Staigue stone fort view from public doma

Hillforts of Ireland

In The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

The island of Ireland is a land as rich in  the number of prehistoric forts as it's neighbour to the east. Indeed it has many fine hillforts, from the south to the north that dot this island, with good regularity. Though again, it can depend on what you regard as a hillfort, though Ireland does contain other prehistoric defensive sites such as raths or ringforts.

The rich folklore, and transcribed mythology of the pre-Christian era are regarded by many as the best "window on the Iron Age" we have, when fused with what was discovered by archaeologists and historians. The stories of cattle raids, and warbands, and warriors, are a scene that are great for the imagination when envisoned with the Irish and British forts of the time.

Some of the hillforts were used from the Bronze Age, some in the Iron Age and some all the way into what in Britain used to be called the Dark Ages, though I still use that term, as I think it is just a term, so why not use it, and what in Ireland was more associated with the era of the coming of Christianity.

Indeed some had uses into the second millenium, often just as ceremonial sites, and more often as sites for new castles to sit atop of either Norman invaders, or Irish kings.

The best include Dún Aonghasa, a hillfort with half of it hanging into the sea, a stunningly romantic vision that graces many a tourist brochure or hillfort literature. It has legends that it was built by one of the mythical or semi mythical peoples of Ancient Ireland, in the 2nd Century BC, but excavations have revealed evidence of it's use as a site in both the Bronze Age, 1100 BC, and with alterations in the middle of the Iron Age, five hundred BC. The fact that it sits out on the far west of Ireland, on the Aran Islands, adds to it's mystique.  

Plus Navan, or Emain Macha hillfort in the North, said by most to have been likely a quite ceremonial, even religious centre of the ancient kingdoms of Ulster. With archaeologists having found there evidence of all sorts of large huts, some have speculated these to have been temples, or headquarters for powerful groups. Indeed a number of forts in Ireland had longstanding ritual and ceremonial activities carried out on them into the historical period. Another fine example of that would be on the Hill of Tara, in Leinster, where horse races and bonfires were held according to legend along with the inauguration of certain ancient and even medieval Irish kings. The ceremonial site sits within a larger Iron Age hillfort, and a stone there is mixed with legends of Pre Christian goddesses and power.

More so though hillforts were about the defensive or possibly even power aspects of their military aspects, and in this they were a major part of the society of the time.

An example of a hillfort that became a Norman stronghold, would be the Rock of Dunamase, which was being used a hillfort in the 9th Century, but then was used by Medieval Norman barons as a site for a Hiberno Norman power. It sitting above the local countryside, on a high outcrop, just like hillforts of old.

The finest legend I know of to do with Ireland, is of there being a fort of bronze pallisades, which is a brilliant embelishment to imagine how strong some hillforts would have been seen to be. In legens it is where there are treasures which the citadel protects.

I must add that many hillforts and other forts in Ireland, that day to day would have been forified villages, amid a land, of raths, crannogs and all sorts of structures to defend the locals in a time like this. It can not have been the case that it was just every day, and every minute, there were great times of peace as indicated by the lives recorded by archaology and the Irish myths, but forts were certainly there for a reason, which of course was a need to protect, or enforce power. So as I say the picture to imagine is a farming society, enlivened by seasonal festivals, such as those celebrating the new seasons, and harvests, with leaders like kings, warbands, and of course the Pagan druids, with great bards recording the stories of them in oral form for posterity, that were later transcribed by Christian orders. Ironically the druids it seems do seem to have had roles and power, similar in a form of continuence of power with the Christian church, who were certainly in the early Christian era their sworn opposites. There is little chance there was a continuance of manpower, but it is amazing how the Ireland of Iron Age times, had some levels of continuence with medieval Ireland. Then again, to be honest that is the case across Europe, as the Christian church in many cases acquired Pagan sites and Pagan power, from ancient Rome, to old Pagan temples that became churches, whether the churches today, are Catholic, or Protestant, or for that matter, other branches of Christianity. The strongest continuance across Europe was the farming, that had adorable similarities from the Bronze Age, to the 19th century, there were big differences between the start and the finish, new crops and methods, but the similarities and even some of the various tools in normal life, like certain kinds of implement for other day to day activities other than farming, were notable.   

My story by the way does enter into Ireland, and sees some of the fascinating mythology, and architecture that existed at the time.

Lewis Smith map of Iron Age Ireland.gif


Here are what the pictures are of on this page, 

Well I have pictures of Ireland in my story, and it journeys there, but have taken somebody else's picture from Wikimedia Commons, public domain, and it is the first picture. A picture from a 4th Century AD stone fort, Staigue stone fort, at the beautiful view in Western Ireland.

Then a map I have made, like I have done for a few lands, of Iron Age age and Christianity arriving in, hillfort, crannog, and rath laden Ireland. You can only use that one with my permission. Also there is a public domain pic I got of Emain Macha. 

So below is the Emain Macha picture, are 2 more pics, 2 public domain, of 2 sites on either side of Giant's Causeway. Dunluce Castle, to the left and Dunseverick Castle. Both were key castles for this part of Ulster in their history, Dunluce used as a important base for local chiefs on the ragged cliffs of the coast overlooking the sea to Scotland especially in the Middle Ages and even to the 17th Century, With Dunseverick a important castle, but also the end point of among the 5 major roads from the Hill of Tara in times even before St Patrick, so very long roads. This one even passed Emain Macha on the way. So a major Iron Age site. It must be said it and Dunluce had hillforts before they were castles so I can include both on this page. As Dunluce Hillfort, and Dunseverick Hillfort.  

The last picture is my poor drawing of The Anvil, a cliff formation, by Balor's fort on Tory Island, Donegal. It and the fort sits on the edge of this island, with cliffs protecting each, so quite a lot of Irish forts are protected by cliffs. 

Lastly, here is a paragraph in Irish Gaelic on Hillforts.

Then a Irish Gaelic line could be,
Suíomhanna iontacha ab ea cnoic chnoic na hÉireann a bhí ina lárionaid chumhachta agus gradam in Éirinn ársa, agus a úsáideadh is dócha ón gCré-umhaois, go dtí díreach tar éis teacht na Críostaíochta.

Again a Dun is a common term in Ireland, and the word Cnoic comes up, which is similar to what occurs in Manx, and Scottish Gaelic.

Flag of Northern Ireland T Shirt

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Below is a picture of Navan Hillfort, Emain Macha, in Armagh. 

Navan Hillfort, Public Domain from Wikip
Dunluce_Castle._County_Antrim,_Ireland-L
Dunseverick Castle.jpg
Balor's fort.jpg