|The Mesolithic Stone Age|
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|The Ice Age||
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The paleolithic hunter-gatherers of Europe hunted the animals of the tundra. As the ice sheet retreated northwards, so did the paleolithic tribes. However, while Britain was still attached to Europe by a land bridge, Ireland had already become an island, largely inaccessible to the hunters. So there is (currently) no evidence to suggest that there ever was a human paleolithic presence in Ireland. Elsewhere in Europe, the mesolithic way of life slowly took over from the paleolithic. During this period, Ireland's vegetation developed, although it never reached the same levels of diversity that Britian (being easier to migrate to) reached. The myriad shallow lakes that were later to become the great raised peat bogs had not yet been filled in, and the land was covered by forests and was the home to many kinds of animals.
The first humans in Ireland are thought to have crossed from Scotland, in wooden boats, to what is now county Antrim around 8000BC. It is also thought that the rising land and rising sea levels may have moved at a fluctuating pace, occasionally allowing the southern land bridge to re-emerge from the Irish Sea, as well as a northern one connecting Antrim to Scotland. These would have lasted only briefly, but would have allowed the migrations of both humans and animals. There is a cultural continuity between the mesolithic remains found in north Ireland and those in southern Scotland. Ireland was one of the last parts of western Europe to have been settled by humans, and the human presence here is perhaps only about 10,000 years old.
These early hunters concentrated their activities on waterways, forraging on the shores of the sea, lakes and rivers. They rarely ventured into the forested interior, so Ireland's young ecosystem was almost totally unaffected by these early residents. The earliest concrete evidence of mesolithic activity in Ireland is to be found in county Antrim (which is Ireland's only source of flint), county Londonderry and county Sligo. Mount Sandel (county Londonderry) was excavated in the 1970s. The archaeologists found the remains of mesolithic huts and charcoal from cooking fires, and these have been dated to between 7000BC and 6500BC. 'The Curran' (near Larne in county Antrim) is a raised beach where archaeologists have found thousands of flint tools. In county Offaly, archaeologists uncovered evidence of a Mesolithic settlement at Lough Boora.
Evidence suggests that Ireland was initially populated from Scotland, although there must surely have been some migration from Wales and south-west England. Finds of Mesolithic tools (although not settlements) suggests that these hunters spread south down the east coast of Ireland and inland along rivers to the Shannon basin.
Near the end of the Mesolithic era, which ended roughly around 4000BC, the hunters were beginning to copy coiled pottery using technology that had spread from the more advanced Neolithic tribes of eastern Europe. Although Mesolithic man built huts, pottery and tools, they did not leave any earthworks such as those found in France. The earliest earthworks in Ireland are Neolithic.
The final part of the Mesolithic era is marked by a decline in the population, or at least a decline in the relics that we have found. The climate got wetter at this time and many of the lakes in western Ireland began to turn into the bogs that we know today. This may have caused a decline in the population that the land could support.
Everyday Life in Mesolithic Ireland 
The people of Mesolithic Ireland were hunters and gatherers - farming was not invented until the Neolithic period. The family groups would have lived near rivers and lakes in houses made from animal skins spread over a bowl-shaped timber frame. Some superb reconstructed Mesolithic homes can be seen at the Ulster History Park, near Omagh in county Tyrone. These homes were not permanent - the people moved around a lot from site to site and the skins from the houses were brought with them to the new site. Always the camps were set up near the coast, lakes or rivers and they rarely ventured into the forests of the interior of Ireland. There were not enough people in Ireland for there to be competition for land and there is no evidence of weapons being used against other humans.
They hunted animals and birds using arrows tipped with sharpened pieces of flint. They also used spears which, although they could not be thrown as far as an arrow, were heavier. Among the animals that these hunters would have sought were deer, duck and wild boar. These food sources would have been most important in the autumn.
They also hunted fish. A man would stand motionless in a river with a flint-barbed harpoon, and spear the unsuspecting salmon and eels as they swam past. This required great patience and skill. The hunter pictured at the top of this page (on exhibit at the Ulster History Park) is on a fishing trip. Some may also have fished further off shore, in lakes or the sea, using skin boats stretched over a wooden frame, or dug-out canoes made from tree trunks. Flounder and bass were favourite catches. Fish formed the biggest part of the Mesolithic diet in the summer, while eels were caught more in the Autumn.
The meat would have been carried back to their campsite where it would have been cooked over an out-door fire and eaten communally. The skins would have been removed to make clothes and to repair or add to the houses.
The women of the community would have also gathered hazelnuts, fruits and berries in the spring, summer and autumn which would have added variety and nutrients to the meat-rich diet. Winter must have been a harsh period, as few food sources were available. It seems that the hunters killed wild boar in the winter.
The key elements of a Mesolithic life were thus flint weapons, a meat-rich diet, a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle and skin huts.
of this site?
 A Weir, "Early Ireland: A Field Guide", Blackstaff Press, 1980
 G. Stout and M. Stout, writing in the "Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape", Cork University Press, 1997, pp31-63
 Logan, Tinsley, Glasgow, Kelly and Todd: "Life in Early Times", Colourpoint Books, 1996.