The Bronze Age was Ireland’s “Golden Age” when the new-found mastery of metals produced exquisite Bronze Axeheads and shields as well as precious gold torques and decorated discs including the famed Glenlisheen Gorget.
The use of metals was introduced to Ireland c.2,500BC, bringing with it new forms of pottery and new religious beliefs expressed in the building of wedge tombs. The earliest metal artefacts in Ireland were cast in moulds from molten copper or else made of hammered sheet gold for decorative purposes. Copper mining and smelting were well established in Iberia and in Western France by the mid-3rd millennium BC and the use of gold artefacts may have been introduced through seaborne contacts with northern and central Europe. The SW of Ireland is rich in copper and Bronze Age mines, the earliest dating back to 2,500BC. Bronze working appears to have been introduced with the addition of tin to molten copper c.2,000 BC. Copper and Bronze Age peoples have left us an impressive legacy of ritual and burial monuments consisting of spectacularly sited standing stones, stone circles and alignments, the best examples of which are located in Connemara and on the beautiful peninsulas of Kerry. A magnificent stone circle at Newgrange dates to this period as do large numbers of timber and earthen henges which have been identified in recent years. The best examples of these are found in the Boyne Valley although their use extended across much of the country. Some Bronze Age monument complexes appear to have been constructed as part of an elaborate cult centred on the changing seasons. Cremation burial was the standard method with many standing stones and other monuments being erected over the cremated remains of individuals who may have been human sacrifices of tribal elders. Many of Ireland’s most exquisite gold artefacts were fashioned at this time including the spectacular Glenlisheen Gorget. The late Bronze Age (c. 1,200BC) onwards sees the emergence of tribal warlords whose presence in the archaeological record is marked by the construction of large hill-forts and promontory forts including Dun Aengus and some of the fortifications at Tara as well as the mass production of Bronze weaponry including distinctive long bronze swords and spearheads.