Ireland, perched on the rim of the European continental shelf and threatening to fall over its precipitous edge at any moment, is at first glance not the most fertile ground for the student of the cutlery arts. The Irish are intimate friends of history, yet seem oddly estranged from their cutlery past and present.
This apparent paucity of artifact and understanding is a result of a number of factors which tend to mislead the casual observer. These factors include, among others, the oblitering effect of the ice ages, in the case of Ice age peoples if any, the damp climate which wreaks havoc with iron implements. The Viking robberies, evidence of which can be found in many Scandanavian collections, and the Briton's obsession with disarming her inhabitants at every opportunity. Also the Victorians were avid antiquarians and many Irish artifacts are to be found in British collections. The flint spear head in the Duke of Northumbria's collection being just a tiny example of the many artifacts Walker, a local landlord in the Sligo area alone, looted and sold to collectors in the early 1800's.
In these pages you will find numerous references to the destruction by the early Victorians of many of the ancient sites Indeed its a wonder that so many have survived at all. Such destruction continues into the present day as our stone age landscape is slowly obliterated.
Irish decorative art is characterised by a kind of formal exuberance. Irish stone is full of swirls, lozenges. Many of these decorations symbolise celestial bodies or time. The spiral for example is believe to represent 3 months. Their bronze is similar except the swirls are represented differently with a solid core and the designs have more balance and precision. Often when you first look at it you think its symetrical, but the more you look at it the more you realize its not. And sometimes a little quirky something is there to remind one of the personality of the maker".
Viking decoration is quite different, even Viking stuff with an Irish influence is different. The Viking personality is expressed in its heavier execution.
Early English art is more similar to Irish the farther back you go and may have been part of a common neolithic culture throughout western Europe Ca. 7000 BP.
The trouble with all this is that such designs only survive on Bronze, other soft metals, and stone. And indeed its doubtfull they would have ever been applied to iron or steel anyway. Such madness we leave to the Japanese, the Turk and perhaps the Hindu. So Irish iron is difficult to provenance unless accompanied by soft metal accutrements or carefully excavated by a trained archeologist.
The country despite its apparently homogenous nature today is actually a mix of various cultures. Written history came late to the island so oral tradition is all that can be relied on apart from the archeological evidence. Thankfully that tradition is rich and provides ample information regarding the mind and lifestyle of an ancient people especially for the thousand years prior to the coming of Christianity. St Patrick with the help of his monks, prior to supplanting the old order with the new, had the good grace to write it all down, so quite a body of written material also exists.