This cashel, near Castlewellan, Co. Down, is a great example of a cashel, or ringfort. It was a common type of farmstead in early medieval times, where the farm was enclosed within a strong circular wall. Drumena Cashel is roughly circular in shape, about 40m wide and with walls up to 3m thick.
Some excavations and restoration took place in the 1920’s and the present entrance to the cashel is probably not the original entrance.
Foundations of a house that had been built inside the fort at some time. The long wall behind is part of the cashel wall.
Like many cashels and raths, there is a souterrain within the enclosure and this would have been used for storage and maybe also as a refuge. This souterrain is particularly well-preserved.
Both the fort and souterrain are easily accessible and the souterrain is big enough to walk around in comfortably. The souterrain is T-shaped and has 2 entrances, one with steps down into it, which were probably put in when it was restored (see title photo).
It is much easier to access than many souterrains and if these are the original entrances they weren’t built to deter invaders. So many souterrains have a low entrance that you have to crawl through, or at least crouch down to get in and then just as you get inside and start to straighten up there might be a protruding stone, deliberately placed to bang your head on!
It is certainly a more superior type of souterrain than some I have been in!
One of the passages leads to a small chamber which has an air hole in one of its walls.
Raths (also called ring forts) are the most common ancient monuments found in Ireland and would have been the most common form of farmstead in use during the second half of the first millennium, particularly from around 600-900AD.
The remains of about 40,000 raths can be found all over the country and Corliss, in Co. Armagh, is a particularly fine example.
Raths were circular in shape, with defensive banks and ditches and wooden palisades, although those with impressive tiers of banks and ditches may have been built for status as much as defence.
Corliss is quite a large rath with two tiers of defensive banks (bivallate) and a deep ditch. It stands proud on a hillock with commanding views over the countryside of Co. Monaghan and South Armagh. The beech trees planted by the landowner over a century ago accentuate the height of the rath and add to the ambience of the site today.
The rath looks impressive as you walk up to it from the Corliss Road.
Going through the well-defined entrance into it, there’s a wonderful sense of tranquility and I soon became aware of what a haven for wildlife this is, with many small birds singing in the trees and wildflowers such as bluebells, primroses and wood sorrel flourishing within the sheltered banks.
Looking out across the countryside it was easy to imagine people living there over 1,000 years ago and looking across the same countryside as I was today.
In the centre of the large grassy area on the top of the rath is the entrance to a souterrain – another aspect of the defensive nature of the site.
Raths were built at a time when there would have been a need to defend themselves, as well as their cattle and food stores, from marauding cattle raiders and Vikings. Souterrains were built inside or beside the farmstead, as a place of temporary refuge and for somewhere to store and hide food.
The dry stone walls and roof lintels of this perfectly preserved L-shaped souterrain