SECTION 1 : Introduction
SECTION 2 : Multi-period sites
SECTION 3 : Mesolithic
SECTION 4 : Neolithic Settlement
SECTION 5 : Megalithic tombs and Neolithic burial practices
SECTION 6 : Bronze Age Occupation Sites
SECTION 7 : Bronze Age burial practices
SECTION 8 : Iron Age
SECTION 9 : Iron Age burial practices
SECTION 10 : Royal sites
SECTION 11 : Western stone forts
SECTION 12 : Early Medieval Period - Christianity
SECTION 13 : Ringforts
SECTION 14 : Crannógs
SECTION 15 : Medieval Dublin
SECTION 16 : Late Medieval Period
SECTION 17 : Anglo-Norman Towns
SECTION 18 : Anglo-Norman Fortifications


The ‘Royal Sites, such as those at Tara, Emain Macha, Dún Ailinne and Crúachain are more popularly known today as ritual complexes or ritual landscapes. They were once centres of royal gatherings, places of pagan ceremony and inauguration. These sites have been accurately defined as “palimpsests of prehistoric monuments dating from the Neolithic to the later Iron-Age” (Newman, 1997, xiv), thus distinguishing them from the predominantly Neolithic ritual monuments such as the Passage Graves of the Boyne Valley, where evidence of continuous use into and after the Middle Bronze Age is sparse.

Features linking these ‘royal sites’ include; the presence of a circular wooden structure, consisting of one or more concentric rows of upright timbers that were probably roofed over and an enclosing bank with an internal ditch. The latter feature has been identified in five very large enclosures and it is certain from its layout that it has more of a ritual than a defensive purpose. References for three of the five have been identified in documentary sources, where they were described as royal sites and places of inauguration and assembly; including Knockaulin or Dún Ailinne (see below). While a documentary reference has not been identified for Raffin Fort, Co. Meath, this fort also displays all features typical of a royal site and is considered to belong to this group.

Indeed it is commonly agreed that large timber circles, such as those of the mauve phase of Dún Ailinne, the Phase 2 palisade structures of the Rath of the Synods at Tara and the timber henge at Raffin may now be considered as typical features of prehistoric ceremony.

Newman, C. 1997  Tara: An Archaeological Survey, Discovery Programme Monographs 2. Royal Irish Academy. Dublin.

10.1 : Dún Ailinne, Knockaulin Td and Glebe North Td, Co. Kildare E79

Site location: NGR 28200/20780            SMR: KD028-03801

Bernard Wailes

Fig. 10.1.1: Location map of Dún Ailinne, Co. Kildare [OSI]

Plate 10.1.1: Aerial view, Dún Ailinne, Co. Kildare [UCC Collection]

The enclosure at Knockaulin Hill Co. Kildare (Fig. 10.1.1; Plate 10.1.1) was first identified in 1837 by John O’Donovan as the site of Dún Ailinne. He described it as an enclosing fosse and external bank measuring 1200ft (c.400m) in diameter, with a segment of a ruined fort, about 100 ft. (c. 34m) in diameter, on the summit of the hill (Fig 10.1.2). The research excavation (Fig 10.1.3) extended over eight seasons between 1968-1975 and concentrated mainly on a series of 20m X 20m cuttings in the interior of the enclosure (Plate 10.1.2), focussing mainly on a low mound just NE of the ruined fort described by O’Donovan. Additional areas were opened to investigate the bank and ditch (in 1968) and the area around the entrance at the east (in 1975). The evidence indicates activity dating from the Neolithic and possibly through to the Early Medieval period.

Plate 10.1.2: Site during excavation, Dún Ailinne, Co. Kildare [UCC Collection]

Fig.10.1.2: Site plan, Dún Ailinne, Co. Kildare [Bernard Wailes]

In 1968 a caesium magnetometer survey and a resistivity survey was undertaken that highlighted an area in the low mound, later revealed as areas of intense burning. The excavated areas revealed only minimal traces of human activity except in the area around the low mound where black soil, burnt stone, charcoal and animal bone were uncovered. The artefacts suggested intense activity in the Iron Age and/or Early Medieval period that disturbed a Neolithic occupation phase.

