Ireland's Past Is True Gold—and More

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The first metallurgists came to Ireland about 2200 B.C. looking for copper. Exquisite metal work was not produced until 1200 B.C., however, when the Bronze Age flourished.

Sheets of bronze and gold pieces were riveted and twisted into objects with simple patterns of triangles and circles. Gold jewelry—necklaces, bracelets, and earrings—were crafted for only the most elite members of society.

With the dawn of the Iron Age in 500 B.C., iron came to replace bronze as the main material used for weapons and art. Some historians have speculated that the Iron Age came to Ireland with the Celts, or keltoi.

One thing the Celts are known to have brought with them was a style of angular and curvilinear patterns and a technique of "symbolizing animals and humans in a thought instead of physically drawing them" said Wallace.

The next major influence in Ireland was the Vikings, whose impact lasted almost 400 years. Beginning late in the eighth century, these Scandinavian raiders plundered Ireland's precious metals and kidnapped its citizens for the slave trade.

Their more positive impacts included the introduction of trade, shipbuilding, and coinage. The increased urbanization of Ireland under the Vikings basically changed the economy and way of life for the Gaelic people.

The presence of the Vikings has often been associated with the end of the "golden age" of metal work and jewelry in Ireland. The Vikings brought with them, however, a new metal used for such works, silver. About A.D. 900 silver was commonly used for brooches, which were produced in two distinct styles—one that appealed to the Irish, the other to Viking wearers.

Other Influences

Another factor affecting the nature of national art and culture is that Ireland "is more of a western European country than it is a northern European country," said Wallace.

Unlike in continental Europe, the spread of the Roman Empire and its lifestyle and values never reached Ireland. As a result, Irish culture and civilization developed for long periods with little outside influences.

Ireland was affected by the Reformation in the 16th century, but not in the same ways that the movement had an impact on continental European countries.

In England, Protestantism came to dominate state, church, and people; the Irish remained devoutly Catholic, even though they did adopt some of the principles of Reformation. Today, religion still has a deep influence on daily life in Ireland.

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