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Artificial Curiosities and Antiquities Of The South Armagh Countryside.

Michael McShane

Reproduced, with the Society's permission, from the 1994/95 Journal of The Creggan Local History Society

Michael McShane

Continued from Issue 3

The Iron Age period can be divided into three periods and were first distinguished by Professor Christopher Hawkes as 'A', 'B', and 'C'. The period following the local Bronze age known as the Hallatatt culture, 'A' (550-300 B.C.), when the use of Bronze for implements and weapons was replaced by the use of Iron; (the dates vary greatly in different parts of the world). This is the earliest European Iron Age Culture, and by the 6th century B.C. these Celtic Hallstatt people were spreading outward from central Europe into France, Spain, England and probably Ireland.

The La Tene culture 'B', (300 - 150B.C.) evolved out of the earlier Iron Age Hallstatt culture and replaced it over much of Europe in the 4th century B.C. This culture is distinguished by its art, particularly in metalwork. The craftsmanship both in Bronze and Iron is of a very high standard.

The Belgae culture 'C', (150B.C. - AD40). These Iron Age people were a mixture of Celtic and Germanic stock and who came from the Low Countries, (Netherlands); began to settle in South-east England at first, bringing the wheeled plough with them. They developed improved farming and woodworking techniques with their iron tools and depended considerably on the use of iron.

Almost every cultural movement identified archaeologically in Britain and Ireland from the Beaker period (late Neolithic period - early Bronze Age period i.e. 4000-2000BC onwards) has been associated by some specialist with the introduction of the Celtic language. There is no reliable indication of when the Celtic speech was introduced. At the time of Caesar's two incursions of Britain in 55 and 54 BC which the Belgae culture resisted so successfully. The Celtic language does seem to have been a common feature throughout the tribes in Britain. By the time of the Claudian conquest (AD 43). A hundred years later 'Celtic' culture was widespread in Britain and Ireland.


It was during the second century A.D. that the great Roman geographer Claudius Ptolemy prepared an atlas of the known world. He described all the known places of the world from west to east. As he began with the west, the first country he described was Ireland. Although Ptolemy gained most of his information from talking to seafarers, he probably had never been to these shores. He does, however, mention a number of tribes and places as well as a number of main rivers in Ireland. They include such rivers as the Boyne, the Shannon and, in Ulster the Lagan, Roe, Bann and Bush. In addition he mentions a tribe known as the Volunti which linguists agree is simply an early misspelling for Uluti (or the modem Irish Ulaidh), i.e. the people of Ulster. From this we learn the tribe that has given its name to the whole provence once lived mainly in Armagh, Down and extending south as far as the mouth of the Boyne. This then is the first mention of Ulster in history.

The northern province of Ulster has a goodly share of enigmatic monuments, Ptolemy mentions that there was a place called Isamnion in the territory of the Volunti. Scholars and linguists regard this name as a very early form of the word that emerges in the earliest Irish texts as Emain, the ancient capital of Ulster. Today, this ancient capital is known as Navan Fort, and it is thought to be contemporary with that of another ancient monument the "Dorsey Ramparts".


Chris Lynn of the (Historic monuments and building branch D.O.E.N.I.) in a recent article wrote: "A small salvage excavation in 1977 recovered several oak posts and planks, the felling dates of which were determined to within about ten years using dendrochronology (Lynn 1980; Baillie 1986). Baillie demonstrated that trees for an oak palisade at the west end of the Dorsey were cut down at around 95 B.C., the date of the last complete ring on an oak tree felled to provide the central post of the 'forty-metre structure', probably an Iron Age ritual building, at Navan, Co. Armagh.

In a period from which sites and monuments are very rare, the fact that one important timber feature at the Dorsey was constructed at about the same time as part of the spectacular wooden building at Navan strongly suggest that there was a direct connection between the two events.

