Iron Age

400 BC – 500 AD

In Irish archaeology, the Iron Age spans from roughly 400 B.C. to the arrival of Christianity in the fifth century A.D. During this time, significant cultural and technological changes occurred on the island, including the advent of ironworking, which gave the period its name.

Hillforts are one of the most distinctive characteristics of the Iron Age in Ireland. On hills and promontories, these massive defensive structures were typically composed of a series of earthen banks and ditches surrounding a central enclosure. Some of the largest hillforts in Ireland, such as Dn Aonghasa on the Aran Islands, cover several acres and would have required substantial labor and materials to build.

The widespread use of ringforts during the Iron Age in Ireland is another significant aspect of this period. These circular earthworks were used as farmsteads or homesteads and consisted of a raised platform surrounded by a ditch. Approximately 40,000 ringforts once existed in Ireland, making them one of the most prevalent forms of prehistoric settlement in the country.

In addition to these impressive structures, the Iron Age in Ireland is distinguished by the widespread use of iron tools and weapons. This increased agricultural productivity, as iron ploughs could till the soil more effectively, and military capability, as iron weapons were stronger and more resilient than bronze weapons.

The Iron Age in Ireland witnessed the development of a rich and diverse culture, as evidenced by the discovery of numerous pottery styles and metalwork patterns. Ireland’s Iron Age sites have yielded numerous impressive artifacts, including gold and silver jewelry and bronze and iron swords with intricate designs.

Despite these advancements, the Iron Age in Ireland was a period of great unpredictability and turmoil. The island was periodically invaded by neighboring peoples, and political and economic instability ensued for centuries. Despite this, the Iron Age’s legacy endures in the numerous remarkable monuments and artifacts that have survived to the present day.