The 1969-1975 excavations identified four phases of major construction in the summit area; an irregular Neolithic ditch, and three successive Iron Age circular timber structures. Cut into the sod layer dividing the Neolithic and Iron Age phases were close-set timber uprights, probably a palisade or fence (‘White’ phase), possibly of Iron Age date. The Iron Age ‘Rose’ phase structure consisted of three concentric trenches with the entrance flanked by substantial fences enclosing an ‘avenue’ of posts which in turn enclosed two short trenches. To the south of the main enclosure was a smaller timber circle with a narrow entrance between the two. No internal features were uncovered, so no roof can be proposed for the Iron Age ‘Rose’ phase, but it is possible the timber circles supported two tiers of ‘stands’, as in a stadium. The ‘Rose’ phase was dismantled and the ‘Mauve’ phase established, consisting of two concentric timber circles with a large entrance to the ENE. A 25m diameter circle of free-standing posts was centrally placed in the interior. Within this was a 6m diameter circular trench with several well-defined post-holes. This was interpreted as a timber tower. It appeared unlikely that this ‘Mauve’ phase structure was roofed as the distances between the outer wall and free-standing timber circle and the latter and the timber tower were too great. The outer wall was dismantled leaving the timber circle standing for a while before it too was dismantled. It could not be determined whether the central timber tower was dismantled simultaneously with the outer wall, or with the timber circle. Following the dismantling of ‘Mauve’ came the ‘Dun’ level, thought to be a deliberate redeposited spread of natural soil, overlying an area of quarried stone slabs laid as rough paving. Above this was the ‘Flame’ level of fulacht fiadh-like material (the ‘low mound’) This layer was heavily blackened with charcoal and ash, containing burnt stones and animal bone that may indicate seasonal animal kills for periodic feasting. It appears that none of the posts were allowed to rot in situ which suggests that the ‘White’-‘Rose’-‘Mauve’ sequence may have only lasted a few decades or at most a couple of centuries. Over the entire area, ‘occupation’ levels were detected in the form of thin layers of humus mixed with re-deposited natural soil, trampled in during Iron Age construction. Only the area protected from ploughing by the deposits of ‘Flame’ phase showed stratigraphic evidence of a sequence of occupation. The latest feature was the ‘ruined rath’. This was an irregular arc-shaped bank quarried from an internal ditch, which cut through the Iron Age levels. No artefacts were associated with it and its purpose is unknown.

The 1975 season investigated the original eastern entrance to the site. Quarrying had destroyed both original ends of the ditch, either side of the entrance causeway and with that, any chance of determining the relationship between the inner roadway margins and the ditch and causeway. The remains of a low dry-stone revetment on either side of the inner roadway, with some stake-holes in the southern side, survived for c.60m. The roadway was cut down to the subsoil for a width of 8 m. Two shallow short trenches that were associated with two small pits, were also uncovered but their function was not determined. Further downhill was a shallow trench with some stones that could be interpreted as original packing around timber uprights but cannot be proved as such. A modern rubbish pit lay in the centre of the entranceway. This entrance roadway does appear to point directly towards the Iron Age structures on the summit. 

Finds included iron fragments, an iron sword, a socketed spearhead, iron needles, two bronze fibulae, a bronze ring with zoomorphic mount, portions of a bronze pin and bracelet, 48 pieces of glass including 23 perforated glass beads, three ring-beads, eight toggles, ten portions of bracelet, a piece of rod and three misshapen waste pieces.

Morphologically the site is a henge with external bank and internal ditch with the timber structures on the summit reminiscent of the internal timber structures at a number of henges.

While radiocarbon age-determinations for Dún Ailinne range from fifth century B.C. –third century A.D., they cluster around first century A.D (Wailes 1976, 338).


Wailes, B. 1968  ‘Excavations at Dun Ailinne, Co. Kildare, Republic of Ireland, 1968’, Expedition: The Bulletin of the University of Pennsylvania 11(2), 2-5.

Wailes, B. 1970  ‘Excavations at Dun Ailinne, Co. Kildare’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 100, 79-90.

Wailes, B. 1970  ‘Excavations at Dun Ailinne, near Kilcullen, Co. Kildare’, Journal of the Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society 14, 507-17.

