The Kingship and Landscape of Tara

**This review was first published in Air n-Aithesc Volume II, Issue II.

Editor: Edel Bhreathnach

Publisher: Four Court Press for The Discovery Programme

Published: 2005

ISBN: 9781851829545

Synopsis: (From the Four Courts Press Website)

This volume is the culmination of an inter-disciplinary project undertaken as part of the Discovery Programme involving archaeologists, historians, linguists and place-name experts. It includes prosopographies of the kings and queens of Tara from mythology to the eighth century; a re-assessment of the nature of the kingship of Tara; legal aspects of the kingship of Tara; the origin and extent of the place name Temair; Tara and the supernatural; the archaeology and topography of the kingdom of Brega; editions of two of the earliest texts relating to the kingship of Tara.

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Review:

This book is one of the projects in The Discovery Programme called Tara Research Project. The project was made up of two parts: a non-invasive archaeological survey; and an inter-disciplinary approach that included anthropology, archaeology, history, linguistics, literary criticism, and onomastics. The aim of this project was to deal with the complex issue of Tara.

The volume is made up of two parts: kingship and landscape. The two parts together are made up of fourteen essays, which examine Tara from late prehistory to the eighth century BCE. The book ends with five indexes and an extensive bibliography. It also has pictures and maps from pages 383 to 409.

The fourteen essays in this book discuss these main themes: Baile Chuinn Chétchathaig and the Airgialle charter poem; prosopography1 of the kings and queens associated with them mentioned in the above two texts; a discussion of the landscape of Tara and Brega; and the special status of Tara.

The essays are all really interesting though sometimes they were hard to take in one sitting so maybe read as much or as little as your brain can take. I know I’ve had to split some of these essays into small chunks to be able to get through them and soak up all the information presented. In some cases, I felt like more citations were needed, or more information on where to read more should one feel interested. On the whole though the essays were solid.

There was one essay that really caught my attention and that was “PROSOPOGRAPHY II: A Prosopography of the Early Queens of Tara”. It is the longest essay in the book and it only discusses the women associated with the persons mentioned in the Baile Chuinn Chétchathaig and the Airgialle charter poem, but at least they were discussed. There isn’t a lot written on women in the Celtic world so that was a good essay to read.

Another essay that I really liked was John Carey’s essay called “Tara and the Supernatural”. In this essay Carey discusses how Tara was not linked to the síd, like Emain Macha for example, but its kingship is still the focus of supernatural threat in some stories because it was identified with the Kingship of Ireland.

I think this book is a very important but I also think that people should read other hypotheses and interpretations about the kingship of Tara. This is but ONE interpretation among many.

A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes

Author: Jonathan Bardon

Publisher: Gill and McMillan

Published: September 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0717146499

Pages: 592 including works cited and Bibliography.

  
Synopsis: Jonathan Bardon covers all the obvious things: the invasions, battles, development of towns and cities, the Reformation, the Georgian era, the Famine, rebellions and resistance, the difference of Ulster, partition, the twentieth century. What makes his book so valuable, however, are the quirky subjects he chooses to illustrate how history really works: the great winter freeze of 1740 and the famine that followed; crime and dueling; an emigrant voyage; evictions. These episodes get behind the historical headlines to give a glimpse of past realities that might otherwise be lost to view. The author has retained the original episodic structure of the radio programs. The result is a marvelous mosaic of the Irish past, delivered with clarity and narrative skill.

Review: I won’t speak about the contents of the book because the synopsis does a good job of it. However, I will speak to the validity of information. The author does a good enough job of conveying the information in bite size chapters. His mythology understanding is very rudimentery and in some cases even laughable. His historical understanding is good though so one thing carries the other. 

I think this book was based on episodes done for TV or Radio so that should give you an indication of how indepth (or in this case not so indepth) the information is.

Who is this book for? Someone who wants an overview of Irish history but doesn’t want to go indepth.

