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Iron Age. 500 BC – 400 AD. Celtic Ireland. Romanticised Celts. - Strabo (Roman Historian) 1AD.

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Iron age

Iron Age

500 BC – 400 AD

Strabo roman historian 1ad
- Strabo (Roman Historian) 1AD

“To the frankness and high spiritedness of their temperament must be added traits of childish boastfulness and love of decoration. They wear ornaments of gold, torcs on their necks and bracelets on their arms and wrists, while people of high rank wear garments besprinkled with gold. It is this vanity that makes them so unbearable in victory and so completely downcast in defeat.”

The celts
The Celts

  • A group of tribes

  • Greeks and Romans knew them as ‘Keltoi’.

  • Renowned warriors, horsemen and craft workers.

  • Brought Iron working skills to Ireland.

  • All celtic tribes had a similar language and culture.

  • Celtic traditions in Ireland already through trading (hill forts).

  • Not known how celtic traditions and language spread, when Christianity came – one language and political system.

Iron age structures
Iron Age Structures

  • Little known about burial rites.

  • Now believed ring forts began to be constructed in the Late Bronze Age.

  • Ring Forts functions: defence, rituals, habitats.

  • Dun Aengus: 900 BC - 200BC, originally oval or ‘D’ shaped, walls 4 meters at some points, outside 3rd wall are thousands of sharp edged stones (Cheveaux de frise) used to make passage difficult. Location suggests fort was used for rituals or for control over trading.

Dun Aengus - Inis Mor, Aran Islands

Celtic art hallstatt style
Celtic Art - Hallstatt Style

  • Earliest development of Celtic Art.

  • Hallstatt Celts developed Iron technology.

  • Hallstatt art and technology reached Ireland in 6 BC but did not take root.

The la tene style

  • 5th Century BC (in Ireland by 3rd Cen. BC)

  • Combined variety of influences with existing celtic style (including classical Greek and Roamn art and Oriental art).

  • Called ‘La Tene’ after a site on the shores of a lake in Switzerland where examples were found.

  • Designs: Leaf, Vines, Tendrils, Scrolls, Lyre, Trumpet (pg. 99)

The La Tene Style

Lake Neuchatel - Switzerland

Stone carving
Stone Carving

  • Large stones were dressed and carved with abstract designs and also as free standing human figures.

Tandragee Idol, Co. Armagh

Tricephalic Head, Co. Cavan

Stone carving1
Stone Carving

  • First objects of Irish origin in La Tene style.

  • Large boulders, dressed and carved in abstract patterns found in different counties such as Roscommon, Cavan and Antrim.

The turoe stone
The Turoe Stone

  • Date: 50 BC

  • Style: La Tene (Insular La Tene)

  • Material: 4 ton pink feldsparred Galway granite.

  • Techniques used: dressing and chip carving.

  • Form: Domed boulder, 1.68 m tall, sculpted in low relief (3cm in depth).

  • Function: Not known, could have been a boundry marker or for ceremonies.

Turoe stone decoration
Turoe Stone Decoration

  • Abstract leaf and vine designs, trumpet ends and spirals flowing in casual symmetry.

  • Design is in four segments - two semicircular areas and smaller triangular segments.

  • Triskle - in one of the triangular segments.

  • Spaces between raised pattern can be seen as part of the design (use positive and negative space).

  • Brick/step pattern forms a band over plain base.

Iron age metalwork
Iron Age Metalwork

  • Iron technology arrived – easier to make tools and weapons.

  • Iron not melted and cast, it was heated, hammer forged and shaped.

  • Metalworkers were highly valued in society.

  • Decorative work: bronze.

  • Lost wax method of casting – more complex designs created.

  • Sheet bronze – turned and hammered.

The broighter hoard
The Broighter Hoard

  • Found near Lough Foyle Co. Derry

  • Bowl, two chains, two twisted bracelets, a gold collar.

The broighter collar1
The Broighter Collar

  • Material: Gold.

  • Style: Insular La Tene style.

  • Techniques: Chasing, sheet metal shaping, soldering, riviting.

  • Form: Hollow tubes in circular shape, two larger buffer terminals with T-shaped bar lock. Another terminal missing from middle.

  • Decoration: Foliage pattern, symmetrical interconnecting S-scrolls, spiral bosses (pinned on), riviting of terminals disguised by beading

The ultimate la tene style
The Ultimate La Tene Style

  • Later in Iron Age – change of style.

  • Designs lighter and more symmetrical.

  • More geometric shapes and forms (continued into Christian era).

The loughnashade trumpet
The Loughnashade Trumpet

  • Place: Co. Antrim

  • Date: 1st Century AD

  • Material: Bronze

  • Function: Instrument

  • Techniques: Tubes shaped from sheets, riviting, repousse.

  • Form: Arc shape, two tubes joined in middle, flat plate on the end with repousse design. Low relief decoration.

  • Decoration: plate – four part symmetrical pattern based on Roman Pelta motif.

The petrie crown
The Petrie Crown

  • Unknown origin.

  • Material: Bronze.

  • Function: Unknown, perhaps section of a crown.

  • Techniques: Incising, sheet metal shaped, rivits, enamelling.

  • Form: Two cone shapes, two shallow bowl shape discs with off centre bosses, enamel bead in on boss, semi-circular band attached in pairs which are perforated.

  • Decoration: Palmate, lotus bud, triskle, slim trumpet curves. Zoomorphic design – bird heads (among earliest examples in Irish Art).


  • Little known about Iron Age life in Ireland.

  • Artefacts found across Europe not found in Ireland.

  • 5th/6th Century – written records began and all of Ireland spoke a Celtic language.

  • Design elements – plant forms, zoomorphic designs, simplified human forms and geomentric designs can be seen throughout Christian art.

Tara Brooch