The early Iron Age fourth to first centuries bc

Notwithstanding the absence of Roman occupation in Ireland, its Iron Age has been divided into early, middle and late phases. As in Scotland beyond the limits of Roman occupation, the early phase is the most difficult to document in terms of material types, given the late dating conventionally assigned to the majority of La Tene types. The middle phase includes several of those distinctive types, dating to the first three centuries of the first millennium ad, and the late phase corresponds to the early historic or early Christian era from the fourth and fifth centuries ad that will be considered in a later chapter. The first task, therefore, is to examine the various categories of artefactual evidence to determine which, if any, of these might be assigned to the early Iron Age according to the above classification.

Equestrian equipment

It is axiomatic that the Irish La Tene (Raftery, 1984) is essentially a series of arte-factual types. There is no diagnostic hill-fort type of the La Tene period, insular or Continental, nor any non-fortified settlement types that are distinctive of the La Tene, as opposed to the Hallstatt Iron Age or the late Bronze Age. Burials accompanied by two-wheeled carts or chariots, or simpler burials within square-ditched barrows may be regarded as characteristically, if not exclusively, La Tene, as in Champagne or eastern Yorkshire, but there are as yet no known examples of such a distinctive burial mode in Ireland. The existence of chariots in Iron Age Ireland is assumed from historical literature, but would be hard to sustain on the evidence of archaeology alone. Wooden fragments from Corlea have been tentatively identified as part of the frame of a vehicle, and occasional metal parts have been considered as cart-fittings, but the absence of unequivocal evidence for iron tyres or linch-pins, for example, makes positive identification difficult. Pairs of horse-bits might well imply paired draught, but in the absence of cemeteries to provide the context for survival, the archaeological evidence is necessarily fragmentary. It is ironic that Piggott should have chosen the concept of a 'plantation of Ulster by Yorkshire charioteers' (1950, 16) as the agency for the introduction of the Irish La Tene, when the settlers so conspicuously failed to leave the imprint of their distinctive burial rite upon Irish soil.

This, of course, is not to say that the Irish La Tene is lacking in equestrian equipment. The example, however, of horse-bits epitomizes the problem. The Irish bits, like the British, are essentially of the three-link variety, unlike the Continental series, which after an initial phase of currency of the three-link type in early La Tene, adopts the two-link version thereafter. On this basis it was argued by Ward-Perkins (1939) that the introduction of the three-link bits into Britain and Ireland could hardly be dated later than the end of the early La Tene phase in the Marne. A current assessment would suggest that the Gaulish three-link bits did not survive much after 400 bc, and that the point of contact therefore was unlikely to be later than the early fourth century. This horizon lies well before the conventional dating of most of the British bits, and still more so of the Irish. Some elements of Raftery's Type A and Type B horse-bits (Figure 8.3, 1) bear some resemblance to the bits of the Arras group of eastern Yorkshire, including, for example, the use of studs to retain the links on the side-rings. But these similarities are eclipsed by the fundamental difference in plane of the perforations through the links, the Irish being parallel whereas the British have their perforations at right-angles on each end of the link. The Champagne horse-bits include both variants, so that an impulse into Ireland independent of Britain need not be discounted. The developed Irish bits, Raftery's Types C to E (Figure 8.3, 2), are totally unlike any British or Continental horse-bits in their elaboration, and testify emphatically to the insular character of the Irish La Tene. Their dating remains contentious, since so few have reliable provenance or helpful associations, so that much depends on a stylistic evaluation. Convention has inclined overwhelmingly towards a dating in the early centuries ad for these developed variants. By implication, however, the Type A and Type B bits should belong at least to the first and

Types Horse Bits

Figure 8.3 Irish 'La Tène' — 1: horse-bits, Y-pendants, spear-butts and querns. 1, Type B horse-bit, Abbeyshrule, Co. Longford; 2, Type E horse-bit, unprovenanced, but similar to examples from Attymon, Co. Galway; 3, Type 1d Y-pendant, unprovenanced; 4, Type 2a Y-pendant, Attymon, Co. Galway; 5, Lisnacrogher type spear-butt, Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim; 6, tubular spear-butt, unprovenanced; 7, decorated beehive quern, Ticooly-O'Kelly, Co. Galway. Adapted from Raftery (1983).

