Historical Settlement Patterns in Rural Ireland - May 2018

by Michael Gibbons

By Maria O'Farrell Carr

This article is written by Michael Gibbons, one of Ireland's leading field archaeologists and shared by Maria.  During our Ireland we take the Newgrange Tour with Mary or Michael Gibbons. He shared this articles with us. It is very informative.


Ireland has been settled for almost 10,000 years with virtually every Townland in the country showing signs of a range of human impacts. As many as 120,000 Monuments are known and the range and number of these sites are growing on a daily basis due to ongoing public and private survey and research projects. There are virtually no empty spaces in our landscape from an Archaeological viewpoint. With monument preservation among the highest in Europe, it is not surprising that a healthy and lively debate exists around the whole issue of monument and landscape integrity and survival. Ireland in many ways is a zone of survival of a pre Roman European Culture, Landscape and Language. The Irish language provides a living link for most Irish and Europeans alike with their Central European Ancestors.

The largest period in our history is represented by the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age dating between 6 and 10 thousand years ago. A hunter-gatherer society relying on hunting, fishing and fowling for its existence within a largely forested environment. They left behind no permanent houses, burials or ritual sites and appear to have made little impact on the environment. From a small number of sites known from Ulster only 30 years ago an increasing number of sites have come to light across the Great Lake Belt of Connaught, North and West Leinster in recent years and the Coastal margins of Munster.


By 6,000 years this relatively benign phase in terms of environment at least was replaced by an aggressive farming society which laid waste to the early forest and monumental Architecture and landscape planning emerged for the time in the form of Megalithic Tombs and grand farming estates such as the Céide Fields in North Mayo. Even the summit of some of highest mountains were shaped and altered with the construction of mountain top cairns containing burial tombs on a necklace of mountains right around the country from Slievenamban to Muckish, from Turlong Hill in the Burren to Three Rock mountain, Dublin. A number of the sacred peaks continued in use or were reused in the Early Historic times with building of early monasteries on the summit of Slieve Donard, Slieve League, Croagh Patrick and Mount Brandon, each with its own sacred geography.


By 2,500 B.C an active Bronze Age mining industry developed in the south -west based on copper deposits on the shores of the Killarney lakes the earliest such mines in Western Europe. The widespread use and trade in copper mirrored an earlier trade in marble, pitchstone and porcellinite. The development of a metallurgy led to a change in society, a whole new suite of monuments began to emerge standing stones-single, row and circles appear in great profusion. In the later Bronze Age 1,500 and 1,000 B.C. large defended settlement appear, some on as massive scale of 50 plus hectares, began to appear. This coincided with a major expansion of population, which saw virtually every valley, bog and island however remote being colonized. This expansion marked a second major spike in the population, which in turn collapsed leaving behind extensive settlement. Stranded on the Burren uplands, and surviving beneath virtually every blanket bog from Inis Owen to the Nire Valley in the Comeragh mountains.


Ironically the widespread use of fire by Bronze Age farmers led to in part the massive growth in Blanket Bogs. The late Bronze Age also saw ongoing contact with Europe and the emerging Celtic Societies there. Large linear earthworks in some cases running for tens of miles, such as the Black Pig’s Dyke and the Dun of Drumsna were undertakings on a regional scale. They marked tribal boundaries which were linked by a network of roadways which criss-crossed the country. These abandoned following a major slump in population between 100 and 350 A.D.



By the 5th Century A.D. the population was expanding again, possibly stimulated by the introduction of a dairying economy from Roman Britain. With the population expanding, the Irish began to colonize adjacent territory on the west coast of Britain in Cornwall, Devon, Wales and in southwest Scotland. This colonization brought the Irish into increasing contact through trading and raiding with the collapsing though now Christian Roman province of Britain. Ireland was Christianised as a result of these and other contacts with Gaul at this time. Further Irish expansion and missionary activity saw Irish settlement as far north as Iceland in 795. In the 7th and 8th centuries dozens of Irish ecclesiastical settlements were established through Western and Central Europe. A sophisticated and largely Christian society emerged in Ireland, which saw a number of large Monastic “Towns” being developed at Durrow, Ardmore, Bangor, Iona, Kildare, Feenagh and Mayo Abbey to name but a few. The renewed population expansion saw the building of 40,000 plus ring forts and thousands of lake dwellings being constructed and innumerable unenclosed settlements – clochansthat carpet the mountains of the southwest up to a height of 600m . The structure of our Townlands as it survives today has its origins in this period of economic and population growth. This widely dispersed pattern was tribally based and set within a fluid political geography of over 100 competing kingdoms ruled by a highly mobile aristocracy.


