A bit of a nostalgia trip for Finola and me this week: we spent a couple of days in Kerry and dropped in to Derrynablaha – the iconic valley which has some of Ireland’s most notable Rock Art. These stones were carved on natural rocks on the hillsides many thousands of years ago. To this day, we don’t know what they signify.
Some years ago, Finola and I organised exhibitions showing examples of Rock Art – many taken from Finola’s 1973 University of Cork thesis. The map above was drawn for the exhibitions: you can find Derrynablaha in the centre of the Iveragh Peninsula, left of centre. Below is a rendering of Finola’s thesis drawing showing – arguably – the most significant piece of Rock Art on this island:
Here’s a photo of these rocks which I took on my first visit to this valley, in 2012. It was a dull day! The next photo was taken on a better day three years later. This shows how weather conditions can affect the way that Rock Art motifs are seen:
On our most recent visit – last week – we didn’t have time to scale the steep hillside to view this rock formation, but we enjoyed just taking in the stunning landscapes of the townland.
Above, and in the header picture, you can see the ruin of the cottage, which was once the only dwelling in this valley. It was still lived in when Finola visited to carry out her survey of the Rock Art in 1972 – fifty years ago. Then it was occupied by John O’Sullivan and his sister, May. John’s brother – Daniel – discovered much of the Rock Art in the surrounding landscape and reported this in the 1960s to Michael Joseph O’Kelly, then Professor of archaeology at UCC, and his wife Claire. Subsequently the O’Kellys made some expeditions to Derrynablaha, as did the Italian rock art expert, Emannuel Anati. Daniel had died prior to Finola’s visits and she recalls that the remaining family were excellent stewards of the Rock Art, ensuring that it was preserved and not damaged. She has ‘hazy memories’ of being brought into the house and given cups of tea and brown bread.
After we had published earlier posts about Derrynablaha, Finola was contacted by Faith Rose – the great niece of the O’Sullivans who lived in this cottage in 1969: Faith had visited the valley in that year. She recalls:
. . . I remember their bedroom was downstairs, the staircase to the upstairs being unsafe. There were none of the usual services in the house. There was an old fashioned fireplace where you could cook with a settle at the side. I seem to remember being told it had been built under some government scheme and the original stone farmhouse was to be seen slowly returning to nature close by. I wonder if you recall any of this. My great aunt and uncle were shy people who extended us the best hospitality. To my sister and I it was a magical place, but the hardness of their lives there was clear . . .
Faith Rose 2021
There are the ruins of several other buildings set within this landscape, indicating that the settlement was once significantly more populated in earlier times. Now it is wildly lonely, but impressively beautiful. When Finola carried out her surveys, she recorded 23 pieces of Rock Art. Today it is recognised that there are 26 known examples, with a further 7 stones in the adjacent townland of Derreeny. Long term readers of this Journal may recall that we visited the townland in April of 2015 – together with a small group of enthusiasts – to seek out all the known examples. At that time Ken Williams was using techniques he had developed to photograph the carvings in fine detail. These employed several portable light sources. The following sequence shows one of the rocks (number 12) taken without lighting; Finola’s drawing traced in 1972; then Ken’s technique in action and his results, which are remarkable:
Once again you are reading about the Rock Art at Derrynablaha! There have been several posts on this subject over the years, but we make no apologies: we never tire of the beautiful landscapes of Kerry – and we have seen it in all weathers. It would be good if we could be closer to solving the meanings of these rock carvings; this is unlikely to happen. Over the last 300 years since the phenomenon was first recorded in Ireland (and Britain, and many other places in Europe and the world) there have been varying theories – dozens – put forward for its existence: none of them is conclusive. Think on . . .
The island of Cape Clear is a constant in our daily view from Nead an Iolair. We don’t visit often enough… But this week the Fastnet Film Festival – based in Schull – had a day out on The Cape, and we went along for the excursion! That’s the harbour, above.