Baillie pointed out. that in order to prove precise identity in date between this phase of Navan and parts of the Dorsey, we need timbers from the Dorsey with compete sapwood. But we can already claim that the Dorsey may indeed have been an Iron Age frontier work, built by a group which regarded Navan as its capital, be it religious or dynastic". Lynn also raised the question as to whether the Dorsey was just an enclosure or as a group of linear earthworks forming an enclosure, and the possibility that it comprises more than one phase.

Baillie also questioned the usual interpretation of the Dorsey as a single phase enclosure. Earlier writers have concentrated on the enclosure aspect although it has been suggested that it is related to, and perhaps even joined, the Black Pig's Dyke. Lynn's intention is to show that there is a strong possibility that the Dorsey was not designed as an enclosure and that in fact, it comprises of at least two phases of linear earthworks, or cross-ridge dykes, at an important focal point of routeways. In its suggested final phase, the Dorsey may have looked like an enclosure on plan, but it is to be doubted if it was primarily intended to function as such. Lynn, gives three reasons as to why he thinks the Dorsey is not an enclosure. Firstly, if it is an enclosure it is the only known example to its type in Ireland. We now know that it dates from the Iron Age and enclosures of any sort of this period are rare. None of our hill-forts has yet been firmly dated to the Iron Age, but some may yet turn out to be this date. Prehistoric enclosures usually surround the summits of rounded lowland hills and are either circular as at Lisleitrim or Corliss, or perhaps follow a contour. The Dorsey is not a hill enclosure, nor is it circular, or does it follow a contour. Secondly, single-phase ancient enclosures are usually, if not always, of fairly uniform construction around their circuits. Variations of construction can occur, but these are usually explained by external factors such as change in slope or material being quarried, rather than deliberate design. In Ireland most ritual enclosures appear to have been laid out as near circular as possible while defensive enclosures were built with a uniformly strong perimeter. Presumably this was to avoid the possibility that an enemy could concentrate attack on a vulnerable weak point. Clearly, the Dorsey is not equally strong all around, the bank on the North side, while it may have augmented by one or more palisades, can never have been of a scale comparable with the Southern sections which are reminiscent of railway embankments.

Thirdly, in addition to that of scale there are important differences in layout and design between the earthworks on the North and those on the South which could imply a difference in date. The Northern section is relatively difficult to trace and there is a long gap, corresponding with areas of bog and rocky ridges in the middle. Generally, it appears to have been a ditch with a single bank on the South, but at one point there is evidence that there was a single bank on the north of the eastern section (Lynn 1980, 125). The southern earthworks, by contrast comprise a large bank between two deep ditches, sometimes with a second bank on the south. This sequence is reminiscent of the 'Black Pig's Dyke' near Scotshouse Co. Monaghan (Walsh 1987). The Dorsey, on the southern flanks of relatively inhospitable uplands, does not lie near any known ancient local centre of population so it is probably not a 'tribal stronghold'. In any case, the likely connection with Navan Port would rule this out.

We have perhaps also been misled by the term 'The Dorsey' because it is the Irish name for the place (and therefore, perhaps of some antiquity) and, more importantly, because it has recently been used in English as a singular site name, implying that we are dealing with a single monument. But the word is an Irish plural, Dorsa, the doors or gates, and we realise that the site was not necessarily as one monument, but rather as a number of gates. It is usually now referred to locally, and more correctly, as "The Dorsey Ramparts". It may have been supposed that these were contemporary "gates" in a one-period earthwork, but they could have been added over a number of phases. It is also surely significant that the placename "doors or gates" emphasises the controlling of access, not barring it altogether, and gives no implication of a fortification or dun.

