UCC archaeologists uncover hilltop fort from 1200 BC near Innishannon
ARCHAEOLOGISTS from University College Cork have uncovered the oldest hilltop fort in Ireland on a ridge near Innishannon overlooking huge tracts of County Cork and believe that it was the first capital of Cork.
According to Prof. William O'Brien of the Dept. of Archeology at University College Cork, the oval-shaped hilltop fort near Knockavilla, Innishannon, overlooking the Lee Valley, was built over 3,000 years ago, making it the oldest known prehistoric hillfort in Ireland.
"For many years, an ancient enclosure, known locally as the 'Cathair' was known to exist on the ridge overlooking Knockavilla on the northern side of Innishannon parish," said Prof. O'Brien, adding that radiocarbon dating revealed the site was built around 1200 BC
Prof. O'Brien led a team of archeologists from UCC on an extensive survey and excavation of the 169-metre high site over the past three years and the team is currently writing up its report which they hope will help persuade the government to declare it a national monument.
"This is a particularly significant site. It dates from some 500 years before the Celts arrived in Ireland, so it was built by the indigenous Irish. Its antiquity and size, covering about eight hectares, suggest it was one of the most important prehistoric settlements in the south west."
Prof. O'Brien paid tribute to the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences and the Royal Irish Academy for the funding support while he also thanked the owners of the hilltop site, the O'Sullivan and Healy families, for their co-operation with the dig.
According to Prof O'Brien, the site of the hillfort in the townland of Clashanimud gave it commanding views as far away as the Galtees and the Boggeraghs to the north, the Sheha Mountains to the south west and to the Paps and the Reeks to the west.
The hilltop fort defences included an outer enclosure measuring 1.02km in perimeter and surrounded by a stone faced field bank which was topped with a wattle palisade and an inner 0.8km enclosure, comprising an earthen and stone bank topped with a heavy oak palisade.
"The original hillfort entrances were located on the western side of the hillfort, where a gated passageway was found in the palisaded bank of the inner enclosure," said Prof. O'Brien, adding that the use of timbers in the palisade may have given rise to the local townland name.
"The townland name for the area is Clashanimud - the trench of the timbers - and the discovery of these massive timber fences around the hill raises the intriguing possibility that the townland name, Clashanimud may be connected to this Bronze Age site."
According to Prof. O'Brien, the late Bronze Age period in Ireland was a period of great political turmoil and endemic warfare, marked by the emergence of chiefdom societies whose territories centred on hilltop forts located in rich agricultural lands.
"You are talking here about warfare at an inter-regional level - there would have been hillfort groups up in the area which is now Limerick and Tipperary, or even Kerry, and they would have been in warfare with this Cork political group," he explained.
"Arguably, this was Cork's first capital, but our excavations reveal evidence of deliberate burning of the inner palisade fence shortly after the hillfort was built and this appears to have been a deliberate act of war and it was never re-built or occupied after its destruction."