Bronze Age road in Midlands turned into potting compost
‘Scandal’ that oak road on Mayne Bog, dating to 1200-820 BC, not surveyed or preserved
The Midland bogs have always been places of mystery – vistas of burnt umber that every so often unearth prehistoric time capsules: vats of bog butter, golden hoards, the mummified remains of sacrificial corpses... continues...
Class: Barrow - unclassified
Townland: PASS OF KILBRIDE
Scheduled for inclusion in the next revision of the RMP: Yes
Description: On a prominent hillock with good views to the N, E and S. Possible ringfort (WM034-005----) 350m to SE. A small roughly circular flat-topped, mound (diam. 5.2m N-S; 6.3m E-W; H c. 1.3m) defined by a scarp with slight narrow fosse (Wth 1.6m; D 0.2m) around the base of the mound best preserved from W-N-E, not visible at S. Traces of a very slight depression visible on the centre of the mound.
Monument surveyed in 2015 and described by McGuinness (2015, 60-3) as following: ‘Monument comprises a roughly square-shaped mound with rounded corners (8.5m NNW-SSE x 9.2m WSW-ENE), flat top (5m N-S x 5.2m E-W) and steeply sloping sides, delimited by a shallow ditch formed of four straight lines (Overall dims. 11.5m NNW-SSE x 13m ENE-WSW), the corners sunken deeper than the channels connecting them as if the ends overlapped; possibly these represent pits or hollows left by decayed timber posts. Mound is oriented ENE-WSW (NE-SW), being higher and more massive at SW end; ditch is slightly trapezoidal in shape, the SW end measuring 11.9m in length while the NE end measures only 10.4m. Where highest at SW, mound rises 1.26m above ditch. Ditch appears to be best preserved on W side, where a thorn tree growing from side of mound arches over it; here it is up to 0.16m below external ground level. Ditch at E side appears at least as deep but is densely overgrown and inaccessible; ditch is very poorly preserved on S side. Ditch ranges in width from 1.6m at well-preserved W side up to 1.8m at N side. Immediately Beyond ditch on W side is what appears to be a low external bank—as this is by no means certain, maximum dimensions for the monument given above are derived from the ditch This barrow, marked ‘Moateen’ on OS 6” map, is strikingly positioned on flat summit of S end of low but very prominent glacial hillock with long axis running N-S, just N of the N6; and, but for vegetation, there would be good views in all directions. A raised bog visible only a short distance to N has been harvested for peat on an industrial scale, as have other raised bogs to S. This hillock is at N edge of the pass or strip of dry land that gives the townland its name—less than 1km across at this point—which runs E-W between areas of bog that have been an impediment to movement since prehistoric times: a remarkable cluster of ancient trackways has been discovered in the bogs to the S, the nearest cluster being c. 1km to SSE (WM034-009----/010---/01-2----/014----/015----), including one (WM034-014----) that has been radiocarbondated to 1390-1046 cal. BC, placing it around the junction of Middle and Late Bronze Age. The ASI document a possible ringfort (WM034-005----) about 350m to SE. Although not yet examined by the survey-team, a ‘motte’ (WM034-003----) lying immediately S of the N6 c. 700m to WSW of the present site could, from the ASI account given on the NMS website, be interpreted as a bowl-barrow, perhaps with stepped or otherwise shaped summit like those at Slane More and elsewhere in Ireland (McGuinness 2012, 12-13): Steep-sided mound (H 2m), there is a low rise on the centre of the summit, the significance of which is unclear. At the base of the motte from NE-E-S-W to WNW there is a wide shallow fosse. No visible trace of a bailey…. Traces of linear earthworks in field to the SW are visible on Bing Maps…. [and] could be the remains of a medieval road associated with the motte. [NMS website]. Monument lies between two ruined medieval parish churches on sites which Leo Swan (1988, 13, 21) attributed to the early medieval period: Pass of Kilbride, with St Bridget’s Well (WM034-001----/002----), only c. 700m to W but not certainly of early medieval date; and Clonfad, 2.5km to ENE, with a ruined medieval church, standing stone, early medieval high cross (Crawford 1927, 1-2) and a burial ground, including ‘the bishop’s grave’, surrounded by sub-circular earthworks representing the enclosing monastic vallum (WM027-066----/067----). The unusual rectilinear earthwork described here is not obviously a barrow, and indeed, as one ASI fieldworker observed on 8/6/71, ‘It does not appear to belong to any of the known classes of antiquity in Ireland’ [SMR file]. Nonetheless, it is a flat-topped mound surrounded by a ditch, which—angularity of plan aside—are features found in other Westmeath barrows; it is very strikingly located on a glacial hillock with excellent visibility, a type of location common for barrows in this and other counties; and the recognition of a second, prominently sited rectilinear barrow (WM027-027----) only c. 8km to NE seems to suggest that it is indeed a barrow, albeit of a hitherto unknown type in Ireland'.
Compiled by: Caimin O'Brien based on details provided by David McGuinness.
Rathnew is a large rath, with a deep embankment and fosse and a smaller, conjoined section about half its size on its western quarter. Not much remains of the houses that once stood here, but there is much of intrigue to make the megalithic adventurer happy.
In the western 'annex' is a circle of low stones, mostly embedded into the ground, some proud of the ground by about a maximum of 20 cms. It's about 5 metres in diameter with a standing stone at its centre. This stone is about three quarters of a metre tall and is a place for offerings, coins of varying worth on the day I visited. MacAllister notes it as a "dolmen-like stone". Like a few places on Uisneach that day, it had a magical air about it. It also must be pointed out that the ring is probably modern, as mentioned elsewhere and it doesn't appear in MacAllister and Praeger's plan.
