Donaghmore - Souterrain

Wright's drawing of this souterrain 'near Ballrichan' marked yet another first in Irish archaeology, for it is the earliest known detailed plan and section of such a structure. Of particular interest is the fact that its layout closely parallels at least three other souterrains uncovered in north Louth the later 20th century: the best-known and accessible of these is that at Donaghmore, just west of Dundalk (see Buckley and Sweetman 1991, 121). Sadly, the exact location of this souterrain has since been lost but with discoveries of these monuments in the county running at an average of two a year, there is every possibility that it may one day be re-located.

The word 'souterrain' is a modern French term indicating a wide variety of subterranean structures. However, in English archaeological nomenclature it is used specifically to describe a particular type of artificial underground 'cave' which was built in different parts of the British and Ireland between the second century BC and the twelfth century AD. Irish souterrains were built either by tunnelling in clay or rock, or by drystone or timber construction in a subsequently backfilled trench. Though they vary infinitely in plan, and can range in length from 5m to over 100m, they are invariably composed of a number of repetitive elements. These normally comprise one entrance/exit, one or more frequently low passages, one or more obstructions either in the form of creeps or sudden changes in level and finally, one or more circular or rectangular chambers. As regards their age, the results from archaeological excavations indicate that Irish souterrains have a date-range from AD c.600 to 1200 (for further details, see Clinton 2001).

Souterrains were not isolated monuments, though they often survive as such today. Rather, they originally formed part of complex habitations as is testified by their frequent association with ringforts and early ecclesiastical settlements. These associations, when taken in conjunction with the design of Irish souterrains and the occasional references to them in early manuscript sources, suggest that they were built as refuges for people and goods in times of danger.

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