The archaic, palaeolithic or stone-age people of the pre-glacial period, whose remains, artefacts and art have been on the continent and Great Britain, do not seem to have reached Ireland.
Who were the Mesolithic people in Ireland?
These Mesolithic people were true hunter gatherers and seem to have moved along the coasts, and waterways of Ireland in their search for sustenance. The dense forests which covered Ireland at that time would have made dispersion difficult and so the people would fish and forage in the most accessible areas. These people probably entered Ireland along the Antrim coast in the north east where Ireland lies closest to Scotland and possibly some also migrated from Wales to the east coast of Ireland.
Sites of their presence have been found along the Bann and in the Boyne Valley, they were also in the midlands at Lough Boora near Tullamore in County Offaly and as far south as Ferrier’s Cove in the Dingle peninsula. From Mount Sandel a high ridge along the river Bann, near Coleraine in county Derry, we learn that these early people lived in circular dwellings of about 20 feet diameter and the post holes indicate that they were formed of branches bent inwards to form a dome. The floor of the dwelling was dug out and a fire pit was placed in the centre of the structure.
What did the Mesolithic settlers eat?
We know from their middens that they ate fish, shellfish birds, nuts, apples, berries and wild boar. Their tools consisted of small blades of flint known as microliths which were probably bound to a shaft to form spears, arrows and harpoons. They also used various stones for skinning animals and scraping hides. It must be remembered that apart from their flint implements, these people used only organic materials and so we can only have a limited knowledge of how difficult or brutish their lives were.
Mesolithic burials in Ireland
We do not know how these early Irish disposed of their dead as their remains have never been discovered other than a two pieces of Mesolithic human metacarpal found in 1993, along with 150 other human fragments, in a cave at Killuragh County Limerick and dated to (A)7000-6546BC and (B)7194-6658 BC. Although burn marks appeared on some of the bone fragments its suggested the fire could have been from more recent times.
The bones were found amongst other human fragments, animal fragments (including a giant deer, megalocerus giganteous, and weathered microliths, flakes, scrapers, shards of pottery and blades.
What impact did the Mesolithic people make?
A later 1996 investigation of the cave in Killuragh suggests that the material had been washed into the cave and laid in situ. It is not thought that the Mesolithic population numbered more than eight thousand as their life style would not have been able to sustain a much larger population.
Throughout the Mesolithic period the only significant development in this society seems to be a change from microliths to macroliths. That is the flint tools have increased in size. However, we can never know if in the 4,000 years of the Mesolithic period there were societal, linguistic or religious changes occurring. It was not until the Neolithic Period in Ireland that we began to see a more increase of influence on the inhabitants of the island.
- The Neolithic Period, the new Stone Age period in Ireland
- The Bronze Age period in Ireland from 2500BC – 300BC
- The Iron Age Period and the arrival of the celts – Dates from approx 500BC – 500AD
- The arrival of Christianity and the story of St Patrick
- Mountsandel.com – The early mesolithic: 7900-5500BC
- Dingle-peninsula.ie – The Dingle Peninsula – 6,000 years of history
- Excavations.ie – ‘Ferriters Cove’ Mesolithic/Neolithic settlement
- Irish Archaeological Excavations 1930-1997 – heritagecouncil.ie
- Significant Unpublished Archaeological Excavations 1930-1997. Synopsis by Professor Peter Woodman(2003). An Comhairle Oidhreacta, The Heritage Council.
- A New History of Ireland. 1. Prehistoric and Early Ireland Edited by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy planned and established by the late T.W. Moody. Oxford University Press. 2005.
- The Course of Irish History by T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin. Mercier Press. Dublin. 2001 edition
This article was first published on 19-02-2010 and last modified on 02-07-2016.