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Ancient History within Boyne Valley

By damian, Wednesday, 12th February 2014 | 0 comments
Filed under: Did you know, Festivals, See & do Meath.

Newgrange and the Boyne valley is a must see while visiting Ireland, it is a UNESCO world heritage site located just North of Dublin along the East coast of Ireland in County Meath.


1 IMG 0860 Thumbnail0Around 3200 B.C., the Irish began raising great stone temple tombs, covered with mounds of earth and built on hilltops to emphasize their size. Archaeologists suggest these were more than just burial mounds. Probably sacred to the earth goddess, their positioning shows how the dead could look down on the living while the living looked up to the ancestors who provided protection for the tribe.

Many are precisely aligned with the rising or setting sun. Since similar temple mounds exist across Northern Europe, Ireland may have shared a common ritual culture for thousands of years.

By 2000 B.C., stone circles were built in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. A population concerned with birth and fertility, the Irish included movements of the sun in their religious monuments. The circles were temples for a solar religion. In 1159 B.C., there are indications that the weather got much worse and the gods and goddesses of water, in streams and lakes, took on greater importance. Material possessions, animals, and even people were sacrificed, probably to appease these gods.

1 Hill of Slane Thumbnail0During the final period before the coming of Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century A.D., religion in Ireland was still concerned with the forces of nature so important to farming populations. Druids were the priests or soothsayers of this Celtic world, intermediaries between human existence and the Otherworld.

Stories written down centuries later by Christian monks provide clues to this Celtic religion, as do descriptions by Roman writers who witnessed European Celtic rituals. Human sacrifice existed, but only in times of great need. Worship was more celebrational than liturgical, with people gathering on the Quarter Days -- February 1 (Imbolg), May 1 (Beltine), August 1 (Lunasa), and November 1 (Samain, our Halloween) -- to celebrate the cycle of the seasons. Rome's conquest of most of Europe, and later adoption of Christianity, suppressed such Celtic rituals, but in Ireland, beyond Rome's influence, the old religion continued.

Christian missionaries like Patrick arrived in Ireland in the 5th century A.D., settling close to royal centres of power and targeting local kings and their families. Conversion was a piecemeal operation, but Christianity spread from the top down. Missionaries like Patrick understood that much of the sophisticated religious system already in place fitted in with Christianity. There was convergence and accommodation as many pagan practices were absorbed into the Celtic Irish church, making the new religion easier to accept. Compared to Christianity's spread elsewhere, conversion was gradual and non-violent.

Legends portray Patrick as the primary force behind Ireland's peaceful conversion, but he was one of many early missionaries, unimportant in his own lifetime. A century after his death, the monastery in Armagh -- supposedly founded by Patrick -- began its campaign to dominate the Irish church. As its power grew, so too did the cult of its founder. Christianity's spread across Ireland was accelerated in the 6th century by climate disaster and plague, the result, according to church leaders, of pagan wickedness. Since writing only came to Ireland with Christianity, the church also controlled literacy and thus the primary means of education.

By the middle of the 6th century, monasteries had become not only religious centres but also the cultural and economic bases of most Irish kingdoms. Far from the isolated, peaceful refuges we think of today, they were bustling population centres, wealthy and often involved in the dynastic wars that were a part of Irish life. Many monasteries had their own armies, and abbots frequently led them in battle against monasteries allied with rival kings.

In Europe's Dark Age following the fall of Rome, Christianity was confined to old Roman cities while pagan barbarian tribes set up new kingdoms among the ruins of the Empire. In Ireland's monasteries, scholarship and art flourished, so Ireland became the guardian of scholarship and theology for all Europe. Irish pilgrims brought Christianity and scholarship back to much of the Continent, and by the 8th century no European kingdom thought itself well served unless it had Irish scholars to advise the royal court. The rebirth of civilization in Europe grew on a foundation of Irish scholarship.

2010 03 10 10.37.05 Thumbnail0Two forms of Christianity competed in Europe in the 7th and 8th centuries: an Irish monastic model, decentralized and quite secular with divorce accepted and priests likely to have families, versus a centralized Latin model based on the power of a Pope in Rome who now demanded celibacy from his priests. Rome would be the ultimate winner. As the Latin Church consolidated power, a so-called "reform" movement aimed to curb what it saw as excesses of the Irish church. Ireland became the target of Roman propaganda, labelled an island of barbarians and a centre of immoral pagan practices.

In the 12th Century A.D., politics and religion came together to force religious and political change in Ireland. Dermot MacMurrough, the ousted King of Leinster, asked England's King Henry II for help in regaining his kingdom. With the consent of an English Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury in England, Anglo-Normans first invaded Ireland in 1167. It was the beginning of the end for a uniquely Irish Church. Book your Boyne Valley Newgrange tour today

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