ARCH30970 Iron Age Ireland

Academic Year 2023/2024

This module will introduce the archaeology of Ireland’s Iron Age and the issues connected to it. Over two thousand years may have passed, but the Iron Age is still alive in the public eye: the iconic statue of a dying Cuchulainn, facing down his enemies, is on display in Dublin GPO, and every gift shop along O’Connell Street contains trinkets decorated with ‘Celtic’ symbols. In pop culture, Cuchullain becomes a transitory member of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise (1983-84). Books such as The Witcher series borrow liberally from the mythologies while the Horslips themed albums of the Book of Invasions and The Táin and the recent Decemberists album of the same name, present the legends recorded in the early medieval period, which are based in the first centuries AD.
Much of what is considered Irish Iron Age is based on relatively modern interpretations of those early medieval stories, nuanced to express a national identity apart from British cultural influences. The image the Victorian and Edwardian writers and artists created of the period is mysterious and beautiful, but what do we know about the real Iron Age? How do we tease out the fantasy from modern archaeological evidence ?
This module places Ireland in context to Europe and Britain and uses the evidence we have – and don’t have –of life in the Iron Age. Most of what has survived are the artefacts and structures of the elite –can we find evidence for ‘ordinary people’?
Two long-standing debates are examined – the problem of defining the beginning, middle and end of the period, and the theme of ‘Celtic’ identity. With an awareness of these archaeological legacy issues, and how many of those issues were part of creating an identity for a new independent country, how well has the work of late 19th and early 20th century antiquarians held up to modern scientific thought?

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should be able to :

1. Place Ireland within the wider cultural, trade and chronological vista of Iron Age Europe and Britain.

2. Understand the archaeological problems raised by the chronological problems and the questions of identity raised by the Celticity debate.

3. Gain an appreciation of the material culture of the period, identifying the techniques used to create and decorate the artefacts, what makes them different from British and European analogues, and the archaeological methods used to examine them

4. Be confident in assessing pseudo-archaeologies presented around ‘Celtic’ identity and how they affect our own identities in the modern world.

Indicative Module Content:

Key themes will include
IRELAND IN A ‘CELTIC’ EUROPE: Trade, mobility and cultural influences, both before and after Roman expansion across the Continent.
LEGACY ISSUES OF CHRONOLOGY AND IDENTITY: Can Ireland be considered ‘Celtic’ when there is no indication of invasion from Europe? How do we define ‘Celtic’ identity? When did cultural changes happen in Ireland, and what may have been the drivers of those changes?
IDENTIFICATION AND TECHNOLOGY OF IRISH IRON AGE MATERIAL OBJECTS: Themes of art, technology and use: as we only see an elite through the material objects, how can we identify non-elite groups?
LANDSCAPES AND CHANGE: Introducing features and sites of the Irish Iron Age. How does the erratic cessation of farming known as the Late Iron Age Lull influence what we know of Iron Age sites?
WORKING THROUGH THINGS: Using archaeological and archaeometric methods to address the challenges of an under-examined period of time
IT NEVER WENT AWAY, YOU KNOW: Modern concepts of the Iron Age, and how it was utilised to create a national identity in an independent State. How authentic is that version of the Iron Age? How does it affect the identity of modern Ireland?

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning








Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Approaches to teaching and learning may include: lectures; in-class group activities, discussions, and debates. Assigned materials to be engaged outside of class may include academic articles and book chapters. Students will be encouraged to independantly visit to the NMI 'Kingship and Sacrifice' exhibition as part of their preparation for assignments. The module assessments take the form of a research plan, leading to a portfolio which can be either artefact or landscape focussed. A visit to CEAMC on campus will stimulate ideas for technology and design for those who choose the artefact option in particular.

Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Portfolio: Student will choose an object from their visit to the NMI, or select a site or feature , and present their analysis and results in written and drawn form Week 12 n/a Graded No


Assignment: 1500 word research plan, setting out chosen portfolio subject, and how the student will approach the analysis of either site or artefact. Week 7 n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

UCD School of Archaeology uses a standard format to provide feedback in all modules. This format also contains feed forward details - this will help you think about how you could improve your approach in future assignments. Final assessment on research plan and portfolio ( a flexible medium which can include art, technological analysis and archive research) will be given individually to students. Students should feel free to informally discuss their choice of artefact for the portfolio assessment, before submission

This list is NOT compulsary for the module, but the papers and books contained offer a sweeping view of the material which will be covered, and as such will prove useful for students to refer to.

