Uncovering the Secrets of Ireland's Ancient Breweries





Hangovers rarely inspire scientific breakthroughs. But Billy Quinn's eureka moment occurred on just such a head-pounding morning in 2003. After a night spent carousing at a pub in Galway, Ireland, he and colleague Declan Moore were discussing their plans for the day over a traditional breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, white pudding, beans, and fried potatoes. The two archaeologists were scheduled to excavate a nearby grassy mound known as a fulacht fiadh (pronounced "full-oct fee-ah"). About 5,000 of the mounds have been discovered throughout Ireland, most dating from 1500 to 500 BC. They're not much to look at — excavation reveals a rectangular trough (fulacht is Gaelic for "recess") surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped arrangement of burnt stones. No one's certain what they were used for, but in a flash of insight, Quinn proposed a hypothesis in keeping with his nation's cerevisaphilic reputation: The Bronze Age relics might just be Ireland's first breweries.

The odd mounds have long mystified archaeologists. Experts agree that the sites, usually located near streams, were likely used for boiling water, but excavations have yielded little more. Were they vats for dying clothes? Proto-saunas? One long-standing theory suggests they were used to boil meat — not an unreasonable notion, since fiadh can refer to deer. But few animal remains have been found near the holes, contrary to what might be expected around prehistoric kitchens.

Quinn believes that his theory, published recently in the journal Archaeology Ireland, is supported by the circumstantial evidence.

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