Knockbridge - Mount Ash

The word 'motte' is derived from Middle English and Old French words 'moat' and 'mote', indicating a ditch, and a mound, hillock or castle, respectively. In modern archaeological parlance, however, it is confined to a distinctive type of military earthwork built by the Normans as they expanded their territories in northern Europe between the tenth and the thirteenth centuries. In its classic form, mottes comprise a generally circular, flat-topped earthen mound encircled at its base by a wide, deep fosse. Contiguous to it there is often a bailey, commonly a sub-rectangular or cresent-shaped enclosure defined by a bank and fosse (for further details, see O'Keeffe 2001, 16-22). The entrance to the monument is usually via the bailey which contained the main household and outbuildings. The motte itself functioned as a heavily fortified outpost, usually surmounted by a small wooden tower.

In Ireland, the construction of mottes appears to date to the initial phases of the Anglo-Norman colonisation in late twelfth and early years of the thirteenth centuries. This is reflected in their distribution which is concentrated in Leinster, north-east Munster and the eastern part of Ulster, and is notable for the almost complete absence of mottes from the west of Ireland (ibid.).

Mottes are usually sited in strategic locations often commanding routeways and/or good quality land. Mount Ash is a fine example of such siting, commanding wide views from the summit of a low hillock across the rolling farmland of north Louth and east Monaghan. It was almost certainly built sometime in the last years of the 12th century by one of the Anglo-Norman knights who received grants of land in north Louth from Bertram de Verdon. Moreover, it was probably constructed by re-modeling an earlier ringfort. Though no visible evidence of any such ringfort survives, the site is known to contain two souterrains (For details on ringforts and souterrains in general, see under Annagassan-Lisnarran and Balriggan-Souterrain, respectively). These artifical caves , usually built of drystone, are a common feature in this part of Louth and are often associated with ringforts. When coupled with the commanding position of the Mount Ash, the presence of two souterrains suggests that this may have been an important residence of some local chieftain during the Early Medieval Period (AD 400-1200).

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