The dot on the horizon, seen here (above) from our ferry to Cape Clear, is the Fastnet Lighthouse. The crossing from Schull takes only half an hour and we were fortunate to have good weather and calm waters. The crowd on board was delighted by a diversion on the way – a pod of dolphins kept the boat company for a while.
Arriving in the North Harbour we were looking forward to our Teanga na Gaeilge ar Oileán Chléire: an Irish Language Day on Cape Clear. First, we had a long hill to climb to reach an Halla Mór: a whole team of islanders were on hand to provide lifts in cars and buses. Some of us chose to do it the hard and steep way, but were rewarded by stunning views and azure water.
Our first film treat was An Cailín Ciúin – The Quiet Girl.
. . . Nominated for this year’s 95th Academy Awards in the ‘International Feature Film’ category of the Oscars, Colm Bairéad’s debut feature became one of the most lauded Irish films of recent years. Adapted from Foster, a short story by Claire Keegan, it centres on nine-year-old Cáit, a shy and withdrawn child who receives little affection from a family ruled by an uncaring patriarch. When she is sent to spend the summer with her aunt Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her husband Seán (Andrew Bennet), she blossoms in their care. At the end of the summer, difficult decisions must be faced . . .
2023 Fastnet Film Festival Programme
Catherine Clinch is ‘The Quiet Girl’ in the film (above). Born in 2009, this is her debut role. Happily, she joined us for our day on the island. I was affected by the story in the film, as were many others in the audience. In fact, I don’t think I have been as moved by something on screen since I was taken to see Bambi at the age of five. Although not topping the Oscars ‘Best International Feature Film’ category (this went to All Quiet on the Western Front) it has rightly gained many other accolades. I think the most apt review I read said simply:
” . . . As beautiful as it is devastating . . .” (Boston Globe).
Carrie Crowley also deserves mention for her sensitive role as the aunt of The Quiet Girl. Crowley and Clinch – below.
This Irish language film was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, but there were plenty more moments, including short film viewings, coffee and good lunches, on Cape Clear. With some long-awaited summer weather to help us enjoy the island.
We had to be sure to arrive back at the harbour before the boat left at five. The alternative would be to sleep out under the stars – tempting! For very many reasons, this was a most memorable day.
. . . It is very seldomly violently cold here, and freezeth but little. There are commonly three or four frosts in one winter, but they are very short, seldom lasting more than three of four days together and with all their very worst, nothing so near so violent as in most other countries. But, how mild they ordinarily be, and how little subject to excessive cold. And as the cold in winter is moderate and tolerable, so is also the heat in summer; which is seldom so great, even in the hottest times of the year as to be greatly troublesome . . .
1726: A Natural History of Ireland in Three Parts by Gerard Boate, Gerard and Thomas Molyneaux
I was attracted to the early 18th century quote by Boate (first paragraph), because it certainly always seemed to be the case that Ireland has the perfect climate: never too cold and never too hot. In these days of global warming, maybe that’s less so than it used to be: we are experiencing long, cold and wet winters (here we are in mid May and we have to keep our fires burning!) and some scorching summer days when it’s exhausting to be out in the sun. Nevertheless, I believe we are fortunate not to suffer too much from unhealthy extremes – as yet.
Today’s post sees us travelling again with our frequent companions Amanda and Peter (above, with Finola). Remember my post from last week? For that expedition we stayed at Kells Bay House, in Co Kerry: Peter and Amanda organised that wonderful trip. We decided we couldn’t leave that sublime place until we had visited the Primaeval Forest there.
. . . Rowland Ponsonby Blennerhassett (1850-1928), grandson of Rowland Blennerhassett, married Mary Beatrice Armstrong from London in 1876 and is recorded as living at Kells. He extended the original Hollymount Cottage and renamed it Kells. They also kept a house at Hans Place, Chelsea, near to the Chelsea Physic Garden. Rowland Ponsonby is widely held responsible for making additions to the garden which still stand today. He established the Ladies Walled Garden adjacent to the front of the house for his wife Lady Mary, planted the Primeval Forest and laid out the pathways through the gardens . . .
