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Thread: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

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    Default The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Just reading J.P. Mallory's "Origins of Ireland" - Thames and Hudson

    It's mainly a human pre-history, but the introductory chapter has a nice outline of how the island came into the shape it is in today.

    "The Ireland that we know is a geological accident forged between two continents and then frozen, dunked beneath warm seas, lifted in part to the heights of the Himalyas, covered with lush tropical swamps, blistering deserts and vast expanses of molten rock, then again buried under ice and finally thawed out."

    To summarise -

    - 10 billion years ago recycled debris from earlier stars coalesced to form 'our' sun and planets
    - the superhot Hadean eon lasted over 6 billion years - earth was molten, giving off gases, and cratered by raining meteors
    - in the Archaean eon, from 3.8-2.5 billion years ago, things were cooling - 80% of the earth's crust formed and rain began to fall
    - 3.5 billion years ago, oceans first covered most of the earth's surface, formed from condensing volcanic water vapour and bacteria, the first life form, came into being
    - lighter mineral material rose above the sea bed and some islands - continents - were formed in the Protoerozoic era - 2.5 billion to 250 million years ago
    - about 1.7 million years ago, a sandy shore sank, heated and then erupted form what is now part of the island of Inishtrahull, north Donegal, the oldest bit of Ireland
    - a billion years ago, all of the landmasses had merged to form a single continent
    - 700 million years ago, this supercontinent began to break up - there was a northern section "Laurentia" containing what was to become Canada, Greenland and N. W. Ireland
    - to the south separated by ocean was Gondwana, which was to form Africa, India, Antartica, Australia and South America - and also, South East Ireland, Wales and England. Proto-Ireland's nearest neighbouring terrain became West Africa.
    - about 560 million years ago, there was another big break up - the two future parts of Ireland shifted apart further on plates over 200 km deep. The rock on which Cork and Belfast sit were 4000 km apart.
    - There were millions of years more shifting around, volcanic eruptions, colliding plates, ice sheet cover and laying down of sediment during which time micro organisms photosynthesised gases and thus formed the atmosphere with currently high levels of oxygen
    - About 443-417 million years ago (the Silurian period) as the heavy ocean floor materials sank back down into magma the two masses containing the material that was to be Ireland moved together. Continents crashed together. The joining scar is along a line from Dundalk to Limerick (very roughly) and on across the ocean to the USA.
    - at this stage, future Ireland was still south of the equator.
    -Plants began to grow on our bit of this terrain ('Cooksonia' - 5 cm in height, generating soil cover) and Vinegar Hill and Lambay Island were active volcanoes.
    417-354 milion years ago was the Devonian period. Parts of the land pushed up higher than today's Himalyas, rainless and weathering to form more soil and sandstone - more complex life forms were evolving - a lungfish fossil about a metre from this period was found in Valential (future Ireland).
    -354 million years ago was the Carboniferous era - sea level rose, and only Wicklow and Donegal poked above the sea - the limestone that forms 2/3rds of Ireland's present rock mantle formed and a split opened up along what is now our western seaboard - what is now North America detached and shifted west. Coals and metals formed.
    - In the Permian period 290-248 million years ago most of the planets land masses fused back together again. A mountain range linked the materials that were to form 'Ireland' Brittany and the Czech Republic. Most of the coal in future Ireland was washed away by erosion.
    - at the end of the Permian, there was a mass extinction of up to 50% of life in the oceans for reasons as yet unknown.
    - the Mesozoic was the era of dinosaurs - Ireland was salty and sandy, on the North West coast of a massive land mass - the US having departed west. (206 million years ago
    - In the Cretaceous period, 142 - 65 million years ago, all of what was to be Ireland was under the sea, apart from Carlow. The sea was 28 degrees centigrade.
    - an asteroid then hit Mexico, and it is speculated that this abruptly ended dinosaur life.
    65 -23 million years ago, in the Paleogene era, 'Ireland' was attached to France, and was quite a bit cooler.
    13 million years ago magma from a massive eruption formed the Mourne Mountains
    - in the Neogene era water erosion shaped the landscape into something nearer to what we have today in more or less the same position, but not yet an island.
    - the Quaternary, 1.6 million years ago to the present, saw the arrival of the Ice Age which we are still in. Temperatures fluctuated, ice melted and extended again, forest developed and were wiped out.
    - 80,000 years ago - the Midlandian - still part of a continental mass - Ireland became closer what it is at present. Ice sheets scraping and dumping materials formed eskers and drumlins. At times ice was up to 700 m thick across most of Ireland, but there was a warm period 40,000-20,000 years ago when hare, hyena, woolly mammoth, red deer, iant Irish deer, horse, lemming, fox and geese - followed by 7000 years od ice desert.

