Lough Gur is one of ancient Ireland’s premiere archaeological sites with
rich finds dating to all ages starting from the stone age, right
through the bronze and iron ages and into early medieval times.
There have been several excavations in and around Lough Gur starting from 1860 turning up a wealth of knowledge about ancient Ireland and early medieval times.
Apart from excavated sites, a recent geophysical survey carried out by Rose Cleary of UCC’s archaeology department showed up many more sites which are not even visible on the surface!
Findings of Neolithic settlements in
the area date from excavations between 1936 and 1954. The settlements
found were given a start date of around 4,000 BC. Archaeologists believe
that the area was settled then for the first time. These early farming
ad fishing communities would have been attracted by the plentiful
natural resources- excellent farmland for cattle farming and growing
cereals, excellent fishing as well as the right kind of rock for making
their tools. Archaeological findings include the foundations of huts and
houses as well as stone axes and other tools and field monuments such
Ancient Ireland at Lough Gur- megalithic wedge tomb.
Bronze age finds at Lough Gur include settlements at Knockadoon, burial sites and stone circles. Around 2,000 BC the making of bronze tools and weapons started in Ireland, probably arriving here from abroad. Evidence of metal working was found in among the bronze age village on Knockadoon. Many bronze objects have been found in the area around the lake.
To the bronze
age culture who lived here, wet places such as bogs and lakes were
sacred. They often used to ritually deposit precious objects there, such
as special weapons and shields as an offering to their Gods.
One of ancient Ireland's most precious treasures- the bronze age shield found at Lough Gur.
stunning bronze age shield (above) was found here at Lough Gur where the lake
had been drained mid- 19th century and had brought many such objects to
the surface. The priceless shield dates to 700 BC. It was discovered
among rushes by local man Charles Hayes in 1972. He was working with a
sickle at the time and accidentally pierced the shield in two places.
Not realising the significance of what he had found he sold it to a
historian, Maurice Lenihan in Limerick for 30 Shillings who in turn sold
it to the Royal Irish Academy for 50 Pounds Sterling, which was a lot
of money in those days.The real deal is now located at the National
Museum in Dublin. The visitors’ centre at Lough Gur contains a well-made
replica which looks as the shield might have looked in its hay day.
Bronze is made by alloying copper and tin usually to a ratio of 9:1. The purpose of adding tin into the mix was to reduce the melting point for the copper. The alloying was done in a furnace where the copper ore and tin were distributed among the fuel and collected after the furnace had cooled down. The bronze was then washed and placed in a so called ‘crucible’, a ceramic container that would withstand the melting point of the bronze. The crucible was then heated until the bronze became liquid when it was poured into moulds. Moulds were made from rock by slicing and carving the desired shapes. Bronze has a low melting point and can be melted in a crucible over a bunsen burner.
Bronze Age Pottery became quite widespread around
Lough Gur from around 2,500 BC. This pottery was fired at low
temperatures. It had very characteristic patterns. Vessels were often
used as funerary urns.
Knockfennel across the lake from the visitors centre has
yielded the remains of an iron age Celtic settlement- hut foundations
and burial chamber along with the remains of now extinct brown bears in a
cave on the hillside.
Ancient Ireland's largest stone circle- Grange stone circle at Lough Gur seen here at sunset.
A couple of medieval houses were found in the area of the car park during the late 1970ies by the Rose Cleary excavation here.The
site called ‘The Spectacles’ is what remains of a medieval farmstead
including the foundations of three houses and some ancient fields.The
Boilin island crannog is considered early medieval, and so are the
remains of two stone forts on the hill known as Carraig Aille.
Excavations there have turned up beautiful jewellery made from glass,
silver and bronze which was dated to the Viking era.The first records about Lough Gur are in the Inishfallen Annals which were started by Irish monks in 1092 AD.
The Spectacles- a medieval settlement with adjacent field systems
Visiting Lough Gur
Newgrange, County Meath
Bru Na Boinne, County Meath
Carrowmore, County Sligo
Carrowkeel, County Sligo
Just beyond the car park on a private working
farm, there is a medieval castle of national importance- the Desmond
Castle of Lough Gur. The castle gained a name for itself during a later
episode in the history of Ireland- the Desmond Rebellion of 1569.
Gerald Fitzgerald, the 10th Earl of Desmond, returned to the castle at
Lough Gur from imprisonment in England and Dublin having escaped, both
he and his wife Eleanor wore the dress commonly worn by Irish
chieftains- saffron robes.
This was a symbolic act declaring his
breaking with the Crown. Gerald would now join in the first Desmond
Rebellion against Queen Elizabeth started by his relatives in his
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