Figure 8.3 Irish 'La Tène' — 1: horse-bits, Y-pendants, spear-butts and querns. 1, Type B horse-bit, Abbeyshrule, Co. Longford; 2, Type E horse-bit, unprovenanced, but similar to examples from Attymon, Co. Galway; 3, Type 1d Y-pendant, unprovenanced; 4, Type 2a Y-pendant, Attymon, Co. Galway; 5, Lisnacrogher type spear-butt, Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim; 6, tubular spear-butt, unprovenanced; 7, decorated beehive quern, Ticooly-O'Kelly, Co. Galway. Adapted from Raftery (1983).

second centuries bc, and possibly could have been introduced from a significantly earlier date.

Of quite uncertain function, but generally presumed to be related to equestrian gear or ceremonial activities are the so-called Y-pendants (Figure 8.3, 3 and 4), a type that has no positive parallels outside Ireland, and to that extent cannot be regarded as a regular La Tene type at all. The conventional name assumes that they were somehow attached in a pendant position from the bridle gear, perhaps even for leading a pony, but they are rather small to fit this purpose, and alternative explanations, such as plume-mounts, have also been proposed. A couple of examples of Type 1 pendants, putatively the earlier of the two principal sub-divisions, are associated with Type B horse-bits, likewise regarded as potentially among the earlier in that series; but otherwise associations, especially of Type 2 pendants, are fairly clearly of the opening centuries ad rather than earlier. In terms of ornamentation, two unprovenanced pendants of Type 1 bear relief ornament on their stem terminals of small bosses clustered on a larger boss in a fashion not unlike the Plastic Style ornament of the middle La Tene in Continental Europe. The majority of pendants with ornament, however, are of the later Type 2, and their motifs reflect the later styles of Northern Britain in the opening centuries ad. The implication nevertheless is that among the sizeable number of horse-bits and pendants are a minority whose origins could date back to the third or second centuries bc, after which there developed within Ireland a long and distinctive insular tradition of ceremonial equestrian metal-working.

The warrior's equipment

A second broad category of Irish La Tene metal-work is weapons, more specifically swords and their scabbards, and spear-heads. In general, more attention focuses upon the scabbards (Figure 5.9) than on the swords themselves, not simply on account of the elaborate ornament that they frequently display, but because scabbard typology is more amenable to classification than that of the swords. The Irish swords tend to be shorter than the norm in Continental Europe, where the shortest are among the earliest. Otherwise their blades are broadly similar, and certainly the campanulate hilt-guards of Type 1 swords match the prevailing form among Continental early and middle La Tene swords (de Navarro, 1972). Developed swords of Type 2 are demonstrably later in date, continuing into the first millennium ad. Dating has already been considered in detail in discussion of the ornament of the decorated scabbards, which, together with the form of chape-ends and other technical aspects of scabbard construction, indicates that the Irish decorated La Tene scabbards are unlikely to be earlier than early third century in date, though there may be no compelling reason for regarding them as much later. One interesting aspect of the Irish swords and scabbards, however, is their distribution. The decorated scabbards may well have been the product of a specialist workshop with limited circulation in the north-east of the country, but swords themselves, doubtless encased in plainer leather scabbards, had a much wider distribution, embracing virtually the whole of the country. Indeed, fewer swords in total come from north of the Dublin to Galway line than from south of it (Raftery, 1984, Map 7).

Spears were doubtless a key weapon in La Tene Ireland as elsewhere in Iron Age Europe, but in the absence of datable contexts, their typology is not diagnostic. Indirect evidence of spears comes in the form of so-called spear-butts, believed to have been attached to the base of the spear to counterbalance the head. Raftery identified several distinct types. On the one hand was the Lisnacrogher type, distinguished by its hollow-cast circular socket and flattened-spherical moulding and terminal bulb (Figure 8.3, 5), and the door-knob type, with similar tube and bulb, but without mouldings. On the other hand there were tubular (Figure 8.3, 6) and conical variants that might have served a different function altogether. Iconographic evidence for the use of spear-butts is equivocal at best, and though there are indeed instances in which such 'spear-butts' have been found with the wooden shaft in place, this does not prove that the shaft was a spear, rather than a ceremonial staff, or more grandly a sceptre, to which a butt or ferrule might well be attached. The concept of a spear-butt, at any rate of the Lisnacrogher or door-knob type, is totally alien in Continental La Tene; the tubular variant, on the other hand, is not without parallel in early La Tene burials on the Continent, which could provide an analogy if not a prototype for the Irish examples. Though the tubular spear-butts of the La Tene period may owe nothing directly to those of the Dowris phase, the very fact that there was an ancestry for the practice of using tubular spear-butts lends credibility to the interpretation in this instance.

