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'Bad breath and dunghills'

THE Ireland of antiquity was a place obsessed with social status, where women and slaves were disregarded and lower-ranking tradesmen were equated to dogs.

Craftspeople were classified by social rank, with literature indicating the difference between lower-ranking workers, such as comb-makers and highly-skilled artisans such as carpenters, copper-workers and blacksmiths.

Comb-makers were associated in some texts with 'bad breath, dogs and dunghills'.

"The reference to the comb-maker is interesting," Dr O'Sullivan said. "Comb-makers were probably smelly because there's a rank smell associated with producing combs from bones, but everybody used them.

"This was a society obsessed with status, in a way that is hard for us to appreciate. It was entirely comfortable with slavery.

"We have the best-surviving set of documents from this period. Monks saw the world as being ordered – they would rank and order craftsmen and women, but women and slaves don't really feature because they're essentially misogynistic as well."

Beach markets may have existed on Dalkey Island in Dublin and Dunnyneill Island on Strangford Lough in Co Down.

"If you look at Dalkey Island, it has the richest assemblance of pottery and glass found on the islands," Dr O'Sullivan added.

"Are we necessarily all that different now? People living in Dalkey today are drinking fine wines and consuming high-quality olive oils, because basically it's an expression of wealth and status."

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