Ireland Before St. Patrick

Summit of Red Hill (Ballyshannon Limestone Formation) overlooking Knocknarea and Sligo Bay. Killian Driscoll researching prehistoric stone tools.  (Photo by Killian Driscoll)
When most people see a view like this one, they focus on the wall. Killian Driscoll and his colleagues see the stones. This shot is from the summit of Red Hill, in the Ballyshannon Limestone Formation, overlooking the iconic mountain of Knocknarea and Sligo Bay in the distance. (Photo by Killian Driscoll)

Ireland without St. Patrick is hard to imagine.

Ireland without lines of stone walls crisscrossing vistas of grassy rolling hills even more so.

No farms, no sheep, no deer.

No pubs.

This is Ireland when modern humans first arrived.

Welcome Back. Way Back.

Killian Driscoll is a National Geographic grantee and part of a team of researchers investigating this remote period on the Emerald Isle (ca. 8000-2500 B.C.) by studying stone tools and the rocks they came from (learn more on the “Lithics Ireland” project website).

Looking at these hunks and slivers and rocky landscapes, Killian and his colleagues are able to piece together clues about how ancient communities moved through their landscape and used specific sites. They can also discover what the tools were used for by looking at the wear patterns and microscopic residue remaining on them.

Standing atop Knocknarea, Stefan Bergh, Adrian Burke, and Graeme Warren discuss their work on the Lithics Ireland project, while Heather Short captures the view of Sligo Bay. (Photo by Killian Driscoll)

One of the big lessons has been that Stone Age tool makers didn’t need to limit themselves to finding the ideal raw material, as was once believed. “Prehistoric communities were sophisticated stone tool makers,” he says. They fared equally well with flint, chert, and quartz, found all throughout the country. “They were very adept at finding and using local materials for stone tools.”

Combined with studies of human remains, living areas, and burial sites such as the megalithic dolmens and other tombs, Killian and —> Read More