In Search of the Irish Dreamtime

Full Title: In Search of Irish Dreamtime – Archaeology and Early Irish Literature

Author: J.P. Mallory

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Published: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-500-05184-9 (Hardback)

Pages: 320 including some colored pictures, notes, bibliography and index.


Synopsis: Following his account of Irish origins drawing on archaeology, genetics, and linguistics, J. P. Mallory returns to the subject to investigate what he calls the Irish Dreamtime: the native Irish retelling of their own origins, as related by medieval manuscripts. He explores the historical backbone of this version of the earliest history of Ireland, which places apparently mythological events on a concrete timeline of invasions, colonization, and royal reigns that extends even further back in time than the history of classical Greece. The juxtaposition of traditional Dreamtime tales and scientific facts expands on what we already know about the way of life in Iron Age Ireland.
By comparing the world depicted in the earliest Irish literary tradition with the archaeological evidence available on the ground, Mallory explores Ireland’s rich mythological tradition and tests its claims to represent reality.


This is the second book from J.P. Mallory which shows a different, lighter yet scholarly writing style; the first was his book on Irish origins.

The book is just what it says in the synopsis an investigation of the native Irish retelling of their own origins. In it he uses two techniques: the first is excavation of literature and the second is archaeology. By comparing the two the author was able to tell us a little about when these tales might have been written.

The author by the end of this book is clearly in the “this was written by Irishmen but it does not depict the Irish Iron Age and has some foreign influences” camp, though I don’t think he is a staunch anti-nativist like Kim McCone.

The author explained his “excavation of literature” technique in the book (chapter 4) which I think is the real treasure of this text. He also made a point of discussing which tales he will be “excavating” and then put them in a timeline using the Annals of the Four Masters as a guide (Chapters 1 and 2).

Whether you agree with his analysis of the tales or not, he clearly has a lot of respect for them and it shows in the way he writes about them and how he shows his evidence. I loved reading this book and following his train of thought on why he concludes what he does.

One final note, Mallory in the Introduction of his book defends his use of the word “Dreamtime” which is clearly an aboriginal word and says that he is sorry to be using it but that it is the best word he could find to describe what he is writing about. I think the fact that he acknowledges where the word comes from and discusses why he is using it was a good way to put the CR in me, who cringed, at ease…just a tiny smidge. I still would have been more comfortable with him using something from the Irish tradition.

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