Customs which illustrate the social life of our ancestors, are scarcely the least interesting or important elements of history. Before we enter upon that portion of our annals which commences with the English invasion, under the auspices of Henry II., we shall give a brief account of the habitations, manners, customs, dress, food, and amusements of the people of Ireland. Happily there is abundant and authentic information on this subject, though we may be obliged to delve beneath the tertiary deposits of historical strata in order to obtain all that is required. English society and English social life were more or less influenced by Ireland from the fifth to the twelfth century. The monks who had emigrated to “Saxon land” were men of considerable intellectual culture, and, as such, had a preponderating influence, creditable alike to themselves and to those who bowed to its sway. From the twelfth to the sixteenth century, English manners and customs were introduced in Ireland within the Pale. The object of the present chapter is to show the social state of the country before the English invasion—a condition of society which continued for some centuries later in the western and southern parts of the island.
The pagan architecture of public erections has already been as fully considered as our limits would permit. Let us turn from pillar-stones, cromlechs, and cairns, to the domestic habitations which preceded Christianity, and continued in use, with gradual improvements, until the period when English influence introduced the comparative refinements which it had but lately received from Norman sources. The raths, mounds, and forts, whose remains still exist throughout the country, preceded the castellated edifices, many of which were erected in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, principally by English settlers. The rath was probably used for the protection and enclosure of cattle; and as the wealth of the country consisted principally in its herds, it was an important object. Its form is circular, having an internal diameter averaging from forty to two hundred feet, encompassed by a mound and outer fosse or ditch. In some localities, where stone is abundant and the soil shallow, rude walls have been formed: the raths, however, are principally earthwork alone. Forts were erected for defence, and the surrounding fosse was filled with water. They were, in fact, the prototypes of the more modern castle and moat. These forts were sometimes of considerable size, and in such cases were surrounded by several fosses and outworks. They were approached by a winding inclined plane, which at once facilitated the entrance of friends, and exposed comers with hostile intentions to the concentrated attacks of the garrison. The fort at Granard is a good example of this kind of building. It is probably of considerable antiquity, though it has been improved and rebuilt in some portions at a more modern period. The interior of it evidences the existence of several different apartments. An approach internally has been exposed on one side, and exhibits a wide, flat arch of common masonry, springing from the top of two side walls, the whole well-constructed.