On the Ancient Races of Ireland: Implements - Sir William Wilde

No date can be assigned to the period of the first inhabitation, but as evidence of the primitive condition of the race it is sufficient to state that human bodies clad in deer-skin have been discovered in our bogs; that flint weapons in abundance have been found all over Ireland, but especially in the North, where that peculiar lithological condition chiefly exists; and that stone tools have been dug up in thousands all over the country, but more particularly from the beds of our rivers, marking the sites of contested fords, which were the scenes of sanguinary conflicts, as on the Shannon and the Bann; and that all these are referrible to a period when the Irish had no knowledge of metals, and could neither spin nor weave.

To Northern archaeologists belongs the credit of that theory which divides the ages of man according to the material evidences of the arts of bygone times, as into those of stone, of copper, gold, and bronze, and of iron and silver. While I have no doubt that, generally speaking, such was the usual progress of development in those particulars, I deny that this division can, as a rule, be applied to Ireland, where undoubtedly each period overlapped the succeeding, so as to mix the one class of implement with another, even as I myself have seen on the great cultivated plain of Tyre harrow-pins formed of flints and sharp stones stuck into the under surface of a broad board; and on that battle field—

“Where Persia's victim hordes

First bowed beneath the brunt of Hella's sword,”

I have picked up flint and obsidian arrow-heads, although we know that the Athenians, whose remains still lie beneath the tumulus of Marathon, gave way before the long-handled metallic spears of Asia; and the stone missile, in one of its most formidable shapes, is not yet abandoned in this country.

I hold it as susceptible of demonstration, that man in similar stages of his career all over the world acts alike, so far as is compatible with climate, his wants, and the materials that offer to his hand, even from the banks of the Niger or Zambesi to the islands of the South Sea, or the regions inhabited by the Laps and Esquimaux. Thus, whenever man acquires or discovers a new art, he first applies it to continue the fashion of its predecessor, until accident, necessity, or ingenuity induces him to modify the reproduction. The first arrow-head and spear is almost the same all over the world, and is the type of that in metal; and the stone celt or hatchet formed, as I have proved elsewhere, the model for the copper or bronze implement for a like use in both ancient Etruria and ancient Ireland.

Discussions may arise as to whether our knowledge of metals was a separate, independent discovery of our own, or was acquired by intercourse with other nations more advanced than ourselves. In answer thereto I can only say that we have no evidence or authority for the latter supposition; and that, as we possessed abundant materials on the one hand, and had sufficient native ingenuity on the other, it is most likely that our discovery of metals—at least of gold, copper, and tin—was independent of extrinsic influence. So far removed from the centres of civilization, unconquered by the Roman legion, uninfluenced by Saxon or Frankish art, and with undoubted evidences of development and styles of art peculiar to ourselves, both in form and decoration, it is but fair, until some stronger arguments have been brought against it, to believe that we were the discoverers and smelters of our minerals, and the fabricators of our metallic weapons, tools, and ornaments. That some Grecian influence pervaded the early Irish metallurgic art, as exhibited by some of our leaf-shaped sword blades, is true; but it is an exceptional instance, and the form is common to almost all countries in which bronze sword blades have been found.