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In Search of Ancient Ireland: The Origins of the Irish from Neolithic Times to the Coming of the English Paperback – June 11, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

Review and fascinating material challenging many myths. (Lawrence J. McCaffrey, Emeritus Professor of History, Loyola University of Chicago)

Your search for the roots of Irish history and culture begins here, with this marvelous book. (Terry Golway The New York Observer)

Journeys across the centuries to explore fabled Erin's remarkable past and uncover the real story behind the island nation's rich global legacy. (Irish Connections)

In bite-sized morsels that accommodate the busy lives of modern readers Search tells us about both the major figures central to momentous events and the daily lives of commoners. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

As much as can be excavated or deduced of ancient history is superbly featured with a wealth of fine detail in this fascinating and highly readable resource. (Library Bookwatch)

...A clearly recommended pick for anyone interested in an updated, scholarly research tool covering the latest truths about Irish history.... Provides an important gateway to understanding early Irish roots. (The Bookwatch)

...An illuminating look at the new finds and scholarship and their place in Ireland's past.... The deft and meticulously researched prose...brings ancient Ireland to vivid life. (Bostonirish.Com)

A great story, interesting to read and appealing to anyone with an interest in Ireland...A readable history...poignant, not pedantic. (Virginia Garnett Carroll County Times)

From the Publisher

This engaging book traces the history, archaeology, and legends of ancient Ireland from 9000 B.C., when nomadic hunter-gatherers appeared in Ireland at the end of the last Ice Age-to 1167 A.D., when an Anglo-Norman invasion brought the country under control of the English crown for the first time. So much of what people today accept as ancient Irish history-Celtic invaders from Europe turning Ireland into a Celtic nation; St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland and converting its people to Christianity-is myth and legend with little basis in reality.

The truth is more interesting. The Irish, as the authors show, are not even Celtic in an archaeological sense. And there were plenty of bishops in Ireland before a British missionary called Patrick arrived. But In Search of Ancient Ireland is not simply the story of events from long ago. Across Ireland today are ancient sites and folk customs that provide tangible links to events thousands of years past. The authors visit and describe many of these places, talking to a wide variety of historians, archeologists and language scholars, in the very settings where history happened. Thus the book is also a journey on the ground to uncover ten thousand years of Irish identity. It is all here, from the Celtic culture to the rise of the uniquely Irish Christian spirituality to the final chapter which deals with the complex events that lead to the English invasion of the island.

In Search of Ancient Ireland is the official companion to the PBS series of the same name. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; Reprint edition (June 11, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156663525X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566635257
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Carmel McCaffrey is an Irish born author and lectures on Irish history, literature, culture, and language at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. She has also taught classes on the native language of Ireland, the Irish language.

She was the series historical consultant for the three part PBS/RTÉ TV series 'In Search of Ancient Ireland' and co-author of the accompanying book of the same title. McCaffrey is also the author of the book 'In Search of Ireland's Heroes: The Story of the Irish from the English Invasion to the Present Day'. She founded and edited the literary review Wild About Wilde (1986-96) dedicated to the works of the 19th-century Irish author, Oscar Wilde.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Tim F. Martin on April 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
_In Search of Ancient Ireland_ by Carmel McCaffrey and Leo Eaton is a well-written and thorough tour of Irish history from Neolithic times following the last Ice Age up into the 12th century.

Chapter one looked at the first Irish people. The chapter began with the authors touring the Irish countryside examining eskers, long gravel ridges left behind by retreating glaciers, features that once served as elevated roads relatively free of vegetation, useful to Ireland's first arrivals. Although there is debate over whether a land-bridge still existed at the time between Britain and Ireland, the first people to settle Ireland arrived in small family groups around 9000 BC, having left southwest Scotland for northeast Ireland. The authors discussed Mount Sandel, a Mesolithic site dating to around 7000 BC. Notable finds from the camp include fulacht fiadh (also known from the Bronze Age), essentially mounds of fire-heated stones that were used to boil water for cooking. More dramatic though are the 1500 megalithic structures from Neolithic Ireland built largely between 4000-2000 BC, structures that are evidence of large communities with considerable organization. The authors discussed dolmans, court tombs, and wedge tombs.

Chapter two reviewed Bronze Age Ireland, which began around 2400 BC. The authors examined a Bronze Age mine, the famous stone circles of the era (hundreds of all sizes were constructed between the end of the Neolithic and the start of the Iron Age around 500 BC), the importance of cattle (as one expert said, "raising cattle is the key to understanding Ireland...
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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is not your average history book in that the story of ancient Ireland flows off the pages to entertain and delight. It is a well written, lyrical and well researched history of ancient Ireland. The writers take us to the top of pagan ritual mounds and inside ancient caves, crawling through dark passageways. They visit monasteries where the residents have long since vanished but the ghosts of the past remain to haunt and remind us of an Ireland that once was noble and classical in its learning. When Europe entered its Dark Age, Ireland and the Irish were there to bring the light of scholarship back. I have read other books on this subject but there is so much that is new here. McCaffrey and Eaton consult with the best Irish archeologists, historians and anthropologists to tell their story of Ireland's ancient past with a clarity that is refreshing and enlightening.
I loved reading this book and felt as if I had gone back in time and that the past was alive again. An Irish past that I did not even realize existed! Different characters jumped off the pages - St. Patrick, Brian Boru, an interesting king/bishop called Feidlimid MacCrimthannn and even the Vikings all take on a real form. The research into the period is excellent, dispelling many myths and giving the correct sources. I loved reading the quotes from the ancient Irish annals and learning of the current archeological discoveries. This book is an excellent source book for everything you want to know about ancient Ireland. It made me proud of my Irish ancestry.
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55 of 60 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
In this popular history, the neglected pre-Christian roots of Irish culture are explored, as well as the early medieval period up to the Anglo-Norman invasions. I enjoyed the authors' incorporation of weather catastrophes, tree-ring dating, metallurgy, and archeological scenarios that enlivened the first part of the book. In my opinion, this area could've gained much more in-depth treatment, as the later, post-Patrician era has been done to death repeatedly. But I admit I learned more here than from Thomas Cahill's book, and in a much more stimulating context. The Bronze Age clarified, the myth of the Celtic invasions faded, and the appeal of the Beaker Folk widened. Now finally I know how copper was discovered, too!

Also, in later periods, as with their explanation of potentially soporific subjects like the Eoganacht rivalry with the Ui Neill, the tensions behind Brian Boru's struggle to regain sovereignty, the Viking-Irish uneasy contest and co-existence, and the legends of Patrick and why the northern powers at Armagh propagandized his cult, McCaffrey and Eaton present dramatizations effectively, and not having seen the PBS/RTE videos, I imagine these emerge even more vividly on screen. For many raised on pseudo-Celtic, often 19c-originated founding myths of supposedly Irish lore, the findings here -- reminding me of historical criticism and how it overthrew earlier readings of the Bible in the 19-20 c's -- will be revelatory.

My disappointment lies in the two authors' lack of footnotes. Although a bibliography is given, the absolute lack of following up many of the co-authors' assertions makes this a book that cannot satiate the curiosity of those readers eager to delve further into specific topics raised.
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