Skip to main content

A Brief History of Ireland's First People

I have a particular interest in culture and history, especially the history of my home country, Ireland.

The Poulnabrone Dolmen.

The Poulnabrone Dolmen.

Who Were the First People in Ireland?

The earliest known site of human habitation in Ireland is at Mountsandel, near Coleraine in Northern Ireland. The site was discovered in the 1970s when an archaeologist found evidence of dwellings and hunting activity which date back around 10,000 years ago.

So, we know people have lived in Ireland since at least 8,000 BCE – but where did they come from before that? Most experts think that the first people migrated to Ireland from Britain at the end of the last ice age. They would have arrived in simple boats, crossing from Scotland which is only 12 miles away from the north of Ireland.

The early people at Mountsandel lived as hunter-gatherers. They fished in the River Bann, and gathered nuts and fruits from the surrounding landscape. They constructed dwellings woven from sticks. They were able to make simple tools such as arrows or axes.

Indeed, the nearby site of Whitepark Bay was a major production point for flint axes in the Stone Age. Axe-heads from Whitepark Bay have been discovered as far away as northern France and southern England. From this evidence, we know that the first people of Ireland were involved in trading with people across Europe.

Inside the chamber at Newgrange.

Inside the chamber at Newgrange.

Early Settlement Sites in Ireland

Apart from Mountsandel, there are a couple of other sites associated with the first people to live in Ireland. These sites date from later, and are particularly impressive because they were made out of stone and so the structures are still visible today.

The Ceide fields in Western Ireland (County Mayo) are over 5,500 years old. This makes them the oldest known system of fields in the world today. The remains today are a patchwork of stone walls which suggest there was once a highly-developed farming community living there. Evidence has shown that the people who farmed there even used cattle to pull ploughs.

Newgrange is one of a series of mounds in the Boyne Valley. These mounds have been discovered to contain stone passage tombs, with carefully constructed corbelled roofs. Newgrange is the most famous of the passage tombs, as it is known for the beautiful light which fills the central chamber once a year on the winter equinox (21 Dec). The tomb took a lot of engineering knowledge, and a detailed understanding of astrology and it also suggests a sophisticated religion based on the notion of death and rebirth.

Stone Monuments: Evidence of the First People in Ireland

The early peoples of Ireland mostly built in wood, so there is not much evidence of their existence today. However, as the stone age progressed, the people of Ireland began to mark important and sacred places with stone monuments. Many of these reminders of our early ancestors can be seen in Ireland today, monuments such as:

  • Dolmens are three stones (two supporting the third on top) which are thought to mark important burial sites. They often appear in ancient legends as places where immortals could cross over into the human world – and vice versa.
  • Stone circles are also quite common in Ireland, if you know where to look. Although there are no stone circles on the same scale as Stonehenge, there are quite a few smaller stone circles scattered about Ireland. Some are well-cared for, while others are on farms and have become over-grown and neglected due to a lack of interest in our ancient past.
  • Ogham stones are standing stones with Ogham inscriptions carved onto them. Ogham is an ancient system of writing which was indigenous to Ireland. It consists of a series of straight marks – a runic system which can be used to record information. Ogham stones usually mark the life and death of a local king, and were probably used as a form of an early gravestone.
A standing stone with Ogham inscription in County Tyrone.

A standing stone with Ogham inscription in County Tyrone.


Lorraine farrell on June 12, 2020:

I live in the uk but family name is Farrell l have black hair and olive skin and although I found some of it complicated for me i thinkyou have helped me to understand my Irish heritage. Thanks

Peter Dunphy on August 24, 2019:

