ME01729 - LAGORE BIG - Crannog

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Situated in a broad shallow basin that lies between Dunshaughlin and Ratoath and S of the R125 road connecting those villages. Lagore Lough – Lough Gabhair or Goat’s Lake - would have been a large lake (dims c. 3km E-W; c. 1km N-S), with an arm extending S (dims c. 1.5km N-S; c. 1km E-W) from its E end. The name Gabhair could be cognate with Gabor – white mare – fraught with mythological meaning (Newman 2011, 28-9). The crannog is located towards the E end of the N arm of the lake, now completely reclaimed. By the seventeenth century the lake is much reduced and is depicted as two lakes on the Down Survey (1656-8) map of County Meath. On this map a long narrow E-W lake is depicted at Little Lagore and is the source of a W-E stream that runs through Ratoath and is one of the sources of the Broad Meadow River. Just E of Lagore Little the larger Lagore Big lake is connected with the E-W stream by a short channel extending N. By the nineteenth century only a canalised W-E stream with its subsidiary drains ran through the N part of the lake, much of which is in Dunshaughlin townland. The Sil nÁedo Sláine – the seed of Áedh of Slane – were kings of Magh Breag ‘the plain of the cleared hills’, when St Patrick lit the defiant Pascal fire at Slane. Breag was a territory that could have extended as far north as the River Dee in Co. Louth and as far south as the River Tolka in Co. Dublin but, although its W boundary is less certain, the River Boyne was never any form of barrier. At the Battle of Imlech Pích in AD 688 a northern cohort of Síl nÁedo Sláine under Congalach Mac Conaing, whose descendants would in time occupy the prehistoric cemetery at Knowth (ME019-030060-), was defeated by a southern section under his cousin, Niall Mac Cernaig. Both were great grandsons of the High King Diarmait Ruanaid (ob. 665) who had his royal house on Lagore crannog. As the victors of Imlech Pich the descendants of Niall – Clann Chernaig Sotail - are described as kings of Brega in the eight century, or more frequently as kings of south Brega. From the late eight century they are styled as Rí Locha Gabhair – king of Lagore – from where they continue into the late tenth century to dominate the area of the later baronies of Skreen and Ratoath. The crannog was burnt in AD 850 and again in 935, and this second conflagration may have led to its abandonment, although no evidence of burning was recorded in excavation. The Clann Chernaig Sotail, now with the family name Mac GiollaSeachnaill (servant of Seachnaill), continue as kings of south Brega, and the death of Maolcron Mac GiollaSeachnaill is recorded in 1171. The name suggests that they had moved closer to the church of Dunshaughlin (ME044-033002-) and might have been occupying the rath (ME044-033001-) there. (Price 1950; Byrne 2008a) The crannog was first noted by Sir William Wilde (1840) when the channel running through it SW to E was being deepened and copious amounts of bone was being drawn from the site. Numerous artefacts of high quality were found and some of these were acquired by the museum of the Royal Irish Academy and are now in the National Museum of Ireland. Wilde describes what is probably the plank palisade divided into compartments, and this was also how William Wakeman (1880, 324-5) recorded it in 1848. The royal connection with its historical references, and the rich material already collected, prompted the Harvard expedition in the 1930s to attempt the completion of the excavation (E00014) (Hencken 1950). The plank palisade was almost completely gone by this time, but a lot was learned about the construction and use of the crannog. The excavation was a large undertaking in the years 1934-36, and the stream had to be temporarily diverted with dams above and below the monument during the excavation which dug deeper than the old stream bed. The crannog was an oval mound (dims c. 46m NE-SW; c. 34m NW-SE; H 3m) composed of brushwood and timber intermixed with layers of peat, clay and sand. This core was surrounded by three palisades composed successively of wooden piles, posts, and planks which were broadly connected by the excavator with three occupation levels within the crannog, and with further piles in the surrounding lake. The crannog is dated from the seventh to the tenth centuries in line with the documentary references. Its base was constructed in Period 1a, and consisted of layers of brushwood with some timbers laid over a layer of animal bones, including the complete skulls of cattle and horses. Very few stones were present but a layer of ‘bow-shaped timbers’ was laid down beneath the brushwood on the E side of the crannog, with a discarded dugout boat on top. Amongst the artefacts recovered from this level were one sherd of terra sigillata, a distinctive Roman ware dating to the second century AD. This is regarded as residual and not dating the construction which is placed about the middle of the seventh century. The excavator thought that a massacre occurred at this stage as fragments of human remains, such as cuts from skulls were scattered in the foundations particularly at the NE side and outside the crannog mound, but as these date from the Early Bronze Age onwards and a more ritualistic, votive, origin for them can be propounded (Newman 2011, 28-9). The lowest and thickest brushwood layer contained a platform (dims c. 12.5m NE-SW; c. 8.5m NW-SE; max. T 0.65m) of several layers of birch and oak timbers cut with axes, and there was a smaller platform (dims c. 9m NE-SW; c. 4m NW-SE) at the NW edge. The crannog was raised over this in alternate layers of peat and thinner brushwood layers sometimes woven into mats, and there were arcs of wattle walls which the excavator regarded as part of the building process. The pile palisade (max. diam. 41m) was the lowest, made with wooden piles (diam. 5-15cm) driven deeply into the brushwood and the underlying mud. The post palisade was inside the piles (diam. c. 36m) and consisted of oak posts driven in from a higher level. It is found only intermittently and not at all in the W part of the crannog which was probably abandoned at this time as it was covered in silts. The plank palisade (diam. c. 38m) was the last and the most fragmentary, surviving only at NE and in fragments at SW and W. It consisted of shaped upright oak timbers placed c. 2m apart, with slots on two sides into which planks would have been set. The surviving occupation deposits were fragmentary and not always readily associated either with similar deposits