Dating of the spear-butts or ferrules of Lisnacrogher and door-knob type is, as ever, compounded by the lack of reliable, stratified associations. Debate has also been generated regarding their origins, since both types are also found in Scotland, where significantly moulds for casting such artefacts have also been found on various sites from Traprain Law in East Lothian to Dunagoil on the island of Bute in the Clyde estuary. From Beirgh in west Lewis there are radiocarbon dates in support of the stratigraphic sequence, which indicates strongly that the door-knob variety was still current in the Western Isles in the third to fifth centuries ad, rather later than conventional assessments would suggest. Raftery was inclined to date both forms around the turn of the millennia (1984, 125), though one example from Lisnacrogher has low-relief curvilinear ornament that could derive from a much earlier tradition. Notwithstanding the absence of Irish moulds, Raftery still believed that spear-butts of these types were essentially Irish in origin. More recent research has rediscovered examples from Romano-British settlements in England, suggesting that the overall distribution may be wider than formerly supposed, and further reinforcing their currency into the opening centuries of the first millennium ad (Heald, 2001). The possibility should be considered, of course, that the Lisnacrogher and door-knob types are not contemporary but sequential, albeit perhaps overlapping in time, though their contrasting distributions in Ireland (Raftery, 1994a, Fig. 88) might suggest different regional traditions.

After swords and spears, the third component of the Continental warrior's triple panoply, the oval shield, of which metal binding and spine may survive in middle La Tene burials, is completely absent from Ireland. Apart from a shield-boss from a later (i.e. early first millennium ad) burial on Lambay Island, no trace of any shield of this type, still less anything resembling the parade shields of south-eastern England, has come to light in Ireland. The sole find is that of a wooden and leather shield of comparatively small size from Clonoura, Co. Tipperary, which more probably represented the standard form of practical shield in the Iron Age. Helmets likewise are totally absent from the Irish La Tene assemblage.


Pride of place among personal ornaments as prestige products must go to the gold buffer torcs from the hoard from Knock, Co. Roscommon (Figure 8.4, 1; formerly 'Clonmacnoise') and from the Broighter hoard, Co Derry (Pl. 8a). Between them they represent the earliest and latest products of the early Iron Age phase. The splendid 'Clonmacnoise' torc falls into a well-known class, mainly in bronze, from the La Tène B2 phase on the Continent, and dated in absolute terms to the late fourth or early third centuries bc: Hawkes pronounced it 'no doubt fourth century' (1982, 52). It is almost certainly an import, though the significance of that fact need not be over-rated. The body of the torc is tubular with buffer terminals fused together, rather than being open, as they are in simpler variants. Opening was achieved by withdrawing a pin through a tenon-joint in one side of the buffers. At the back of the torc the tubular sections are jointed into a drum, ornamented with a simple, repetitive meandering scroll design executed in repoussé. This design almost exactly replicates the form of the serpentiform bracelets of the Munsingen—Dux horizon on the Continent, exemplified at l'Argentelle, Beine, in association with a buffer-torc which is itself ornamented in Waldalgesheim style. The ornament around the buffers consists of more complex tendrils set against background stippling, while the bosses that flank the buffer-terminal each bear a pair of relief S-motifs. Associated with the buffer-torc was a ribbon-torc of gold, a form known from the 'Ornament Horizon' phase of the middle Bronze Age. Unlike ribbon torcs of the Bishopland, or even Dowris phase, however, analysis has shown that the Knock ribbon-torc is made of platinum rich gold, and like the example from Somerset, Co. Galway, may therefore be assigned with some confidence to the Iron Age (Hartmann, 1970).