    A short while after - only a few thousand years, Ireland became an island and humans moved in. I'll save that for another post.

    We are of course still on the move.
    Last edited by C. Flower; 05-01-2017 at 10:51 PM.
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Oireland, Oireland
    Damp sod of earth
    Lost in the surf of the North Atlantic
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Great post. Very informative CF.

    We have a quirky little shape too...as in our island is like a saucer with the mountains around the edges and flat lowlands in the middle.

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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Quote Originally Posted by Fraxinus View Post
    Great post. Very informative CF.

    We have a quirky little shape too...as in our island is like a saucer with the mountains around the edges and flat lowlands in the middle.
    We do. A lot went into shaping that.

    More from Mallory, in summary (pages 27-29 for anyone who wants to read it).

    Ireland becomes an island -

    Now we come to the controversial bits. How and when did Ireland become an island. This question is much mixed up with the separate question of how and when Ireland became occupied by people and other life-forms.

    To keep it simple for myself, I'm looking first at the geological question of how we detached.

    Back to the Permian period, only 290-248 million years ago - the matter later to become Ireland was at that stage in the middle of a new supercontinent, Pangaea, made in one of the periodic contractions of the globe's land masses took place.

    This was north of the equator and what is now the Irish sea was a dip filled with sand dunes.
    The climate was cooler there, and arid: there were winds that over time blew most of our coal bearing rocks.

    About 230 million years ago, the sea began to invade this dip from the north, but "Ireland" was still joined up with the rest of Pangaea to the south. The bit that was to become Dundalk was at this stage under water and the Bakevillia Sea to the east, north and west made Ireland into a peninsula sticking out to the west (north of 'Spain'), with land to become Wales, England and Scotland sticking out to the north (i.e. north of what was to become France). Then, this western sea evaporated, leaving limestone deposits.

    At about this time the greatest ever mass extinction of life on earth took place. For reasons unknown, 30-50% of life in the oceans disappeared.


    The Atlantic Ocean developed, pushing "North America" west. This was the Triassic Era 248 - 206 million years ago - windy, sandy and salty. Ireland was north of the equator, attached to land east and south.

    Around 206- 142 million years ago - the Jurassic period - Pangaea was breaking up into land masses recognisable as todays continents. Ireland became an island, and at near enough the same time, was separate both from the continent of Europe and from the England/Wales/Scotland land mass (is there a name for this ?).

    The island included land that is now under the Atlantic to the west and some land on the east coast was under the Irish sea.
    This was the Mesozoic era - dinosaur times.

    "While marine reptiles have been recovered from the coastal regions, much of the remains of the early Jurassic period in Ireland eroded away during the later Jurassic and Cretaceous Period."

    To recap, Ireland (the original rock forms), have gradually moved east and north over millions of years, starting off to the east of where Australia is now.
    In 250 million years, it is estimated that Ireland will be perched more or less on the North Pole.

    The next post I write will look at how and when humans and other life forms arrived in Ireland.
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Anyone know approximately when Ireland and England/Scot/Wales (does that island really not have a name ??) separated, or whether they moved together and apart on a regular basis i.e. did it happen more than once ?
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Quote Originally Posted by C. Flower View Post
    Anyone know approximately when Ireland and England/Scot/Wales (does that island really not have a name ??) separated, or whether they moved together and apart on a regular basis i.e. did it happen more than once ?
    I think the jury is still out on the extent of land bridges as far as I know but I don't know what the most up to date theory is. As far as I can remember from a very good book Mitchell and Ryan's Reading the Irish Landscape.....there was a land bridge between us and Britain....possibly a continuous land bridge the length of the island, immediately after the last glaciation. After the ice melted, there was a combination of two events. What is now the Irish sea filled with water (sea levels rose after the ice melted), plus the Irish landmass rose after the weight of ice was lifted (there's a technical term for this I cannot remember like a rebound effect). Britain remained connected to the continent after Ireland had been separated and this is why we have less plant and animal species than Britain and even less again than the continent. There is some debate to whether we were connected by a land bridge to the continent directly from our southern coast in conjunction with being linked to the continent through Britain.
    Last edited by Fraxinus; 20-01-2017 at 05:34 PM.

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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    The reason I should say for the latter theory...that Ireland was linked by another land bridge to the continent aside from through Britain....is due to a few anomalies in our native flora. Most of our species we share with Britain but there are a few species, known as the Lusitanian flora, that are found here and Spain but not in Britain.

