CARRIGROHANE, BALLINCOLLIG: excavation of a CHIEFTAIN’S DEFENSIVE DWELLING

CARRIGROHANE enclosure 2006
                                       An aerial view of the enclosure at Carrigrohane, Ballincollig, during excavation.

(National Grid Reference16015.07076).

Monument Number CO072-082 is a Bivallate enclosure/ringfort, located on a site, 1.99acres in size, in the ownership Cork County Council. It is located in Carrigrohane Townland, at the edge of the town of Ballincollig and on the outskirts of CorkCity. The archaeological monument was initially discovered during an aerial photographic survey by Dr. Daphne Pochin Mold. The enclosure is leveled and was evident from associated crop marks. The Monument is protected by the National Monuments Legislation. In recent years a Fire Station was built for Ballincollig adjacent to the ringfort; at the outset of that project it was known that the enclosure was located on this site and interference to the monument was avoided. Cork County Council in 2002 wanted to build its Fire Department Headquarters next to the Fire Station.

The following report was compiled in  2006. The site now lies idle, since funding has not been provided for the planned development (2013):

The enclosure may well be the remains of a ringfort, which was the fortified homestead of an important chief of the area; the large size of the Carrigrohane enclosure indicates a site belonging to someone of significance.

Ballincollig is known for its many monuments such as medieval castles and 18th/19th century structures in the form of the Royal Gunpowder Mills (when the Republic of Ireland was under British rule) but this initiative will add further significance to what is known about the earlier past of Ballincollig.

In 2002 Cork County Council retained an  company to carry out an archaeological assessment initially and subsequently in 2003 archaeological licenced (to the state) testing at the site of the enclosure. These tasks would indicate in what manner the location of the new Fire Department Headquarters would impact, if any, on the enclosure and also assist in the preservation and future management of the monument. Following these assessments there is still ample ground to construct a new Fire Department Headquarters.

Finance is available from Cork County Council for the excavation and report (including post excavation) of the archaeological site. It is anticipated that the design of the building will be in harmony with the archaeological site. It is also hoped that the layout of the enclosure/ringfort will be marked above ground in an appropriate manner (engraved limestone paving with cultural information regarding the archaeology of the Monument) It is hoped that an open architectural competition for the design of the new Fire Department Headquarters of Cork County Council will take place, in association with the Architectural Department of Cork County Council.  It is anticipated that the design will reflect some aspect of the archaeology (ie reconstruction etc) within the building (a heritage dedicated foyer, conservation of the subterranean chamber in the landscape of the building etc). This could become a focal point for archaeological/historical heritage in Ballincollig.

 Following the archaeological investigations a strategy is being formulated for the improved identity, access, management, interpretation and public presentation of the enclosure/ringfort and its setting in the long term; making it an essential part of Ballincolligs cultural uniqueness. The advice and evaluation of the Monuments protection and promotion will require vision as well as expertise in the specialised areas of preservation, management and interpretation of archaeological monuments.

The local people have been informed of aspects of the excavation, a unique opportunity to experience archaeology. Most people may not always be able to take part in active archaeological work but may wish to gain a greater understanding of archaeology. This archaeological monument is being employed to inform and educate the public (including the school going population) about our archaeological heritage, history, culture, tourism, exhibiting, publication, archiving, conservation, reconstruction, etc.

Various groups in Ballincollig are interested in getting involved in some way with this unique opportunity, of an excavation on their doorstep. This will enhance Ballincollig in relation to its history and heritage, and already known for its Royal Gunpowder Mills, it will enhance its image and that of basic archaeology within the European context.

For Cork County Council (with assistance from the Junior Minister of the Department of Heritage and Local Government) providing the cost for the excavation and post-excavation work on the enclosure is an integral part of its work and education on the promotion of our archaeological heritage. During the excavation the archaeology was brought to the public by tours for school goers of all ages, visits to the classrooms, public lectures, exhibitions, and tours for the public at large. A traveling photographic exhibition on the results of the archaeological excavation has commenced its journey around County Cork for the next eighteen months, until it is permanently set up in the heritage-dedicated foyer of the proposed Fire Department Headquarters. Journalists published the findings to the public sometimes on a daily basis.

The Fire Department has offered the use of the remainder of the site indefinitely for archaeological research and education. Partners include local schools, libraries, University College Cork’s Department of Archaeology, Ballincollig Enterprise Board, Ballincollig Heritage Association, Dan Noonan Archaeological Consultancy, the Archaeological Services Unit of University College Cork, the Fire Department and the Archaeological Section of the Heritage Unit and the Historic Monuments Advisory Committee of Cork County Council. Aspects of experimental archaeology will be carried out at the site. This will really bring Early Christian/Early Medieval society to life in Ballincollig.

In compliance with EU and Government public procurement regulations and procedures, Cork County Council placed the contract for archaeological works at Carrigrohane for tender. Daniel Noonan Archaeological Consultancy was successful in their tender and was commissioned by Cork County Council to undertake archaeological excavations at Carrigrohane enclosure, Monument Number CO073-082, on receipt of Ministerial Consent.

A summary of the archaeological features excavated prior to the development can be described as follows:

Approximately a fifth of the encompassing inner and outer ditches were fully excavated, the interior of the enclosure revealed very little in the interior except for one anomalous pit that contained three possible postholes. The extra mural activity to the east and north-east seemed to contain multi-phased features. There were two possible cremation pits, an early medieval circular house, a possible rectangular structure, a possible corn drying kiln and a souterrain. There were other smaller features that were not associated with the main features also.

