by Tony Miller B.A. Licensed Archeologist
Next page >> page 1 of 2
As a keen hill-walker I have visited many of the remoter upland areas of West Cork, away from main roads, towns and villages. Today these areas give the impression of being isolated, wild and forgotten by most save for a few hardy sheep farmers.. However, if we look back into history a different picture emerges. These same upland terrains were seen as preferred route ways, as places to live, either permanently or temporarily and as sources of certain raw materials, such as summer grazing, turf, wild food, stone and metal ores,. Furthermore, as these areas have not been affected so much by modern farm improvements it is still possible to see and discover traces of these earlier times.
As a keen hill-walker I have visited many of the remoter upland areas of West Cork, away from main roads, towns and villages. Today these areas give the impression of being isolated, wild and forgotten by most save for a few hardy sheep farmers. However, if we look back into history a different picture emerges. Since attempting more systematic field walking and by talking to local landowners, I have increased this number with 18 new entries in the Record of Monuments and Places. I am sure there are still more to be found.
Shehy Beg is a large, almost uninhabited town land on the southern slopes of Shehy Mountain. It is 718 acres in extent and is nearly all 1000ft above sea level. Its northern boundary rises steeply to the main summit of Shehy at nearly 1800 feet, while the rest of the area is made up of a plateau of heather clad rocks and rough grazing crossed by streams and bogs.
Crossing the town land from east to west is a modern track which closely follows the route of a Butter Path dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries. At this time butter would have been carried by donkey along this path from as far away as Beara to the butter markets of Cork city. The previously mentioned stone pair, dating to the Bronze Age, could also have been markers for a much earlier route way across this hillside. Such high track ways would have always provided more direct, drier and open routes for long distance travel, before the road network was improved at a much later date. They are once again being used as sections of the increasingly popular long distance walking routes.
Fitting in with the theme for this week the majority of these new sites probably date to the early medieval period while a few might belong to later or post medieval times. Without the excavation of every monument it is not possible to accurately date them . Instead we must rely on comparisons with other similar sites and the relatively limited number of excavations carried out elsewhere on upland sites. In recent years as a result of the economic boom, there has been a massive increase in the number of excavations carried out in this country but the majority of these have been in and around towns or along the routes of new roads and motorways. Upland archaeology has largely been the preserve of academic research led excavation.
The most abundant of theses new sites on Shehy are simple hut circles. At first glance it is not easy to imagine how they could ever have been lived in. All that remains now are simple rings, often incomplete, of tumbled stones protruding above the surrounding turf. On Shehy most of them are located in two groups with a few scattered individual ones. Their locations share the same characteristics of being close to drier, greener patches of grazing, sheltered by a hill or rocks to one side and, finally, close to a water source. On average these hut sites are between 2 and 3.5 m in diameter with the surviving walls no more than half a meter in height. It is often possible to see where the entrances would have been, marked by either a simple gap in the ring or occasionally by flanking upright stones, and these entrances are always positioned to the east or southeast, giving maximum shelter from the prevailing westerly wind. Other features often found with them include small semi-circular additions built onto the back of a few. These could have been for food storage or even possibly to secure young animals at night. Others also have well built enclosures or stockades associated with them probably for keeping animals at night. Wolves would have a threat still at these times. These enclosures are usually circular while some can be D shaped, convenient ridges of bed rock forming the straight side.. One of the hut sites also has a very dramatic look out post next to it where access has been made up onto a large split rock from where clear views over the area can be had. Another associated monument is the large number of stone built field walls which can also be traced emerging from the bog and turf. Again on Beara a similar boundary wall was dated to the late Iron Age while in Mayo many kilometres have been revealed from under the bog dating back 6000 years to the early Neolithic.
Next page >> page 1 of 2