The History of Kells Bay House & Gardens Helen M Haugh 2015
One of the principal attractions of the gardens at Kells Bay – and the Primaeval Forest – is a series of sculptures carved from tree fragments, commenced in 2011, by Kerry sculptor Pieter Koning. Here is a striking portrait of that artist by photographer David Molloy:
The Dinosaur sculptures have blended well into the natural landscape over the years: we were delighted with them!
In addition to the Dinosaurs, which are well worth an exploration (I have only shown a few here to tantalise you into a visit!), there is a tree-fern forest planted by Blennerhassett, and spectacularly enhanced by the present owner, Billy Alexander, who has been awarded a Gold Medal at Chelsea Flower Show for his Kells Bay Gardens ‘mirocosm’. There are plenty of landscaping features old and new, and a ‘Sky Walk’ rope bridge, which is quite challenging.
Finola and I are at odds about this species: Gunneramanicata. Finola sees them springing up in the countryside where they ‘don’t belong’ – they originate in South America and are now spreading wildly, particularly here in the west of Ireland. Gunnera is listed on the Third Schedule of the EU Habitats Regulations which makes it an offence under Regulation 49 …to plant, disperse, allow or cause to grow this plant in the Republic of Ireland… So I can see Finola’s viewpoint. But I have always admired them. They grow so fast that you can almost see them getting bigger if you stand and stare for a few minutes. In this context, at Kells Bay House, they are part of an exotic collection dating from the 1800s, and therefore excused (says I).
I hope you will agree that Kells Bay House and Gardens is a ‘must see’ destination. And it’s well worth more than one visit. Include it – as we did – in a tour of landscape, archaeology and Holy Wells. The county of Kerry has so much to offer!
We embarked on a sea voyage in order to explore the island of Illaunloughan, which is off the coast of Kerry not far from Portmagee. To the north is Valentia Island. It is said that this tiny landfall – only 0.3 acres in area – is the smallest of Ireland’s offshore islands which contain medieval monastic remains.
Our sea journey was on board an aluminium fishing boat – there it is, below, with the island of Illaunloughan in the background.
And there’s the full crew (two pics below): myself, Amanda, Peter, David the boatman and Finola. We were – as you might guess – on an archaeological expedition in Kerry, which included the search for a holy well on this island.
You can see Portmagee in the background of the photo above. It’s not a long journey: just a few minutes from the harbour there. In fact it is said that on a couple of tidal events during the year you can actually walk across to Illaunloughan, but the voyage was far more exciting for us!
This is the view of the island as the boat approaches it: you can see various of the archaeological features. It doesn’t take long to explore – but it’s fascinating. A full survey of the surviving monuments was undertaken by Jenny White-Marshall and Claire Walsh in the 1990s: this resulted in the publication Illaunloughan Island: An Early Medieval Monastery in County Kerry, Wordwell Press, 2005. Here is a synopsis:
. . . The gable-shrine is one of a small group of reliquary shrines that occurs at the western end of the Iveragh Peninsula: similar examples are found at Killoluaig, Kilpeacan and Killabuonia. These shrines or specially marked graves are generally ascribed to the founder. The base of the gable-shrine at Illaunloughan consists of a large terraced mound, 9m by 7.6m, which rises to a height of 1.5m. The mound is partly built on an area of rock outcrop which was levelled off on its southern side with soil, stone and pea-gravel. Vertically set kerb-stones and masonry walling were placed along the edges to retain this fill; the mound has been eroded on the northern side by the action of the sea. White quartz stones of varying sizes were liberally scattered over the mound. At its western edge stone steps lead up to an area of rough paving that surrounds a rectangular drystone structure on which stands the slab-shrine. The end-slabs are missing. When the side-slabs were removed an underlying core of pea-gravel and white quartz was exposed. This sealed two small, irregularly shaped, stone-lined cists, each of contained neatly stacked exhumed human bones. A minimum of three individuals, all male, is represented in this skeletal assemblage which comprised fragments of the skulls of two individuals, a single mandible, and several long bones. Large numbers of scallop shells and white quartz pebbles were placed both within and around the cists. The eastern quadrant of the gravel mound was evidently planned as a cemetery for monks who wished to be buried close to their saints, for at least five bodies were interred here. These were laid side by side, and were extended inhumations oriented from east to west, with the heads to the