The findings at Carrigrohane represent a substantial, high status site that was occupied on a multi-phased level from possibly the prehistoric times (represented in the cremation pits) to the Early Christian period. This substantial site is an important new addition to the corpus of newly-excavated sites of the Early Christian period in Ireland.

In discussing the findings of the excavation of Carrigrohane, it is first necessary to interpret the nature and form of its constituent elements of enclosure and the external features. Then, it is possible to put the site into its periodic and functional context.

The Enclosure

Ringforts are a widespread monument type in Ireland and consist of a circular or roughly circular area enclosed by an earthen bank formed of material thrown up from a concentric fosse or ditch on its outside.

They are known by names such as líos or rath, with theses elements incorporated into placename. Archaeological excavation of the monument type has found that the majority were enclosed farmsteads of the Early Christian period, a time spanning a date range of 400 to 1169 AD. The earthworks were defensive in nature, providing protection for the occupants and their animals from both natural predators and cattle raiding, an activity well attested to in the contemporary literature. They would have been the homes of extended families, whose life was based around farming activities (animal husbandry and corn meal production) and small craft industries (metal and glass working, spinning, and weaving). Internally, the monuments contained dwellings and farm structures built of wood with wattle and daub walling. The presence of such structures is revealed during excavation by the presence of postholes, stakeholes, slot trenches and sunken hearths.

One study of ringforts has narrowed the construction and occupation of them to a 300 year period from early 7th Century to the late 9th Century AD. The majority of ringforts are univallate or single bank and fosse in form; while bivallate or double and trivallate or three rings of bank and fosse are rarer. Patterns of settlement have been recognised in the distribution of the different types of ringfort (ibid.), with the larger bivallate and trivallate sites being interpretated as high status sites, accommodating the higher grades of society, which acted as the foci of smaller univallate sites. Such arrangement offered mutual ‘depth in defence’, where intervisibility between the sites was important.

Structures

A total of two possible structures were identified to the E, outside of the enclosure.

Souterrains

The souterrain, uncovered at Carrigrohane, was a simple earth-cut example, poorly-preserved with little surviving features or little survival of the stone lining. An estimate of approximately 3,000 to 3,500 has been put on the number of known souterrains, distributed throughout the country. This distribution is not even, with concentrations occurring in West and South Cork, North Antrim, South Galway and North Louth. Two styles of souterrain construction have been observed. The first and most recognisable involves the digging of a chamber and the insertion of a wall lining, predominantly stone, and the placement of capstones that are covered with fill and topsoil. The second technique involved the digging of a pit and then the tunnelling of chambers into the subsoil. Many souterrains were built with a combination of these techniques.

Souterrains in Ireland.

The function of these features is enigmatic, with conventional interpretations centring on them being either a place of refuge or a storage facility. The features do occur in isolation away from recognised settlement sites, but there are always indicators of settlement. These were further expanded to suggest that souterrains were used as places of concealment for valuables; temporary and permanent dwellings; sleeping quarters in ringforts; and Anchorite cells. The dating of these features is unclear, although there is a consensus in the literature that they may occur later in the Early Christian period, perhaps into the ninth century.

The souterrain at Carrigrohane was a plain example, with relatively straight cut sides, flat bases, simple entrances and one chamber. They do not have evidence of more elaborate features such as drains, wall cupboards or ventilation shafts, such as those uncovered during the excavation of Souterrain 2 at Lisnagun ringfort near Clonakilty, CountyCork. The souterrain did produce tangible evidence for the form of lining it had, that of rough limestone and a couple of smooth sandstones, the remainder of which seemed to have been robbed away. It had been then backfilled with sterile redeposited subsoils.

The typology of Cork souterrains (developed on morphological grounds) would place the Souterrain in the Type A1 grouping, which consists of “a single chamber or gallery”.

Corn-Drying Kilns

An important part of the processing of cereals was the drying of the grain. In the wetter climate experienced in Ireland, there was a need to dry or ripen the corn after damp harvests or short growing seasons. In prehistoric times, this may have been carried out using small drying pits with the grain then processed using saddle querns. However, with increased productions levels of the early medieval period, a more efficient method for dealing with higher yields was developed with the contemporary introduction of keyhole shaped corn-drying kiln and the use of the more efficient rotary quern. Fragments of quern stones were recovered during the opening of the site (C231) and excavation confirmed the presence of corn-drying kilns in both enclosures.

Functionally, the corn-drying kiln was used for several purposes. Primarily, the kiln’s function was to dry the grain for threshing and harden it for more effective milling. The drying and slight parching of the grain prior to the grinding process reduced the time and effort needed. The dried grain could also be stored for seed and later process and be fumigated from pests such as grain weevil.

It is common in Early Christian contexts to find corn-drying kilns outside or away from the main settlement area (given the real danger of sparks and fire igniting the main settlement). Given the position of the Kiln relative to the Enclosure and the stratigraphic evidence of the Kiln truncating the circular house, it would seem that it post-dated the circular house site. This could suggest a late cross over to, or incorporation of, tillage farming by the inhabitants of Carrigrohane

 

© 2012-2014 Catryn Power All Rights Reserved

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