Feature Friday: Moated Site, Ballyogan, County Kilkenny


The Brandonhill Moated Site (KK033-037)


Ballygub New Moated Site (KK033-012)

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.

Ballyogan Moated Site

Ballyogan Moated Site (KK029-033) located in Coillte forestry on the eastern slopes of Brandon Hill


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.

Ballyogan OSI

Outline of Ballyogan site visible in forestry in Ordance Survey orthophotography 2005

Modern state of preservation


View of site from south-west corner

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.


View along eastern bank and ditch (on right)


Opposite view of eastern bank and ditch


View along western ditch

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

Moated Site artists

Artist’s impression of a moated site. Image: Colfer, W. 1996 “In search of the barricade and ditch at Ballyconner, Co. Wexford”. Archaeology Ireland 10 (2), 16.

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



Something for the Fireside on this Cold Sunday Evening

Research for the chapter I am currently working on has taken me into the National Folklore Collection housed in University College Dublin. The collection began in the 1930’s and is still very much alive and strong today and can be accessed by the public free of charge Tuesday-Friday between the hours of 14:30-17:30. All you need to do is register some basic details and know the Barony of the area you are interested in to begin with and you are away.

I am particularly interested in life and events in the Blackstairs during the 19th Century and the Collection so far hasn’t failed to disappoint. Most of the information I have come across was gathered in the late 1930’s/early 1940’s from people who were in the 60’s- 90’s at that stage and some of those stated that they got their information from their grandparents who themselves were of the same age when they passed their knowledge on. This provides us today with a direct link to at least the mid-late 19th Century. The details of the collection ranges from major events such as the Tithe War and The Great Famine right down to the mundane day to day life cycle such as how they cured the sick or gathered heather to make sweeping brushes for the home!

Being a folklore collection, some of the contents are purely fantasy, myth and legend. My favourite of these to date has been the story of the “Duke of Leinster” which describes how a poor native rose up to be the son-in-law of the King of England. It is important to remember that these stories and tales were the social media/ television/ radio of their day as local and travelling Seanchaí (story-tellers) visited the homes of the area to entertain the residents and their neighbours. So why not switch off the television, throw another stick on the fire and sit back and relax. You might think the Dukes of Leinster resided at Leinster House in Dublin but the locals in the Blackstairs (and apparently the King of England) thought otherwise! The following story was recorded by Cáit Ní Bolgúir of Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford aged 60 on the 02/09/1942 (Manuscript Collection 890 p. 505-510). The “castle” referred to is Mount Leinster Lodge in Raheenkyle.

The Duke of Leinster”


Mount Leinster Lodge, Raheenkyle, Co. Carlow. Photo: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlcar2/Mount_Leinster_Lodge.htm

“There is a beautiful castle on the slopes of Mount Leinster and the locals tell the following story of its origins.

Years ago there was an old man living in a thatched house near the spot where the castle is now situated. He was a nice grand old man and on that account he was nicknamed ‘The Duke of Leinster’. He had an only son and this boy went off to England in search of work. He called at the King’s Palace at Buckingham and got employment. He was very handsome and the King’s daughter fell in love with him. She asked him who he was and where he came from. He answered; ‘I am the son of the Duke of Leinster and I come here from Ireland in search of work’. She informed the King of what he told her and said he should send over two men to Ireland to see his castle. The princess then got information from the boy that his castle was on Mount Leinster. She told the two men this and also to have very good news for the King when they got back. The promised they would.

They came along to Mount Leinster but could see no castle, only the little thatched house. There was no other house in view. They entered and found the old man sitting near the fire boiling a pot of potatoes for his dinner. They asked; ‘Is there a gentleman here called “The Duke of Leinster”’? The old man answered; ‘I am the Duke of Leinster’. He asked them two sit down and rest. There were two pigs grunting at the door and six goats standing outside the window. When the potatoes were boiled the old man strained them outside the door. He then got a bag and placed it on his knees. He peeled the potatoes on the bag with the nails of his thumbs and fingers When finished he wiped his hands with some ferns which he had inside and threw them into the fire. The two men took notice of all this and after a time they thanked the old man for having a nice rest. They then returned to England.