A recent discovery (1988), on the farm owned by Mr. Patsy Loye, of a number of large oak timbers in excavating foundations close to the north side of the best preserved section of the ramparts. One of the timbers had axe-rounded ends. Preliminary dendrochronological comparisons suggest that the timbers were felled together, about 40 years before the date suggested for the timbers found at the west end of the southern ramparts in 1977. A total of thirteen oak timbers or timber fragments were recovered, with no information on possible stratigraphical relationships or associations. The samples were therefore treated as a random assemblage for the purpose of dating. According to Mr. Mike Baillie, (palaeoecology Centre Queen's University Belfast), seven of the timbers proved to be datable three of which retained clear evidence for heartwood/sapwood boundaries i.e. only their sapwood was missing. Baillie also confidently stated, that these three northern timbers represent a felling phase approximately one half century before the felling phase of the timbers from the southern side of the Dorsey. It is highly likely that this felling episode was in the decade of the 140's BC Because of the other four dated timbers may have missing heartwood rings as well as missing sapwood, their end dates do not help in interpreting the overall date of the group. It is not possible to say if all the timbers belong to the one episode. This raises the question of whether we are dealing overall with timbers of several periods, and Lynn's suggestion that the Dorsey is a group of linear earthworks, and the possibility that it comprises more than one phase is becoming easier to accept.

Southwest of the Dorsey in the townland of Cregganduff, there once stood a large circular fort. John Donaldson in his Account of the Barony of Upper Fews (1838), describes the name of the fort as "Lislewilla" (The fort of the many champions), as did Rev. Simon Nelson (1840) in his History of the parish of Creggan (1611-1840) They derived its name from the Irish words Lis Laoch Uilla, - that is (the fort of the many champions). This is thought incorrect, as Fr. L. P. Murray suggests the derivation is Lis Leath Bhaile, (The fort of the half townland). In (1641) Ballynenursagh (Dorsey), and Cregganduff appears as half townlands in a M.S. Cromwellian Inquisition.

Forts may be divided into six types, classified according to structure rather than size. (1) Ring-forts, (2) Univallate forts, (3) Mulitvallate forts, (4) Inland Promontory forts, (5) Promontory forts, (6) Stone-walled forts. Of the known forts in the Parish of Creggan, Ring-forts or Raths, are by far the most numerous; erected over a period of fifteen hundred to two thousand years, many of them probably after 1200 A.D. These are the 'Raths' which are so common in place names. They comprise a circular area of varying size normally about twenty five meters in diameter and raised by digging one or more trenches which may often have filled with water. The bank(s) and trench(es) were breached by a causeway which led through a gate into the farmsteads. Some were built or used like the crannogs and some used for the inauguration of Kings or Chieftains and other gatherings, in the medieval period. The word 'Ring-fort' is somewhat misleading; 'Raths' are simple protected farmsteads. The following are extracts from Preliminary Survey of The Ancient Monuments of Northern Ireland.

Annaghgad: This is a platform rath and is positioned on the end of a ridge of enclosed pasture in a prominent location, but overlooked by higher ground to the East. The interior of this single ring rath has a slightly domed profile and is oval in plan, measuring 47m (155 ft) NW-SE and 36.5M (120ft) NE-SW. There are ramped entrances on the SE and NW side, but neither are thought to be original.

Cornonagh: In pasture land on a gentle southwest facing slope the remains of a rath and a souterrain can be seen. The west side of the monument has been incorporated into a curving field boundary and a steep scarp remains, falling almost eight feet to the external ground level. The rest of the site has been levelled and cultivated. A souterrain is marked on the O.S. 6" map of 1957 and a small pile of stones indicates an access through the roof in the northwest quadrant of the rath, but this now closed up. In 1955, Mr. John Woods, son of the land owner Patrick Woods, described the souterrain as been 6m (20ft) long, 1.2m (4ft) deep and I m (3ft 6ins) wide, roofed with flagstones. He also mentioned that at the end there was a dome which may indicate a broader chamber.

