|Origins: Page 1, Pre-historic Settlement.
Ireland was not always as it is today, a country of comparatively few trees and with a patchwork
quilt of fields partitioned by thick hedges and stone walls. As late as the sixteenth century, it had
much more extensive forests which were cut down for boat--building and mining purposes (and
also to deny shelter to rebels and outlaws who used them as a refuge). Some 20,000 years ago
(during the Stone Age) much of the country, except for the southern rim , was covered by massive
glaciers which can scarcely have provided the wherewithal for man to live. Because Ireland was
remote and difficult to access over the ice-cap, man may not have reached it easily and
consequently it would appear to have been one of the last countries of Europe to be colonised.
Ireland's first farmers arrived approx. 4000 years ago, and brought about great changes in the
way of life and the landscape of the country. Instead of relying on hunting and fishing, the
Neolithic communities had domesticated animals such as oxen and sheep. The newly arrived
agriculturalists began to clear some of the trees which had grown up and spread after the retreat
of the glaciers. In these cleared glades they planted crops such as barley and later also wheat.
Their crops and herds of domesticated animals allowed them to settle in one place for a
considerable time. It was the start of settled community life in Ireland. Some early Neolithic
settlements have been located near Cookstown and Lough Gur in Co.Limerick and court cairns
have been located at Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange in a bend of the river slane in Co. Meath.
Some time around 1800 B.C. the first metalworkers arrived and
were exploiting Copper and Gold deposits in many parts, Cork, Kerry,
Wicklow, and probably elsewhere as well, and these valuable metals
were used for the making of some exquisite ornaments which can now
be seen in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin; the collection
of prehistoric Gold there, is comparable to the best in Europe.
The hill of Tara in Co. Meath has many powerful historical associations;
it was used as a fort in four different phases from the first to the early
4th. century AD. It was here in AD. 433, that the High King Laoghaire saw
a light kindled by St. Patrick on the hill of Slane as a symbol of the new
religion of Christianity which he was preaching. St. Patrick failed to
convert the High King himself, but he did succeed in converting
practically the whole of the rest of Ireland to Christianity within his
own lifetime, a feat made all the more remarkable in that it was achieved
without the spilling of a single drop of martyr's blood. ( St. Patrick is
also reputed to have banished all the snakes from Ireland and the only
place you will ever see a snake is in Dublin Zoo.)