Ancient Ireland: Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras

 Junior Cert History > First Year > Ancient Ireland: Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras

The first people to live in Ireland were the Mesolithic people, who arrived from Britain over 9,000 years ago. They first settled at Mount Sandel, which is in modern-day Coleraine in Co. Derry. As time went on, they moved to other areas and their population grew. At some point, however, Mesolithic life declined in Ireland.

The Neolithic people arrived around 4000 BC. They were the first people to bring farming to Ireland.

Although Mesolithic and Neolithic people were very similar, there were also some differences in how they lived. Houses changed, tools and weapons changed, and farming changed the way of life in a big way.

Then along came metal...

Next Stop: The Bronze Age.

  • How the Mesolithic people reached Ireland and where they first settled: 
    • Every story has a beginning - what's this one?
  • How Mesolithic people lived: 
    • What kind of houses did they live in? What food did they eat? How did they get this food? What tools and weapons did they use?
  • Where the Neolithic people came from:
    • It's all change from there.
  • The improvements the Neolithic people brought with them:
    •  Better tools (but what made them better) and farming (which changed everything... but why?)
  • How Neolithic people lived:
    •  What kind of houses did they live in? What food did they eat? How did they get this food? What tools and weapons did they use? What were their burial customs?
  • Neolithic megalithic tombs: 
    • There are three types: court cairn, portal dolmen, and passage tomb (e.g. Newgrange). You must be able to describe all three.
  • Remember:
    Mesolithic and Neolithic are two long, tricky words to remember. They both come from Ancient Greek. "Lithos" meant "stone", so that's where the "lithic" part comes from. "Meso" means "middle" and "Neo" means "new", so Mesolithic means Middle Stone Age and Neolithic means New Stone Age.

Tips and Advice

1. Why were the earliest times known as the Stone Age? (2012 HL)

2. Mention two advances made by Neolithic people. (2012 HL)

3. Name two types of tomb from Neolithic Ireland. (2012 HL)

4. The first Irish people were hunter-gatherers. What kind of food did they eat? (2009 OL)

5. In Neolithic Ireland, what was a court cairn? (2008 HL)

    Tips and Advice

    A person living in an ancient civilisation in Ireland.
    People from ancient civilisations are very common People in History options, but you must always take care to read the question carefully. If the question is asking you to talk about a person from an ancient civilisation in Ireland, then it can be anyone from the Mesolithic era up as far as the Celts. If the question asks about a person from ancient civilisation outside of Ireland, then you write about Rome or Egypt (depending on which one you do in First Year).

    So, for a person living in an ancient civilisation in Ireland, what can you say? You have a choice of who to talk about: the Mesolithic era, the Neolithic era, the Bronze Age and the Celts are all part of Ancient Ireland. Let's look at the first two. The Mesolithic people are the first people you learn about, but there's also less to learn about them then the Neolithic people, who developed farms and tombs. You would have more to write about if you chose the Neolithic people, which means more marks.

    So, writing about the Neolithic people, what would you say?

    • Start with an introduction. Explain that you are a Neolithic person, you are 13 years old, and you live on a farm with the rest of your family. How did the Neolithic people arrive in Ireland? Where did they settle? These all form your introduction.
      • Next talk about your house. Mention as many details as you can: the shape of the house, what it's built from, what's inside it, and how they're different from Mesolithic huts.
        • Once you've finished talking about your house, talk about the kind of work that you and your family do. The Neolithic people were farmers, so talk about the tools they used, the food they grew. How did they make clothes? If you can talk about all of these things you're writing an excellent People in History answer.
          • The Neolithic people didn't just grow their food, they also hunted. Talk about what they would hunt, and mention the weapons they would use. What's the difference between their weapons and the ones the Mesolithic people used?
            • Neolithic people also used pottery. A line or two explaining why they used it would gain you some more marks.
              • The last feature of Neolithic life to talk about is their burial customs. You learn about three types of megalithic tomb used by the Neolithic people: court cairns, portal dolmens and passage tombs. Explain what all three looked like. The most famous passage tomb is Newgrange, in Co. Meath. A few lines about Newgrange would be an excellent way to end your answer.
                So, in short..
                1. Introduce yourself and the Neolithic people.
                  The Brownshill Dolmen in Co. Carlow.
                  Ignore the History teacher in the way.
                2. Tell the reader all about your Neolithic house.
                3. Talk about the work you do, the tools you use, the food you eat and the clothes you wear.
                4. Talk about the weapons you use when hunting for other food.
                5. Talk about pottery and why Neolithic people use it.
                6. Talk about the burial customs and explain the three types of tomb.
                7. Finish with Newgrange.

                Don't talk about...

                • playing games with your brother and sister.
                • the weather
                • school or homework - the Neolithic people didn't have schools!
                • the wrong types of tomb - make sure they're the three Neolithic tombs.
                Making mistakes like those will cost you marks, as the information you write down must be relevant (important). You get 2 marks for every relevant point you make, so try to make sure you have at least 10 relevant points in each answer. The more you have, the less chance you have of losing too many marks if you get anything wrong or mix anything up.

                The websites below have a lot of information about Mesolithic and Neolithic Ireland.

                Coleraine Borough Council in Northern Ireland operates this interactive site which allows you to explore Mesolithic and Neolithic life with games, puzzles and information about how people lived in those times.

                BBC History: Neolithic to Bronze Age
                The BBC website has pictures and information of Neolithic and Bronze Age life in Britain, including facts about Stonehenge, one of the most famous standing stone structures in the world.

                The Newgrange website is operated by UNESCO which contains a lot of detailed information and pictures of Newgrange and its story.

                Ask About Ireland: Ireland's Early Inhabitants
                This site has a lot of information for young people about the different stages in Irish history, starting with the Mesolithic and Neolithic people.

                tRTÉ: Dig It! Ireland - Neolithic Ireland
                The RTÉ show has its own website, which has information on the different ages in ancient Ireland, as well as the episodes themselves.