Souterrains: The feature of the forts which most impresses itself on the popular imagination is the existence in them of underground chambers, known to archaeology as Souterrains. Not every fort contains a souterrain and not all souterrains are enclosed in or connected with forts. Several were dug into the passage - tomb tumulus at the base of the Dowth mound and at the summit of that at Knowth. Excavations at Ballywee in Co. Antrim have revealed a settlement site comprising a complex of ring-forts, enclosures, houses, and whole fields entirely honeycombed with a mass of these souterrains, forming a kind of underground village. Some souterrains - usually of simple construction possess neither defensive provisions which would make them suitable as places of refuge nor hearths or other features which would indicate habitation. These examples can hardly have served any purpose other than storage - they are in fact primitive cellars. What commodities were stored in them is a matter of speculation - perhaps milk or milk products, such as cheese, perhaps grain. In this connection we are reminded of Caesar's statement that the Celts stored their grain in underground granaries. On the basis of the evidence at present available we may state that the history of the souterrains in this country begins in Late Bronze Age times but that they continued to be constructed during the early Christian period and may have been used, if not actually constructed, in medieval times.

Cappagh: This is an oval enclosure shown on the 0. S. 6" map of 1863. It was located on the northwest slope of Cappagh hill overlooking level marshy ground to the north. A small apparently natural 'dome or hump' may indicate the position of the site but there are otherwise no visible remains. Local tradition corroborates a fort on this site.

Cornahove: "Fannings Fort". The remains of this platform rath known as "Fannings Fort" is on a slight eminence at the. Northwest side of a drumlin ridge overlooking the valley of the Fane River. The O.S. 6" map of 1835, shows a small circular fort about 30m (98ft) in diameter but since then, the outline of the monument has been much distorted. Most of the soutwest half has been levelled and is obscured by field boundaries while the remaining part of the perimeter has been cut away and now has an angular appearance. The interior is domed, following the natural profile of the crest of the drumlin ridge.

Cornahove: This is a small circular fort a little over 20m (66ft) in diameter is shown on the O.S. 6" map of 1835 only. It was positioned on the crest of a drumlin ridge aligned northwest to southeast, but there are now no visible remains. The previous fort mentioned lies about 200m to the northwest on the same ridge.

Crossmaglen: Site of Rath. A question mark hangs over the antiquity of this site in the townland of Crossmaglen. The 0. S. 6" map of 1863 shows a semi-circular embanked enclosure. It measures about 34m (112ft) across from east to west and is defined around the south and east 'de by a scarp falling as much as 11.5M (5ft) to external ground level. Certainly the area has been used as a dump for building and farm debris in recent years. Although there may once have been a rath at this site, clearly little has survived.

Cullyhanna Little: This flat-topped platform rath stands on the crest of a prominent ridge aligned northwest to southeast with good views on either side. The platform measures 36.5M (120ft) from north to south and by 28m (92ft) from east to west. A field boundary now cuts a chord across the northwest quadrant of the monument, and the accompanying ditch on the northeast is so wide as to suggest it may once have. been used as a trackway to the nearby deserted settlement. In Notes and Queries (Seanchas Ard Mhacha Vol. 1 no. 1. p. 100. 1954) the following query was posed to its readers. What was the ruling sept in pre-Norman times in South-West Armagh? The O'Neills supplanted the Mac Murphys as chieftains in the Fews, but as the latter did not come south from Muintir Beirn till the 12th century, they must in their turn have supplanted an earlier ruling group.

In (Seanchas Ard Mhaca Vol. 1. no. 2. p. 106, 1955) Mr. Michael Devlin from Cullyhanna replied to the above query - titled "The Early Rulers of South-West Armagh". 'In the townland of Cullyhanna Little in the Parish of Lower Creggan there is a fort (earthen) in the farm now (1955) in the occupation of Hugh McMahon. Forty years ago this fort was always referred to as Lios Ui gcearbhaill (pron. Lis-ee-gar-ooel). Gaelic speakers said this meant O'Carrol's Fort, and that owing to the grammar involved, the name must be very ancient.' In a lecture by the late Henry Morris it was stated that the O'Carrols were the ruling family in part of Monaghan before the McMahons. It was also stated by Henry Morris that a part of the South-West portion of Armagh was ruled by the O'Carrols.

