Four Forts of Ireland

Ringforts are by far and away the most common archaeological fort structure found dotted around the Irish countryside.  Up to 40,000 sites have been identified and it is believed there may have been as many as 50,000 in all.  Unfortunately, over time and through events such as farming and abandonment, many of these structures are nothing more than a dilapidated structure at best, or an odd concentric outline in the ground at worst. Ok, not worst – the worst have disappeared entirely.

Staigue Fort

Scholarly types can’t quite decide whether or not these are Iron Age structures or are more modern and from early Medieval periods.  Given the vast number of forts, I’d say both – and from every other period in between.

It’s been debated that they were used as homesteads, farmsteads of the free man, defence structures and/or seats of nobility.  Some are perhaps more obviously elaborate than others – so again I’d say they were probably used for all sorts of purposes, just like they were used over a very long period of time.

The fact that no one singular use has been identified as the purpose of these structures – it would seem to me that “round” was the architectural style choice of the day/year/century.  Functional, safe and private: they were well-built even if no cement or mortar was used.  If it keeps out the wind and rain, as is the prevalent weather-type of Ireland, why change it? Heck, you can even keep your cattle in there with you too!

Just like the Romans had their atriums – maybe the Irish just liked things in the round… But it wasn’t just the Irish, there are any number of European countries that have remnant round forts too.  Maybe building round structures was like “flipping the bird” to those pesky Romans and their fancy classical straight walls and perfect right-angled corners.

Note – I am aware that the Romans never actually invaded Ireland. Perhaps those other Celts in Scotland had taught them well enough to stay out!

It has occurred to me that in many an African village the “traditional” huts are all round too, with square buildings only coming along with the arrival of the breeze-block.

Traditional Malian huts

Now that I’ve demonstrated my extremely loose grip on all things historical and archaeological, here’s a wee tour of a grand total of four forts.  Well, at least three up close – the fourth was viewed from afar.  A pitiful 0.01% of all known forts – not bad going, I thought.

Grianan of Ailigh (also spelt Grianan of Aileach) is located in County Donegal, the closest town being Burt. (I wonder if there is an “Urnie”? How very droll, I know. I just couldn’t help myself!)

Click on map to enlarge

Constructed sometime between the 6th-7th centuries, this ringfort is a collection of historical monuments centred about a main structure.

Grianan Ailigh - even with a wide-angle lens it was impossible to capture the entire structure

Recorded in the Irish Annals as having been destroyed in 1101, it was restored 1874-1878.  Further restoration to the site was carried out in 2001.

Steps on the inside of the wall at Grianan Ailigh

View from Grianan Ailigh across to Inchtop

The other three forts that we visited are located in the south-west of Ireland.  We were based in Killarney (County Kerry) for a few days and stopped by the forts as part of both the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula self-drive tours.

Click on map to enlarge

Lohar Fort can be viewed from the car park at Coomatloukane on the route that is the Ring of Kerry.

Lohar Fort as seen from the car park - watch out for large tour buses!

This is the only structure we never got to scramble around, but you can see that within the larger circular wall there are two smaller circular enclosures.

Zooming into Lohar Fort

Staigue Fort is located 3 miles west of Sneem in County Kerry.  Also on the Ring of Kerry (I’ll be doing a separate post on that sometime in the near future) this fort is believed to have been built during the 1st century BC and is surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills.  Single track lanes lead up to this beautiful site.

Staigue Fort

Steps to the hills, or to the sky...

A very narrow entrance, which would have been all very well - in the days pre-junk food

The final fort of the trip is Dunbeg Fort, a promontory fort found on the southern coastline of the Dingle Peninsular, County Kerry.

Atop a wall at Dunbeg Fort

The only fort we had to pay to see (there is a collection box for donations at Staigue Fort); a paltry few Euros will get you into the site and includes a 10-minute audio-visual presentation on its history.  It is also the only fort that we visited that has straight walls…hmmm…

Decidedly NOT round...

There is also a conveniently located restaurant next to the car park for a spot of lunch…

Lunch in the glorious sun

The prefix Dun– would have signified that this fort would have been of some importance. Given its location atop a cliff – it is clear to see that it would have been a superbly located look-out post.

Dunbeg - on the edge

It is thought to have covered a much larger area, but the fort was constructed along a fault-line.  The cliff eventually broke off along this plane of weakness and collapsed into the sea – taking much of the structure with it (token geology for this post 😉 ).

Shear drop on this side...

...and a shear drop on that side

August, 2010


13 thoughts on “Four Forts of Ireland

    1. Don’t worry it took me a good few years to get around to it myself . I grew up in Scotland and it wasn’t until my husband suggested a trip to the Emerald Isle that we made plans – on a trip home from South Africa! Thank you so much for visiting and leaving a comment 🙂

    1. Thank you Meanderer, It is a lovely place – we had the most fantastic weather for most of the trip too – it was about this time of year. Gorgeous scenery and lanes upon lanes of flowering bushes.. simply beautiful 🙂

    1. Very nice Cormac – I see there they used “proper” blocks of basalt as opposed to these random rocks of something sedimentary (I want to say greywacke – but I admit to not paying too much attention at the time of sight-seeing… My priorities were slightly off…) that I guess were just collected from the surrounding land.
      I have to say I’m rather impressed by the size of draught you have in front of you on your Gravatar!!

      1. What in heaven’s name is a Gravatar! I’m sure I should know. And if you haven’t seen the nuragi I hope you get the chance. They are unique to Sardinia.

      2. Hi Cormac – it’s that picture thingy that pops up next to your name when you leave a comment 🙂
        Haven’t had a chance to get to Sardinia yet, but would definitely love to go there some day. The Nuragi does look fascinating.

  1. Firstly, gorgeous photographs. I am so entirely jealous.
    Secondly, I don’t care what brilliant archaeological/anthropological/sociological decisions are made regarding the purpose and use of roundness in building. From this point forth, I will forever believe it was a giant middle finger aimed at Rome.

    1. Ha ha!! Yes, I am rather partial to that interpretation myself, whether or not any factual evidence can ever be unearthed to support it!! Glad to have a fellow believer on this one 🙂

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