Louth Village - Fairy Mount

The name 'Fairy Mount' evokes thoughts about the Celtic Otherworld, folklore and the romance of the "little people". Its use as the label for this fine earthwork is therefore all the more striking when one considers that it was built in the late 12th century when they Anglo-Normans seized land at the expense of the native population. How it actually got this name is therefore of some interest. It is tempting to suggest that it may have been the result of the romantic imagination of some 18th century Anglo-Irish landowner rather than some timeless lore of the local people.

Fairy Mount is undoubtedly one of the by-products of the Anglo-Norman colonisation of Louth in the 1180s. The early ecclesiastical settlement at Louth was initially held by the King but was granted to Geoffrey de Lusignan in 1254. The motte is likely to have been built before 1196 for the medieval documents record that the 'castle' of Louth was burnt in that year (for further details, see Smith 1999, 33). Wright's plan and section of the monument show the classic profile of an Anglo-Norman motte-castle: a circular flat-topped mound (c.29m in diameter at base, 11m at top) encircled by a fosse (see Mount Ash - Knockbridge for details on motte-castles in general).

Though Wright provides no details on the history of Fairy Mount, he does make one important statement regarding its design, describing his plan view (his Fig. 2) as 'Ichnography of same with part of the town trench'. This is one of only a handful of documentary clues that indicate that the Anglo-Normans established a borough[*1] at Louth. The reason for their choice of Louth was its importance in pre-Norman times as a monastic and diocesan centre. From the sheer size of the ecclesiastical enclosure (diameter 640m by 320m) that marked its precinct, Louth appears to have been a very large ecclesiastical settlement. Analysis by John Bradley (1985) and others shows that the motte was actually built on the line of this pre-Norman monastic enclosure.

[*1] 'Borough' is here used in the sense of a legal framework for the creation of an urban settlement, in terms of a plot-pattern of living spaces, fixed rents, rights to hold markets, and legal privledges for its citizens, e.g. burgesses.

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