The Broighter torc was part of a hoard found in 1896 that also included fragments of bar torcs, gold wire chain, a bowl and the well-known model ship in beaten gold, fully equipped with oars, mast and fittings. The magnificent gold torc belongs to a distinctive group of late La Tène buffer torcs, characterized by their fat, tubular form with cylindrical buffers, of which there are good parallels from Snettisham and from Frasnes-lez-Buissenal in Belgium. Broadly, these torcs are classified into two groups on the basis of their opening, which is achieved either by simply inserting one tube into the other or both into a cylindrical junction-box at the back of the torc, or by means of a tenon joint at the buffers, as in the case of Broighter. The principal ornament of the torc is made up of repoussé motifs, including trumpet-ended curves, lentoid or almond-shaped elements and snail-shaped bosses linked into a loose S-chain, with forward and backward motion like a ballroom dancer's step-template. The design is essentially symmetrical, though the individual components are not identical in size or rendering. This is thrown into relief by the background of 'machine-turning', engraved shading of 'parallel' and intersecting arcs in a manner that is distinctively Irish. On such a curved surface the use of compasses would be difficult, except for the smaller elements, and Jope (2000) has suggested the use of a template instead. Dating is broadly established by its British and European parallels that indicate a currency of the type in the first century bc, and probably in this case in the second half of that century. But Jope (2000) argued persuasively that the torc was a composite piece, the heavier gold terminals perhaps being from an older, second-century torc that was refurbished in the rather different style of the tubular body.

Middle Tene Art
Figure 8.4 1. Knock ('Clonmacnoise') torc; 2, Loughnashade horn. Adapted from Raftery (1983) and Raftery (1984).

Among more routine personal ornaments, bracelets as a La Tene type are conspicuous by their absence in Ireland. That other most common and diagnostic La Tene type, the safety-pin brooch, is also hardly abundant, being represented in Ireland by only some thirty known examples. The main group is conventionally divided into those with leaf-bows (Figure 8.5, 7) and those with rod-bows, of which the former potentially could begin as early as the third century bc. As ever, where there are clear associations, these tend to be late, but as Hawkes (1982) convincingly showed, the leaf-shaped bow appears on the Continent and in Britain on brooches of La Tene 1 form, so that models for the Irish series would have been available from the late fourth or early third centuries bc. More importantly, Hawkes argued that, in dealing with the Irish brooches, we should not be constrained by the over-simplistic rule of thumb that casting the foot in one with the bow was exclusively a fashion of late La Tene. The 'inventive experimental character of native British brooch-making, free of dependence upon fixed Continental impositions' (Hawkes, 1982, 55) has long been recognized. Even more independent is the character and construction of the Irish brooches, making dating on the basis of typological comparisons with British or Continental brooches unconvincing. Nevertheless, there is a consensus that some of the Irish series could be relatively early. Later in the early Iron Age occasional examples of Continental types appear, such as the Nauheim brooch from Loughey, Co Down, or the Nauheim-derivative from Feerwore rath, Co. Galway. It is reasonable to infer that Irish brooch-makers from a much earlier date, though independent in their own products, need not have been totally isolated from or unaware of Continental fashions, any more than were their British counterparts.

Irish ring-headed pins endorse this impression. Ring-headed pins are not part of the Continental La Tene repertory, but the Irish series, after beginning with simple forms not unlike those of Britain, develops variants that would be described as uniquely insular, were it not for the fact that their ornamental elaboration includes elements that parallel the developed Plastic Styles of Continental Europe. There are four principal groups of ring-headed pins. Type 1 (Figure 8.5, 1) broadly mirrors the British pins, in some instances, such as in the use of cast knobs on the ring or milling around the top of the ring, being very close to English analogies. Type 2 (Figure 8.5, 2 and 3) is uniquely Irish; the example from Coll in the Inner Hebrides was plainly an export across the North Channel. What distinguishes these pins, however, is their embellishment with knobs and bosses, sometimes linked, as on the example from Grange, Co Sligo, into a simple S-chain. The use of this basic motif to link a series of bosses is one of the recurrent themes of the Continental Plastic Style, exemplified on the arm- or leg-rings from Klettham, Bavaria or from the Tarn in south-western France. Raftery was surely right to suggest that this form could date from the period of currency on the Continent of Plastic Style ornament. Type 3 (Figure 8.5, 4) is again uniquely Irish. The spoon-shaped appendage on the ring-head, to which settings of enamel or glass were formerly riveted, is without useful parallel, and stands witness simply to the ingenuity and inventiveness of the Irish pin-makers. Its distribution in north-eastern Ireland is geographically more concentrated than the other types, with the notable exception of examples from Ballacagen in the Isle of Man and from a burial at Alnham in Northumberland, both plainly exports. Type 4 (Figure 8.5, 5 and 6) is equally singular in design, but elements of ornamentation suggest broad concurrency with Types 2 and 3.

