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With much of Europe experiencing a cultural stagnation due to the chaos and uncertainty which prevailed after the fall of Rome and the onset of the Dark Ages, the Church authorities selected Ireland as a potential base for the spread of Christianity and around 450 CE despatched St Patrick in the role of missionary.

His success, and that of his followers (St Patrick, St.

• Newgrange (3300 BCE) • Celtic Metalwork and Stone Sculpture (400 BCE - 800 CE) • Illuminated Manuscripts (c.650-1000) • High Cross Sculpture (c.750-1150) • Painting: The Rebirth of Irish Art (1650-1830) • Irish Artists Emigrate (c.1830-1900) • The Growth of Indigenous Art (c.1900-40) • Formation of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art (1943) • Modern Irish Art (1943-present) • 21st Century Irish Art Untouched by the wave of Upper Paleolithic cave painting, sculpture and carvings which swept Stone Age Europe (40,000-10,000 BCE), Ireland received its first visitors around 6,000 BCE, or slightly earlier.But the actual history of visual arts in Ireland begins with the Neolithic stone carvings discovered at the Newgrange megalithic tomb, part of the Bru na Boinne complex in County Meath.These works can be viewed at Trinity College Dublin Library or the Royal Irish Academy.These biblical treasures gave rise to a gradual but significant renaissance in Irish art (sometimes called Hiberno-Saxon style or Insular art), which spread via the monastic network to Iona, Scotland, Northern England and the Continent.Thus, despite regular trade with Roman Britain, the country became a haven for the uninterrupted development of Celtic art and crafts, which were neither displaced by Greco-Roman art, nor destroyed in the ensuing "Dark Ages" (c.400-800) when Roman power in Europe was replaced by barbarian anarchy.

It was this Celtic culture with its tradition of metallurgical craftsmanship and carving skills, (see Celtic Weapons art) that was responsible for the second great achievement of Irish art: a series of exceptional items of precious metalwork made for secular and Christian customers, (see also Celtic Christian art) as well as a series of intricately engraved monumental stoneworks.These magnificent petroglyphs at Newgrange and at the Knowth megalithic tomb exemplify a particularly sophisticated form of ceremonial and funerary architecture of the late Stone Age, and are among the finest known examples of Neolithic art in Europe.However, little is known about the precise function of these prehistoric structures or the identity of their builders, except that their construction suggests a relatively integrated and cohesive social environment.This superb example of Irish Stone Age art was built between c.3300-2900 BCE: five centuries before the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, as well as the Stonehenge stone circle in England.As well as a variety of megalithic art, including a number of intricate spiral engravings, Newgrange features what archeologists believe to be the first recorded map of the moon.The fourth great achievement of Irish art was religious stonework.