The rude arrival of Vikings raiders in 795 had far reaching consequence as they developed a series of trading emporia at Dublin, Limerick, Wexford and Waterford together with a host of smaller rural and coastal settlements and way stations including that at Begginish Island near Valentia Island and possibly at Eyrephort in West Connemara. A lucrative trade in amber, silver and slaves stimulated the economy resulting in a renewed artistic and architectural vigour and Hiberno-Norse art becoming one of the great cultural high points of medieval Europe. A new vernacular in the form of rectangular domestic buildings and a new language Norse arrived at this time. This was later supplanted by Norman-French and English with the next great wave of town builders arriving in 1169 from Pembrokeshire. This saw the beginning of increasing contact, conquest and colonization from our nearest neighbour, Britain.


As the Normans fanned out conquering over three quarters of the country by 1300, a major network of new towns, manorial villages with deer parks and farming settlements were built. Many of these were later overwhelmed by the Irish during a cultural and military revival in the 14th and 15th Centuries, their abandoned manorial villages and farmsteads are doted throughout the country. However major Norman settlements did survive and later thrived, Galway city being a particular good example, it existed as a virtual city state with strong sea borne contacts with both Bristol and Chester. The Native Irish elite from 1450 onwards mimicked their Norman and Old English neighbours by building vast numbers of Tower house castles. The 16th and early 17th century saw reconquest under both Tudor and Stuart monarchs. The growth of a powerful English and now Protestant state saw the writing on the wall for the old Irish elites, both Gaelic and Anglo-Norman alike they were swept aside in the succession of ever more ruthless plantations and confiscations. Another wave of town, estate and village building was begun as the new elite carved up newly conquered land, the picturesque town of Kenmare being a good example of the later phases of this conquest. Massive cultural dislocation ensued. Architectural and artistic destruction was immense as the old ecclesiastical centres were broken up with the triumphant march of the reformation hand in hand with English conquest. The old Irish elite either fled or were absorbed into the new Ascendancy culture, leaving behind their ruined castles and leaving their followers culturally and linguistically isolated. The emergence of great landed estates in the early 18th century saw an unprecedented onslaught on the Irish landscape with the sweeping away of many earlier settlement forms and features and their replacement by both formal and romantic landscapes with picturesque villages and estate towns.



Maria O'Farrell CarrMaria's Bio: Maria is a gifted healer, intuitive and medical intuitive from Ireland. She carries a vast wealth of experience from a life of passionate exploration of the profound healing and ancient Irish intuitive gifts she inherited from her mother and going back to her grandmothers, two great uncles who were well known healers of the sick and even as far back as her great, great, great, grandfather (b. 1837) who was known as the Irish Healer of Animals. Her depth of knowledge and wisdom comes from her deep study and relentless research. Maria offers Celtic Intuitive & Angel Card Reading thru Skype or phone to any were in the world. Maria grew up in Ireland and has travelled to over 16 countries and visited 245 cities. She has lived and travelled to Australia, Canada, North and South America, Europe and many places around the world. Maria has lived in the Okanagan, BC, Canada for years. She now lives part-time also back home in Ireland in the Spring and Autumn. Maria is the founder and publisher of 'OK In Health eMagazine' and Web site since 2014. www.OKinHealth.com is a beam of light in the wellness community. Maria was awarded the 2008 SOWINS, Women Up Front and Centre - Health & Wellness Award for her work on OK In Health eMagazine and the community. Over the years she has also worked as an Event Organizer and brought instructors to the Okanagan from all over the world. Maria was also involved at the grass root level in bringing in Dr Deepak Chopra. Gregg Braden and Dr. Wayne Dyer to the Okanagan valley. Maria has a wealth of experience in travel, as a healer and in events organizing. Maria hosts a weekly Health Column in 5 Okanagan newspapers. In 2013, Maria brought 30 people to Ireland for the 14 day Celtic Angel Ireland Tour and since then brings two tours over to Ireland each year. Maria has published two books on Sacred Ireland and is working on her third book. Maria continues to enjoy studying, travelling, offering sessions, working on OK In Health eMagazine, loving life in the beautiful Okanagan Valley and the Sacred Ireland Tours. - Maria O'Farrell Carr Website - Email

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