Early History of Ireland


Some 15,000 years ago Ireland was completely covered in ice. The large sheets of ice and deep rugged glaciers would have made any chance of life impossible. As the ice started to melt, various lakes formed and vegetation and plant life started to return. As the ice continued to melt, more rivers and lakes started to form and as the weight of the ice shifted, the land started to rise. Some 10,000 years ago and up to around 5000 BC, when the warm conditions began to stabilise, Ireland was introduced to an immigration of animals and new plant life. Trees especially flourished including the juniper, willow, Scots pine, elm, ash, alder and oak. There would have been many wild animals such as the bear, wolf, wild cats and boars, badgers, fox, hare, squirrel, pigs and many more.

The conditions now right for sustaining life, the first human beings arrived in Ireland The truth is we will never be quite sure who first came to Ireland as many remnants they may have left behind, would have long since disintegrated over the years. What we do know is that due to its remote western location, Ireland would have been one of the last places in Europe to be inhabited.

The Mesolithic - Middle Stone Age Period

Around 9000 BC is often referred to as middle Stone Age, and the people known as the Mesolithic people. It is most likely that they lived in the North of Ireland and they probably crossed over from Scotland and Wales. This is the place where the earliest sites were found in and around Lough Neagh and the lower Bann river. In these Mesolithic times, Ireland would have been densely covered by trees. The earliest settlement that has been found to date is at Mount Sandel, close to Coleraine and on the banks of the river Bann, and has been dated at around 7000 BC. The remains of ten huts were found and of most interest, four of these huts were built on top of one another, perhaps suggesting that the people returned to the same place for several years. Pits were also found at the site with the bones of wild pig and hare and small birds along with the shells of nuts.

Around 5500 BC and we find these sites are littered with thousands of stone edges and these would have been used in a similar fashion to the way we would use knives and scissors today. Microliths were set in wood in long rows to create a longer cutting edge. The reason I mention this is that it shows a change in the way tools were being made and used. It is hard to be certain what type of people actually inhabited these settlements but most likely they would have been some type of hunter and gatherer, and most likely nomadic.

The Neolithic Period

It is agreed that the Neolithic period lasted from around 4000 BC until 2400 BC. Archaeologists have now identified that forests were being cleared and there were signs of agricultural practice and a sense of some basic form of settlement. There is also evidence that cereal crops had started to be grown and this is essentially when the Mesolithic man became what is now known as the Neolithic man.

Their houses were made of wood and not much is left though some examples have been found buried under bog land. The houses found showed oak planks set into a trench and holes in these that may have been for support posts. A central hearth was found along with pottery, arrow heads and some charred grains of wheat. Irish polished stone axes have been found, which signifies the archetypal tool of this neolithic age. In fact over 18,000 of these have been found and more than half of these were made from a blue-grey stone called porcellanite found at Cushendall.

Other neolithic sites have been found in Kildare and at the Ceide fields near Ballycastle in County Mayo. There a network of fields has recently been discovered under a very deep bog. There are other constructions attributed to these people such as a passage grave found in Newgrange in County Meath. The tomb is over 36 feet high and has a diameter of over 280 feet, and clearly the work of a well disciplined people is even older than the great pyramids of Egypt. Other monuments have been found nearby as Knowth and Dowth giving supporting evidence that a major settlement had taken place in the Boyne Valley. Indications also show that these people had some interest in astronomy as a small opening in the Newgrange tomb allowed sunlight to illuminate the central chamber on the winter solstice. This tomb pre-dates Stonehenge by some 1,000 years.


Anonymous said...

Ireland it has particularly fascinating civilization. Amid the difficult natural conditions ireland able to survive to this day

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