Irish archaeology has been distinguished by nothing so much as by the lack of works of synthesis dealing with it; above all, there is little of a popular nature which attempts to explain the Irish prehistoric past to the general reader. It is felt, therefore, that the present volume, dealing with Ireland's story from the earliest times to the coming of Christianity in the fifth century, may not be out of place. It is intended for the interested layman rather than for the specialist prehistorian; and it thus contains many long descriptions of types of artefacts, of processes and early techniques, knowledge of which constitutes the ordinary stock-in-trade of those who have devoted their academic lives to the study of the material remains of man's past. For the same reason it has been thought that a volume such as this should not be burdened with innumerable references to specialist publications not readily available to the general reader, and such have generally been omitted.
In attempting to provide a consecutive narrative of the daily lives of the people o f this island who lived before the knowledge of writing reached them, we find that we are faced with many and considerable difficulties. All our conclusions must be based on interpretations of material remains available to us and it is never easy to be certain that one has selected the only possible solution of any particular problem. In addition, the story is difficult to read because, for the moment, so many pages are missing. Thus, for instance, we have certain knowledge of some aspects of burial customs at different times throughout the past; but only by guesswork can we arrive at even an estimate of the religious beliefs underlying the practices placed in evidence before us. For the living the information on which to base conclusions is scantier. We know, for instance, what the stone axeheads were like which our forefathers used; but we do not know all the uses to which they were put. We know something of the ground-plans of a small number of dwellings, but we can only guess at the nature of the superstructures. We know that those ancient Irish had a knowledge of textiles, but we cannot reconstruct even the simplest garment of any prehistoric period. It must thus be clear that any picture now given of the past of our people must be most incomplete; it is obvious that we are only in the infancy of research into the problems of the past. The most that can be said of a work such as this is that it represents an honest, though subjective, appraisal of the facts as known at the moment; it must be the hope and endeavour of further work to add to the facts already known.
For many reasons this has not been an easy book to write; it is hoped that it will not be found equally difficult to read. It was conceived and set up in type during the early years of the war, but for reasons . . .