The Earthen Rath or Lios

Round stone forts are more striking than their much more common earthen counterparts which bear the name rath, lios or ring-fort. Over 40,000 of them once existed, but many have, sadly, fallen victim to modern farm machinery which respects them less than the fairies did. They consist of a central area enclosed usually by one, but occasionally by two or even three, banks with ditches outside, and occasionally provided with access to a subterranean stone-lined gallery known as a souterrain, which could have provided the habitants with shelter, an escape route, or simply storage facilities. The central area is invariably bare, and so we have to imagine the former presence there of one or more round or rectangular houses which were probably thatched. Well-preserved wicker-work houses were found at Deer Park Farms, Co. Antrim, a construction technique used also in the houses excavated at Wood Quay in Dublin. Too weak to act as defences, raths would have been the homesteads of affluent early medieval farmers who would have needed to keep their livestock in, and animal predators out.

More fortificatory in nature were crannógs, artificial islands of stone, earth and brushwood, built in lakes for protection. Modern reconstructions of both rath and crannóg may be seen, for instance, at Craggaunowen, Co. Clare.

Ogham Stones

Ogham stones are found largely in the southern counties of Kerry, Cork and Waterford, though also occasionally in certain parts of Britain. Between one and five tally-like strokes crossing, or incised on either side of, the upright edge or angle of the stone form an alphabet used to record the name of a male, his father and, occasionally, his tribal affiliation. Dating from the early centuries of Christianity, Ogham stones provide us with the earliest known form of the Irish language. Some of the stones are decorated with crosses which may be older than the inscription.


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