Archaeological and Literary Landscapes

The province of Connacht has a uniquely rich literary tradition for ancient, medieval and early modern times, and uniquely well-preserved archaeological landscapes which are often the focus of that literary tradition.  Most of the surviving 'Great Books of Ireland' were produced by Connacht scribes or for Connacht patrons, including the Book of the Dun Cow, the Book of Uí Maine, the Book of Lecan, the Yellow Book of Lecan, the Book of Ballymote, to name just the better-known codices. Whatever about the origins of Ireland's Heroic Cycle and Ossianic (Fenian) Cycle, the outstanding works of each cycle, Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) and Acallam na Senórach (The Colloquy of the Ancients), owe their extant form to the input of Connacht writers.  

Eminent learned families working for centuries in Connacht left a vast quantity of historical, legal and legendary material, much of which has yet to be adequately researched and fully appreciated. Among them are the familes of Mac Aodhagáin, Ó Maoil Chonaire, Mac Fhir Bhisigh, Ó Dubhagáin, Ó Duibhgeannáin, Ó Gadhra and Ó hUiginn. To members of these and other Connacht-based learned families we are indebted for much of the extant corpus of Gaelic legal texts, for annalistic collections such as the Annals of Connacht, the Annals of Loch Cé, and the Annals of the Four Masters, for genealogical materials such as Dubhaltach Mac Fhir Bhisigh's outstandingly important collection, Leabhar Mór na nGenelach, for hagiographical materials concerning the saints of Connacht such as Commán, Fursa, Brendan, Grellán, Iarlaith, Énnae, Cáelainn, Dar Í, Athracht, Cráebnat, Súarnat and others (as well as saints elsewhere), and for a vast body of traditional lore in prose, and of bardic and later poetry. The aim in exploring these very extensive written materials in tandem with the on-going exploration of archaeological monuments, sites and landscapes is to integrate the knowledge and practices of different disciplines and to achieve a much fuller understanding of all aspects of cultural production.

The archaeological component of this project addresses a number of sites and monuments where myth, history, literature and archaeology converge. These include the continuing study of elements of the archaeology of the royal site of Crúachain (Rathcroghan), Co. Roscommon, where the Táin Bó Cuailgne began, and the archaeology of Cloonfree, ringfort and mound at Rathbrennan, near Roscommon, where according to Acallam na Senórach, Patrick, met the warrior Caílte and the king of Connacht, and a moated site near Strokestown, celebrated as a royal settlement of the early 14th century in Bardic poetry. 

Continuing field research in Rathcroghan’s royal landscape

The work of the ArchaeoGeophysical Imaging was concluded in 2009 with the publication of Rathcroghan: archaeological and geophysical survey in a ritual landscape (Waddell, Fenwick & Barton, 2009) but archaeological field investigation has continued over the intervening years in collaboration with colleagues in other Disciplines and Schools at NUI Galway.

Rathcroghan Reconstruction Drawing 2015 large
Copyright: Roscommon County Council and JG O'Donoghue
A conjectural reconstruction of Rathcroghan Mound, by J.G. O’Donoghue (Archaeological Illustrator) in collaboration with Joe Fenwick (Archaeological Field Officer, NUI Galway), as it might have looked during the Later Iron Age, some 2000 years ago. This visualisation is based on an interpretation of the archaeological and geophysical surveys undertaken by the ArchaeoGeophysical Imaging Project and the School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway (©J.G. O’Donoghue / Roscommon County Council 2015).

The surroundings of Rathcroghan Mound, the great ceremonial earthworks known as the Mucklaghs, the cave site of Oweynagat and the unusual multivallate site of Cashelmanannan were geophysically investigated between 2010 and 2012 (Professor John Waddell, Dr Roseanne Schot, Dr Gerard Dowling & Joe Fenwick) to see if there are traces of other archaeological monuments or features in the immediate vicinity of these enigmatic monuments and the results have been published in Emania, Vol. 23 (see below: Schot, Waddell & Fenwick 2016).

Research Connacht Project Mucklaghs

 

According to legend, the Mucklaghs
in Rathcroghan were named because
they were believed to be the result
of the rootings of a magical boar.
This monument consist of two
very large curving parallel earthwork
banks, the northern of which is 100m
long and its southern less southern
equivalent some 285m long. 

More recently, two Geophysical Field Schools, part of a collaborative initiative between Archaeology, School of Geography and Archaeology, and Earth and Ocean Sciences, School of Natural Sciences, NUI Galway, were conducted on and around Rathcroghan Mound during the summers of 2013 and 2014 (Dr Eve Daly, Shane Rooney & Joe Fenwick) and an extensive and detailed aerial photographic survey was undertaken over several square kilometres of the core archaeological complex as part of independent research undertaken by the Rathcroghan Field Systems Project in 2017/18 (Gary Dempsey & Dr Paul Naessens).

