Ireland’s Early Inhabitants

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  • History: The Full Story

Stone Age People

The first people arrived in Ireland about 9,000 years ago (around 7000 BC). We now call them Stone Age people because they used stone tools for their farm work and for hunting. We know about these early settlers in Ireland because many of their tools and weapons survived and have been found by archaeologists.

These first settlers in Ireland made weapons and tools out of a sharp stone called flint, especially axe-heads. At first they lived mainly along the coast of Ireland or near rivers because they were hunters. They
mainly ate berries, fruit, and wild animals and moved from place to place. From about 3500 BC the Stone Age people began to clear away forests to make farmland.

The Stone Age went on for a very long time and many changes took place. We therefore call the Stone Age people by different names depending on when they lived during this long period of time. The people who lived at the beginning of this time were known as the early Stone Age people. Those in the middle of the period were known as the Middle Stone Age people or Mesolithic people. The people at the end of this period became known as the new Stone Age people or Neolithic people.

The later Stone Age people or Neolithic people in Ireland were farmers. This later Stone Age period is from about 4000 BC to 2000 BC, which means that the first farmers lived in Ireland about six thousand years ago. These farmers were able to cultivate land and raise cattle.

Stone Age Tombs

We know that the later Stone Age people had great respect for their dead because they built large stone graves and monuments from about 4000 BC. Some of these tombs are very large and are called megalithic tombs or dolmens. Many of these can still be seen in Ireland, for example in Glencolmcille in Co. Donegal. One well known dolmen in Co. Clare is called Poulnabrone. It was built around 2,500 BC and was found to contain the remains of about seventeen adults and sixteen children. Stone Age farmers often decorated the stones on their tombs. An example of this can be seen at the large tomb in Newgrange.