ARCHAEOLOGY HOMEPAGE
SECTION 1 : Introduction
SECTION 2 : Multi-period sites
SECTION 3 : Mesolithic
SECTION 4 : Neolithic Settlement
SECTION 5 : Megalithic tombs and Neolithic burial practices
SECTION 6 : Bronze Age Occupation Sites
SECTION 7 : Bronze Age burial practices
SECTION 8 : Iron Age
SECTION 9 : Iron Age burial practices
SECTION 10 : Royal sites
SECTION 11 : Western stone forts
SECTION 12 : Early Medieval Period - Christianity
SECTION 13 : Ringforts
SECTION 14 : Crannógs
SECTION 15 : Medieval Dublin
SECTION 16 : Late Medieval Period
SECTION 17 : Anglo-Norman Towns
SECTION 18 : Anglo-Norman Fortifications
Acknowledgements

SECTION 13 : RINGFORTS

Many people lived in enclosed farmsteads known as ringforts in the Early Christian/Early Medieval period. Second to fulachta fiadh, they are the most common field monument surviving in Ireland with up to 60,000 examples, most dating to between 550-900AD. Some however, such as Simonstown Co. Meath prove on excavation to have a long history, including prehistoric pre-ringfort activity and later re-use into the later and post-Medieval periods.

Ringforts are circular areas, measuring c.24-60m in diameter, usually enclosed with one or more earthen bank enclosures, often topped with a timber palisade. Excavations at Adhadegnan, Co. Longford also suggested that some ringforts may be preceded by open settlements. Internally people were housed in wooden huts. In the west of Ireland the ringfort equivalent, the cashel, was often enclosed by a stone wall, with stone huts in the interior. The inhabitants were largely self sufficient, and it is not uncommon to have neighbouring ringforts, some of which may have may have served as an early medieval livestock pen. Traces of iron and bronze working have also been recovered suggesting some ringforts had very specific uses while others were multifunctional. The excavation of two such neighbouring ringforts at Lisleagh, Co. Cork offered a unique opportunity to investigate the relationship between groups of ringforts and indeed the structure of Irish society at this time. Excavations at Ballingarrydown Co. Limerick also offered insight into the phases of building from a simple ringfort to a raised ‘motte-like’ monument.

Souterrains are often associated with ringforts and also date to the Early Medieval period. The term souterrain derives from the French words sous, meaning under and terre, meaning ground. Souterrains are sub-terrain man-made structures consisting of chambers connected by creepways and with access to the surface. Souterrains may be constructed using different materials such as stone and wood and may be tunnelled into rock or utilise a natural cave. They are variously interpreted as places of refuge or storage areas and generally date to the later phase of the Early Medieval period (eighth/ninth century A.D.). Few excavated examples have produced finds.

13.1 : Aghadegnan, Templemichael, Co.Longford
91E0055/93E0048

Site location: NGR 21320/27590            SMR LF013-013---

Judith Carroll

Fig. 13.1.1: Location map of Adhadegnan, Co. Longford [OSI]

The site is located north of Longford town (Fig. 13.1.1). It is a univallate earthen bank and ditch ringfort that abutted a field boundary on the western side and was partially cut by the field fence. The work was carried out for Longford County Council prior to road development and only the northern half was investigated. Two series of excavations were undertaken; the first was for five months between February-June of 1991 and again for three months between April-June of 1993.

The site was approximately 61m in external diameter. It had been partially levelled in the nineteenth century, the interior was extensively altered by cultivation and a large part of the ditch was incorporated into field drains.

Excavation of the northern half of the site revealed a pre-bank palisade trench and a minimum of four circular structures defined by post-holes. The pre-bank palisade trench cut through two of the structures indicating that an open settlement had pre-dated this defensive structure. One of the structures cut through by the palisade trench yielded a calibrated C14 date of 431 AD from a charcoal sample. Two C14 dates from ironworking on the top layers of the pre-bank palisade trench both gave a calibrated date of 534 AD (with date ranges of 400-610 and 419-596 Cal. AD).

Though post-holes for structures were found in the interior of the fort, the stratigraphy here had been almost completely disturbed by later potato cultivation. It was impossible therefore to relate the house structures within the fort to any phase of activity.