Ring Pin Hoard

Figure 8.5 Irish 'La Tene' — 2: pins and brooches. 1, Type 1 ring-headed pin, Co. Antrim; 2, Type 2 ring-headed pin, unprovenanced; 3, Type 2 ring-headed pin, Grange, Co. Sligo; 4, Type 3 ring-headed pin, 'Roscavey', Co. Tyrone; 5, Type 4 ring-headed pin, River Shannon; 6, Type 4 ring-headed pin, Beagmore, Co. Galway; 7, leaf-bow brooch, Bondville, Middletown, Co. Armagh; 8, Navan type brooch, Navan, Co. Armagh. Adapted from Raftery (1983).

Figure 8.5 Irish 'La Tene' — 2: pins and brooches. 1, Type 1 ring-headed pin, Co. Antrim; 2, Type 2 ring-headed pin, unprovenanced; 3, Type 2 ring-headed pin, Grange, Co. Sligo; 4, Type 3 ring-headed pin, 'Roscavey', Co. Tyrone; 5, Type 4 ring-headed pin, River Shannon; 6, Type 4 ring-headed pin, Beagmore, Co. Galway; 7, leaf-bow brooch, Bondville, Middletown, Co. Armagh; 8, Navan type brooch, Navan, Co. Armagh. Adapted from Raftery (1983).

Necklaces of glass beads are among the personal ornaments that could well have been fashionable from the early Iron Age; their occurrence archaeologically in penny numbers, compared with the number required for a string to adorn neck or wrist, seems a sure indicator that they are token survivals from earlier usage. Hence the occurrence of spiral-inlaid beads at Grannagh, Co. Galway, or among the 'Loughey' group in what is probably a first-century bc deposit, need not preclude the currency of that type in Ireland equally as early - perhaps from the fourth or third centuries bc - as in south-western Britain. The same could be true of the blue glass bead with inlaid clusters of 'eyes' from Grannagh, for which Raftery (1984, 201) rightly pointed to the close parallels in the fourth-century Reinheim princess's burial from the Rhineland. From the same group came a fragmentary example inlaid with concentric rings, for which Hawkes (1982, 61, Fig. 8, 9) cited parallels from the Marne and from Southern Britain, starting in the fourth century bc. The fact that the Grannagh ring-barrow also contained narrow spiral and 'dumb-bell' beads, probably of first-century bc or even early first- century ad date, need indicate no more than the date of final deposition.

Probably dating no earlier than the second or first centuries bc is a variant form of spiral-inlaid bead, Guido's (1978) Class 6, characterized by having its spirals on low raised bosses. The British distribution is quite widespread in England and Wales, with just a few extending into Scotland. In Ireland, they are all restricted to the north-east, including an example in the Kiltierney, Co Fermanagh, ring-barrow (Raftery, 1981, Fig. 39, 2). Certainly of later Iron Age date are the larger glass beads with 'whirl' or 'ray' design of Guido's Class 7. Though more than half the Irish examples lack provenance, the type is a well documented later La Tene type on the Continent, being common on oppida sites of the late second and first centuries bc. They are also found around the Severn estuary as well as in south-eastern England, so that their presence in Ireland could well indicate trading connections with the Continent and along the Western Seaways in the closing centuries bc.

Beehive querns and the Irish La Tene

Following the research of Caulfield (1977), it has been suggested that the beehive quern in Ireland is broadly co-terminous in date as well as distribution with the La Tene phenomenon, and with the north-south divide that it represents. In fact, locally the querns and metal-work have been shown to be complementary rather than coincident (Warner, 2002), perhaps even reflecting distinct cultural groups. What is still not widely agreed is a more specific date for the introduction of the beehive querns and the source or means of introduction. Caulfield himself was in no doubt that on typological grounds, essentially the character of the central perforation and lateral handle-hole of the upper stone, the Irish beehive querns must have been derived from those of northern England and southern Scotland, not far removed in fact from the area from which Piggott had derived his 'plantation of Ulster by Yorkshire charioteers', and by the arrival of new community groups rather than through technical or other innovation.