Wailes, B. 1976  ‘Dun Ailinne: An Interim Report’, in Harding D. W. (ed.) Hillforts: later prehistoric earthworks in Britain and Ireland (London, New York, San Francisco: Academic Press). 319-338, 474-477, 531.

Wailes, B. 1990  ‘Dun Ailinne: a summary excavation report’, Emania 7, 10-21.

10.2 : Raffin, Co. Meath E510

Site location: NGR 28200/28280           SMR ME011-041---

Conor Newman

Fig. 10.2.1: Location map of Raffin Fort, Co. Meath [OSI]

Raffin Fort occupies the summit of a drumlin in north Co. Meath, c.2 miles south of the village of Nobber (Fig. 10.2.1). The excavation (Fig 10.2.2) which ran over five seasons between 1989-93 was undertaken as part of National Monuments Service (then the OPW) funded rescue project after the enclosure had been levelled by a bulldozer in 1988. The aim was to identify the site type, date and the extent of the damage. Six different phases of activity were apparent, including Neolithic, Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, later Iron Age and Early Medieval.

Fig. 10.2.2: Site plan, Raffin Fort, Co. Meath [Conor Newman]

Before destruction, the site comprised a hengiform enclosure 65m in diameter with a U-shaped fosse and external bank (40m internal diameter). It was revealed that in places the original fosse fill had been removed by the bulldozer and spread over the central area. Where intact the fosse was U-shaped in profile and c.1.5m deep. The original entrance faced SE and a causeway was revealed that gave access to the eastern one third of the site. A low counter-slope bank dating from the Early Middle Ages ran across the interior of the site and was the latest structural modification of the site and as a result of the site destruction, the least well understood.

The earliest phase of activity pertained to the construction of a sub-rectangular enclosure (about 20m X 30m) with V-sectioned fosse (no bank) dated to 3309-2919 Cal. BC. This was backfilled and was ultimately truncated by the hengiform enclosure so only half survived. There was no evidence of internal structures. Part of a foundation trench for a rectangular timber building was dug into this. The minimum length of this building was 6.2m and it was provisionally assigned to the Neolithic. The next major phase of activity saw the erection of an oval-shaped, multi-ringed post circle on the crown of the hill. A human cremation from one of the post fills was dated to the Early Bronze Age. Middle Bronze Age activity (c. eleventh century BC) is attested by an oval, plank palisaded enclosure around the summit of the hill. Again, no definitively-linked internal structures were uncovered. A large, 13m diameter, double walled round house was constructed during the Later Bronze Age. Half of a small house within the south-western quadrant of this building was also revealed; it had a central hearth pit and pre-dates the 13m diameter building. The penultimate phase of activity, dating from the first few centuries AD saw the construction of the hengiform enclosure and a centrally-located 9m diameter ring-ditch that was surrounded by a timber circle of six poles. On the north side of this was a small standing stone which was erected directly over a skull burial. Other finds included pottery, a blue glass bead and a safety-pin fibula. A small ogham stone was found near the base of the enclosing fosse.

The longevity of use of this site and the apparent ‘ceremonial’ function are important aspects to this site as is its location and association with the other archaeological features in the area. Due to the excellent state of preservation, the excavation at Raffin Fort has presented a unique opportunity to study in sequence the multi phased, ritual or otherwise, activity at one of Irelands ‘Royal’ sites and a chance for us to better grasp the progress in cultural habits of the people of the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron-Ages.


Newman, C. 1990  ‘Raffin Fort, Raffin’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1989. Wordwell Ltd., Bray. 43.

Newman, C. 1990  ‘Raffin Fort, Raffin’, Medieval Archaeology 34. 236-7.

Newman, C. 1991  ‘Raffin Fort, Raffin’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1990. Wordwell Ltd., Bray. 48.

Newman, C. 1991  ‘Raffin Fort, Raffin’, Medieval Archaeology 35. 212.

Newman, C. 1992  ‘Raffin Fort, Raffin’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1991. Wordwell Ltd., Bray. 39.

Newman, C. 1993  ‘Raffin Fort’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1992. Wordwell Ltd., Bray. 52.

Newman, C. 1994  ‘Raffin Fort, Raffin’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd., Bray. 64-65.

