First Year: The Celts (the Iron Age)

By now, you've studied three ancient civilisations in Ireland: the Mesolithic people, the Neolithic people and the Bronze Age people. Each time a new civilisation came along, they brought with them an improvement, whether it was Neolithic people brining farming, or the Bronze Age people bringing the use of metal.  Nowadays if we want to make sure something is built strong, we wouldn't use bronze, but we would use iron. The next age in Irish history is called the Iron Age, as it was the time when people began to use this new, stronger metal. It was also the time when a new kind of people came to Ireland from Europe. We call these people the Celts.

Since they are the most advanced civilisation you've studied so far, you'll learn more about the Celts than you did about the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age. As well as houses, food, tools and weapons, you will also learn about Celtic society.

Continue to Early Christian Ireland.

Go back to First Year. 

  • How we know about the Celts (evidence).
  • The use of iron.
  • Celtic settlements (crannógs, hill-forts, ring-forts, promontory forts)
  • Celtic Society.
  • Family life, food, work etc.
  • Burial customs and Ogham stones.

Click here for tips and advice in answering exam questions


1. In Celtic times who were the Aos Dána? (2012 HL)

2. Name two important Celtic festivals. (2012 HL)

3. Name two types of dwelling places from Celtic Ireland. (2009 HL)

4. Why were cattle important to the Celts? (2007 HL)


    2011 HL
    Write an account of two of the following aspects of life in Celtic Ireland. (10 marks X2)
    (a) Housing
    (b) Food and clothing
    (c) Work, arts and crafts

    Question 6 on the Higher Level paper is split into four sections. Each section asks questions about a particular topic you studied from 1st to 3rd year. You could be asked to write an account of something, like in the question above. That question asks you to pick two of three features of Celtic life to talk about, and the marks are 10x2. So what does this mean?

    The two you pick are worth ten marks each. You should know by now that in every History answer, a good, relevant fact is worth 2 marks. So if the two you pick are ten marks each, that means you should have at least five good, relevant points for each one. So, at least five good points about Housing, five good points on Food and clothing, or five good points on Work, arts and crafts, whichever two you pick.

    It's always a good idea to have more facts than you need, just in case you get one wrong by mistake. The more extra facts you have, the less chance there is of you losing marks. You should try to have 7-8 facts in each part of this answer.

    The Dún Aengus Celtic promontory fort, on the Aran islands off Co. Galway.


    A person living in an ancient civilisation in Ireland.

    This is still the same kind of question that you could answer with the Mesolithic people, the Neolithic people, or the Bronze Age people, but maybe you want to talk about the Celts instead. How do you start?

    • Introduce yourself and your people. Where did you come from? Where have you settled? What makes you different from the people who lived here before? (e.g. Iron)
      • Talking about the Celts' houses and settlements takes a bit more detail than the others. While you don't need to learn about different kinds of Celtic tombs this time, you do need to learn about the four kind of settlements they had: ring-forts, hill-forts, crannógs and promontory forts. So in your answer you can pick one to be the settlement you live in, but also describe the others to get full marks.
        • Once you've finished talking about settlements, talk about Celtic society. Your family might be farmers or nobles, it's up to you, but describe the structure of that society: who's at the top? Who's at the bottom? Who's in between? Again the more you can say, the better.
          • Next talk about the food you eat, how you prepare it, and also talk about the feasts your tribe might have.
            • Once that's done, describe the tools and weapons you would use. What are they made from? What do you use them for?
              • Finally, you can mention a bit about Celtic art, part of which involves Ogham, which also relates to burial customs.

                So, in short...

                The Ogham Stone collection in UCC's North Wing.
                1. Introduce yourself and your people.
                2. Talk about houses and settlements.
                3. Describe Celtic society.
                4. Talk about the food you eat, and describe feasts.
                5. Describe the tools and weapons you use.
                6. Describe Celtic art.
                7. Explain the burial customs and talk about Ogham stones.

                Don't talk about...
                • playing games with your brother and sister.
                • the weather.
                • school or homework - the Celts didn't have schools!
                • any of the tombs that the Neolithic and Bronze Age people used.
                Making mistakes like those will cost you marks, as the information you write down must be relevant (important). You get 2 marks for every relevant point you make, so try to make sure you have at least 10 relevant points in each answer. The more you have, the less chance you have of losing too many marks if you get anything wrong or mix anything up.

                The Ogham Alphabet
                Want to spell your name in Ogham? Click here to see the Ogham alphabet.

                BBC History: The Iron Age game
                This game is all about everyday life during the Iron Age. Find out how to light a fire, spin wool, or bake bread like a young person in a Celtic tribe would have.

                Ask About Ireland: The Iron Age
                This page has some good information about the Celts, including a picture of a Celtic burial.

                BBC Wales: The Celts
                BBC Wales has an interactive site all about the Celts (they lived in Wales too), with plenty of games of puzzles to choose from.

                The Celts: Daily Life
                This website has a lot of facts and information about Celtic life, society, music, folk tales, religion, and much more.