It is generally agreed that the adoption of the rotary quern in place of saddle-querns represents a major technical advance, one which doubtless reflects upon the nature and scale of grain-production in the economy. In Southern Britain, the rotary quern must have superseded the saddle quern by around the fourth century, on the basis of sizeable samples of each from Danebury (Cunliffe, 1984, 418; Cunliffe and Poole, 1991, 396, ceramic phase 7 appearing pivotal), though it undoubtedly was known here and at Gussage All Saints (Wainwright, 1979) from an earlier date. An important inference from the Danebury evidence, however, contrary to previously advanced views, is that the change was not radical with a virtually universal adoption of the new technology in place of the old, so that we might reasonably expect some beehive querns to have been in circulation in northern England, and potentially therefore in Ireland, earlier than their more general adoption.

One reason for regarding beehive querns in Ireland as part of the La Tène assemblage is that a small minority bear decoration in a very simplified La Tène style. Examples from Ticooly O'Kelly, Co. Galway (Figure 8.3, 7) and from an unprovenanced location (now in the Ulster Museum) have conjoined or running S-spiral designs that could belong virtually anywhere from the inception of the La Tène style in Ireland. In Atlantic Scotland and Ireland, there is an alternative form of quern, the disc quern, which has generally been regarded as later than the beehive series. It has been suggested, however, that this type, with its potential for adjusting the gap between upper and lower stones for coarse or fine grinding, represents a non-La Tène development that therefore need not have been sequential to the La Tène version (MacKie, 1995, 663).

The engraved style and the relief style

The engraved style of the Irish scabbards has been discussed in detail in relation to analogous fashions in Continental Europe and in Britain. The web of inter-relationships between these various groups was clearly complex, and certainly need not be presumed to have been one-way traffic; indeed, everything we know from historical sources suggests a social structure in which a variety of mechanisms could have prompted mutual exchange of artistic fashions and technical expertise. The affinities with the eastern English style of scabbard ornament are apparent, as they are with Torrs, and at further remove with parallel trends in Europe. It has been argued that there is no a priori case for invoking time lag in the appearance of the engraved style in Ireland, which is not to say that all the decorated scabbards need date as early as the third century bc. The Irish scabbards are seemingly later than the earliest of the Yorkshire examples in terms of their chape typology, but it need not follow that they are therefore derivative from the eastern English group.

A relief or embossed style, the insular counterpart to the Continental Plastic Style, is also represented in Ireland, as in Britain. Whereas in Britain the two appear on the same artefact, notably in the parade shields of eastern England, in Ireland, they do not coincide, which is not to say that they could not have been overlapping in chronological currency. A major example of the style is the disc embellishing the mouth of the Loughnashade horn (Figure 8.4, 2), found in 1794, apparently with three other such horns, in a marshy pool beneath the 'royal' earthwork at Emain Macha in Co. Armagh. Among British scholars, the Loughnashade piece has received a poor press. Atkinson and Piggott (1955, 231) regarded it as representing 'the Torrs style in uncomfortable decline', and more recently Jope has written of its 'mechanical uninspired repoussé design' and its 'rather starved effect, lacking real invention' (2000, 74). Closest stylistically is certainly the Torrs pony-cap, likewise executed in repoussé and likewise in fold-over symmetry. The circular field dictates its balanced design, comprising essentially four elements at the cardinal points, linked with a series of tendril scrolls. The principal motifs like Torrs include peltate elements extending into bossed terminals, the latter curling in the same direction as on the Brentford 'horn-cap' rather than balanced reciprocally, one up, one down, as with Torrs. Some hint at exaggerated birds' heads, though not so explicitly as Torrs, and there is a strong impression of paired Cheshire-style 'eyes' in the cardinal point designs. Double finials are matched in marked imbalance on opposed sides of a small, curving triangle by a single bossed finial, a combination also seen on the Newnham Croft bracelet.

Dating the Loughnashade disc exposes all the usual limitations of the data and prejudices of archaeologists, who in general have favoured a date spanning the first century bc and first century ad, as if this was 'safer' than acknowledging that it should be contemporary with Torrs and the eastern English series. The relief style could be marginally later in its first appearance than the engraved, but still could date from the later third century bc. Raftery (1984) appears to have been influenced by the fact that the D-shape patch on the horn is paralleled on cauldrons of the first century ad. Since patches by definition imply longevity of use, the style of the patch, or its association with other repaired artefacts, can hardly be adduced as reliable evidence for the date of manufacture of the horn itself and its ornamental disc. As in Britain, however, the relief style does undergo a progressive transformation on discs and related pieces of the first and second centuries ad, which will be considered in due course.