Ancient Ireland Life Before the Celts

Author: Laurance Flanagan

Published: February 15, 1999

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

ISBN: 978-0312218812

Pages: 288 including sketches, figures and glossary.

Synopsis: When the Celts first arrived in Ireland around 250BC, the island had already been inhabited for over 7,000 years. These pre-Celtic peoples have left no written records, but they have left extensive archaeological evidence, of which Newgrange is the most celebrated example. Who were these peoples and how did they live? Using archaeological evidence, Laurence Flanagan pieces together the sort of houses they built, the way they cultivated the land, their social and economic systems, and many other aspects of daily life in pre-Celtic Ireland. Combining scholarship with an accessible style, the book provides a unique and fascinating insight into a lost, fabled world. 

  
Review: This book doesn’t talk about the Celts at all but deals with everything that came before them. The text is divided into two parts, the first is an archaeolgical survey of Ireland before the Celts and the second part is a social study of the archaeological evidence.

As I said the first part is an archaeological study and it spans in detail the Irish Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper and Bronze Ages. There is a lot of interesting information for someone who is not familiar with these time periods.

Part two is an interpretation of the archaeological record. It talks about the wealth, social order, manufacturing, and climate just to name a few.

All in all I liked the book. It was a good overall look at pre-Celtic Ireland.

Tara A Pagan Sanctuary of Ancient Ireland

Author: R. A. S. Macalister

Publisher: Charles Scribner’s Sons

Published: 1931

Pages: 208 including notes, index and bibliography.

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Review:

This book is made up of six chapter. Chapter one is a detailed study of the site of Tara. Macalister draws a picture using the Dindshenchas, mythology and archaeology. It was really fascinating the way the author weaves the information he has to make us understand what is meant when we say Tara. There is a map of Tara in the beginning of the book. I photocopied it and kept it in front of me while I read the description.

Chapter two was all about who built Tara. Macalister used the Dindshenchas again as his jump off point. I think the make take away from this chapter though is this sentence: “In other words, it was less a political than a religious centre: the king was a priest-king, nay, a god upon the earth. Tara was a temple before it became a palace.” (p.87)

Chapters three and four discuss the Gods and the kings of Tara, respectively. These two chapters complement each other even if one doesn’t agree with them 100%.

The reason for me buying this book was chapter five. The chapter discusses an assembly at Carman during Lunasadh. The author uses the Dindshenchas and Keating’s writings to give us a look at what these assemblies would have looked like and then extrapolating that to the assemblies at Tara.

The final chapter of the book was about the last years of Tara, from Cormac to the last battle that was fought there…I felt a bit sad reading this chapter. It was called The Ending of Tara.

I’m glad I found this book. I’m glad I came across another book that put me on to it. I’m glad I read it, and even after 84 years it is still very much relevant.

Ancient Journeys

Full Title: Ancient Journeys – The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings
Author: Jean Franco
Publisher:Thames & Hudson
Published: 2013
Pages: 311 including a long bibliography and footnotes. The book also has many maps and illustrations.
ISBN: 978-0-500-05178-8

Synopsis:
Who are the Europeans and where did they come from? In recent years scientific advances have released a mass of data, turning cherished ideas upside down. The idea of migration in prehistory, so long out of favour, is back on the agenda. New advances allow us to track human movement and the spread of crops, animals, and disease, and we can see the evidence of population crashes and rises, both continent-wide and locally. Visions of continuity have been replaced with a more dynamic view of Europe’s past, with one wave of migration followed by another, from the first human arrivals in Europe to the Vikings.

Ancient DNA links Europe to its nearest neighbours. It is not a new idea that farming was brought from the Near East, but genetics now reveal an unexpectedly complex process in which farmers arrived not in one wave, but several. Even more unexpected is the evidence that the European gene pool was stirred vigorously many times after farming had reached most of Europe. Climate change played a part in this upheaval, but so did new inventions such as the c and wheeled vehicles. Genetic and linguistic clues also enhance our understanding of the upheavals of the Migration Period, the wanderings of steppe nomads, and the adventures of the Vikings.