Newman, C. 1995  ‘Raffin Fort, Co. Meath: Neolithic and Bronze Age activity’, In E. Grogan and C. Mount (eds),  Annus Archaeologiae: Proceedings of the OIA Winter Conference 1993. OPW, Dublin. 55-65.

10.3 : Tara Rath of the Synods, Co. Meath  E615

Site location: NGR 29201/259795            SMR: ME 031-033-16

†S. P. Ó Ríordáin

Fig. 10.3.1: Location map of Rath of the Synods, Tara, Co. Meath [OSI]

Plate 10.3.1: Aerial view looking north, Rath of Synods, Tara, Co. Meath
[Cambridge University]

Ráith na Senad (Rath of the Synods) lies just north of Ráith na Rígh, in the central area of the complex of monuments at Tara (Fig. 10.3.1; Plates 10.3.1 and 2). The site was so called as it was reputed to have been the meeting place for three successive centuries of Synods held by St. Patrick and other Saints. It occupies the northern edge of the summit of the hill and is visible as a partially denuded quadri-vallate enclosure. The site has been substantially damaged by cultivation, field boundaries and by the church and graveyard that lie on its NE quadrant. It was also damaged by a futile search for the Ark of the Covenant by the British Israelites between 1899 and 1902. A research archaeological excavation, under the direction of S.P. Ó Ríordáin was carried out over two seasons in 1952-3.

Plate 10.3.2: Aerial view detail looking south, Rath of Synods, Tara, Co. Meath [Cambridge University]

The central area measures 26m in diameter and is defined on the ground by three enclosing banks each with an external fosse and finally by a fourth enclosing bank with a possible external fosse, nothing of the fourth is visible on the surface. Traces of an entrance and causeway are identifiable topographically, although the entrance gaps in the three extant ramparts do not correspond and are certainly not aligned with the causeway.

Fig.10.3.2: Site location of  Rath of the Synods, Tara, Co. Meath [OSI]

The Ring ditch

Ó Ríordáin identified three phases of pre-earthwork activity.

Phase 1: An oval ring ditch with defining flat-bottomed fosse.

Phase 2: The ditch was completely infilled and a series of palisade trenches and post-holes were excavated, representing concentric enclosures with concentric pairs of free standing posts occurring internally and thought to have been part of a large structure. A second circular palisade trench with traces of a further two external concentric trenches were identified south of the external palisade enclosure. Finally in the south west of this central area, a third palisaded enclosure was revealed, predating that recorded to the south of the palisaded enclosure.

Phase 3: During this phase the area was used as a burial ground. Nine burials (six inhumations, both crouched and extended and three cremations) were uncovered, some of which contained grave goods including an iron bolt, a bronze knife guard, a fragment of a pin and two pieces of iron. An Iron Age date has been suggested for the burials. The quadri-vallate enclosure was also constructed during this phase.

This entire structure spans an area of 91m in diameter and while Ó Ríordáin suggested the ramparts were constructed over time, Grogan et al (forthcoming) suggest that all the ramparts may be contemporary. Occupation layers were revealed within the limits of the first rampart, associated with a rectangular house, with a possible second structure occurring to the east, with a paved and cobbled surface to the south. Finds included bronze pins, part of a pennanular brooch, glass beads, (some Iron Age in date), Roman type nails and a lead seal indicating contact with the Roman World (Newman 1997).

In addition, a barrow with traces of an enclosing bank with V-sectioned fosse, is situated between ramparts 2 and 3 and while it predates the construction of the ramparts, it was not possible to tie it in with this earlier activity. The barrow had three phases of construction; the first consisted of a 16m in diameter barrow with surrounding bank and V-sectioned fosse, with associated cremation burials and one later crouched inhumation. During the second phase, the barrow was covered with a layer of stony clay and the fosse was allowed to infill. Two narrow trenches were also excavated during this phase and were in the line of the fosse. A bank was constructed during the third phase.

A report has been compiled by the Archaeology Department, UCD and the publication is in its final stages.


This synopsis was summarised from C. Newman 1997 Tara, An Archaeological Survey, Dublin

10.1 : Dún Ailinne, Knockaulin Td and Glebe North Td, Co. Kildare E79
10.2 : Raffin, Co. Meath E510
10.3 : Tara Rath of the Synods, Co. Meath  E615