Prehistory in Ireland can be subdivided into four periods, the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age. In the earliest phase of Irish prehistory, the Mesolithic (c. 8000–4500 BC), the first human inhabitants arrived in Ireland. These people were highly mobile hunter and gatherers who exploited not just wild animals, fish and shellfish but also developed a characteristic chipped stone tool technology, mainly from flint. The Mesolithic is subdivided into Early & Later Mesolithic based on two very distinct stone tool industries. The Early Mesolithic is characterised by a microlithic industry, followed in the Later Mesolithic by a macrolithic industry, of which butt-trimmed flakes have become the most diagnostic implement.

(Image:Mesolithic artefacts recovered from Toome area by John Evans Esq, May 1859. Image copyrightArchaeoligia.)

Mesolithic activity is strong around the shores of Lough Neagh with numerous flint and stone artefacts from both the earlier and later Mesolithic have been recovered from along the shores of Lough Neagh at the following sites: at Toome; the mouth of the River Maine; Shane’s Castle; Gartree and Ballyvanen townlands; near Selshan harbour; from areas between Lough Neagh and the towns of Glenavy and Crumlin; from Clanrolla and Kinnego; from Coney Island near the southern shore; and the Creagh. Artefacts include Bann flakes, stone axes, blades, tanged points and flint cores. Bann flakes have recently been recovered from a newly identified site at Traad Point on the northwestern shore and in 1995 remains of a late Mesolithic logboat dating between 5490-5246BC  were recovered from Brookend townland, on the western shore of the Lough.

(Image:Late Mesolithic flints from Traad Point (included in the photo is a Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead).)

It is evident from the number of artefacts found that Mesolithic people were active around Lough Neagh during this period and evidence of possible hearths were located in an excavation at the Creagh in 1951. During the 1970’s Mesolithic settlement sites were identified at Mount Sandal near Coleraine, and Newferry at the north end of Lough Beg. The most recent evidence of early settlement on Lough Neagh was made in 2003 when excavations in advance of the Toome by-pass revealed hut sites of Mesolithic date.

Given that so few Mesolithic burials have been found in Ireland, we know virtually nothing about the religious or ritual beliefs of these earliest inhabitants and even less about the people themselves.

Known occupation sites of Mesolithic date:

Parish Townland SMR No. Description
Tartarghan Coney Island ARM 002:002 Mesolithic occupation site within multi-period site
Ardtrea The Creagh None Mesolithic activity excavated in 1951
Ardtrea Toome None Mesolithic settlement site excavated in 2003