Early History

Limerick can claim to have the earliest human burial remains in Ireland. Cremations dating to the Mesolithic period, nine thousand years ago, have been found at Castleconnell, a few miles from Limerick city. There is extensive evidence of Neolithic activity, from about six thousand years ago, in the county, particularly the early wooden house site at Tankardstown and the extensive settlement and ritual site at Lough Gur. Discoveries dating to the subsequent Bronze Age continue to be made especially the still-debated Fulachta Fiadh which seem to have been more than just open-air cooking places. Iron Age material, as elsewhere in Ireland, remains patchy and elusive. In terms of prehistoric monuments the fine Passage tomb at Duntryleague, near Galbally is the earliest and of the slightly later Wedge tombs, the most accessible, and best known, is that at Lough Gur which also has one of the most impressive stone circles in Ireland though some would regard it as a henge monument.

Ogham stones testify to settlement in the early historic period with a good example near Ballylanders though it originally stood at Knockfierna. The tribal organisation introduced by the Celts is still reflected to an extent in the barony divisions and most directly in the boundaries of the diocese, which were based on the Munster sub-kingdom ruled by the Uí Fidgente kings.

The many place names recalling St Patrick do not, despite continuing popular belief, indicate that he was responsible for introducing Christianity to the area but Ardpatrick was a major centre in later centuries due to its support of and patronage by the monastery of Armagh. The evidence of Round Towers, portions still surviving at Kilmallock, Carrigeen near Croom and Ardpatrick, though those at Singland and Killeely have disappeared, suggest significant monasteries at those locations. Mungret, founded in the sixth century quickly became the most important monastic centre underlined by the fact that the Vikings raided it four times in the ninth century. Three medieval churches survive there in contrast to the lack of any remains of the most significant female religious house, the monastery founded by St Ita at Killeedy, which is the only attested evidence of an Early-Christian-period nunnery.

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