The current population in the Irish Republic is about 3.5 million and 1.5 million in Northern Ireland. For a period of time during the 1990's, but mainly the 2000's, Ireland's economy was rapidly growing.  However, they have unfortunately fallen victim to the world-wide recession and unemployment is very high.  The size of Ireland (square miles wise) is comparable to the state of Maine, and population wise, it’s comparable to Connecticut, which gives you an idea of how small the country is. Ireland was a Gaelic speaking country until the 17th century when British rulers and landowners forced the Irish to speak English. There has been a huge resurgence in the Irish language and today the Republic is considered to be bi-lingual. The Irish language is taught in all the schools and knowledge of it is a requirement to get into some universities. About 11% of the population speaks Gaelic fluently and about 3% use it daily as their first language. You’ll find Irish speaking areas primarily in the Western part of the country and the islands.  

 

A Little History

Archeologists tell us that man began to occupy Ireland about 9,000 years ago. (7000BC), however, these dates are debatable. The first settlers were Mesolithic hunters and fishermen that may have crossed a land bridge from Scotland. The island was rich in natural resources and wildlife. At one time Ireland was 90% forest. Around 6,000 years ago (4000BC) the first Neolithic farmers arrived. These are the people who are responsible for building the great structures that my tours visit. Long before the Celtic influence came to Ireland there were various other tribes (or Tuatha) occupying Ireland that included the Partholonians, Nemedians, Fomorians, Firbolgs and the Tuatha Dé Danann or people of the Goddess Danú (pronounced Dawnu). They were also known as The Godly People. Danú is probably the same Goddess as Anú and she was the Great Mother Goddess of Ireland, the Goddess of plenty. During the Iron Age there were 150 different tribes.

There are lots of wonderful stories about different invasions of new tribes arriving in Ireland. The legends tell us that the Tuatha Dé Danann are believed to have arrived from the North-West in flying ships bearing 4 great treasures: 1) The Sword of Nuada (Nuada was the King of the Tuatha Dé Dananns), 2) The Dagda’s Cauldron (Dagda’s name means “The Good God” and he’s the principle older God of the Tuatha Dé Danann. His cauldron is never empty), 3) The Stone of Destiny (believed to be the coronation stone of the High Kings) and 4) The Spear of Lugh who used it to kill his Maternal Grandfather, Balor, by throwing it through his piercing deadly eye. This was because Balor had killed Nuadu during the great battle between the Dé Danann’s and the Fomoire (Fomar). The Dé Danann’s were defeated by the last invading tribe of Ireland, the Milesians, who were Gaels that came from Northern Spain (Galicia region) and from which the Irish of today are believed to be descended. (Although, read further down for more information about the Celts and debates about their existence in Ireland). The Irish believe that the Dé Dananns were magical people and after their defeat by the Milesians, they lived in the Fairy mounds and became the Fey.

The earlier tribes of Ireland, prior to Celtic influence and even prior to the Tuatha Dé Danann, had built great structures such as standing stone circles, different types of burial mounds and various other sacred structures. There was a tremendous respect for the dead and many of the burial cairns were built on mountains or huge hill-tops so that the people could look up at the dead and the dead could look down upon the living. The people who built these monuments were skilled in engineering, astronomy and mathematics. The structures are all aligned with the rising and setting sun of the equinoxes, solstices, and full moon or quarter points such as Imbolc or Lughnasadh. Within these many sites there are different types of burial mounds or tombs. They are also known as cairns, which in Irish means “heap of stones”. There are 4 main Neolithic tombs:


1) Court tomb – Is a chambered cairn with some type of open court



2) Portal tomb – (Also known as Dolmen) This usually has 3 standing
stones supporting a huge capstone

3) Wedge tomb – Has a rectangular wedged shaped chamber sometimes
covered by a cairn

4) Passage tomb – A large mound covered with grass, but not always.

The most known and largest passage tomb in Ireland is Newgrange. The oldest known passage tombs are in France and Spain dating back 7,000 years ago.

Now even though there are many megalithic tombs found all over Europe, Ireland possesses the highest concentration of sites. Over 150,000 archaeological Monuments are known or recorded in Ireland. Thousands more are likely to lie hidden beneath the soil. These sites are literally everywhere and they date between 4000 and 2000 BC. Many were destroyed by farmers needing the land as well as from natural decay, but many are still intact. No one really knows what took place at these sites, what type of rituals they would have had, etc. However, people are pretty certain that they were utilized as more than simple burial monuments. They would have been significant religious and communal sites, which were and are sacred sites.

Here’s a little history about the Celts: They came from Central Europe. The Greeks called them Keltoi and there was a great deal of trading between the two cultures. Early finds of Celtic cemeteries were found in Bohemia dating back some thousands of years ago. Around 1200BC, there was a great climate change world-wide. This caused the crops to fail and the tribes started to move West. The Celts moved to the Danube Valley, Turkey and the Alpine Region, which is Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Classical writers describe the Celts as fair haired, tall and muscular (over 6’ tall), and burial remains found by Archeologists confirm this. Central Europe was the cradle of the Celtic world.

Special note about the Celts in Ireland: For many years it was believed that the Celts (Gaelic tribes that came from Northern Spain and France), arrived in Ireland anywhere between 1000BC and 200BC. However, there are many Archeologists and Historians who debate this theory. They believe that a Celtic invasion never occurred because there’s no clear evidence of this. Then one would ask how did Ireland and Western Europe obtain the Celtic languages, culture, art, religion, etc.? The answer is that the Celts were huge traders and their “hub” was actually in Central Europe (near the Alpine region). Since they were huge traders, their influence was just as strong and soon large regions began to speak their language, assimilate their religion, culture, art, etc. There may have been a few Artisans who came to Ireland to teach people the art, etc., but there was no large invasion/migration. This area became “Celtic” due to the trade routes. So to use the term “Celtic” to describe a language, culture, art and religion is quite accurate. But to use the term “Celtic” to describe the people in this region is not. The Celtic languages had a tremendous span. It was spoken in Turkey, Germany, France, Spain, Central Europe, Brittany and the British Isles, including England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Isle of Man and Cornwall. 

 

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