ANCIENT IRELAND by Laurence Flanagan


Life Before the Celts
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A monotonous, jargon-riddled analysis of stone, bone, and burial remains left behind by the ancient Irish, telling us almost nothing about how these long-dead people lived. Irish archaeologist Flanagan divides his account into two parts: first, he examines in meticulous detail the excavated artifacts of the pre-Celtic Irish and second, he attempts to use this archaeological evidence to explore the social, economic, and political systems of these prehistoric people. Hence, the book begins with an exhaustive, and exhausting, discussion of stone artifacts from the Mesolithic Period (8000—4000 b.c.). Flanagan’s narrative, brimming with technical terms left unexplained, is sure to confuse and frustrate the nonarchaeologist reader. This, for example, is how he describes a Neolithic Period (4000—2000 b.c.) tomb discovered in County Tipperary: “Here a two-chambered gallery set in a rather U-shaped cairn, rivetted with a combination of non-contiguous orthostats and dry-stone walling, was further embellished by a series of thirty-four posts set to echo the outline of the rivetment.” Later, Flanagan refers to artifacts made of felsite, which he unhelpfully defines as “a devitrified volcanic glass.” Flanagan himself seems to understand the limited value of these artifacts in explaining the daily lives of the ancient Irish. “They are simply dissociated artefacts and reveal little about their makers and users,” he says, “how do we persuade them to tell their stories?” Unfortunately, Flanagan provides very few answers. The existence of tombs, for instance, indicates they may have had religious beliefs. The requirements of large-scale agriculture suggests they had some system of government. Bronze Age swords possibly indicate the concept of war. Faced with incomplete evidence, Flanagan simply isn’t able to provide anything more definitive. The difficult early chapters don’t result in any payoff at the end; surely a disappointing volume for the general reader interested in more than inarticulate rocks and bones. (300 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: March 8th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-21881-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999