The conjoined ringforts of Rathbrennan

Rathbrennan consists of a pair of imposing conjoined ringforts near the summit of a hill just east of Roscommon town and has a circular mound in the interior and near the rampart of the easternmost example. It is the subject of a programme of detailed topographical survey. A preliminary plan clearly shows the location of the mound near the rampart and the puzzling fore-works that mark the entrance to this monument (Professor John Waddell and Joseph Fenwick). 

 

 

Computer-generated topographical
map of Rathbrennan conjoined
earthworks, Co. Roscommon.
Research Connacht Project Rathbrennan

 

The mound in the fort of Rathbrennan
where Patrick is said to have met the
king of Connacht and Cailte, the
nephew of Fionn mac Cumaill.
Research Connacht Project Rathbrennan mound

The moated site of Cloonfree

The royal settlement at Cloonfree is the subject of several Bardic praise-poems. It is a medium-sized moated site built for Hugh O’Conor, king of Connacht, as a royal residence around the year 1300. Analysis of the bardic poems suggests that a large post-and-wattle feasting hall existed within this defended enclosure. The remains of this ‘shapely fort with burnished doors’ have been surveyed by the Discovery Programme (Kieran O’Conor and Tom Finan).

Research Connacht Project Cloonfree Research Cloonfree Moated Site Roscommon
The moated site at Cloonfree near Strokestown
is heavily obscured by trees today.
Computer-generated topographical model
of Cloonfree moated site.

Publications linked to ‘Exploring the Medieval Literature and Related Archaeology of Connacht’

'Roscommon History and Society: interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county' book launch poster 12 December 2018 Book Cover Myth and Materiality Waddell Book Cover Archaeology and Celtic Myth Book Cover Rathcroghan Waddell Fenwick Barton

Farrell, R., O’Conor, K.
& Potter, M. (eds), 2018
Roscommon History and Society:
Interdisciplinary essays on the
history of an Irish County
.
Geography Publications,
Dublin.

Waddell, J. 2018
'Myth and Materiality'
Oxbow Press, Oxford.

Waddell, J. 2014
'Archaeology and Celtic Myth'
Four Courts Press, Dublin.

Waddell, J., Fenwick, J.
& Barton, K. 2009
'Rathcroghan:
archaeologial and geophysical
survey in a ritual landscape'
Wordwell, Dublin.

Thomas Finan and Kieran O'Conor. 2002, The moated site at Cloonfree, Co. Roscommon, Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society 54, 72-87.

John Waddell, Joe Fenwick & Kevin Barton. 2009, Rathcroghan Co. Roscommon: Archaeological and Geophysical Survey in a Ritual Landscape. 249 pp. Wordwell, Dublin. 

John Waddell. 2011, Continuity, cult and contest. In R. Schot, C. Newman and E. Bhreathnach (eds), Landscapes of Cult and Kingship, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 192-212.  A proof copy of this article is available on-line through the National University of Ireland Galway's library web site (in ARAN). 

John Waddell. 2014, The cave of Crúachain and the Otherworld. In J. Borsje, A. Dooley, S. Mac Mathúna and G. Toner (eds), Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld, 77-92. Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto 2014. A proof copy of this article is available on-line through the National University of Ireland Galway's library web site (in ARAN). 

John Waddell. 2014, Archaeology and Celtic Myth. 203pp. Four Courts Press, Dublin.

Roseanne Schot, John Waddell & Joe Fenwick. 2016, Geophysical survey at Rathcroghan 2010-2012, Emania 23, 51-59.

Joe Fenwick. 2018, The Late Prehistoric ‘royal site’ of Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon; an enduring paradigm of enclosed sacred space. Emania 24, 35-51.

John Waddell. 2018, Myth and Materiality. Oxbow Press, Oxford.

Joseph P. Fenwick. 2018, A comparative archaeological review of the late prehistoric ‘royal site’ of Rathcroghan. In R. Farrell, K. O’Conor & M. Potter (eds), Roscommon History and Society: Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish County. Geography Publications, Dublin. 63-86.

Carleton Jones. 2018, Between north and south, east and west. Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age connections and transitions in County Roscommon. In R. Farrell, K. O’Conor & M. Potter (eds), Roscommon History and Society: Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish County. Geography Publications, Dublin. 19-34.

Kieran O’Conor & Thomas Finan. 2018, Medieval settlement in north Roscommon, c. 1200AD – c. 1350AD. In R. Farrell, K. O’Conor & M. Potter (eds), Roscommon History and Society: Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish County. Geography Publications, Dublin. 105-132.

John Waddell. 2018, Roscommon in later prehistory – a land of kings and heroes? In R. Farrell, K. O’Conor & M. Potter (eds), Roscommon History and Society: Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish County. Geography Publications, Dublin. 35-62.

Farrell, R., O’Conor, K. & Potter, M. (eds). 2018, Roscommon History and Society: Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish County. Geography Publications, Dublin.