On the Ancient Races of Ireland - Sir William Wilde

[Extracts from the Address to the Anthropological Section of the British Association. Belfast, 1874. By Sir William Wilde, M.D., M.R.I. A., Chevalier of the Swedish Order of the North Star].

That there was a time—after “the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters, and separated the dry land from the sea”—when the present British Isles formed a continuous and integral portion of the European Continent is the received opinion of the scientific. With that continuity of surface (whether before or after the glacial period matters not in the present inquiry) there was, we know, a uniform dispersion of vegetable and animal life over this portion of the globe; and so long as this country enjoyed the temperature and climate it now possesses, it must have been an emerald land—humid, green, and fertile, affording pasturage and provender for the largest herbivorae—the mammoth, elephant, and musk ox, the reindeer, the wild boar, and perhaps even the woolly rhinoceros. The primitive races of horned cattle, possibly the red deer, and undoubtedly the largest and noblest of cervine creatures, the gigantic Irish deer, or Cervus megaceros besides the wild pig, and smaller mammals, as well as birds and fishes innumerable, must then have existed here.

How long that condition of the land known now as Ireland existed, what geological revolutions occurred, or what time elapsed during its continuance, is but matter of speculation; but a “repeal of the union” took place, and Great Britain and Ireland became as they now are, and as they are likely to remain, geographically separated, although united in interest as well as government. In all probability the great pine forests, with some of the yews, the oaks, and the birch, had at this time been submerged beneath the lowest strata of our bogs.

It was after this epoch, I believe, that man first set foot upon the shores of Erin—a country well wooded, abundantly stocked with animals, and abounding in all nature's blessings suited to the well-being of the human race; with fowls in its woods and on its shores; fish in its seas, lakes and rivers; deer and other game in its forest glades, oxen on its pastures, fuel in its bogs; and a climate, although moist and variable, on the whole mild and temperate.