So that such information may be available in a convenient printed form it is proposed
to give an outline here of the present state of knowledge concerning those classes
of antiquities most frequently met with in the Irish countryside, and it is hoped
that our brief notes will make them intelligible to the inquiring layman. Monuments,
(churches, high crosses, round towers, and so on) belonging specifically to Early
Christianity are not dealt with here, since their study involves the subjects of
architecture and art rather than archaeology proper, and it is proposed to confine
our survey to the types of monuments most common throughout the country.
For many episodes opportunities for the exploitation of this approach are manifest through such techniques as detailed mapping, soil and vegetation studies etc. The recognition of natural regions and barriers and their effect on settlement can yield useful results. The regions occupied by different groups can tell us a good deal about economic requirements and the capabilities of the various groups to exploit and sometimes alter their environment. The effect of other contemporary groups on the extent of settlement, however difficult to assess, cannot be ignored. In the present state of knowledge conclusions must often be tentative and the sketch given in the Introduction should be read with this constantly in mind. It is given, not with any claim to finality but in the hope of stimulating interest and research in what must surely be in the future a fertile field.
In view of modern trends which eschew the idea of invasion some of what I have written
will doubtless be dismissed as outdated 'invasionism'. It is true that often in the past
the beginnings of new types in a given area were too readily assumed to represent invasions.
It is equally true that the arrival of totally new ranges of monuments and material has been
explained as some vague spread of ideas with no appreciable immigration. As always the truth
lies between. I can only say that within the narrow limits of the pages of the Introduction
I have tried to indicate how far the various episodes suggest a sizeable number of immigrants.
That some colonization and lesser immigration took place need cause no surprise, for such are
well in evidence in both Britain and Ireland in historic times. It is of course entirely another
matter to decide whether any incursion was warlike or peaceful and on this in prehistory we have
seldom sufficient evidence to pass judgement. I trust also that in speaking of new arrivals it is
clear that the indigenous population would normally have survived and doubtless have influenced
in their own way subsequent developments.
Those who are familiar with archaeological literature of recent times may be surprised
or disappointed that I have given short shrift to theories concerning exact orientation
and standardized measurement in regard to megalithic monuments — tombs, circles and alignments.
These theories often imply a deep and detailed knowledge of complex astronomical phenomena
and a grasp of mathematical procedures on the part of man in megalithic times. They are supported
by an array of figures, formulae, statistics and computer procedures with which most archaeologists
are less than adequately acquainted. However, all too often the mathematics can be shown to be
faulty and logic and simple commonsense to be lacking. There is now available a large body
of evidence from Ireland which indicates a broad adherence to general orientation customs
in certain classes of tombs and circles which is readily explained in terms of the general
knowledge of ordinary country folk of the main directions such as we would nowadays call North,
South, East and West.
Many Christian graves and churches are roughly aligned east and west and the ill luck attending the man who extends his house westwards is proverbial still in parts of Ireland. No detailed observation or precise alignment is implied in these and no such implication is required to explain the orientation of megalithic monuments. One wonders if it is not part of a tendency apparent in many spheres in recent times — to seek after and even invent the spectacular, the mysterious, let alone the occult, beloved of modern media of communication. There are surely enough mysteries in life without creating more. Knowledge of our roots should be firmly grounded not set in fantasy. I think Ó Ríordáin, ar dheis Dé go raibh sé, would approve.
Ruaidhrí de Valera
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