west. Following excavation, much of the shrine platform was dismantled. This revealed three rock-cut graves, all oriented from east to west, sealed beneath the mound material. The graves, located on the north-eastern, the southern and the western sides of the shrine, clearly predate the construction of the mound and shrine. Fragments of human bone were recovered from two of them, including a sizeable part of a shattered femur, found at the western end of the grave. No bone was recovered from the third grave. It is hoped to determine, through trace element analysis, whether the bones in the earlier graves represent parts of the individuals translated into the cists beneath the gable-shrine. The evidence so far collated on the Illaunloughan shrine indicates that it is a multiperiod structure. The presence of a sacred focus (an earlier shrine?) is strongly suggested by the earlier graves, though no trace of any such structure survives. C14 (AMS analysis) dating of bone from the cists beneath the gable-shrine has yielded a date in the early seventh century for one individual and the middle of the eighth century for a second. Half-scallop shells, present in the fill of the cists and on their stone lids, were clearly of some significance to those who interred the translated bones. Some of the scallop shells from the shrine have been perforated and they may have been suspended from cords. The scallop is, of course, the emblem of St James, whose remains were ‘discovered’ in a field of shells in Compostela, north-western Spain, in AD 813. The shrine at Compostela rose to prominence as a place of pilgrimage in the eleventh century (Harbison 1991, 22). This may be further evidence of refurbishment of the shrine at a late period . . .
National MoNuments Historic Environment Viewer
Two views of the gable shrine (upper photographs) together with a scaled drawing from the National Monuments Service (above). This distinctive site, with its embellishments of white quartz pebbles and slate capping, suggests an internment of some great importance – probably a local saint. The gable-shrine was reconstructed after excavation and is now complete. Note from the description above (National Monuments Service) that three rock-cut graves were revealed under the present structure – empty – and the suggestion has been made that the later shrine was constructed to ‘translate’ the earlier burials because of the significant status of those who were buried there.
The gable shrine seen with the bridge from Portmagee to Valentia Island in the background. In front of the shrine are (probably much later) grave markers. It was common practice to put burials close to anciently sacred sites: in fact, up to the 20th century Illaunloughan was used as a cillín for the burial of unbaptised infants and as a graveyard by local people.
This plan of the island (National Monuments Service) shows the principal features: the gable shrine, an oratory, a stone hut and a well. It also serves to show how small the island actually is – yet it supported a community of men and children (one of the three burials in the shrine was seven or eight years old). Their main diet is said to have been fish and seafowl based. The drystone oratory (church) was excavated and radiocarbon dated to the 8th century. The excavations of the surrounding land revealed that a range of domestic and industrial activities were undertaken, including fine metal-working, bone-working and cereal processing (Irish Heritage News 2018).
The pics above show the oratory, a stone hut and the well. The latter would have been a necessity for any permanently based community on the island: Amanda’s particular interests in holy wells made her wonder whether this one had any local folklore or dedication.
Further areas of worked stone marked out enclosures or terraced areas which would have had some significance to the community based there. After excavation, the island’s features have been returned to good structural condition. The site suffered some serious vandalism in fairly recent years. Fortunately, its general lack of access has provided some protection.
This felt to us a very special site, and we were privileged to be able to visit it. If you read the book about it, you will see that the thinking of those who carried out the excavations was that it was active from the 7th to the 9th centuries. In more recent times this dating has been questioned – possibly because radio-carbon dating results have been revised since those findings. It is now being suggested that use of the monastic site may have continued into the 11th century: we have to note that a Hiberno-Norse coin of 1020-35 was found under the paving of the plinth surrounding the gable shrine. White-Marshall and Walsh suggest this could be evidence for the use or maintenance of the shrine in the 11th century, while another commentator – Cormac Bourke (in reviewing the excavation report) – has suggested the continuous use of the site into that period.