Two phases of ironworking were uncovered. The first was on the upper layer of the palisade trench as indicated above. It pre-dated the bank and may have post-dated the palisade period, indicating that activity had taken place between the two defence phases. The second phase was contemporary with the bank and ditch occupation.

A C14 determination from animal bone at the basal layer of the bank produced a C14 date of centring on 636 AD. At the base of the ditch C14 determinations from wood and bone gave calibrated dates between the late seventh and the late ninth century AD (Stout 1997). A wooden structure for a revetment was uncovered along each side of the ditch by the entrance, while, at the entrance causeway to the ringfort, the pre-fort palisade trench was reused as part of a multiple gateway system. The finds included a bronze stick pin of uncertain date, quern fragment and loom weight.

No closely datable finds from the ringfort period were recovered. The only stratified finds were a possible iron ring-headed pin shank and a small piece of stone with a roughly carved cross from the basal material of the bank.

This multi-phase site is an important addition to ringfort studies as it indicates the probability of open settlement pre-dating enclosed, possibly defensive, settlements. It is also one of a small number of sites producing evidence of palisaded enclosures pre-dating bank and ditch enclosures.

References

Carroll, J. 1992. ‘Aghadegnan ringfort, Templemichael’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),   Excavations 1991. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 32.

Carroll, J. 1992. 378. ‘Aghadegnan ringfort, Templemichael’,  Medieval Archaeology 36, 286-88.

Carroll, J. 1994  ‘Aghadegnan ringfort, Templemichael’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 53-4.

Carroll, J. 1995  ‘Aghadegnan ringfort, Templemichael’,  Medieval Archaeology 39, 269.

Stout, M. 1997  The Irish Ringfort. Dublin.

13.2 : Ballingarrydown, Co. Limerick E40

Site location:SMR LI 049-104

†John Hunt

Fig.13.2.1: Location map of Ballingarrydown, Co. Limerick [OSI]

Plate 13.2.1: Ballingarrydown, Site during excavation
[John Hunt]

This site of a raised platform ringfort in East Limerick (Fig. 13.2.1) was excavated in 1949 when a possible Anglo-Norman house-site above it was being investigated. The work confirmed that the structure was not Norman. Evidence of a number of superimposed buildings was revealed and several phases, from a simple ringfort to the motte-like monument, were traced. Sections of the ground plans of several houses were exposed pointing to extensive habitation from Early Christian times. The former existence of a second and outer fosse was also uncovered.

The consistent use of the site for habitation, the various phases of activity and the way in which the ringfort evolved offer an interesting insight into this one small area over a long period of time. There was also remarkable preservation on the site which is not always present on such rural sites and therefore provides an analysis of the organic material.

References

Hunt, J. 1951  ‘Ballingarry Down, Ballingarry townland, Co. Limerick’,  Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 81, 73.

Westropp, T. J. 1917 ‘On certain typical earthworks and ring-walls in County Limerick. Part II The Royal forts in Coshlea’,  Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. 468-469

13.3 : Dromthacker, Co. Kerry 97E0022

Site location: NGR 01540/18370         
SMR KE029-095; KE029-266

Rose M. Cleary

Fig.13.3.1: Location map of Dromthacker, Co. Kerry [OSI]

The site at Dromthacker is located just north of Tralee town, beside the Listowel road (Fig. 13.3.1). Excavation of a ringfort, an enclosure, two fulachta fiadh and lime burning kilns preceded the development of a college campus for the Institute of Technology, Tralee and took place in 1997. The sites were located in a 60 acre landbank and were spatially separated.

Plate 13.3.1:Dromthacker, Co. Kerry. General view of ringfort
[Rose Cleary]

Ringfort

The ringfort (RMP KE029-095) was located on the side of a south west facing ridge. The site was recorded in the 1841-42 Ordnance Survey as an irregular field fence. The site had been severely modified in the recent past and made into a garden feature. A limestone wall was constructed along the inner perimeter, an entrance including pillars was made through the NE side and paving had been laid in the interior. As the excavation progressed it also became clear that most of the eastern bank was reconstituted and modern debris including plastic bags was recovered from the basal level of the bank. The ringfort was sub-circular in plan and measured 29m EW X 25m NS internally. The surrounding U-shaped ditch was c.1.5m deep and 2.5m wide at the upper levels tapering to 0.80m at the base. The lower fills included backfilled gravel layers, possibly deliberate. The original enclosing bank only survived on the west side, where it had been truncated and reduced in width to 1.5m at the base and to a height of 1m. The bank was composed of gravel and boulder clay upcast from the ditch and evidence that sod stripped from the ditch was piled on the pre-bank surface was also noted.

