Archaeologists frequently come across puzzling evidence for ritual activity and Pagan Ireland looks at some of these discoveries. This is a survey of the many rituals and beliefs that were vitally important elements of life in ancient Ireland over several thousand years from at least 4000 BC. Driven by a very human desire to make sense of the world and transform their lives, people created sacred spaces and monuments to facilitate communication with the gods and with ancestral figures. A multiplicity of sacred phenomena were a part of everyday experience, with landscapes and objects often holding unworldly meaning.

Written for a general readership, this wide-ranging study draws on archaeological evidence and on what is known about ritual practices in other cultures to address the difficult question of what beliefs might lie behind certain ritual activities. Sometimes it is possible to make a plausible guess as to what these may have been. A circle of stones was more than just a way of marking a sacred space, the round plan was an expression of a belief in a circular, cyclical cosmos as witnessed in the path of the sun and the fixed stars, and in the rhythm of the year.

Sun worship is recorded throughout prehistory and is apparent not just at famous sites like Newgrange but in imagery in gold and bronze at a later date. The great disc of the sun travelled across the daytime sky and at night was believed to descend beneath the earth in the west, traversing a mysterious underworld, to rise again in the east.

Funerary ceremonies, solar symbolism, magical metalworking, an enduring belief in the cosmic circle, fertility rites, idol worship and much more were all a part of a great pagan tapestry. Veneration of the old gods survived well into Christian times.


John Waddell, formerly Professor of Archaeology in the University of Galway, has written extensively on Irish archaeology. His work on Rathcroghan, a place like Tara that is rich in myth and legend, inspired his interest in Celtic mythology and publications like Archaeology and Celtic Myth (2014). Two other books, Foundation Myths: the beginnings of Irish archaeology (2005) and The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland: a new edition (2022) have been published by Wordwell.

Author John Waddell
Publication Data SEPTEMBER 2023
Subjects Prehistory, Archaeology

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  • ISBN: 978-1-913934-92-7
  • Author(s): John Waddell
  • Availability: In Stock
  • €30.00

Tags: Pagan Ireland