The Geology of Ancient Ireland

(Copyright 1995 by Michael Sundermeier)


C.H. Holland begins his edition of A Geology of Ireland with an epigraph drawn from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. Since this present work is concerned with literature, it is particularly appropriate that it be considered here:
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.
Four Quartets: "Burnt Norton"
Climate, landscape, and degree of insularity of a place shape the way its inhabitants perceive the world and the possiblities of action on the part of the inhabitants. To an extent, the landscape, if not the climate, of a place may be shaped in turn by the actions of the inhabitants. Human beings with their brief life spans have little awareness of the flow of events in geologic terms, and yet, consciously or not, human beings respond to these events and interact with them in consequential terms. If we wish to understand the people of an earlier time and another place, we need to understand the time and place in which they existed rather than unconsciously thinking of their circumstances as being much like our own, and their lives lived out much as ours are, except of course in costume.

When studying the early myths and legends of Ireland, this knowledge is particularly helpful. This literature presupposes to a great extent that the reader (or, earlier, hearer) knows what sort of world surrounds the events, and yet for the modern reader, even one familiar with modern Ireland, that world would be quite different. Modern Ireland with its mechanized farms and growing system of motorways, its industrialization and urbanization and instant communications, is as much detached from its natural basis as any other developed part of the world. What was the world like in which the creators of Cu Chullain lived? Why did they value what they valued and do what they did? The two questions are related.

Since this text is concerned with the interaction between Ireland and its inhabitants, the accompanying discussion will use as a beginning point the time just before the arrival of human beings in Ireland, that is, the late Pleistocene epoch of the Quaternary period, some 10,000 plus years ago, in geologic terms, a mere eyeblink.