c.500BC – c.500AD
The Iron Age is believed to be the time when the Celts arrived in Ireland from Europe. We know that by the end of this era, Ireland was Gaelic speaking and that all place names were in Irish. Knowledge and use of iron gradually spread throughout the country as, due to its strength, it became the main metal used to make tools.
At this time, clearance of woodland became more prevalent in the hills, probably due to improved iron axes. Apart from this change there are no other definite signs of the Iron Age in the Belfast Hills. This is simply because iron rusts whereas evidence of other ages or time periods, such as flint and bronze, remain in the landscape. However, there is one dramatic monument in the hills that could possibly date from this period, the mighty McArt’s Fort at Cave Hill.
It is believed that McArt’s Fort could well have been an inauguration site from this time. While archaeologists can’t be sure of this, it is hard to imagine such an iconic landmark not being used in every era for ritual or military purposes.