The interior had been disturbed in modern times and the surviving occupation material was located in the south-east quadrant. Two phases of occupation were revealed with a period of abandonment indicated by a regeneration of the sod layer. Phase 1 was a scatter of post- and stake-holes in no identifiable plan, a paved area and a gully along the inner side of the original eastern bank. The gully is interpreted as a water-trap to catch run-off from the adjacent bank. During Phase 2 at least two circular structures, with estimated diameter of 7.5m and 9.5m, with earthfast perimeter posts were constructed in the south-eastern side of the enclosure. Additional structures, now disturbed beyond recognition, may also have been present. Evidence for iron-smelting was also uncovered.

Enclosure

The enclosure (RMP KE029-226) was roughly circular in plan with an overall diameter of c. 56m with an external ditch varying from 1.1-2.35m. The ditch had been cut into a layer of loose fragmented sandstone and it is likely that this slipped back into the ditch cutting soon after the initial excavation of the ditch. During the archaeological investigation of the site, it was found that the sides of the ditch were unstable and dangerous and this must have also been the case when the monument was first constructed.

The ditch appears to have been backfilled in two stages. Many of the ditch sections had a layer of stony brown soil which was similar to sub-soil and is interpreted as a deliberate backfill of the ditch. Silt in the basal levels of some of the ditch sections also indicate that the ditch was open for some time prior to the backfilling. The upper levels of the ditch fill appear to have been modern and this may represent the levelling of the monument prior to the Ordnance Survey of 1841-2. Finds from these recent infill layers included modern glass and pottery.

There was no obvious entrance to the monument, but an entrance may have been masked by the considerable disturbance that had taken place on the site when the enclosure was levelled.

Vestiges of the enclosure bank survived as a spread of fragmented sandstone stones. These were obviously up-cast from the ditch and may have stood to a considerable height in places. There were no traces of an external bank and the site must have been univallate. The excavation uncovered two internal features along the inner lip of the levelled bank which are tentatively interpreted as large pits, but it is possible that these were part of an internal ditch which did not appear to be continuous.

The interior of the site did not have any surviving features which were considered to be contemporary with the construction and use of the monument. The internal area of the enclosure had been completely cleared of any features or archaeological lenses and once the sod was stripped the natural boulder clay layers were exposed. There was also a complete absence of any associated datable artefacts or organic remains suitable for Radiocarbon dating. The period of construction of the monument is therefore unknown. The absence of any obvious domestic remains and the depth of the surrounding ditch may suggest that the site function may have been associated with some prehistoric ritual.

Limekilns

North of the enclosure were a number of modern circular lime-burning pit kilns with cruciform flues extending from the kilns to the south (Plate13.3.2). On top of the enclosure bank were a number of post-levelling features along with a modern hearth and fragmentary building remains to the north, which probably relate to the industrial usage of the area in the nineteenth century.

Plate 13.3.2: Dromthacker, Co. Kerry 19th century kiln
[Rose Cleary] 

Fulachta fiadh

The remains of two fulachta fiadh were excavated One was an oval mound of fire-shattered stones, 14m X 10m, which had been cut by a modern drain. A possible trough-pit was located to the west of the drain but no timbers or lining survived. A charcoal sample from the mound produced a radiocarbon date of 1780 Cal. BC. The second fulacht fiadh survived as a spread of heat-shattered stones, c.4m in extant.

References

Cleary, R. 1998  ‘Dromthacker’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1997. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 85-6.

Cleary, R. 1998  ‘Dromthacker, Tralee’,  Medieval Archaeology 42, 163.


13.4 : Lisleagh I and II, Co. Cork E218 and E488

Site location: NGR 17860/10650 and 11780/11060  SMR CO027-029--- and CO027-03001-

Michael Monk

Fig.13.4.1: Location map of Lisleigh, Co. Cork [OSI]

The two adjacent ringforts at Lisleagh are located 40m apart, midway along the spur which terminates the Kilworth Hills and faces south and west over the Blackwater valley (Fig. 13.4.1). It was decided to carry out a research excavation on each of these sites with the intention of gaining insight into the temporal and functional relationship between ringforts located in close proximity to each other, including investigating the construction, function and lifespan of their earthworks. The main period of activity on Lisleagh I dated to between the 7th-9th centuries; no dates have been processed as yet from Lisleagh II. The excavations were carried out from 1981-85 and 1989-93.

