Edited by Fiona Beglane
British Archaeological Reports, £28.00
ISBN 978-1407314587
Review Rena Maguire

In 2013, Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism authority, hosted a year-long Gathering, a series of island-wide events aimed at bringing the Irish diaspora back to the Oul’ Sod. A complementary international conference, The Archaeology of Gatherings, was held in October 2013 in the Institute of Technology in Sligo. From this conference, it became clear that a volume of proceedings, Gatherings: Past and Present, could address a substantial gap in archaeological knowledge. The multidisciplinary approach incorporated the work of archaeologists, historians, and sociologists in exploring some weighty ideas: when is a gathering a crowd, a mob, or an assembly? How do we differentiate the material evidence of temporary gatherings, which may be caused by social crisis or arranged for celebration? How would we identify these differences in the archaeological record?

There are fresh insights into the psychology of past peoples, even in the papers that are not, strictly speaking, archaeological. Una McConville’s treatise on death as a gathering of past and present stimulates much thought on burial rites of the past, while Hans Hognestad’s analysis of global identities in sport could launch new areas of archaeological research. The archaeological must read papers include Patrick Gleeson’s rallying call for an archaeology of the óenaig (traditional Early Medieval Irish assembly sites), which probably should be read in tandem with Stephen Davis and others’ detail-rich analysis of the Hill of Ward, Co. Meath, which was one of the great cult assembly sites of late prehistory, and Julia Cussans and others’ comparative paper on Iron Age Scottish feasting. As a sequel to prehistoric gatherings, Louise Nugent’s examination of Early Medieval pilgrimage in Ireland is written with such verve as to entice interest even from the most entrenched prehistorian. There is even a paper on steam trains and railways, by Edel Barry, for the post-medievalist.

As archaeology proceedings go, this one is as necessary, fresh, and satisfying as ice-cold prosecco on a hot day. An unconventional text, it should be viewed as a catalyst to further research. You probably need it in your library. Slàinte!

This review was published in CA 331.

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