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Review:

I was very excited to get this book, because I was interested in seeing a review of the genetic material evidence that is out there; and I wanted to see how the author would employ it to prove their main thesis of who the Europeans were and where they came from.

I’m thankful that the author took the time to explain the DNA evidence and how it works in chapter 2. I’m also grateful for the information on the problems it runs into. I just wish that I understood it all. That is not the author’s fault but my own since this is not something that interested me too much in the past so I never really read up on it. So I’m playing catchup. The author goes on to talk about the hunters and fisherman of the Mesolithic, the first farmers and dairy farming, the Copper Age, the IE family and its genetics, the Beaker folk and their relationship to the Celts and to the Italics, the Iron Age warriors, the Etruscans and Romans, the Slavs, the Bulgars and Magyars and finally the vikings.

The author also talks about not just genetics but history via archaeology and linguistics and some classical writers, a word of caution here because the author is not an archaeologist, or a linguist and it shows…for example, on page 205 the author says that Constantinople was re-named Byzantium…So I wasn’t very impressed in some places.

The author also starts out by saying that the genetic evidence should really be read carefully because ancient DNA is not the same as modern DNA, and the places were we are able to get ancient DNA, often times are comprised on one family buried together. And that it is pretty hard to link one genetic “haplogroup” with a language but you seem it done all over the book.

Honestly, but the end I think I got one thing from this book. The migration hypothesis is back in fashion. I don’t think this is a bad book. I think the author should have concentrated on one era or culture and researched the heck out of it to see if the linguistic and archaeological evidence lined up with the DNA evidence presented. Keep in mind that this book is from 2013…so the technology and DNA evidence presented here might already be obsolete.

Celts The History and Legacy of One of the Oldest Cultures in Europe

Author: Martin J. Dougherty
Publisher: Amber Books
Published: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-78274-166-4 (Hardcover)
Pages: 224 including bibliography, index, maps, and pictures (black and white and coloured)

Synopsis:

“They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses… They embalm the heads… [and]… display them with pride to strangers.” – Diodorus Siculus.

Before the Vikings, before the Anglo-Saxons, before the Roman Empire, the Celts dominated central and western Europe. Today we might think of the Celts only inhabiting parts of the far west of Europe – Ireland, Great Britain, France and Spain – but these were the extremities in which their culture lasted longest. In fact, they had originated in Central Europe and settled as far afield as present day Turkey, Poland and Italy. From their emergence as an Iron Age people around 800 BC to the early centuries AD, Celts reveals the truth behind the stories of naked warriors, ritual beheadings, druids, magic and accusations of human sacrifice. The book examines the different tribes, the Hallstatt and La Tène periods, as well as Celtic survival in western Europe, the Gallic Wars, military life, spiritual life, slavery, sexuality and Celtic art. Illustrated with more than 180 colour and black-and-white photographs, maps and artworks, Celts is an expertly written account of a people who have long captured the popular imagination.

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Review: If you’ve ever read Simon James’ book The World of the Celts, or Miranda Green’s The World of the Druids, then you know the kind of book this is. Basically, it is an introductory book. It has a little bit of everything in it. The history of the Celts (snapshot of it anyway), Celtic literature, Celtic Gods and Goddesses (well, some of them) and so on. Hardly ever a page goes by without an illustration, a picture or a map. This would be the kind of book I would recommend to someone who knows nothing about the Celts, and are not really sure they are interested in reading in depth about them.

I do have to say that because of the expertise of the author (he is a professional writer specialising in military history), the military bits are very interesting. I liked the book. Of course I read it in one sitting because there wasn’t anything new in it but it was still good. Of course, it wasn’t perfect either and I sometimes felt like the author was putting together a booklet for a Dungeons and Dragons game (he, the author is also a game designer so maybe that also came through in the writing?). I would recommend this book as a fun introduction to the Celts, but don’t look for anything in depth here.