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

Totally agree with Christian, the Basques not only are the most dominantly R1b Y DNA group in the world at 98%,(ireland is slightly less at 97%), they also have the highest rate of Rhetus Negative blood group of any population in the World at 25%. this blood group is simpler than A,B AB and O blood groups and is only found in very ancient populations as in the Morroccan and Ethiopian Highlands which means the Basque population must be equally ancient. This blood group is found at lower levels of around 15% across North West Europe too showing that the population extended across that area too. Neanderthals had a heavy bone structure, white skin, red hair and green eyes, all characteristics most typically found in North West Europe and to a lesser extent in the Mountains across to Turkey. The female Mtdna of both Asia Minor and Europe are very similiar but the Male Y Dna is markedly different R1b, especially in North West Ireland is very markedly different from the majority of the rest of the world population except the Slavs and the Native Americans and a few tribes in the Sudan and West Africa. The size of the diferences means that the seperation took place long before ancient mankind reached China or Australia for instance. Basque has similiarities to other isolated languages in Europe like Finnish, Hungarian and some languages in the Caucasus region which suggests it was the original language group before being very heavily modified by Indo European. However the very clear and low number of vowel sounds typical of Indo European which causes a tendency to multi silable words is not typical of North West European languages which have far more and softer vowel sounds and hence far more silables leading to much shorter words. Some experiments using the Neanderthal larynx seems to show that the "ur" sounds typical of North West speach were also typical of Neanderthal speach.

G. Donald Kaye on June 15, 2019:

Interesting, trying to find out about my ancient heritage. ( Maloney. Dunne.)

Art on March 18, 2019:

Basque language is similar to old Armenian!

Christian Noboa James on February 17, 2019:

Basque (Euskera) is a proto European language, as are the Basque. meaning they are the original and first NATIVE Europeans, decendents of Tubal grandson of Noah. They nor they're Language are Indo European. Not pre Celtic, pre European! Personally I believe us Basque are decendents of Neanderthals.

M.Vincent on January 28, 2019:

The Basque connection has been debunked by more recent research I believe.

The Basques speak a pre Celtic language and are a pre Celtic people.

Gaelic is derived from a European Celtic language.

People with Gaelic surnames are not necessarily of Celtic descent.

Susan McCoy on November 25, 2018:

Very interesting information Marie

Thank you

Nollaig De on August 24, 2018:

Nearby each staying stone in Ireland you will find a holy spirit coming out of the ground, I have found this nearby each one. Which made me think about this and about the frist people to come to Ireland use of been at the end of the ice age. For to come here needed water and they needed Freshwater a marker stone would be best thing to show anyone where it was year after year. You will find these markets to this day around the world.

Irene McKinnon on May 20, 2018:

Fantastic & so exciting to hear

this for the first time

From an Irish (?) Scot.

Richard Littlefield on January 20, 2018:

The Northwestern Islands. Off Irelands coast. Who were there?

Nancy Penny (Scanlon), Michigan, USA on August 08, 2017:

As a person whose relatives were from County Cork, I feel a connection to the early people of Ireland. Very interesting facts that show the sophisticated nature of these people 5,000 years ago.

alan willson on June 03, 2017:

as a red head i found your research very interesting. i feel unique.thankyou

Borislav Stamov from Sofia, Bulgaria on May 15, 2017:

Congratulations have proved our new historical thesis! The Thracian (proper name is the tyre) tribe of Irites of King Dinor living in Modira, ie. from the old lands of the Thracian tribes (and today, Bulgaria, Greece and Mediterranean Asia Minor). They are tall, with light-red hair and blue eyes. Their gods are Tyr and Tis ... Greetings from Sofia - Bulgaria!

Lee Cloak on March 07, 2015:

Voted up, great hub, very Interesting, thanks!

David Williams on February 28, 2014:

Wonderful stuff. Very educational. It makes me want to know more about my heritage. Thank you!

Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on August 02, 2012:

Thanks for taking the time to let me know!

banny pelobueno on August 01, 2012:

glad i having found the historical.

Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on June 18, 2012:

Glad you found the hub useful Amanda!

Amanda on June 17, 2012:

Very informative:)

Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on June 02, 2012:

Glad you enjoyed it!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 02, 2012:

Beautiful and informative!Voted up!

Related Articles