Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 4, 2018

Ireland’s Ancient West

A few years ago, Ireland’s tourism board came up with slogans and travel routes to explore different parts of the country. There’s the Wild Atlantic Way from Kerry to Donegal, Ancient East from Cork, through Waterford, Wexford and up to the Northern Ireland border, and now there’s the Hidden Heartlands in the middle.

We were exploring parts of the Wild Atlantic Way but stumbled upon a hidden gem depicting ancient history in the west at Craggaunowen.

Wooden structures don’t survive thousands of years, so to get an idea of what life was like back in those days, they have to re-construct them based on oral, written, and pictorial accounts.  They have done just that at Craggaunowen.   Located in lovely woodland between Galway and Limerick, it contains a treasure trove of ancient dwellings and artifacts depicting the way people lived back in the Bronze Age.

There is a crannog – a set of dwellings built on an man-made island or stilts in a lake with a wooden walkway connecting it to the mainland.  People as well as animals lived in the crannog so if it came under attack, they could still survive if the bridge was destroyed.

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Another common dwelling place in Ireland was the ring fort.  An earthen bank surrounded the round houses, made of wattle and daub.  There were structures for animals as well as people.  Privacy was at a premium – most places where communal.

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They even had a souterrain, an underground passage used not only to store and preserve food, but could also be used as hidden entrances and exits.



Souterrain storage as seen from inside the ring fort


Souterrain outer entry/exit

Bronze Age hunters constructed Fulacht Fia – in-ground cooking pots, by digging a hole, lining it with wood, and filling it with water (or allowing it to fill with rain water).  Heated stones from the fire were dropped into the hole to boil the water and whatever meats or stews they wanted boiled along with it.


Fulacht Fia – hunters cooking pot


Hunter’s dwelling

Ogham writing was carved into stone or dangled from wooden blocks in the trees, marking routes and pathways through the once heavy woodlands.



Look close to see the Ogham runes hanging from the tree


Ogham markings on the right side of the stone

Portal tombs were the graveyards of the time.


They even have a re-construction of Saint Brendan’s boat – similar to what he used to sail the Atlantic and discover the Americas – centuries before Columbus.  This one was actually used to re-enact the voyage in 1976.


Newest of the structures in dating order is Craggaunowen castle – a 16th century tower house.  Even centuries after the crannog, personal spaces were small, but communal spaces large, as that’s where people gathered after the hunt or forage to meet with travelers and tell the tales of the day.

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Wild boars still roam the forest (enclosed in an electric fence).  Along with brown soay sheep.  I’d never seen a brown sheep before.  They look a bit more like goats.  No razors required for these sheep, they shed their wool naturally; you just have to pick it up off the ground.


Craggaunowen boar


Craggaunowen soay sheep


Craggaunowen soay sheep shedding

What an amazing place to visit and explore life from the Bronze Age up to medieval times.  They have re-enactors on site to answer questions and provide demonstrations.  Well worth a visit.






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