Early First Century AD
There was no Celtic invasion of Ireland. This does not mean, however, that the island was un – affected by the upheavals in Celtic Europe caused by another invasion: the spread of the Roman Empire into Gaul and Britain.
In the decades after 60 BC, Rome pushed its frontiers northwards through Gaul (roughly today’s France) to the Rhine, and westwards to the Atlantic. In 43 BC, Emperor Claudius set in train the full-scale invasion that gradually created the Roman province of Britannia. The conquest of Britain was slow and violent, and the shock waves were certainly felt in Ireland. This small bronze bowl, found in a tributary of the Shannon in Co. Leitrim, was polished to a fine finish on a lathe. Its glory, however, is the superb handle, cast in the shape of a bird’s head with a long, curving neck, an upturned beak and big, staring eyes that were once inlaid with glass or enamel. It is probably a stylised version of a duck. Birds have a strongly supernatural aspect in early Irish culture, as messengers from the otherworld or mediators between gods and humans. The bowl was thus probably used in drinking bouts that had a ritual as well as a social function: we know that a drinking ceremony was part of royal inaugurations.
The Keshcarrigan bowl is similar to examples in bronze found in Devon and Cornwall and in Brittany. In a further reflection of Atlantic links, Armorican potters probably copied similar vessels in pottery; there is a horse-head bowl from Hennebont on the Côtes d’Armor, for instance.
The Keshcarrigan bowl may have been made in Ireland (a hoard with similar objects has been found near Ballinasloe, Co. Galway) but using British prototypes. There is little doubt that it represents some movement of people into Ireland. Some of the Gallic Belgic tribes crossed into Britain as refugees from the Romans, displacing native people. These movements of population reached Ireland in the century before and the one following the birth of Christ.
Southwestern England had connections with Ireland going back thousands of years: Cornish tin was used to make Irish bronze. It is not surprising that, in times of stress, trading contacts would deepen into actual movement of people. A bowl similar to this one, found at Fore, Co. Westmeath, is associated with what seems to be a Gallo-British-type burial and perhaps also with a Roman boat. The technique of finishing the Keshcarrigan bowl with a lathe is also new to Ireland, though it becomes central to later Irish art, including that of the Ardagh and Derrynaflan chalices.
There is a cemetery on Lambay Island, Co. Dublin, dating perhaps a little later than the Keshcarrigan bowl, that contains the remains of people from north Britain, possibly well-to-do members of the Brigantes, a tribe whose revolt against the Romans was crushed in AD 74. Roman expansion was the central fact of European life at this time. Ireland could not escape its consequences.