The function of these horns or trumpets in Celtic society is a subject of much speculation, with reference inevitably to the depiction of such an instrument on the sculpture of the Dying Gaul, commemorating the Gaulish invasions of Macedonia of the third century bc, and the possible role of battle-trumpets in Celtic warfare. Relatively few curved instruments of the Loughnashade kind are known in Europe, though the existence in Ireland of wooden horns suggests the possibility of a more commonplace variant. The relationship to other classes of wind instrument is likewise unclear. The horns of the Dowris late Bronze Age are always declared to be quite different, as indeed they are to the archaeologist's typological perspective, even though their function was surely similar. The lurer of later Bronze Age Scandinavia, on the other hand, have ornamented discs cognate to the Loughnashade trumpet. The conclusion must be that these horns fulfilled a ceremonial function in later prehistoric society, whether festive, funerary or associated with martial display. It was plainly not an exclusively Celtic function, though it may have been an important part of Celtic practice.

The relief style in Ireland, however, is also expressed in the medium of stone, of which the finest example, Turoe (Figure 8.6), is probably not the earliest. The design of the Turoe stone is not easily described, though its recurrent component elements are clear enough. As Duignan (1976) astutely observed, the decoration of the conical stone is in fact divided into four separate panels, bound into one by the continuous stepped meander design around its base. Predominant in the curvilinear designs are peltate elements, curved triangle elements, comma-leaves and whirligig triskeles, while in the negative background are open circles, peltae and trumpet-voids. Some of these, like the comma-leaves and triskeles, have their ultimate ancestry in the Continental Early Style and its immediate successors, but here they may be no more than archaisms incorporated into a design for which later insular British parallels are more commonly cited. Certainly there are echoes of the southern British Mirror Style in the open circles, peltate or sub-crescentic elements, and the trumpet void. The isolated comma-leaf, or

Stone Age Mirror

Figure 8.6 The Turoe stone, Co Galway. A: Professor Etienne Rynne examining the design.

Photo by D. W. Harding. B: the quadrilateral basis of the design. Adapted from Duignan (1976).

Figure 8.6 The Turoe stone, Co Galway. A: Professor Etienne Rynne examining the design.

Photo by D. W. Harding. B: the quadrilateral basis of the design. Adapted from Duignan (1976).

'floating lobes' in Duignan's phrase, can be matched on the Llyn Cerrig plaque, but it is hardly a diagnostic characteristic of late La Tène British metal-work. The weight of opinion, which a generation ago saw sub-Waldalgesheim influence in the Turoe designs, now favours a late date, again spanning the first century bc or first century ad. The Breton connection, prompted by the model of the early La Tène stèles bas of that region, and the analogy of the Turoe stepped design and geometric patterns on the Kermaria stone in particular, has likewise been discredited in recent years, seemingly in favour of an independent Irish development prompted by various influences, filtered through unspecified intermediaries.

Among other carved stones, the designs on the Castlestrange stone is plainly in a different style, and could be somewhat earlier than Turoe. On the other hand, the incised designs on the Derrykeighan, Co. Antrim, stone are probably no earlier than the end of the first century bc on the basis of analogies with the designs on the Lough Crew flakes. The same might be argued for the incised ornament on the Killycluggin stone from Co. Cavan. What is likely is that these survivals represent only the tip of the iceberg of those ornamented stones and pillars that there once were. Various commentators have remarked that an entire body of timber carvings could have been lost, but equally many apparently plain boulders in Ireland and elsewhere could have borne similar designs in paint-work that has simply not survived.

+3 -1


  • joan o\'bryan herriott
    having just visited the castlestrange site and its la tene stone i want to learn more about the meaning and use of it. It can only be 'read' from a distance and slightly below it. If its function is ritualistic is it possible that the incisions could taken together be a choreographic code?
    8 years ago
  • fre-qalsi
    What are different horse bits with labels?
    8 years ago
  • bilbo hornblower
    What is the difference between La Tene and Insular?
    8 years ago

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