Would it be that the Liseegarooel in Cullyhanna Little was the seat of the chieftain O'Carrol? Henry Morris also held that some of the name O'Carrol had become O'Carville or McCarville or McArdle. In the South-West portion of Armagh there are no Carvils or O'Carvilles or McCarvilles, but there are numerous families named McArdle. During the reign of the O'Neills in the Fews one of the O'Neill sub-chiefs was McArdle.

Cregganbane Glebe: A number of tree-rings situated on gentle sloping pasture, overlooking a small valley to the south-west. The site was recognised from the O.S. 6" map, but examination in the field suggests it is a landscape feature consisting of a stand of beech trees. According to local historian Mr. Jem Murphy, Rev. William Barlow, Church of Ireland Rector of Creggan Parish (1852/1871) farmed this land and was responsible for planting the landscape features. They are known locally as tree-rings.

Drumboy: Rath 'Drumboy Fort'. This fort is situated on the top of a drumlin and has very extensive views all round but especially across the valley of the river Fane into Co. Monaghan. Although the site has been scarred as a result of the current troubles it remains quite an impressive monument . The diameter is about 102ft, and the interior has a slightly domed profile. A depression in the northeast quadrant may be the remains of a collapsed souterrain. The monument is much overgrown and bisected by a boundary hedge. The gap at the southeast side has been altered slightly to form an army observation post but this may mark the site of the original entrance. <[>Drumboy: Natural Feature. In his notes of about 1930. T.G.F. Paterson recorded a site known as the 'Moat ', two fields southwest of the large rath. he also stated that charred wood was found 6ft below the surface. An insignificant mound does survive at the foot of Drumboy fort on a more moderate soutwest facing gradient. This appears most likely to be natural but it could be the remains of the site noted by Paterson.

Drumgose: Rath and Souterrain. This rath generally known as the 'Black Fort' has a single bank and ditch and is sited close to the north shore of Lough Ross. The site is preserved within a slightly irregular oval field and measures 58.5M (192ft) northwest to southeast by 46.5M (153ft)north east to southwest. The outline of the site is interrupted on the northwest, southeast, and northeast, but all these gaps appear to be essentially recent and need not rifted an original entrance. T.G.F. Paterson noted that a souterrain existing within the enclosure was now closed up. He stated that it was discovered by a farmer when his horses had fallen into it when ploughing.

Drummuck: 'Rath'. The townland of Drummuck (Drumin-Mhuc) which means the 'Pigs Ridge' has appeared on maps as early as 1609, and has a platform rath situated at the northwest end of a prominent ridge. It commands an extensive view to the north, west and south. It is oval in shape measuring about 26.5M (87ft) by 29.5M (98ft), it is raised about 1.8m (6ft) above the external ground level. The interior of the site is corrugated by spade ridges, and the stonework visible in the scarp around the east side may indicate recent disturbance.

Drummuckavall: Rath and Souterrain. This enclosure is sited on the northwest end of a northwest to southeast ridge with a bank of stones and earth throughout. In places on the east side it is possible to identify constructed stone faces suggesting that this is a cashel (caiseal) the name used for stone built forts. All that remains of this cashel is a wall about 2.5M (8ft) thick, and a stony bank 4.5M (I5ft) wide standing about 3ft high. A gap in the east side may have marked the original entrance and a depression 6ft wide and 35ft long running from the northside possible indicated the course of a collapsed souterrain.

The outline of the enclosure wall can still be recognised from the scatter of stones and boulders which define a circle 98ft in diameter. The surviving section of the wall has been maintained as a field boundary.

Glassdrummanaghy: 'Rath'. This rath is located on a slight eminence gently sloping to the soutwest. South of the monument the land falls more steeply to the small stream which forms the townland boundary. The site consists of a well preserved oval enclosure, with a slightly domed interior which measures 155ft by 13Oft. There is also a landscape feature in the same townland, situated in good northwest facing pasture. This small circular field enclosure noted from O.S. 6" maps appears, on closer examination, to be a tree-ring. It consists of a slight, stone-faced, circular bank 15Oft in diameter, with mature beech trees growing around the perimeter.