Allison, P.M. 2015. Artefacts and people on the Roman frontier in D. Breeze, R.H. Jones and I Oltean (eds) Understanding Roman frontiers: A celebration for Professor Bill Hanson: 121-134. Edinburgh: John MacDonald.
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Armit, I. 2007. ‘Social landscapes and identities in the Irish Iron Age’ in C. Haselgrove and T. Moore, T. (ed) The Late Iron Age in Britain and Beyond: 130-139. Oxford: Oxbow Publications.
Armstrong, E.C.R. 1923. The La Tène Period in Ireland. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. 13: 1-33.
Arnaiz-Villena, A., Carballo, A., Juarez, I., Muñiz, E., Campos, C., Tejedor, B., Martín-Villa, M. and Palacio-Gruber, J. 2017. HLA genes in Atlantic Celtic populations: are Celts Iberians? International Journal of Modern Anthropology. 1(10): 50-72.
Bateson, J.D. 1973. Roman material in Ireland: a reconsideration. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature. 73: 21-97.
Bateson, J.D. 1976. Further finds of Roman material in Ireland. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature. 76: 171-180.
Becker, K. 2011. Iron Age Ireland: Continuity, change and identity, in T. Moore and X.L. Armada (eds) Atlantic Europe in the First Millennium BC: Crossing the Divide: 449-468. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Becker, K. 2012. Redefining the Irish Iron Age, in C. Corlett and M. Potterton (eds) Life and Death in Iron Age Ireland: 1-15. Bray: Wordwell Publishing.
Bello Gallico by Julius Caesar; translated by McDevitte, W.A and Bohn, W.S. Viewed 21st March 2018 < >
Bradley. R. 1990. A Passage of Arms. London: Routledge.
Bradley, R. 2000. An Archaeology of Natural Places. London: Routledge.
Bridgman, T.P. 2004. Keltoi, Galatai, Galli: Were They All One People? Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium. 24: 155-162.
Briggs, C.S. 2014. The Torrs chamfrein or headpiece: restoring a very curious relic of antiquity’ in C. Gosden., S. Crawford and K. Ulmschneider (eds) Celtic Art in Europe: Making Connections: 341-356. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
Brück, J. and Fontijn, D. 2013. The myth of the chief: prestige goods, power, and personhood in the European Bronze Age, in H. Fokkens and A. Harding (eds) The Oxford Handbook of European Bronze Age: 197-215. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Brun, P. 1994. From the Hallstatt to La Tène period in the perspective of Mediterranean world economy, in K. Kristiansen and J. Jensen, J. (eds) Europe in the first millennium BC. Sheffield Archaeological Monographs 6: 57-65. Sheffield: Collis Publishing.
Cahill-Wilson, J. 2013. Lost in Transcription: rethinking our approach to the archaeology of the Later Iron Age in C. Corlett. And M. Potterton (eds) Life and Death in Iron Age Ireland: 15-35. Bray: Wordwell Publishing.

Cahill-Wilson, J. 2014. Romans and Roman material in Ireland: a wider social perspective. Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland: 11-59. Bray: Wordwell Publishing.

Carson R. A. G. and O’Kelly C. 1977. A Catalogue of the Roman Coins from Newgrange, Co. Meath and Notes on the Coins and Related Finds. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature. 77: 35-55.
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Cunliffe, B. 2009. A race apart: Insularity and connectivity. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 75: 55-64.
Cunliffe, B. 2013. Britain Begins. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cunningham, B. 2010. The Annals of the Four Masters: Irish History, Kingship and Society in the Early Seventeenth Century. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
Davis, M. and Gwilt, A. 2008. Material, style and identity in first century AD metalwork, with particular reference to the Seven Sisters Hoard, in D.Garrow., C. Gosden, and J.D. Hill, (eds) Rethinking Celtic Art: 146-184. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
Discovery Programme 2016 Late Iron Age and 'Roman' Ireland. Bray: Wordwell
Dolan, B. 2014. Beyond Elites: Reassessing Irish Iron Age Society. Oxford Journal of Archaeology. 33 (4): 361-377.
Dowling, G. 2014. Geophysical Investigations at Drumanagh and Loughshinny, North County Dublin in Late Iron Age and “Roman” Ireland : 59-90. Bray: Wordwell Publishing.

