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In Search of the Irish Dreamtime

Archaeology & Early Irish Literature

J. P. Mallory


An essential exploration of the native Irish retelling of their own origins, as related by medieval manuscripts

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J. P. Mallory interrogates what he calls the ‘Irish Dreamtime’: the native Irish retelling of their own origins, as related by medieval manuscripts. He attempts to explore the reality of this version of the earliest history of Ireland, which places apparently ‘mythological’ events on a concrete timeline of invasions, colonizations and royal reigns that extends even further back in time than the history of Classical Greece. Can the accounts of this ‘Dreamtime’ really inform us of the way of life in Iron Age Ireland? By comparing the world depicted in the earliest Irish literary tradition with the archaeological evidence available on the ground, Mallory explores Ireland’s rich mythological tradition and tests its claims to represent reality.


'An essential modern reader on the development of our concepts of the most ancient past of Ireland … formidably referenced and thorough'
Irish Times

'An extensive, erudite and humorous study'
Current Archaeology

'Mallory’s book will be of interest to those already immersed in the study of medieval Ireland, but hopefully will also prove a way into this fascinating subject for those new to the field'
Times Higher Education

'Eminently readable and enjoyable'
Journal of Irish Archaeology

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.6 cm

Extent: 320 pp

Publication date: 16 May 2016

ISBN: 9780500051849

Contents List

Introduction • 1: Discovering the Oldest Irish Tradition • 2: Impossible Stories and Impertinent Tales • 3: Excavating the Dreamtime • 4: The Archaeology of the Irish National Origin Legend • 5: The Natural Environment • 6: The Built Environment • 7: Warfare and Weapons • 8: Transport • 9: Material Culture • 10: Burial • 11: Whence the Dreamtime?

About the Author

J. P. Mallory is a world expert on the interconnection of archaeology and linguistics and is the author of the standard work In Search of the Indo-Europeans and The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European. He has published numerous other works, including the hugely acclaimed The Origins of the Irish. He is Emeritus Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at Queen’s University Belfast and a member of the Royal Irish Academy.