    A group of wildflowers native to Ireland but mainly absent from Britain form what is known as the Lusitanian Flora.
    This unique collection of mediterranean plants came originally from the Iberian Peninsula (North Spain and Portugal), and in Ireland most are found in the South and West. It is unlikely that they have survived from before the last Ice Age and there is no conclusive explanation for their presence here.
    More detailed information on 'The Flora of Ireland in its European Context' (D.A. Webb 1982) can be accessed by scrolling to the link at the bottom of this page: www.botanicgardens.ie/herb/census/flora.
    http://www.irishwildflowers.ie/lusitanian.html

    There's a list of plants in that link which includes some that are found in Britain as well as here but some such as the Strawberry tree are native to here but not to Britain.
    Last edited by Fraxinus; 20-01-2017 at 05:54 PM.

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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Quote Originally Posted by Fraxinus View Post
    The reason I should say for the latter theory...that Ireland was linked by another land bridge to the continent aside from through Britain....is due to a few anomalies in our native flora. Most of our species we share with Britain but there are a few species, known as the Lusitanian flora, that are found here and Spain but not in Britain.


    http://www.irishwildflowers.ie/lusitanian.html

    There's a list of plants in that link which includes some that are found in Britain as well as here but some such as the Strawberry tree are native to here but not to Britain.
    There is also an interesting toad.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/envir...e-age-1.552092

    And human genetic links with Spain.

    Do you think there was an actual land bride from Ireland to Spain ?

    So, perhaps that's where the Fir Bolg came from.

    On England and Wales - the land masses were clearly joined up at certain stages in global history, as they were part of the same continent. This was more than a land bridge - this was being part of the same land mass.
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Just adding a link here to a useful little thread on the earliest evidence (so far) of humans in Ireland - a brown bear's bone with knife marks in it, carbon dated to 12.500 BC, in Clare.

    http://www.politicalworld.org/archiv...p/t-17114.html
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    I'll return to Mallory and the first appearance of men, women and brown bears in Ireland after I've received a book by Oppenheimer on the same subject, to compare.

    In the meantime, from man to myth - and the creation of myth is also part of our pre-textual history.
    Last edited by C. Flower; 01-02-2017 at 11:51 AM.
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Eilis ni Dhuibhne recently reviewed a new book by Mark Williams called "Ireland's immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth"

    Should it not have been called Pre-Christian religious belief in Ireland ? "

    There is an interview here with Williams and I'm struggling to understand what he even means by a "Pantheon of Irish deitities" which he defines as something separate from the actual gods worshipped in Ireland before Christianity ? My head hurts reading this !

    http://press.princeton.edu/releases/m10827.html

    It seems his book is more a cultural review of what people thought about pre-historic gods from the arrival of Christianity on ?

    A lively narrative of supernatural beings and their fascinating and sometimes bizarre stories, Mark Williams’s comprehensive history traces how these gods—known as the Túatha Dé Danann—have shifted shape across the centuries, from Iron Age cult to medieval saga to today’s young-adult fiction.
    The third factor is that towards the end of the first millennium AD the Irish developed a complex backstory for their island, and a place for the Túatha Dé Danann was found within this elaborate timeline. They were now imagined as only one of a series of invading races who had ruled Ireland in the deep past. The climax of this kind of ‘synthetic history’ (as it is known) came in the late eleventh century, with the creation of ‘The Book of Invasions.’ In this schema, the gods were imagined as human beings who had simply learned how to supercharge their abilities with magical knowledge. They were (the synthetic history tells us) the third or fourth race to rule over Ireland, before they were in turn defeated by the incoming Gaels, the ethnic Irish. This scenario is transparently a creation of the high Middle Ages, but it became the basic imaginative frame for Ireland’s native gods until the nineteenth century.
    What I would be more interested in in the context of this thread is a book that forensically explored whatever evidence there is for actual pre-historic belief and stories from Ireland.

    Does anyone know of one ?

    The reviewer of Mark William's book says -

    "The principal sources for all our information on the pre-Christian deities are the Old and Middle Irish texts usually called the Mythological Cycle, (the Ulster Cycle and the Fenian Cycle) ie stories about divine beings....
    "Who are the Irish gods ? " - neither the book nor the reviewer seem to attempt to answer this.

    At least the Book of Invasions tries to.

