Moated sites, which date to the 13th and 14th Centuries AD, were generally the fortified settlements of Anglo-Norman lords although they may also have been built by large tenant farmers, monastic sites (Barry 1987) or by a number of Gaelic Lords during this period also (O’Conor 2000, 100). They are defined as “a square, rectangular or occasionally circular area, sometimes raised above the ground, enclosed by a wide, often water-filled, fosse, with or without an outer bank and with a wide causewayed entrance” (see archaeology.ie classification list). In total there are 1,156 sites identified so far in Ireland (archaeology.ie). There are notable clusters in certain counties such as Tipperary, Wexford and Cork where 246, 179 and 138 have been identified respectively. There are 32 in County Carlow and 69 in County Kilkenny. Of these, three have been identified on the slopes of Brandon Hill in the Blackstairs Mountains, two on its southern slopes in the townlands of Ballygub New (KK033-012) and Brandonhill (KK029-03301) and the third on its eastern slopes in the townland of Ballyogan (KK033-037), the focus of today’s post.
Situated 202m above sea level, the site lies in a north-south alignment measuring 90m north-south and 69m east-west. The maximum height of the surviving bank is located at the south-eastern corner where it rises to 1.5m.
Modern state of preservation
The site has been surrounded by extremely dense mature forestry plantation some of which, despite the respect the planters afforded to the centre of the site, has begun to encroach through overhanging branches, seeds germinating and root damage. The internal surface at Ballyogan is extremely undulating. Stone is visible through the dense grass and bracken vegetation some of which is organised into rows as if forming the base of a structure although these are difficult to trace and heavily damaged, probably by the roots of the surrounding trees.
An early description of the site is provided in the first volume of JRSAI which refers to these groups of stone as forming the outline of buildings:
“My investigats (sic.) I should premise have been entirely confined to the raths of a portion of the Barony of Ida, County Kilkenny. The first which caught my attention as possessing a featuring of singularity was a quadrangular fort situated on the eastern slope of Brandon Hill and which besides possessing the usual fosse and rampart, contained within the enclosed space foundations of buildings, laid out apparently in small cells, of which there were about half a dozen as nearly as I can recollect. These foundations were constructed of regular masonry, which I conceive to be of antiquity coeval with the earthen fortification which surrounded them” (Moore 1849-51, 22).
Reconstructing the Site
This site may have been related to the important Anglo-Norman settlement at Graiguenamanagh on the course of the River Barrow to the east. They may have been built by Anglo-Norman lords who were granted small areas of land for crown services or as part of colonistaion further and further away from the major establishments.
Given it’s peripheral location on the mountain slopes, the major defences were likely constructed to protect the Anglo-Norman inhabitants from the native Irish. It was not only the earthworks and flooded moate that provided defense but the surrounding bank was probably topped with a wooden palisade. An account of the construction of Ballycannor, Co. Wexford in 1283-4 to the south of the site records how 660 wooden stakes were cut, sharpened and prepared for the top of the bank and how it took sixteen carpenters forty days to build the substantial gate structure and wooden defenses. This site is recorded as having a 341m perimeter and with the Ballyogan example measuring approx. 300m we can get some idea of the time taken to build the defenses. The entrance would have been protected by a large gate structure which was accessed either by an earthen ramp or drawbridge. With so much of the structure built of wood, these were not major defensive sites of safe havens from largescale attacks, rather they were probably built as detterents to opportunistic or localised raids.
Before the forestry was planted in the 1980’s there were extensive views from this site across the Barrow Valley to the Blackstairs ridgeline on the opposite side. This included the Anglo-Norman village of Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny and the early medieval monastic site of Saint Mullins, Co. Carlow.
Barry, T. B. 1977 The medieval moated sites of southeastern Ireland; Counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Wexford. British Archaeological Reports 35.
Barry, T.B. 1987 The archaeology of Medieval Ireland. London; Routledge
Colfer, W. 1996 “In search of the barricade and ditch at Ballyconner, Co. Wexford”. Archaeology Ireland 10 (2), 16-19.
Moore, Rev. P. 1849-51 “Observations on raths”. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 1, 22-26.
O’Conner, K. D. 2000 “The ethnicity of Irish moated sites”. Ruralia III Pamataky Archeologicke, Supplement 14. Prague