For Amanda, the dedication of this site to a local saint would be important. Two saints named Lochan appear in the Martyrology of Tallaght (c. AD 800); one could have been the founder. It’s also worth noting that Saint Finnbar of Cork was baptised Lochan: he was educated at Kilmacahil, Kilkenny, where the monks named him Fionnbharr (white head) because of his light hair. His dates in any case do not fit with Illaunloughan: Finnbar was born around 550.
The island of Illaunloughan is low-lying, and at some risk of future indundation if climate change leads to drastic sea-level rise. We were fortunate to get the opportunity to visit this magical place, thanks to our local boatman – who bore us safely back to dry land!
PS Many thanks to Amanda Clarke – Holy Wells of Cork & Kerry – for dreaming up this remarkable adventure. And for finding us a boatman!
We were unexpectedly in County Wicklow, and had a day or two of sunshine. To take advantage of this, we found our way up to the Great Sugar Loaf, with every good intention of climbing to its peak – 501 metres above sea level. I’ll come clean and mention that the starting point for the walk is already halfway up this elevation – and also we didn’t make it all the way on this occasion, as we were heavily overdressed! Only yesterday we still seemed to be in the grip of a very harsh winter, so had assumed that gloves, scarves and thick jackets would be the order of the day. In fact, quite a few other climbers were clad in tee shirts and shorts…
The upper view was taken on the path going up to the top – this morning. The lower view – taken a couple of years ago from Bray Head – gives a good impression of the Great Sugar Loaf (the furthest peak on the right) as the high point in a range, rather than a lone conical summit. There is also a Little Sugar Loaf which – in this view – is the high point in the central range in the photo. From other places, the ‘Little’ loaf also appears like a conical ‘peak’. Have a look at the pic below, where I have tried to show both ‘cones’ in the same view.
This photo, which dates from the early 1900s, is taken from the old beach in Greystones: the Little Sugar Loaf is over to the left, while the ‘Great’ one is at the left end of the further ridge (photo by William Alfred Green (1870–1958) – courtesy of Ulster Folk Museum). Below – the same view of the two ‘sugar loaves’ taken from the Marina, Greystones, today.
Here’s another view of the ‘Great’ loaf, with further pics of today’s adventures below, including the prospects from on the hill:
The area deserves considerable further exploration. The extracts below are from the Schools Folklore Collection, recorded in the 1930s: valuable commentary and memories collected from local inhabitants.
. . . If we were to visit Kilmacanogue over a hundred years ago it would present to us a very different appearance from what it does now. Our journey would be by the end of the Sugar Loaf Hotel of today, up the school lane, turning west for about a quarter of a mile and crossing the present day Rocky Valley road and following in a south-western direction along the foot of Sugar Loaf mountain. On our left was a church (in Brerton’s Garden) but not even the ruins of this remain. It is said the monks fled from this church in the Penal days, burying behind them their gold chalice, which still lies hidden in the field still know as the Church field. The road leading from Kilmacanogue to Kilmurry (now known as the Old Road) was the Coach Road between Dublin and Wexford. At the Kilmurry end there is a plot of ground about one acre known as Kilmurry Green which is believed to have been an old burial ground. The lane leading off from this road to the present main road near Kilmurry Dispensary locally known as Connolly’s Lane is supposed to have been lined with houses. The field on the North side of this lane (now in the possession of Miss Powell) is called the Street Field which indicates that a village must have been there at one time. The south part of Kilmurry Green contains the sites of two buildings – the stones, are still to be seen there, which marked the foundation of the gable. Traces of graves remain, though the place has not been used as a burying ground within any person’s memory . . .
