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.
Binder’s Cove, or Finnis Souterrain, near Finnis in Co. Down
Last year, when I was crawling through the wet, muddy and claustrophobic Claigan Souterrain on the Isle of Skye and getting muddy from head to foot, I thought of Binder’s Cove and longed for a bit of luxury in my souterrain exploration.
Binder’s Cove is easy to find, has parking beside the road, a footpath up to the site, steps down to the souterrain and it’s own lighting, powered by the solar panels at the entrance.
There are thousands of souterrains in Ireland but few are easily accessible. This well-preserved 9th century souterrain was opened to the public in 2003 after the landowner and Banbridge District Council thought that it would be a good idea to open the site to the public and give locals and visitors the opportunity to see inside what was a very common, but hidden, feature of the early Christian landscape.
Work was carried out to stabilize the stonework, install the solar panels and lighting and also improve the mud floor so that visitors don’t get muddy.
The main passage is 30m long and has two shorter passages of about 6m leading off on the right hand side. The entrance passage is only 1m high, so a bit of a squeeze at the beginning, but then the height increases to 1.5m.
There was some shallow water at the very end of the main passage. In this part of the tunnel my breath (at least I assumed it was my breath) appeared as a white mist in front of me – very spooky!
It is called Binder’s Cove because Binder was the name of a previous owner of the field and Cove is a corruption of cave, a common term for a souterrain in Ireland.
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