia Alonso (ed.), Celtic and Other Languages in Ancient Europe, pp. 101-118. Ediciones Universidad Salamanca 2008.
  16. V.J. Keeley, Ballydavis Early Iron Age Complex, in I Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1995: summary accounts of archaeological excavations in Ireland (1996), pp. 51-2.
  17. R. Darcy and W. Flynn, Ptolemy's map of Ireland: a modern decoding, Irish Geography, vol. 41, no. 1 (March 2008), pp. 49-69.
  18. Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1.
  19. Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1.
  20. G. Toner, Identifying Ptolemy's Irish places and tribes, in D.N. Parsons and P. Sims-Williams (eds.), Ptolemy: Towards a Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-Names of Europe (2000), 73-82.
  21. G. Toner, Identifying Ptolemy's Irish places and tribes, in D.N. Parsons and P. Sims-Williams (eds.), Ptolemy: Towards a Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-Names of Europe (2000), 73-82; J. T. Koch, An Atlas for Celtic Studies (2007), p. 18.
  22. Caesar, Gallic Wars, II.4; III.9, 28; IV.4, 22, 38; VI.2, 5, 6, 9, 22.
  23. Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1.
  24. Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1.
  25. Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1.
  26. John Mac Neill, Early Irish population-groups: their nomenclature, classification, and chronology, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature vol. 29, (1911/1912), pp. 59-114.
  27. Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1; Paul Orosius, A History Against the Pagans, book 1, section 2, para 80.
  28. Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, II.1.
  29. A. Mac an Bhaird, Ptolemy revisited, Ainm: Bulletin of the Ulster Place-Name Society, vol. 5 (1991-3), pp. 1-20.
  30. B. Lacey, Cenél Conaill and the Donegal Kingdoms AD 500-800 (2006), p. 101; T. B. Graham and E. M. Jope, A bronze brooch and ibex-headed pin from the sandhills at Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, vol. 13, (1950), pp. 54-56.
  31. R. Darcy and W. Flynn, Ptolemy's map of Ireland: a modern decoding, Irish Geography, vol. 41, no. 1 (March 2008), pp. 49-69; J. T. Koch, An Atlas for Celtic Studies (2007), pp. 19-20.