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PAGAN CELTIC IRELAND - The Enigma of the Irish Iron Age

By Barry Raftery, published by Thames & Hudson at £16.95. 240pp. ISBN: 0-500-27983-7

It must be said that this is, first and foremost, a book about archaeology for ancient historians and archaeologists and is not aimed at the average pagan reader of books on popular Celtic culture. Having said that, although the book concentrates on archaeological evidence and similar remains, there is little that would be beyond the comprehension of most thoughtful readers despite any lack any specialist knowledge of archaeology on their part.

Raftery examines the emergence of the Irish Iron Age from the earlier Bronze Age culture, discussing amongst other subjects the relationship between bronzeworking and the development of iron-working and blacksmithing, and contrasting the plentiful evidence for very high quality and plentiful bronze artefacts with the technically poorer quality of iron produced by Irish smiths. He also examines the archaeological evidence for the relationship of king and people and how the Irish Celts impacted on the landscape, the sites they left behind (such as Tara and Emain Macha and the numerous hillforts), evidence for religious, ritual and burial practices presented by bog finds and other burials as well as Irish relations with the Roman Empire across the water. He also turns his attention to the evidence for ancient roads, notably wooden roads across bogs, and for transport and the horse. In this connection he examines the apparent importance of the horse bit in the Irish culture, showing from the surviving examples how bits were repeatedly and carefully repaired when they broke, as though they were considered too important to discard lightly.

Illustrated with 80 photographs and over 140 line drawings, including site maps and plans and examples of decorative artwork and weaponry, this is an excellent and comprehensive survey of what is known today about the Irish Iron Age. Raftery is Associate Professor of Celtic Archaeology at University College, Dublin so presumably he knows what he's talking about!