Buckingham Palace engraved by J.Woods after Hablot Browne & R.Garland published 1837 around the time Mount Leinster lodge was built (1836). Image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b9/Buckingham_Palace_engraved_by_J.Woods_after_Hablot_Browne_%26_R.Garland_publ_1837_edited.jpg

When they reached Buckingham Palace, the King asked them what news they had and if they had met the Duke of Leinster. Their reply was; ‘We met the Duke of Leinster. His castle is situated on Mount Leinster and your palace is nothing in comparison to it. He invited us in. There were six stalworth men standing in the hall. The Duke was at dinner and there were two Highland pipers playing at the door while he was eating. The table he had could not be bought for money and the knives and forks he used could not be bought for money. When he washed his hands he wiped them with a towel and then threw it in the fire as he would not use it the second time’.

The King was very pleased with this information and said the Duke’s son should marry the Princess. They then came to Mount Leinster and she got this beautiful castle built and both lived happily together.

The castle is inhabited at present by the Newton Family”.

Feature Friday: Turf-Cutters Road, Blackrock Mountain

Turf cutters Blackrock

Blackrock Mountain

The Blackstairs Mountains had long been a source of fuel for those communities in their shadow. Much of this was stripped in the 19th and 20th Centuries by turf cutting and fires. An example of the importance of turf as a fuel source is seen in Patrick Kennedy’s book The Legends of Mount Leinster (1856) in which all the household fires referred to when setting the scene for stories or events are described as “turf-fires”. Similarly he notes various places where turf cutting was being carried out as he moves through the mountains. One such site was the summit of Blackrock Mountain, east of Mount Leinster where the remains of turf cutters huts act as an important landmark for hillwalkers today. A major grass covered roadway is also visible on the mountain today the origins of which are tied to major events on 1940’s Europe.

The outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 led the Irish Government to declare a state of emergency on the 02nd September 1939 and, despite numerous threats, the country remained neutral throughout. Despite her neutrality, the effects of global warfare still had a deep effect on daily life. The Battle of the Atlantic severely restricted trade to and from the island which led to a widespread shortage of imported commodities such as coal, petrol and tea. Although rationing was in effect, food was not too badly affected in comparison to other European countries due to the self-sufficiency policy pursued throughout the 1930’s by the Fíanna Fáil government under Éamon De Valera.

Despite the imported fuel shortage the bogs of Ireland made up for the shortfall. While some communities continued to supply their own homes and areas, others had their turf-cutting sites worked on an industrial scale. Up to 16,000 people were employed on county council turf cutting schemes across the country in 1941 alone.

Turf Phoenix Park

Turf Pile in the Phoenix Park, Dublin during the Emergency. Photo: http://listowelconnection.blogspot.ie/2012/09/con-houlihanturf-cutting-and-bord-na.html

A conference was held in early June 1941 (attended for a short time by De Valera) at which it was noted that despite the effort and progress in every county, Co.Wexford had contributed little to the nationwide turf cutting project although this was countered by the County Council with a “turf map” showing few areas of bog in the county and those which did exist had little economic value. Local and small scale cutting was going on in places such as Carne, Castlebridge and Kiltealy although these were not included on the map. Finally, the summit of Blackrock Mountain was suggested as an answer to the shortfall from County Wexford and a request was made for a grant to construct a road to facilitate turf extraction. The following day, 13th June 1941, £2,500 was provided for this roadway.


Looking south along the turf-cutters road into Ballycrystal

The roadway which ran for a distance of 3.5miles allowed for mechanised vehicles to reach the top (572m). Up to 160 men and women were involved in peat extraction and hut sites were constructed for shelter. Two firms had previously been engaged in work on the mountain and these remained; Messrs. Paul Murphy, Brownswood (who had set up camp on the mountain) and Mr. Harry Wilson, Wexford. A third firm, Messrs. Stafford & Sons, Wexford, later joined them. Peat extraction continued after the war by contractors hired by Wexford County Council and so the end of The Emergency in 1946 did not bring a complete end to the activity.


Blackrock Summit today


A slightly mistier view of the road

The road and turf-cutters huts are still visible and navigable on the mountain today as are the remains of their activity although this area is now designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) meaning turf cutting is restricted.


