About 10000 years ago, after the last Ice Age, human migrants arrived in Ireland probably by island hopping from Scotland. These Mesolithic hunter gatherers settled on the coastal plains and in the river valleys. Traces of their settlements have been found by excavation and there are many places in Ireland where artifacts such as flint flakes and tools have been found. It was not until about 5000 years ago that the great stone monuments began to be built by Neolithic farmers. The great passage tomb cemeteries of Meath and Sligo are well known and court tombs, portal tombs and wedge tombs are found all over the island. About 3500 years ago a knowledge of metal working arrived in Ireland and the Bronze Age began. During this time many of the standing stones and stone circles were erected. About 1000 years later during the Iron Age the hill forts were built and by the time Christianity arrived in the 5th century A.D. the ring-forts were starting to be constructed. The first stone churches probably did not appear until the 10th century. The Round Towers, High Crosses and many of the souterrains date from this time. The arrival of the Anglo-Normans at the end of the 12th century heralded a great building boom of the stone castles and the large monastic settlements. This lasted until the Reformation in the middle of the 16th century. Defensive structures such as the bawns and the great city walls continued to be built into the 17th century. The 18th century was a period of relative calm and many of the great country houses were built then. At the end of that century the threat of Napoleonic invasion caused many strong forts to be built. The industrial boom of the 19th century gave rise to the great canal and railway structures and the numerous bridges and mills.

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Brian T McElherron