At Lisleagh I evidence for pre-ringfort activity, possibly dating to the Bronze Age, was found in the form of a hearth, some stake-hole alignments and some artefacts of pottery and stone; however, no associated enclosure was found. The first ringfort, constructed in Early Christian times, was c. 38m in diameter (Plate 13.4.1). This earthwork was levelled, before the ditch had much time to erode and replaced by a more ambitious earthwork, 63m in diameter, with a 2m deep ditch, counterscarp bank and 1.75m high bank, with evidence for a stake-built palisade, probably interwoven with wattle (Plate 13.4.2). Three sherds of E-ware pottery were recovered from a gravel layer near the entrance, underlying this second bank, thus offering a date for either the first phase of ringfort activity or the initial construction of the second.

Plate 13.4.1: Aerial view of Lisleagh 1 during excavation
[Michael J. Monk]

Plate 13.4.2: Lisleagh, Co Cork. Excavation cut through bank 
[Michael J. Monk]

The interior of the second earthwork had a succession of 7-8 round structures within the area excavated, most with central clay hearths, sunken or flat. A number of different wall types were found, including earth-fast stakes woven with wattle above ground, pre-formed wattle screens set into trenches, both single and double-line 'cavity' walls, walls formed from contiguous upright timbers, usually square or rectangular, and some slight evidence for walls founded on earthen footings. Four of the houses appeared to have been conjoined in two pairs. Adjacent to the entrance was slight evidence for a probably rectangular structure against the inner face of the bank. At least two houses were destroyed by fire and several had evidence for rebuilding and repair work. Based on C14 dates and artefactual evidence, the ringfort phase began in the early 7th century and continued into the 9th century AD.

In the later phases of occupation, the ditch was allowed to half silt up, the palisade decayed and there was little evidence for renewal of gate features. Extensive evidence for iron working was found, including a metric tonne of smelting waste and tuyere fragments dumped into the silted ditch.

The excavation of Lisleagh II, 40m SE of Lisleagh I, attempted to determine whether the forts had co-existed and if so whether they had similar or contrasting functions. This second fort is univallate, slightly ovoid in plan and 58m in diameter, was less well preserved than Lisleagh I. The bank survives as a low rise, with traces of a fosse to the north. The 2.5m wide entrance was apparently unrevetted, with shallow post-holes and a spud stone indicating a simple gate structure. It also faces south west, an unusual orientation in the area and particularly on this very exposed site, but opens onto the space south of Lisleagh I and access downslope to what may have been an ancient east-west routeway just south of the sites. This may suggest that Lisleagh I was already in existence before the second fort and that orientation of the Lisleagh II entrance was based on social rather than environmental factors. The fort was surrounded by a 1.8m deep fosse and earthen bank, presumably of similar height.

Although the interior was badly damaged by cultivation, various prospection techniques were used to determine areas of intensive occupation. Two phases of paving extending inwards from the entrance were recovered, as well as clear evidence for at least four round structures, one with evidence for a possible porch and another with a burnt floor. There were also numerous post pits, stake-holes and several pits, one with a concentration of slag. A large rectangular pit (c. 2.6 x 1.9m) contained an enigmatic kiln-like structure.

It was notable that over the period of the interior occupation, a number of changes to the enclosing element occurred. Before the surrounding ditch had much time to erode, the bank was almost entirely levelled back into the ditch, which was then covered by a charcoal horizon. Occupation continued, however, edging over the levelled remains of the bank. Midway in the occupation, the central area of the site (projected diameter c. 32.5m) was encircled by a 1.1m deep shallow fosse that continued across and blocked access to the earlier entrance. Concentric to and c. 1m outside it was a narrow trench holding traces of contiguous upright timbers (average diameter 0.2m). After these posts rotted, they were replaced by a flimsy stake fence. This fosse also remained open for a short time only. It was then backfilled and a large (8m) double-walled wattle structure was built over it. Part of the backfill was subsequently dug out to create a soak-away on its SE circumference and a pit containing charcoal and slag on its southern side. 

