HILLFORTS/SETTLEMENTS IN IRELAND I

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Type 1) Communal center (formerly Raftery's "hillfort" type class 1 and 2)

These sites are usually large areas enclosed by one to up to three lines of walls (and ditches). Many of them contain one or several "ringforts". Even though those sites are "defended", not all of them are erected in "defensive" positions, and as far as can be said at the moment, seem not to have had a defensive function. Excavations that have taken place in some are not conclusive as to whether they had other houses in the walled interior or not and if there are such houses to be found, if they date to the same phase as the wall(s). As far as can be said at the moment, they, at least, were not as densely settled as their British counterparts like Danebury, Maiden Castle etc.. Some of these "hillforts" were erected at sites where older, Neolithic or early Bronze age tombs were located, which may have happened deliberately or not, as many others show no signs of such ancient monuments. In one case, Emain Macha/Navan Fort, an extraordinary large building was excavated, which has been interpreted as a ritual centre or religious building, which may or may not be true. As such, such sites seem to have had a communal purpose. What is quite obvious from the legends, part of this communal purpose seems to have been a spiritual/ritual one, these sites forming the "mystic centres" of the various regions of Ireland. This is most obvious in sites as Tara, Emain Macha and Rath Cruachain, but seems to have been true for at least some others of this type as well. Additionally to this spiritual aspect, however, other communal purposes are extremely likely. As such, I think we can assume that they were the place of community meetings (oenach), and it could also well be that the ringforts that are often associated with them were residences of either the regional kings or the spiritual elite. Therefore, I would rather like to call them communal centers, as the places where meetings that were thought to affect the whole tribe, or where the presence of "all" members of the tribe was necessary, would take place.


Type 2) Fortified Manorhouse (formerly "ringfort")

These are those "ringforts" that are clearly fortified. Into this type fall all those sites that are multivallate and all sites that have produced evidence of strong defensive architecture (like thick and high drystone walls) or additional defensive works (like chevaux de friese). Those sites were definitely built to represent the status of their owner, and thus extensive works were carried out to show this. Usually, part of this status representation was to erect defensive walls and other obstacles for would be attackers. However, not only the walls were used to represent status, we have to assume that other architectural details also point towards status. This not necessarily means that the norms for the diameter of the house of a noble as given in the lawtext Crith Gablach need to fit with the excavation plans, but other elements like partial stone pavements, more elaborate architecture (larger than average postholes or similar indicators are possible) and more finds from metal and especially precious metal are to be expected. Into this group, most probably, also fall most of the promontory forts, both coastal and inland.


Type 3a) Wealthy Farmstead (formerly "ringfort")

Sites of this type I would expect to be univallate, the wall and ditch surrounding the house forming the "airlise" mentioned in the lawtexts, the enclosure defining the area which is automatically under the legal protection of the owner of the farmstead. These are the farms of wealthy commoners.


Type 3b) Crannogs

I don't know what to make out of crannogs exactly. In my personal opinion, it is more likely that they formed ordinary farmsteads, even though they definitely are, to a certain extent, fortified, and be it only due to their location. It is, however, more likely that the crannogs were wealthy farmsteads, as they, with their access to inland water, were more likely in the food production layer of society.


Type 4) Poor Farms (not identified yet)

I expect these to be ordinary roundhouses without surrounding wall and ditch constructions and at best a circular fence round it, if at all. I expect these to be located mainly near to fortified manors and wealthy farmstead, to which they maintained their main contacts. Maybe some of the undated roundhouses found inside of communal centres (Type 1) might fall into this category. I've also just looked at the aerial photograph of Rathgall in Raftery's Pagan Celtic Ireland, p.51, where a number of circles can be seen in the field in the front. These might well be the remains of such huts.


Raimund KARL

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