donabate Header

The Mesolithic and the Donabate Portrane Peninsula


The Donabate-Portrane peninsula is situated between two estuaries Broadmeadows Estuary to the south and Rogerstown estuary to the north. Several small streams flow through the peninsula itself the biggest being the Pill river. Today the estuaries are home to a variety of bird life and marine resources which if similar in prehistoric times may have attracted the hunter gatherers of the Mesolithic to the area. The earliest mesolitic settlers most likey arrived from different parts of western Britain by skin covered boats. The earliest mesolithic settlement site idenified in Ireland is Mount Sandel in County Derry on a ridge overlooking the River Bann. At Mount Sandel, post holes, pits and hearths dated to the Early Mesolithic were uncovered in an excavation prior to the construction of a housing estate. Most mesolitic activity identified in the archaeological record is through lithic finds.

Mount Sandel Hut
Model of Hut excavated at Mount Sandel (Ulster Museum)
Flint blade from Mount Sandel Site(Ulster Museum)

The microlith, small flint tools likely to have been set in bone or wood for use, is the dominant artefact type of the early Mesolithic (circa 8000BC to 6000BC) found in the archaeological record.

No microliths have been found to date on the Donabate-Portrane peninsula. An early Mesolithic microlith has been found at Knocklea between Rush and Loughshinny to the North of Donabate and possible Mesolithic microliths have been identified at excavations carried out at Paddy's Hill in Malahide (Stout and Stout 1992). In his research on Lambay island Dolan (2005, 44) identified two possible Early Mesolithic cores which conform to the type of small conical blade cores known to be indicative of the Early Mesolithic. Taken together these finds would indicate the likelihood of some Early Mesolithic activity on the peninsula. Sea levels in this period would have been lower then the modern sea level (Mitchell and Ryan 1997).

Early Mesolithic microliths and blades(National Museum Dublin)
Early Mesolithic microliths(Ulster Museum)

Mesolithic sites dated to 6000 BC and later display a change in their stone working technology producing bigger single piece artefacts. This change is characterised by leaf shaped flakes of flint unique to Ireland often called Bann flakes as a large amount have been found in the Bann valley (Woodman 2006). This period known as the Late Mesolithic is sometimes referred to in the older literature as the Larnian phase. Evidence for the Late Mesolithic in the Dublin area includes shell middens excavated at Sutton (Mitchell 1972) and Dalkey Island (Liversage et al. 1967/68) which contained material dated to the Late Mesolithic. Further excavation evidence for Late Mesolithic activity along the Dublin coastline was found in 2004 at the North Wall. Archaeological monitoring at a development site at the North Wall uncovered hazel wood fish traps in what would have been the Liffey estuary (Mcquade and O'Donnell 2007). The fish traps have been radiocarbon dated to 6100-5720 BC.

On the Donabate Portrane peninsula two Late Mesolithic Bann flint flakes both were found in the townland of Kilcrea which borders the Broadmeadow's estuary (Courtney and Goucher 2007). Liversage (1961) in his article on the Mesolithic (Larnian) material in the Stacpoole collection illustrates finds from Portrane, Corballis and Kilcrea.

Townlands where Mesolithic material found highlighted in orange
Townlands where Mesolithic material found highlighted in orange
Offshore on Lambay Island several Late Mesolithic butt-trimmed flakes have been found including one resembling Woodman's type A; tanged flakes, one of the earliest forms of butt-trimmed flakes found at Newferry (Dolan 2005, 44). A number of flint cores have also been found along the southern coast of the Point on Lambay, the part of the Island geographically closest to the Donabate-Portrane peninsula. Further evidence for late Mesolithic activity in the area comes from excavations undertaken for the construction of the M1 on the landward side of the peninsula. The excavation at Coldwinters, close to the head of the Rogerstown estuary uncovered two Mesolithic flakes a Bann flake
Bann flake in reconstructed handle(Ulster Museum)
and a larger triangular arrow or spear head .The flakes though were not found in context and may have been redeposited. However in addition to the other material found in the area they are indicative of late Mesolithic activity on and in the vicinity of the Donabate-Portrane peninsula.

Peter Woodman argues that late Mesolithic communities may have become increasingly mobile, low density population with an expedient subsistence strategy and an increased emphasis on movement through the landscape on a seasonal round. (O'Sullivan and Breen 2007).It could be argued that the dispersed nature of the late Mesolithic material found to date on the peninsula taken with the lack of evidence to date along the Dublin coast line for base camps or long term residences supports Woodman's theory.

Mussel beds Rogerstown Estuary at low tide
In contrast Mcquade and O'Donnell (2007, 582) suggest the North Wall fish traps an organised settled society that knew how to catch fish using the tide, to build wattle-work and baskets and who undertook coppicing on an eight year cycle. The Late Mesolithic in Europe suggests a growing population and a move towards greater social complexity (O'Sullivan and Breen 2007). However one interpretation of the uniqueness of the lithic evidence from the late Mesolithic in Ireland suggests that the people had little contact or exposure to European influences for much of this period.


  • Dolan, B. 2005 An Analysis of the Surface Flint Assemblage from Lambay Island, Co. Dublin. Unpublished MA Thesis, National University of Ireland.
  • Liversage, G.D. 1961. A Note on the Occurrence of Larnian Flints on the Leinster Coast : The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 91, No. 1 (1961), pp. 109-116
  • Liversage G. D., T. Hatting, R. H. M. Dolley, H. M. W. Hodges, D. M. Waterman, D. B. Harden, M. Scannell and G. F. Mitchell 1967. Excavations at Dalkey Island, Co. Dublin, 1956-1959. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature, Vol. 66 (1967/1968), pp. 53-233
  • McQuade, M. and L. O'Donnell 2007. Late Mesolithic fish traps from the Liffey estuary, Dublin, Ireland. Antiquity Volume:81 Number:313 Page:569-584.
  • Mitchell, G.F. 1972 Further Excavation of the Early Kitchen-Midden at Sutton, Co. Dublin: The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 102, No. 2 (1972), pp. 151-159
  • Mitchell, F and M. Ryan 1997. Reading the Irish Landscape. Townhouse
  • O'Sullivan, A. and C. Breen 2007. Maritime Ireland: an Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus, Gloucestershire.
  • Stout, G. and M. Stout 1992. 'Patterns in the past: county Dublin 5000BC-1000AD' in Aalen, F.H.A. and Wheelan, K. (ed.) Dublin City and County: From Prehistory to Present. Geography Publications, Dublin.
  • Woodman, P. 1977. Problems of Identification of Mesolithic Survivals in Ireland. Irish Archaeological Research Forum, Vol. 4, No. 2 pp. 17-28.
  • Woodman,P. and Anderson, E. and Finlay, N. 1999. Excavations at Ferriter's Cove, 1983-95: Last foragers, first farmers in the Dingle Peninsula. Wordwell.
  • Woodman, P. 2006 The Mesolithic period in Ryan, M. (ed). Irish Archaeology Illustrated. Townhouse, Dublin.

Last Updated ,Oct 2014