Turf-Cutters Lodge with fireplace, Blackrock Mountain


Turf-Cutters hut, Blackrock Mountain with the ridgeline of the Blackstairs (from r-l; Mount Leinster, Stoolyen/ Stóilín/ Stoney-top, Knockroe, Blackstairs Mountain)


Bartlett, T. 2010 Ireland; A History. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press

Conry, M. 2006 Carlow Granite; Years of History Written in Stone. Carlow; Chapelstown Press

Feehan, J. & O’ Donovan, G. 1996 The Bogs of Ireland. Dublin; University College Dublin.

Girvin, B. 2006 The Emergency; Neutral Ireland 1939-45. Dublin; Macmillan Press Ltd.

Minutes of Wexford County Council Meeting 30/06/1941

Feature Friday: Cairn (“The Height of Stones”) Ballyglisheen


Summit Cairn, Cloroge More, Co. Wexford

Cairns are by far the most common feature type in the Blackstairs Mountains after field wall systems. This feature type falls into many categories including summit cairns, Bronze Age burial cairns, ring cairns and field clearance cairns. Like many upland sites whose morphological features stretch across multiple periods, dates for these are often impossible to assess without excavation and even this may be fruitless. In some cases, even their function may be difficult to discern. For example a large cairn on a mountain summit may simply be a pile of stones while in other cases they are passage tombs (e.g. Seefin, Co. Wicklow WI006-003) or Bronze Age burials (e.g. Tibradden, Co, Dublin DU025-005). In some cases however local folklore can answer the question of a sites origins and function at least in the more recent past.

06. View of chamber from east

Tibradden Cairn. Heavily reworked in the 19th Century, excavation by the Royal Irish Academy in 1849 revealed a primary burial of cremated bone alongside a food vessel followed by a secondary urn burial (Evans 1966, 111)

A hillwalker climbing up Blackstairs Mountain via Knockymulgurry will follow the Old Gowlin road and eventually join either the Tower or the Wexford Road. These continue upslope and over the Cooliagh Gap (“The Meeting Point”), the site of annual Lughnasa gathering until the mid-20th Century known as “Mountain Sunday” on the last Sunday in July.  The roads were once an important communication artery between the Carlow and Wexford sides of the range as the long ridgeline created an imposing barrier to travel which otherwise needed to be circumnavigated. All are disused and overgrown today but have their own interesting stories to tell which will form the basis of future posts.


View along the Old Gowlin Road

In a relict field enclosure between the Tower and Old Gowlin Road you will see a large sub-circular central cairn of stones with two enclosing circles of stone. The central cairn is 10m in diameter and stands 1.5m high. The site is relatively flat despite its width while the radiating circles measure 25m and 31m respectively. Hawthorn trees have come to grow out of the cairn structure and it is heavily overgrown for most of the year with ferns suggesting that it may partly be an earthwork overlain with stone. It is however visible in google earth and bing imagery.

The cairn is known locally as “The Height of Stones”. It is said to originate as a memorial to a local man Mr. Cantillon who was killed at that spot by a kick from a stallion. A local tradition obliged any passer-by to add a stone to the cairn in memory of the deceased (Michael Byrne pers. comm.). Given the amount of traffic this roadway would have received both as an important routeway between County Carlow and County Wexford and during the annual gatherings it is easy to see how its size would have grown to what survives today. Similarly the fields to the north are known as “The Rye Stubbles” and it is said that they produced an excellent crop. It is possible that stones brought to the surface during ploughing were cleared onto the cairn.


Standing stone, Knockymulgurry. Known locally as Price’s Stone. It may have originally served as a route marker before the formal construction of the roads

It is also possible that this is an earlier site which was manipulated to suit a later purpose. There is large standing stone (CW025-005) to the north of the site at the old crossroads. Similarly there is Iron Age activity suggested by the Lughnasa gathering, a legend of the pre-Christian deity Cathair Mor at Caher Roe’s Den which overlooks the site as well as absolute proof in the discovery of a deer trap in a peat hag on Blackstairs Mountain in 2011.

Whatever its original date or purpose, spare a thought for Mr Cantillon next time you pass!


Byrne, Michael, Dranagh, Co. Carlow. Pers. Comm.

Conry, M. 2006 Carlow Granite: Years of History Written in Stone. Carlow; Chapelstown Press

Evans, E. E. 1966 Prehistoric and Early Christian Ireland: A guide. London; B T Batsford Ltd.