Schools folklore Collection Kilmacanogue, Bray Teacher: Caitlín Ní Chuinneáin
The Great Sugarloaf was a popular subject for artists. Examples are these watercolours: from Views of Bray and the Sugarloaf, County Wicklow, circa 1820 John Henry Campbell (1757-1828) – Whytes.ie. Back to the Schools Folklore Collection: we were particularly interested in the mentions of Red Lane, where there was evidently once a church, burial ground and holy well: it is said that none of these are visible today, but we will pencil in some further visits to have a closer explore.
. . . At the Southern extremity of Kilmurry bordering on Calary are two ruins which are popularly called Leghteampall or the Monasteries. These ruins stand in two adjacent fields, separated by a narrow lane (Red Lane). They lie east and west of each other in the Kelly’s and Whelan’s land, that in the west forming a square of thirty two yards each way. On the south side stands an angle of ancient wall built of stones and mortar 4′ 2″ high 2′ 2″ thick. There is a clump of stones and thorns at the north side 30′ long by 12′ broad and 2’2′ in height. There is an ancient holly tree in full vigour at the south-east angle a cross is cut in the tree and funerals stopped here and recited the prayers for the dead. About thirty yards east of there are the traces of an ancient church. A few stones of irregular shape remain in the foundation of the south wall; the stones appear to have been carried away from the north side within a comparatively late period. A heap of stones and rubbish occupies the place of the western gable, along which lies a large shapeless lump of a stone, having at the top a rudely formed cavity 7″ deep and 9″ in diameter at top, narrowing gradually to the bottom. This was a holy water stoup, one of the rudest ecclesiastical antiquities. An ancient decayed ash tree stands on the north of the church and graves may be traced in several places around it, though it has not been used as a burying ground for a long time. About a furlong south west of this place is a holy well called Bride’s Well (in Chapman’s Lane) at which Patrons were held, but none was held there within the last forty years . . .
Schools folklore Collection Kilmacanogue, Bray Teacher: Caitlín Ní Chuinneáin
This winter scene is courtesy of Wiki Commons: we would like to visit at that time of the year, although the mountain may well not be hospitable then. Below – that’s the somewhat unusual gateway to the car-park at the Great Sugarloaf: take care when entering!
Our journeys in search of important Irish archaeology can take us a long way from home. Today’s subject – the impressive Rathgall Hillfort – is located in County Wicklow, on the east side of the island. But it is well worth a long journey: its size is impressive – it occupies an 18 acre site. And the history of the place goes as far back as the Neolithic age. We visited on a brisk spring day, when the clouds were determined to contribute to our appreciation of this monument.
The size and longevity of this hillfort push it into a rare category. The substantial central rampart of stone walling is medieval, but the outer rings of stone and earth appear to have considerably earlier dates.
. . . Rathgall was a site of quite exceptional importance in the centuries spanning the birth of Christ, an importance that was clearly pan-European. The variety of structural information that the excavation yielded is unprecedented in the Bronze Age and the extraordinary concentration of artifactual evidence from the site has not been matched elsewhere in the country. Rathgall opens a wide range of questions concerning, not merely the nature of the Ireland’s later Bronze Age, but also the role of the hillfort in contemporary cultural developments . . .
Professor Barry Rafferty 2004
Plan of the hillfort and surrounding earthworks taken from the site notice board. Red lines indicate the site excavations. This board states that:
. . . Rathgall Hillfort is a hilltop settlement enclosed and defended by four concentric ramparts which can be dated to the early and middle Neolithic period . . . The outer three ramparts are stone and earthen banks and are likely to be prehistoric in date. Within the central enclosure there is evidence of metalworking, a cemetery and a round house; all dating to the Late Bronze Age . . .