in other areas of the mound or particular palisades. No structures survived, apart from isolated hearths and a plank floor, most of which had been removed by the river. However, there was evidence of wicker and daub fragments in unstratified contexts and extensive mats of wattle. Associated with the construction of the lowest brushwood level is the occupation of Period 1b, which is dated by imported E-ware pottery to the seventh and eight centuries. Inside the piles of the first palisade at the NE was a small work-area for making of glass studs. Elsewhere, some scattered hearths are associated with this period by the excavator. Period II is represented by various sand layers and peat pockets within them. A few hearths were recorded amongst the layers. There was a sequence of hearths with numerous stake-holes in the SW area interleaved with clay floors that probably had a relevance for all periods. Period III was characterised by two or three clay layers that may be part of a single phase. These clay layers can certainly be associated with the plank palisade. Hencken’s dating laid the foundation for many subsequent artefact studies (Henry 1965, 48) but, based as it was on the historical references, it has been queried (Raftery 1991, 83-5). Lynn (1985-6) re-interpreted the structural evidence to suggest very plausibly that the bow-shaped timbers are an earlier palisade that has fallen outwards and that the quantities of skulls were not a foundation layer but occupation debris thrown outside this palisade. Furthermore, Period 1a is not just a construction phase but its arcs of wattle walls are from the earliest occupation of the crannog, which need have no fixed commencement date. However, Warner (1985-6) was able to confirm, both on historical and archaeological evidence, that Hencken’s chronology was reasonably accurate, and it is generally accepted now that this was a royal crannog dating from the seventh to the tenth centuries (O’Sullivan 1998, 113-18). That Lagore crannog was an important and wealthy site is amply demonstrated by the quantity and quality of the artefacts recovered. For perhaps the first time ever in Ireland fragile, perishable items such as textiles and leather goods could be recorded and examined. Very few shoes are listed, although there was a wooden shoe-last, and fragments of woven woollen cloths with a variety of weaves were recovered. While there was very little pottery recorded there were plenty of wooden vessels of a very high quality that had been turned on a lathe, as well as stave-built buckets. All kinds of wooden implements including a mallet, spindles, spoons, and decorated pins and pegs were recovered. There was a rough figure of a human (H 0.47m), which it is thought now (Coles 1990, 326) could date to the Early Bronze Age. There is a fine collection of bone pins with intricately carved heads and elaborate toilet implements as well as bone combs and some bone trial pieces carved with interlace patterns. There are bone dice, spindle whorls and beads, as well as some lignite and amber beads. Amongst the bronze objects are a Bronze Age dagger and a Late Bronze Age looped spearhead, both of which must be residual. Most of the finer pieces were recovered before the excavation or are unstratified, but there are some fine ring-brooches, including an old find of a highly ornate zoomorphic example. There are two decorated discs, a belt buckle, strap-ends, and metal studs. Some examples of intricate millefiori enamel and glass-working are present. The full range of ring-headed pins is represented, from simple rings to cast pieces, and there are bronze pins without rings of several types including the watch-winder type. There were two bracelets and four finger rings, as well as mixed pieces of bronze. There was even a strip of gold with wire filigree prepared to take glass settings and a piece of a Viking silver bracelet. There are some swords and spearheads of iron, and even some shield bosses. The iron brooches and pins are far cruder than their bronze counterparts, but there were two iron horse-bits and a horseshoe, a plough share, and some billhooks and axes. What is probably a full set of carpenter’s tools were recovered which included a hammer, an adze, a saw, a draw knife and socketed chisels, wedges, punches, nails and awls. There were iron shears, iron mountings and iron handles for wooden vessels. The most startling objects recovered were two prisoners’ or slaves’ collars hinged at one side and secured by running the chain through two loops on the closing side. There were also locks and keys of the barrel-lock type. The only pottery was recovered from period 1a and consisted of a few sherds of E-ware, a post-Roman continental ware. Bronze and iron-working was conducted on the crannog, and fragments of moulds and pieces of tuyéres were found as well as the slag waste. Fine glass-working was also practiced on site, and fragments of imported glass vessels as well as moulds for studs are associated with Period 1B, although some of the glass pieces are intrusive (Bourke 1994, 172, 174). One mould contained a stud within it with an impressed geometric design, and there were some sticks of millefiori glass. With such high quality craftsmanship being practiced on the crannog there can be no doubt that it was a wealthy royal site. Unfortunately, all the animal bones were not systematically collected, but the skulls were counted – 608 cattle, followed in number by 173 pigs and 153 sheep. These numbers show the relative proportions of the species, and it must be remembered that perhaps 150 cartloads of bones had been removed in 1839 (Wilde 1840, 424). Very few other species apart from horse (9), dog (7) and red deer (4) were represented, possibly because the bones would be too small for collection. Amongst the fowl, wild geese and wild duck accounted for 60%, which is not surprising. No environmental samples would have been taken as the science was not developed at the time. This monument is subject to a preservation order made under the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2014 (PO no. 32/1934). See the attached images: _1 Representation of Lagore Big and Lagore Little on the Down Survey (1656-8) map of County Meath (courtesy of the National Library of Ireland _2 Plan of the crannog excavation _3 The boat _4 view of the excavation Compiled by: Michael Moore Date of upload: 10 December 2021

Description Source: Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage

Monument Details

53.5165, -6.514

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