Lisamry: Rath'. This oval enclosure on a hilltop is a well preserved rath. and may originally have been bivallate but now a second bank can only be traced on the southeast, south and west sides. It commands an extensive view of the countryside, especially over Lough Ross to the north. The ridge is aligned northwest to southeast but is quite narrow, with the ground falling away sharply on either side particularly to the south west. This clearly influenced the shape of the monument and the construction of its defences. Field notes of the 1960's record a depression within the west end of the enclosure which might have suggested a souterrain, but this cannot now be identified. Lisavery - Lios Samhraidh, the summery fort.

Lissaraw: 'Fort'. Fortunately in 1962 the site of this fort was recorded in some detail. This once impressive bivallate earthwork was levelled in the mid 1960's and now only faint undulations indicate the former presence of the banks and ditch. The central enclosure was roughly circular and measured 115 ft in diameter. It was surrounded by a bank standing 3ft above the interior and 7ft above the encircling ditch. The ditch was 11ft wide and had been deepened in recent years. Beyond this there was a berm about 22ft wide with a slight bank around its inner edge. This was probable built of up east from the re-cutting of the ditch. The outer bank had been removed on the northside, and on the southside the adjacent road has encroached upon the site. Elsewhere it was largely obscured by field boundaries.

T.G.F. Paterson noted an open souterrain in the ring-rampart on the northside, but this was not noted in 1962 and no trace remains. Lisaraw (Lios a'Reatha, the fort of the racing). Donaldson contends that Rocque's Map (1760) show a race-course near the fort.

Liscalgat: 'Rath'. This site is on a slight rocky eminence at the northend of a low ridge with good views, especially to the northeast. The enclosure is almost circular, measuring 103ft north to south and 102ft cast to west, and is defined by a low bank of earth and stone. Slight evidence for an outer facing of stone on the northside may be recent, access to the interior is through a gap 29ft wide on the southside, this may have been the original entrance, but it has clearly been widened in recent times.

According to Rev. L.P. Murray, the derivation given for Liscalgat (Lios Calcachta) is the fort of the stagnant water.

Tullyard: 'Fort'. On an unusually steep south-facing slope below the summit of Tullyard Hill, but with very extensive views across Lough Ross to the soutwest. The earthwork is essentially an almost circular enclosure 37m (122ft) north-south by 38m (125ft) east-west but its form has been much influenced by its topographical position. The interior slopes down quite steeply to the south, following the natural gradient, while around the uphill side on the north there is a formidable enclosing bank up to 1.8m (6ft) high above the interior and almost 7m (23ft) wide. The entrance on the south downhill side is a simple gap with causeway. Another opening, very doubtfully original, is opposite, on the northside. The west side of the monument has been disturbed slightly by a modem field bank. The interruption in the counter-scarp bank and the ramped entrance on the south, however, seems to represent the original point of access to the interior. This is supported by the presence of a short length of low inner bank which survives on either side of the entrances as if to emphasise and give added protection to this feature.

Note: The above list of monuments is by means an exhaustive one. Many more exist within the Creggan Parish, and many have been obliterated by the passing to time and the improving of the land.


"Antiquities of Northern Ireland"
"Navan Fort", (The Ancient Capital of Ulster) by J.P. Mallory.
"An Interpretation of the Dorsey" by Dr. C. J. Lynn (Emania, Spring 1989).
"Account of the Barony of Upper Fews, in the County of Armagh", by John Donaldson. Re-published by The Creggan Local History Society, (1993).
"Antiquities of the Irish Countryside", Sean P. O'Riordain.
"A Preliminary Survey of the Ancient Monuments of North Ireland".
"Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record", 1930, T.G.F. Paterson. Seanchas Ard Mhacha (1954/1955)