FEB 07, 2023 8:02 AM PST

Who Introduced Hemp to Ancient Ireland?

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Charron

Ireland's rich agricultural history has been defined by many different cultural influences, including the Celts, Romano-British Christians, Norse-Vikings, Anglo-Normans, and migrant populations. A team of researchers explored the question: Who introduced hemp (Cannabis sativa) to Hibernia? They used historical linguistics, fossil pollen studies (FPSs), archaeological data, and written records to shed light on this mystery and published the study in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

Data gathering methods included utilizing digital resources and citation tracking. The linguistic analysis involved distinguishing cognates (words with shared etymological origins) from loanwords (borrowed from other languages). Words for “hemp” in Celtic languages are mainly loanwords and not cognates. Cnáib is absent in Old Irish glossaries, epics, and mythologies (600–900 CE). The oldest use of the Irish word cnáib was identified in texts written in 1060 and between 1127–1134 CE. Old Breton coarcholion (corrected to coarch) appears in a 9th-century text. Most likely, the Irish word cnáib was borrowed from clerical Latin canapis or canabus.

This linguistic history is corroborated by the discovery of cannabis cultivation activity during the same time period. Cannabis pollen has been found at sites in the vicinity of monasteries that date back to the Middle Ages ca. 700 CE. Cannabis pollen in FPSs was identified using the “ecological proxy” method. FPS data analysis indicated that the onset of hemp cultivation correlated (both chronologically and spatially) with the founding of Romano-British monasteries. 

Although hemp is not native to Ireland, Irish hemp farmers report that most cultivars grow well in the Irish climate and soil. Historians allude to island visitors who made references to Irish hemp cultivation over the course of the past 1,000 years. Although the hemp industry is small and struggling with the same economic and supply chain problems that hinder many other markets, many advocates believe that hemp production could revitalize Ireland’s agricultural communities. 

Sources: Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, Irish Hemp Cooperative 


About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kerry Charron writes about medical cannabis research. She has experience working in a Florida cultivation center and has participated in advocacy efforts for medical cannabis.
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