Our established impressions of early Celtic Ireland have come down to us through the great Irish sagas: epic tales of heroic struggles between kings and warriors, of outlandish gods and wise Druids. But how do these images compare with the evidence revealed by the excavator's trowel? Recent archaeological research has transformed our understanding of the period. Reflecting this new generation of scholarship, Professor Barry Raftery presents the most convincing and up-to-date account yet published of Ireland in the millennium before the coming of Christianity. The transition from Bronze Age to Iron Age in Ireland brought many changes, not least the proliferation of imposing hillforts. Did these have a purely defensive role, or were they built for ceremonial or commercial purposes? When did the Celtic character of early Ireland emerge? New findings indicate that the construction of the country's great royal centers, such as Tara and Emain Macha, coincides with the first appearance in Ireland of the material culture of the European Celts - so-called La Tene artifacts. The author argues that these were the portable trappings of a rising aristocratic elite, which expressed its power by building highly visible monuments.
Professor Raftery also discusses the significant advances that took place in travel and transport, including the creation of the largest roadway in prehistoric Europe; the elusive lives of the common people; the idiosyncratic genius of the local metalsmiths; and the complex religious beliefs exemplified by standing stones, and offerings in rivers and lakes. He presents fascinating new material about Ireland's contacts with the Roman world, and in a final chapter he reviewsthe whole question of whether La Tene culture spread to Ireland through invasion or peaceful diffusion. Pagan Celtic Ireland is the definitive statement of what we currently know about the country's shadowy, Celtic origins. Generously illustrated throughout, it will be read avidly