Death in Irish prehistory
Published by Royal Irish Academy
October 2023Paperback with French flaps
Number of pages: 456
Out now!Gabriel Cooney chats to Neil Jackman on Amplify Archaeology Podcast - part . See part 2 below
This is a book about life and death over 8,500 years in Ireland. It explores the richness of the mortuary record that we have for Irish prehistory (8000 BC to AD 500) as a highlight of the archaeological record for that long period of time. Because we are dealing with how people coped with death, this rich and diverse record of mortuary practice is also relevant to understanding how we deal with death today, which is just as central a social issue as it always was.
'This well-written and beautifully illustrated book is a valuable and extensive presentation of death in prehistoric Ireland and beyond. The way Cooney explores long-term patterns by moving between the past and the present is inspirational.'
- Anna Wessman, Professor of Iron Age Archaeology, Department of Cultural History, University Museum of Bergen
'Death in Irish Prehistory is a magnificent achievement. In taking on eight and a half thousand years of death in Ireland, Cooney celebrates life, and shows us how enriching a deep knowledge of the past can be, as our ancestors knew. His breadth of scholarship is evident not only in his thorough and detailed summaries of Irish evidence, but also in being able to contextualise that knowledge within a European perspective, and explain it with reference to the most important and sophisticated developments in archaeological theory.
This book cautions us against over-simplifying. Death in Irish prehistory was never one thing, and change was never an abrupt replacement of one way of doing things by another. Instead, the people who lived and died on the island of Ireland were always looking back as well as forward, looking out as well as in. Cooney is clear-eyed and critical in his evaluations of currently fashionable lines of explanation, while drawing freely on ideas that help us get a more rounded and experiential sense of what it might have been to live and die in Ireland through the millennia. The book is evocatively illustrated by Conor McHale, and Cooney cites poetry and fiction, including using his own fictional vignettes, so that the human experience of dying and bereavement is never sacrificed in the quest for big patterns. Death in Irish Prehistory is a joy to read and offers riches both to archaeologists and to interested non-specialists. A strong recommend!'
- Sarah Tarlow, Professor of Historical Archaeology, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester
'Our humanity and our history share the same rich humus – the soil out of which our cities, civilizations, and we ourselves all rise and to which we humans return, whether earth to earth, ashes to ashes or dust to dust. It is what distinguishes us from the other sentient and mortal beings and Cooney’s erudition sheds a welcome light on the darker districts of our human being and ceasing to be.'
- Thomas Lynch – poet, essayist, undertaker.
Gabriel Cooney chats to Neil Jackman on Amplify Archaeology Podcast - part 2
'Archaeologists have the privilege of coming face to face with dead people from the past' article by Gabriel Cooney in the Irish Times Weekend Review, 11 November 2023. Read article
Gabriel Cooney and Conor McHale discuss the book with Ray D'Arcy on RTÉ Radio One, 2 November 2023 Listen back
Read an extract 'Rings on her toes' on RTÉ Culture
“...an unusual book. It informs, surprises, and challenges in equal measure.” Clodagh Finn: The dead show us how the past is always present, 4 November 2023 Read full column
Launched on 1 November, All Saints' Day, in the Royal Irish Academy. Read more about the event