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

With regard to the dwellings of the early race we are not left to mere conjecture, for not long ago a log hut was discovered fourteen feet below the surface of a bog in the county of Donegal. This very antique dwelling was twelve feet square, and nine high; and consisted of an upper and lower chamber, which were probably mere sleeping apartments. The oaken logs of which it was constructed are believed to have been hewn with stone hatchets, some of which were found on the premises, thus identifying it with the pre-metallic period of our history. Man soon becomes gregarious, and passes from the hunter and the fisher to the shepherd, and thence to the agriculturist. The land is cleared of wood; the wild animals either die out, or are rendered subservient to his will. The domestication of animals in most instances precedes, and always accompanies, the pastoral state of existence; and to that condition the patriarchal stage ensues, and afterwards that of the monarchical. To such phases of development, from the age of escape from the rudest barbarism, to the most cultivated condition in government, polite literature, art and science, Ireland was, I believe, no exception. Of the shepherd state we still possess the most abundant proofs, in the numerous earthen raths, lisses, and forts scattered all over the country, and from which so many of our townlands and other localities take their names; but especially marking the sites of the primitive inhabitation on our goodly pastures, although now mere grassy, annular elevations, varying in area from a few perches to several acres, and in many instances alone preserved by the hallowed traditions or popular superstitions of the people.

Such of those landmarks of the past as still remain, out of thousands that have been obliterated, show us that in those parts of Ireland, at least, where they exist, there was once a dense population, even during the shepherd stage of its inhabitation. And if in the progress of events, uncontrolled by human agency, and brought about by influences that we have so recently mourned over and still deplore, but could not prevent, we are now again becoming a pastoral people, we are only returning to that state of existence for which this country is peculiarly adapted, and was, I believe, originally intended—that of being the greatest grass and green-crop soil and climate in the world.

The pastoral was undoubtedly the normal, one of the oldest, and beyond all question, the longest continued state in Ireland; and, although changed by internal dissensions, invasion, confiscation, and foreign rule, is still remembered by the people among whom its influence, slumbering, but not dead, now and then crops out in questions of "tenant right." Years ago I showed, from the animal remains found in our forts, bogs, and crannoges, that centuries upon centuries before short-horned improved breeds of cattle and sheep commanded at our agricultural shows the admiration of Europe, we had here breeds of oxen which are not now surpassed by the best races of Holland and Great Britain; and which are unequalled in the present day even by those on the fertile plains of Meath, Limerick, or Roscommon, or throughout the golden vale of Tipperary. We were then a cattle-rearing, flesh-eating people; our wealth was our cattle; our wars were for our cattle; the ransom of our chieftains was in cattle; our taxes were paid in cattle; the price paid for our most valuable manuscripts was so many cows. Even in comparatively modern times our battle cloaks were made of leather; our traffic and barter were the Pecuaniae of our country; and the "Tain-bo-Cuailne," the most famous metrical romance of Europe, after the "Niebelungenlied," is but the recital of a cattle raid from Connaught into Louth during the reign of Mave, Queen of Connaught—a personage transmitted to us by Shakspeare, as the Queen Mab of the "Midsummer Night's Dream." And, although the Anglo-Norman invasion is usually attributed to the love of an old, one-eyed, hoarse-voiced King of Leinster, sixty years of age, for Dervorgil (attractive, we must presume, though but little his junior in years), and who became the Helen of the Irish Iliad, when "the valley lay smiling before her," she was but an insignificant item in the stock abduction from the plains of Breffny along the boggy slopes of Shemore.