Eckhart, H 2014. Objects and Identities: Roman Britain and the North-Western Provinces. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Fredengren, C. 2007. Lisnacrogher in a landscape context. JRSAI. 37:29-41.
Garrow, D. and Gosden C. 2012. Technologies of enchantment? Exploring Celtic art: 400 BC to AD 100. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gibbons, M. and Gibbons, M. 2016. The Brú: A Hiberno-Roman Cult Site at Newgrange?. Emania. 23: 67-78.
Giles, M. 2013. A Forged Glamour: Landscape, Identity and Material Culture in the Iron Age. London: Windgather Press.
Gosden., C., S. Crawford and K. Ulmschneider, K.(eds) Celtic Art in Europe: Making Connections: 213-223. Oxford: Oxbow Publishing.
Harding, D. 2007. The Archaeology of Celtic Art. London: Routledge.
Harvey, D.C. 2003. National identities and the politics of ancient heritage: continuity and change at ancient monuments in Britain and Ireland, c. 1675–1850. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 28(4): 473-487.
Haworth, R. 1971. The horse harness of the Early Irish Iron Age. Ulster Journal of Archaeology. 34(3): 26-49.
Hingley, R., 2009. Esoteric knowledge? Ancient bronze artefacts from Iron Age contexts. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 75: 143-165.
Hurl, D., McSparron, C. and Moore, C. 2002. Data Structure Report No. 4: Excavations at Dorsey, Dorsy, Co. Armagh. < /schools/CentreforArchaeologicalFieldworkCAF/PDFFileStore/Filetoupload, 180961>
Hutton, R. 2011. Romano-British re-use of prehistoric ritual sites. Britannia. 42: 1-22.
Jacobsthal, P.1935. Early Celtic Art. The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. 67(390): 113-127.
Jacobsthal, P. 1944. Early Celtic Art Vols I and II. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Jackson, K.H. 1964. The Oldest Irish Tradition: A Window on the Iron Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Johnston, E. 2017. Ireland in Late Antiquity. Studies in Late Antiquity. 1(2):107-123.
Jope, E.M. 2000. Early Celtic Art in the British Isles Vol.1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jope, E.M and Wilson, B.C.S. 1957. The Decorated Cast Bronze Disc from the River Bann near Coleraine. Ulster Journal of Archaeology. 20(3): 95-102.
Joy, J. 2014. Brit-Art: Celtic art in Roman Britain and on its frontiers, in C. Gosden.,S Crawford and Ulmschneider, K (eds) Celtic Art in Europe: Making Connections:317-324.Oxford: Oxbow Books.
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Kelly, E.P. 2006. Secrets of the bog bodies: the enigma of the Iron Age explained. Archaeology Ireland. 20(1): 26-30.
Krausse, D., Ebinger-Rist, N., Million, A., Billamboz, A., Wahl, J. and Stephan, J. 2017. The ‘Keltenblock’ project: discovery and excavation of a rich Hallstatt grave at the Heuneburg, Germany. Antiquity. 91(355):108-120.
Lawlor, H.C. 1938. An Ancient Route: The Slighe Miodhluachra in Ulaidh. Ulster Journal of Archaeology. 1(3): 3-6.
Macdonald, P. 2007. Llyn Cerrig Bach: a study of the copper alloy artefacts from the insular La Tène assemblage. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
MacGregor, M., 1962. The Early Iron Age Metalwork Hoard from Stanwick, NR Yorks. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 28:17-57.
MacGregor, M., 1976. Early Celtic Art in North Britain: a study of decorative metalwork from the third century BC to the third century AD Volumes I and II). Leicester: Leicester University Press.
Maguire, R. 2014. The Y-piece: Function, Production, Typology and Possible Origins’ Emania. 22. 78-99.
Maguire, R. 2020. Sign O’ The Times: The re-use of pre-Roman Iron Age British and European symbols on Late Iron Age Irish equestrian equipment, in H. Chittock, C. Nimura., C. Gosden and P. Hommel (eds.) Art in the Eurasian Iron Age: Context, connections and scale:Proceedings of Early Celtic Art in Context, Oxford University Sept 25-27th 2017 : 161-178. Oxford: Oxbow Publications.
Maguire, R. 2020. The Southern Cross: examining possible connections between the pre-Roman Iron Age 'Vale' brooches of Britain and the Ballykean Type 1d Y-pieces. Journal of Irish Archaeology. 29:63-78.
Mallory, J.P. 1992. The world of Cú Chulainn: the archaeology of Táin Bó Cúailnge, in J.P. Mallory(ed.) Aspects of the Táin: 103-159. Belfast: David Brown Books
Mallory, J.P. 2016. In Search of the Irish Dreamtime: Archaeology and Early Irish Literature. London: Thames and Hudson.
Megaw, J.V.S and Megaw, R. 1989. Celtic Art: From the Beginning to the Book of Kells. London: Thames and Hudson.
Morris, F.M. 2015. Cross‐North Sea Contacts in the Roman Period. Oxford Journal of Archaeology. 34(4): 415-438.
Newman, C., O’Connell, M., Dillon, M. and Molloy, K. 2007. Interpretation of charcoal and pollen data relating to a late Iron Age ritual site in eastern Ireland: a holistic approach Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. 16(5):349-365.
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Name Role
Dr Rob Sands Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Mon 10:00 - 10:50
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Wed 10:00 - 10:50