The time has flown and already its June 2013. Its been a challenge but I’m still here, Fairy Hill Crafts is doing well, and so much has happened.
If you read my first intro blog, you will see that I wrote about the first family who lived in this cottage in Glann (the formal name is Glenmullynaha), in Charlestown, Co. Mayo. They were the family of John and Mary Connors and it was so sad as the young mother Mary died not long after the birth of the youngest child, Bridget who was born in 1946.
As I am new to this blog – and to websites in general – you will appreciate how astonished I was when some members of Bridgets family, the Sherwins, arrived to visit me in Bridgets old home? Apparently, they had read my blog and had planned to visit. However, I was so sorry to hear that Bridget had been very ill and had passed away, R.I.P., in January 2013. Her family fortunately decided to continue with the planned journey and came to visit her old home in Glann – just a wonderful surprise for me.
It was such a pity that Bridget did not get to come too, that would have been so special but Bridget and her family will always be remembered here at Valleycrest Cottage. I was so surprised that I completely forgot to take photos but hopefully they might get in touch again someday and I can correct that omission?
The Sherwins might be interested to hear the latest developments at the cottage?
Two weeks ago, I had a surprise visit (yet another surprise visit this year) from a representative from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – the National Monuments Service. My precious Fairy Hill, that I am so proud of, has been identified as a ringfort, or rath (the Irish term). The ringfort was identified on an ordinance survey map dated 1838 and it has now been duly photographed and listed on the Archaeological Survey Database with the department. Check out the map / query box and you can look up the summary descriptions of individual monuments by number or by townland name (e.g. Glenmullynaha) and you will see the various maps and aerial views. Unfortunately the Co Mayo database has yet to be fully completed but I’m told the summary description is there! The number for the ringfort is MA73-063002. There is also a tunnel – which is officially known as a souterrain (from the French for underground) and the number for this is MA073-063002.
So what is a ringfort or souterrain, you might ask? Luckily, Jane thought to send me some information written up by the Office of Public Works.
RINGFORTS: Ringforts were erected as protected enclosures around farmsteads mainly during the Early Christian period (c 500 – 1100 AD). The dwelling houses and other buildings were generally dry-stone or timber built and the remains of stone structures are sometimes visible. It is only during archaeological excavation that the traces of wooden structures can be found. Sometimes, especially in permanent pasture land or rocky terrain, ancient field systems associated with ringforts, survive. Archaeological monuments are now protected under the National Monuments Acts 1930-2004.
Basically the ringfort is a space surrounded by an earthen bank formed of material thrown up from a fosse or ditch immediately outside the bank. Generally they vary from 25 – 50 metres in diameter, are usually circular but can also be oval or D-shaped. Some have more than one bank and ditch but such examples are rarer than the simple type. in some areas, especially in the west of Ireland, a massive stone wall enclosed the site in place of a bank and ditch. This type of ringfort is called a caher, cashel or stone fort and well preserved examples may have terraces and steps in the inner face of the wall. ost of these stone forts have been heavily robbed of stone to build roads or field fences and often only traces of the wall survive.
SOUTERRAIN: The feature often found in ringforts is an underground passage or souterrain (popularly known as a cave or tunnel). They are usually built of stone but can also be tunnelled into rock or compact clay or gravel. Souterrains are sometimes found apparently independent of any enclosure and are also found in Early Christian ecclesiastical enclosures. They were used as places of refuge and possibly also for storage and can be encountered unexpectedly during ploughing, bulldozing or quarrying. These structures can be unsafe, especially if recently uncovered and should be treated with extreme caution.
Bridget Sherwin spoke about the tunnel in the historical information provided on her ancestors as they, the children, used to play in these tunnels when she was a child. It is such a pity that Bridget Sherwin has passed away and that we cannot ask her about the location of the souterrain s it has yet to be found? Its amazing that this tunnel has now been identified as a souterrain dating back to 500 – 1100 AD? A neighbour has recently told me that there is a maze of tunnels at this site – so hopefully at some stage in the future, the National Monuments Service will investigate and find out more about this treasure. There are, of course, many ringforts throughout Ireland. They are known by various names – fort, rath, dún, lios, etc. – and if you check out many Irish placenames, you will see many examples.