The annex has two entrances, at the west and south. The defensive works here are impressive – an outer bank, a fosse (now darkened and alley-like under the covering trees) and an inner bank. The fosse continues onto the bigger part of the rath at the north, but starts to fill up fairly quickly in this sector.
Slightly north of east, there is an opening, with two seeming jambstones or gate stones. South of the entrance the fosse clears out again. Inside this large rath there are the remains of habitation structures, one of which MacAllister and Praeger excavated and left with quite an extensive plan. In its western sector, before it meets the annex, is a souterrain, now filled in and inaccessible. Pity.
This is a fascinating place, somewhere I'd like to explore in greater depth, and intend to do so now that I have the plans of the place.
I arrived at the car parking spot at the southern foot of the Hill of Uisneach, not really knowing what to expect, wondering about access and trespass and all that. There's an official sign outside the entrance that lists some of the monuments on the hill. Past this and at the farm gate entrance is another sign saying that Uisneach is a working farm and that permission to enter the site may be gained by ringing 087 2576434. Please respect these wishes.
I called the number and got through to a voicemail, left a message about my intentions and headed in and up. Immediately in front of you as you ascend is an ancient trackway – to the left is the modern path/track – guess which one I took. Some way up this my phone rang – it was David Clarke, the landowner. I explained to him my interest and he readily gave me permission. I continued on my way, heading for what is marked on the OS map as two side-by-side raths, one of which I had read has a souterrain. The two raths are in fact conjoined, part of an intriguing, complex habitation and multi-period site. I have just today got a plan of the site from when McAllister and Praeger excavated the place back in the twenties. I will attempt to describe this site in its own individual fieldnotes, but this first time here I had only a cursory scout around the place. As I rooted around I spotted a 4 by 4 arrive over by a yurt-like structure and thought I'd better go over and introduce myself.
The driver was the landowner, the aforementioned David Clarke. After the usual pleasantries he showed me some of the monuments. He also gave me a flyer from last year's Festival of the Fires (cancelled this year to allow the farm and the archaeology to 'recover'). The flyer has a description and some folklore of some of the sites and a handy map with all the main monuments on it and a suggested walking tour. Before setting off on this i checked out some of the remaining artworks about the site. The Button Factory stage still stands but is showing signs of dilapidation – hilltop weather not being conducive to wooden structures.
I started my tour proper just by Lugh's Lough, so-called as legend has it this is where the harvest God Lugh (Lunasa) was drowned, before being interred in Lugh's tumulus, a barrow to the north-east. David said that the whole tour would take about an hour and a half. I guess that's for people with half an interest – I would suggest half a day at least to TMAers.
Just west of the lake are the remains of a cashel/dun. It's very overgrown back there, but the walls reminded me of the Clare cashels. Further west of here is the highest point of the hill with its cairn, unfortunately named St. Patrick's Bed. It's ruined and has a trig point plonked in its centre (ho hum). You can see landmarks in 22 of the counties of Ireland from here, allegedly.
South-west through two fields is the Cat Stone, Aill na Mireann (The Stone of Divisions). This is a huge crumbling glacial erratic, enclosed in its own henge. There is some doubt as to which came first, the stone or the henge – I haven't seen any excavation notes anywhere, but I seriously doubt that the stone was moved by anybody/thing but a glacier. This is the sacred omphalus of Ireland, the centre of the kingdom of Eriu, the heart of the mythical fifth province of Mide. Descending through the thorn trees in the field with their rag offerings towards the stone, the heavens opened up. I was able to shelter and remain completely dry in the hollow of the crumbling stone. I felt cocooned here, unfazed by the weather and utterly blissful. This is a special place.
As with all the monuments, I wished i could have stayed a bit longer, but there was still so much to see and I had to be in a friend's near here for dinner in a couple of hours.
I moved on over to Finnleascach's well, a natural spring at the base of another rath. I took a sup here, thirsty despite the rain. This is said to have once been enclosed by its own earthen bank. The water was steadily trickling, but given that I was on a working farm with plenty of livestock, I was a little unsure of it. The rath has quite a large, prostrate stone in its flattened interior. I believe that this may once have stood.
I moved on again, back up to what is described as the 'ancient palace', the conjoined ringforts. I scouted around there some more and then headed up the field to see if I could get a better view of it from higher ground. No such luck, but there was still Lugh's tumulus, over the wall in the next field. This is marked as a barrow, but it doesn't have any external ring or fosse. It rises to over 2 metres high, and the views to the east are extensive.
I was on the last leg of my visit to Uisneach and at this stage I didn't want to leave. I'm not a great vibes person, nor do I go in for the legendary stuff too much (though this is changing the more I find out). Uisneach still has me in its grip 5 days later. I can say that I was blown away by the place, but I can't tell you exactly why. None of the monuments, bar Aill na Mireann, are all that spectacular. Yet, the feeling remains that this is a special place, far more powerful and interesting than the more famous Tara.
David Clarke seems to understand what is in his care and is not ashamed to exploit it commercially – see the link to the Festival of the Fires website – but I got the sense from him that he's one of us, maybe not a TMAer, but someone who cares about these heritage sites and wants other people to care about them too.
Sometimes you just go somewhere on a hunch, and as I passed the sign for Almoritia church on my way to Uisneach, I just had to turn off and have a look. That there is a Norman motte there was an added incentive.
The motte was a huge tree-covered monstrosity, impossible to photograph to any satisfaction, but weirdly impressive.
Through the church gates for a quick nose and what's that over there? A bullaun stone rests there, a metre long, with one deep basin that can hold only a little water as it breaks the inner side of the stone. What a charmer it is, like a lump of conglomerate cake, pushed to one side and usually ignored. Not today…