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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Twice two thousand years ago...



What can we know of the Ireland before 400 (when our Golden Celtic Age began)? I could not resist stopping at Brownshill Portal Tomb just outside Carlow. It had been waiting there for over five thousand years.

Its capstone is 150 tonnes, one of the heaviest in Europe. The two standing stones (gates or ‘portals’) still support it but the stone at the rear had disintegrated. Considering it had once been covered by an earthen mound it was in remarkably good shape.

It immediately poses the question, who built it and why?

The Irish of that era were part of the ‘New Stone Age’. They were not cave dwellers, hitting each other over the head with cudgels, but farmers who planted wheat and barley, raised domestic animals, made pottery, wove cloth, built houses and took care in burying their dead. The population would have been between 100,000 and 200,000.

The stone monuments they built, over 175 of them, took years to raise and not only show their respect for the dead but also symbolise what united them as an extended family-group.

The Celtic people, with whom we might feel closer, came more than a thousand years later but some of our deepest traditions are from before their time. Today ‘Irish funerals’ show the same wish to honour ‘those who have gone before us‘ while bringing the ‘clan’ together to remind us of our connection.

As I followed the winding track around a broad field of corn to get to the tomb, I had time to appreciate the fertility of the area for which those early settlers wished to show their gratitude and celebrate together.

That was a long time ago but our instincts seem not so different today.

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