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Houses 1917

The most common archaeological field monument in Ireland is the ringfort: there are about 45,000 ringforts scattered across Ireland. While ringforts are basically enclosed homesteads which are associated with farming during the Early Medieval Period (5th to 10th centuries CE), there are some which date earlier than this. Ringforts are found in areas with good-quality soils.

wall 1920

The enclosure is the defining feature of the ringfort. Many ringforts have an earthen enclosure which consists of an area enclosed by a circular, oval, or pear-shaped bank with an outer ditch. The diameter of the enclosure ranges from as small as 15 meters (50 feet) to as large as 35 meters (115 feet).

The stone-walled ringforts or cashels are similar to the earthen raths except that they are enclosed by drystone walls instead of earthen banks. The cashels seldom have ditches.

While these structures are called ringforts, they are not forts in the military sense. While the ringforts did provide some protection for its inhabitants and for their cattle and crops in the surrounding countryside, the primary purpose of the structures was to impress other people. This was an outward expression of status in keeping with the hierarchical structure of the early medieval Irish society.

The ringfort was essentially a working farm. Within the enclosure were houses as well as livestock enclosures. The larger ringforts probably contained more than one family and were most likely the residences of wealthy people who might be considered nobles or kings.

One of the features found in some of the ringforts is the souterrain—an underground or semi-subterranean passage or chamber. In some instances there are several interlocking passages which would have required considerable engineering skill to construct. The primary function of the souterrain was to provide a temporary hiding place which could be used if the settlement was attacked. Some souterrains have sally-ports beyond the ring enclosure which provided both a means of escape and of counter-attack. The souterrains were also used for storage and they were a good place to hide valuables.

Sally Porrt 1908

Sally Port 1909

sally port 1938

Shown above is the souterrain sally-port at the re-created ringfort at Craggaunowen. The strategically placed stone barriers make entry difficult.


Shown above is the entrance to the souterrain in one of the circular houses at Craggaunowen. The entrance can be easily concealed by dropping the trap door.

Steague Fort:

Overview 1287

Steague Fort is one of the largest stone forts in Ireland and dates to several centuries prior to Christianity. It was the home of a very wealthy landowner or chieftain who felt a great need for security. The fort would have been full of houses, out-buildings, and possibly tents and temporary structures.

Wall 1291

Interior 1292

Wall 1299

Wall 1295

Wall 1296

Wall 1301

Wall 1302

The stone wall is up to six meters high and four meters thick. It was built without mortar. The fort appears to have been built in several stages rather than in a single continuous building event.

Wall 1307

Stairs 1314

The top of the wall was reached by a series of steps which criss-cross against the inside of the wall.

Entry 1290

Entrance 1304

A narrow passage through the wall provides entry to the fort.

Chamber wide 1300

Chamber door 1293

Chamber Entrance 1317

Chamber 1325

Two small chambers are contained within the wall. Shown above are the entrances to the small chambers which are contained within the wall.

Chamber 345

chamber 346

chamber 347

The photographs above were taken from inside the small chambers.

Dictch 1318

An earthen bank and ditch around the fort provided additional protection from attack.

Caherconnel (Cahercommaun) Ring Fort:

Wide 2166

Outer wall 2200

Entrance 2177

Wall 2178

Wall 2186

Wall 2198

wall 2207

The Caherconnel Ring Fort is one of about 500 ringforts in The Burren. It is on private land today and is run as both an archaeological centre and a tourist attraction. In 2010 the Caherconnel Archaeological Field School was established to carry out excavations at the cashel and its environs.

Aerial 2171

Shown above is an aerial photograph of the site prior to excavation.

House 2187

House site 2184

Shown above is the site of a fairly large rectangular house. This was probably the principle house in the fort during the 14th and 15th centuries.

small house 2191

Shown above is the foundation for a small structure, perhaps a house or shed.

Center Wall 2194

Center Wall 2190

Shown above is what remains of the center dividing wall in the fort.

Outer structure 2202

Out structure 2203

outer structure 2201

Shown above is one of the structures outside of the wall.

Archaeological surveys have identified several small settlement clusters in the area, as well as two boulder burials, a drystone chamber, and a number of small hut-sites and ancient field walls.

Artist 2167

Shown above is an artist’s conception of what the site would have looked like.

Wall 2209

Wall 2214


overview 1942

At Craggaunowen there is a re-created ringfort that provides a fairly accurate picture of what a ringfort would have been like when it was occupied.

entrance 1940

Houses 1916

Round house 1913

round house 1927

interior 1931

The circular houses shown above have load-bearing walls so that only a single central pole is needed to support the roof. The thatch on the roof is made from Common Reed (Phragmites australis).

Pole Lathe

Shown above is a pole lathe which was used for making bowls, goblets, candlesticks, and other wooden items. The treadle providing the power to turn the wood against the gouges is worked by foot, and the sampling or pole provides a counter spring action to return the piece to the starting point to begin again.

Originally posted to Shamrock American Kossacks on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 09:46 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and J Town.

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