Also late in the occupation of Lisleagh II was a trench-cut souterrain, part of one chamber of which was excavated, with slightly corbelled drystone walls and a possible timber roof, which had burnt. An unusual feature on the northern edge of the excavated area in Lisleagh I, with a late C14 date, has similarities and may also be a souterrain entrance.

There is little doubt that these two sites were occupied concurrently, although Lisleagh I is likely to be the earlier. Both produced evidence for similar domestic and agricultural activity. Over a period of 300-400 years, the intensity and nature of these activities shifted, both apparently increasing their emphasis on industrial activity in their later phases. The diameters of both are nearly double the norm for the area, yet despite the very significant effort entailed in constructing their earthworks, their significance as defence seems to have diminished well before the end of occupation in both cases, fairly rapidly in the case of Lisleagh II, even though subsequent occupation continued to be contained within the diminished bank. Perhaps the late provision of souterrains, as well as reflecting the increase in dairying and the need for cool storage, represents  a shift from keeping people out of these forts to keeping goods or people safe or hidden from rapid raids or thieves instead. The short-lived enclosure at Lisleagh II, with external palisade, remains unique.

References

Monk, M. 1983  ‘Lisleagh’,  Medieval Archaeology 27, 217.

Monk, M. 1984  ‘Lisleagh I’,  Medieval Archaeology 28, 255.

Monk, M. 1985  ‘Lisleagh I’,  Medieval Archaeology 29, 213-4.

Monk, M. 1988  ‘Excavations at Lisleagh ringfort, North Cork’,  Archaeology Ireland 2:2, 57-60.

Monk, M. 1990  ‘ Lisleagh II’,  Medieval Archaeology 34, 225.

Monk, M. 1991  ‘Lisleagh II’,  Medieval Archaeology 35, 201-2.

Monk, M. 1993  ‘Lisleagh II’,  Medieval Archaeology37, 292.

Monk, M. 1994  ‘Lisleagh II’,  Medieval Archaeology 38, 269.

Monk, M. 1995  ‘A tale of two ringforts: Lisleagh I and II’,  Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 100, 105-116.

Monk, M. 1998  ‘Early Medieval Secular and Ecclesiastical Settlement in Munster’, In J. Sheehan and M. Monk (eds),  Early Medieval Munster: Archaeology, History and Society. Cork University Press, 33-52.

13.5 : Simonstown, Co. Meath E144

Site location: NGR 28570/27050            SMR ME025-005---

Eamon P. Kelly*

Fig.13.5.1: Location map of Simonstown, Co. Meath [OSI]

This site was located north-west of Navan town to the west of the railway line (Fig. 13.5.1). The excavation was undertaken in 1975 and was completed in one season. The site consisted of a large earthen ringfort (maximum diameter of 75m) which comprised a circular area defined by an earthen bank with outer fosse and counterscarp bank. Four periods of activity were identified.

Period I

This phase was Neolithic in date and consisted of a number of pits and hearths under the banks of the fort. Sherds of Western Neolithic pottery, leaf-shaped arrowheads, a polished stone axe and hollow and thumb-nail scrapers were all retrieved.

Period II

This pre-dated the ringfort construction and was represented by the foundations of a large sub-rectangular house, 10.5m by 6.25m. No datable finds were recovered.

Period III

This was ringfort phase and dated to between 500-1000 AD. The foundations of a circular house, 5m in diameter, were identified along with an area of smelting activity. Finds included glass beads, fragments of jet bracelets and some iron knives.

Period IV

This phase was seventeenth and eighteenth century in date and consisted of pits and hearths with animal bones and pottery.

The reuse of the site over a long period of time is an important observation. The excavation also adds to the information on ringforts and the type of structures and activities that were associated with them.

Reference

Kelly, E. P. 1976  ‘Simonstown’,  In T. G. Delaney (ed.) Excavations 1975-6, Association of Young Irish Archaeologists, Ulster Archaeological Society and Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement. 17-18.

13.1 : Aghadegnan, Templemichael, Co.Longford
91E0055/93E0048
13.2 : Ballingarrydown, Co. Limerick E40
13.3 : Dromthacker, Co. Kerry 97E0022
13.4 : Lisleagh I and II, Co. Cork E218 and E488
13.5 : Simonstown, Co. Meath E144