    EDIT - Ah - good old wikepedia sheds a load of light.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_mythology

    Just to clarify my intentions - I'm not looking to find a Deus ex Machina responsible for the origins of Ireland, but just curious as to whether there are stories that shed any light on pre-historic life on the island. Given that the earliest sources are medieval, they could not expected to be accurate or uncoloured by contemporary life and culture of their own period.
    Last edited by C. Flower; 01-02-2017 at 12:24 PM.
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    News from Canada of a coastal village about 14,000 years old being excavated - and there is particular interest that the oral history of the indigenous people fit with the location of the discovery and with thousands of years of dietary change. Oral history is always worth listening to and probably as least as accurate as the written kind.

    https://anthropology.net/2017/04/08/...n-settlements/
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Quote Originally Posted by C. Flower View Post
    There is an interview here with Williams and I'm struggling to understand what he even means by a "Pantheon of Irish deitities" which he defines as something separate from the actual gods worshipped in Ireland before Christianity ? My head hurts reading this !

    The reviewer of Mark William's book says -

    "The principal sources for all our information on the pre-Christian deities are the Old and Middle Irish texts usually called the Mythological Cycle, (the Ulster Cycle and the Fenian Cycle) ie stories about divine beings....
    "Who are the Irish gods ? " - neither the book nor the reviewer seem to attempt to answer this.
    A sore head is what you'll get delving into the subject. I would say whoever wrote of the ''mythological cycle'' excluded Jesus and co. So for me it all becomes a tad hypocritical and biased.

    Early Irish dwellers such as the Celts believed in an ''otherworld'' were, as you mentioned ''divine beings'' dwell. This otherworld is accessible often by accident [as in my own case] and only at certain times. It co-exists and the beings there can influence humanity and worldly happenings.

    The geographical shifting of this [Ireland] and neighbouring Islands would have knocked the locations of the entrances to this otherworld off their original positions but interesting to note that the leyline upon which entrances can be found in Ireland runs along North East County Down. [Alot of activity in that region as per ''the Ulster cycle'']

    I will content that if Ireland had shifted a mere 30-50 miles further West we may never have heard of an Ulster cycle. That the leyline touches Ireland at all is the cause of all the ''myth'' [if that goes easier on your head my friend]
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    Important part of the story

    Most men in Britain are descended from the first farmers to migrate across Europe from the Near East 10,000 years ago, scientists say.

    Ancient farmers left their genetic mark on modern males by breeding more successfully than indigenous hunter-gatherer men as they made their way west, a study has found.
    As a result, more than 60% of British men, and nearly all of those in Ireland, can trace their Y chromosome back to the agricultural revolution, or more precisely the sexual success of the men behind it.
    The farmers' Y chromosome becomes more common in the west of England and reaches a national peak of 78% in Cornwall, scientists found.
    Men with surnames including Titchmarsh and Haythornthwaite are among the most likely to carry the farmers' Y chromosome, known as R1b1b2. The Y chromosome is passed down the male line only, from father to son.

    Guardian Today: the headlines, the analysis, the debate - sent direct to you


    Read more



    "These farmers expanded into territories with small and sparse hunter-gather populations and moved on as time passed. The Y chromosome got caught up in that and it surfed the wave of expansion," said Mark Jobling, a geneticist at Leicester University and an author of the study.
    The rise of farming is one of the most important cultural transformations in the history of modern humans. Increased food production allowed communities to settle rather than wander in search for food, a shift that heralded the huge expansion of the human population.

    The first European farmers came from the "fertile crescent" that stretched from the eastern Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, but experts have argued whether the westerly spread of agriculture was driven by the cultural transmission of ideas and technology, or by migrating farmers.




    Researchers led by Jobling collected DNA samples from more than 2,500 men across Europe. Around 80% of the men had the R1b1b2 type of Y chromosome, making it the most common lineage on the continent.
    A map showing the distribution of the chromosome across Britain reveals that it became increasingly common but less genetically diverse from the south east to the north west. The analysis, published in the journal PLoS Biology, suggests the R1b1b2 Y chromosome entered the country with the earliest farmers in the south east and gradually spread west as they migrated.
    Genetic tests on women showed that most are descendants of hunter-gatherer females. "To us, this suggests a reproductive advantage for farming males over indigenous hunter-gatherer males during the switch from hunting and gathering to farming," said Patricia Balaresque, a co-author of the study.
    "Maybe back then, it was just sexier to be a farmer."

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/...ncient-farmers
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    Default Re: The Origins of Ireland - A Geological Accident

    I see that I haven't yet posted on the arrival of humans in Ireland. I look forward to attempting that. In the meantime, this puts it in some perspective. Until recently, humans were believed to have arrived here only 9,000 years ago. Now, there is some evidence for earlier arrival, say 12,000 years. In Australian, their people were there 50,000 years ago - or so it was thought. Now there has been an archaeological find of aboriginal people having been around 65,000 years ago, with tools, and making art. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-40651473
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