Friday, February 22, 2013

Lough Boora, County Offaly

This is Lough Boora in County Offaly, the location of one of the most important Mesolithic sites in Ireland. Mesolithic means ‘middle stone age’ and this period covers between 8000 – 4500 BC, the time of the first human settlement in Ireland. These people often survived as semi-nomadic hunter gatherers, staying close to the coastal areas, rivers or lakes. The earliest settlement evidence in Ireland from this period was discovered alongside the River Bann at Mount Sandel in Co. Derry, where the remains of several small structures and activity dating to 7000 BC was discovered.

The site at Lough Boora was discovered in 1977, when a turf cutter found what he thought was an ancient road surface. He alerted the National Museum of Ireland, who investigated the site and found that instead of an ancient roadway they had actually discovered a storm beach on the edge of a massive post-glacial lake. This large lake originally would have been connected to the River Shannon, however over thousands of years bog formed and covered the area, all that remains of that lake today is the much smaller modern Lough Boora lake.

The Lough Boora Pyramid 2002, modern sculpture by Eileen MacDonagh and Marc Wouthers

The excavations also discovered a number of charcoal patches that were identified as the remains of hearths that were dated to between 6,800 – 6,500 BC, and over 1,500 artefacts such as stone axeheads, spear points, blades made of a flint-like material called chert and the remains of meals eaten nearly 9,000 years ago such as the burnt bones of wild pig, wildfowl and fish, suggesting that this site was the temporary campsite of a band of hunters. They probably used this area seasonally to hunt wild pig, wildfowl and other small animals. By today’s standards these Mesolithic men and women would have enjoyed a very healthy and varied diet that was dictated by the seasonal availability of fish, meat, wild plants, nuts and berries.

Today the site at Lough Boora has been completely excavated and there is no trace of the Mesolithic people that walked along this ancient storm beach or who sought shelter from summer winds and rain. However, you can walk in the footsteps of these ancient peoples as the area where the site was discovered is part of a great walk called The Mesolithic Loop, where not only will you encounter information about some of Ireland's earliest human activity, but also contemporary and striking works of art. A great, inexpensive day out and highly recommended! For more information about biodiversity activities and information on the various walks at Lough Boora visit:

The 'Skytrain' another wonderfully weird piece of modern sculpture to see at Lough Boora