The two photographs above are taken from the time of archaeological investigations which commenced in 1969. The results of those excavations, which covered a number of years, have yet to be formally published. [Late edit: Elizabeth Shee has informed us that the findings will be published this summer by Wordwell, through the work of Katherina Becker of UCC. Many thanks, Elizabeth, we will look our for that]. The investigations found evidence that this was the site of an important and busy Bronze Age factory for metalworking (axe and spearheads, swords) and for pottery, jewellery and glass beads. In total over 50,000 pottery fragments were found, as well as 3,000 bronze and gold artefacts.
Rathgall from the early OS map. The importance of the site was realised and kept in use by successive generations.
Our knowledge of the societies that centred their life on settlements such as these in Ireland is sparse: here, and elsewhere, we are left with evidence of their stone structures (which will outlast us) but also intriguing finds – the following quotations summarize some of Professor Rafferty’s work here (courtesy of Rath Community Group and The Heritage Council):
1969 – 1971. . . It took over 3 years to dig out the entire 15 metre wide section of the inner circle. Within an hour of starting work, he [Professor Rafferty] had located pottery pieces. Over 10,000 finds were from the inner circle; glass objects, clay moulds, stone and gold objects. Post holes indicate that there was a small house-like structure within the circle. The ditches were filled in with black material among the stones. An oval pit was discovered near the centre of the house. It had a carefully placed large boulder on top of black material almost covering the pit. The pit had been back filled in with yellow clay around the boulder. When the black clay was taken out, they found a small gold-plated copper ring, 1 cm wide approx, embedded in burnt baby’s bones. They came to the conclusion that this was a ritual burial pit . . .
1972 – 1973 . . . They moved to the southern slope of outside of the inner circle and were getting 400 finds per day. Prof Rafferty got down to prehistoric levels after 1 foot in some places. This area was “jampacked with artefacts, glass, gold, animal bones, pottery and basket remains.” Rabbits had done a lot of damage and stones were removed by people over the years. They found hundreds of clay mould fragments embedded in a black clay-like substance. Clay moulds are always broken when found as they could only be used once. The moulds were made for swords or whatever was needed: copper was poured in and in order to get out the sword etc, the mould had to be broken. He found a smaller crucible with traces of lead in it, parts of blades of swords or rapiers, spearheads, cauldron legs but not the cauldron . . .
1974 . . . In Bronze age times people were buried crouched down in a foetal position and put in a clay pot. The remains of a female and child were discovered in such a clay pot at Rathgall, buried in a pit underneath large slab stones. Eighty eight glass beads were uncovered, which is the largest quantity found in any Bronze Age site in Ireland. These beads are 1 – 3 cm wide, mostly circular in shape, blue-green in colour and with a hole in them. This collection is unprecedented in the late Bronze Age of Ireland and is also one of the largest from a single site as yet discovered in Western Europe (Rafferty and Henderson 1987). Prof Rafferty found a 2cm twisted gold cylinder with its ends finely hammered and a dark green glass bead mounted in the middle, 2 – 3cm wide. Tiny delicate loops of gold were attached to each end. This is an object of great beauty and advanced technological expertise. He also found a metal disc with mercury gilding on it. Mercury gilding was used to stick gold to bronze. He got this piece analysed by the British museum and the piece was dated back to 1000 BC. Before it was analysed, the Irish professionals were uninclined to believe that this came from Ireland as nowhere in the world had mercury gilding been found that dated back further than 400 BC. Prof Rafferty felt that this emphasised the exceptional importance of the Rathgall site . . .
While visiting this site I was reminded of an adventure we had last summer in Northern Ireland. You’ll find it here. There we discovered The Giant’s Ring: that earthwork struck us as ‘gigantic’. But it only occupies an area of 2.8 hectares. Our latest exploration is over 7 hectares! That makes it Cyclopean, surely! While this Co Wicklow site has been examined by archaeologists, we certainly don’t yet have all the answers as to why it existed, nor do we know everything we would like to about those who built it. We just can’t help expressing a sense of wonder at this – and other – artefacts which have made their marks on our landscapes. We are grateful to those who have explored and labelled these sites, and also to those who make sure they are conserved for our future generations, who might find more answers than we do as to their origins.
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