Monday, 3 March 2014

Society trip to Trim and Loughcrew: the story and the photographs!

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On Saturday 1st March, the Society organised a day trip to Trim castle and Loughcrew megalithic complex. Here are the words from our Senior Treasurer, Dr. Steve Davis. Photographs courtesy of ACM Katherine Mc Cormack.

"On Saturday 1st March UCD Archaeology Society ran its first trip of Semester 2 to Meath, taking in Trim Castle, the Hill of Lloyd and Loughcrew passage tomb cemetery. The trip was organised by our Trip and Tours officer, Emmet O Fionnalaigh and was a sell-out, with over 40 people signed up to attend.
Leaving UCD at 9:30 our first stop was Trim Castle – the largest stone-built Anglo-Norman Castle in Ireland, located on the banks of the Boyne in Trim. The castle was commissioned by Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath at the time of the Anglo-Norman ‘invasion’ of 1172 and took approximately 30 years to complete. It is also perhaps better known internationally as the place where the movie ‘Braveheart’ was filmed. Owing to some crossed lines of communication our time actually spent inside the curtain wall was brief and we didn’t unfortunately get to go into the keep. Instead we were treated to an excellent and informative demonstration and tour of the exterior of the castle by Paddy from Trim Living History Group, and had our photograph taken with Deputy Ray Butler, the Trim TD (watch the Meath Chronicle!). In particular, Paddy had a wealth of entertaining stories about the filming of Braveheart, and his tour was very much enjoyed.
From Trim we headed to the Hill of Lloyd (known in Irish as Mullach Aiti), which lies just west of Kells. Unfortunately our bus driver took rather an innovative approach to directions and headed 30km west before doubling back eastwards to the M3, following a number of tractors along the way. The Hill of Lloyd is a hillfort, probably dating to the Bronze Age, but with some of its fortification enclosures apparently modified to include additional rounds of banks and ditches. This closely-spaced multiple vallation is considered to be an Iron Age phenomenon in Ireland. Not only that, but despite being 40km from the sea it is topped by a lighthouse – the Spire of Lloyd. This was designed by Henry Aaron Baker and built by the 1st Earl of Bective in memory of his father in 1791, serving also to provide employment for local labourers in a time of hardship. The Hill was also used as a burial ground at the time of the famine and local folklore suggests that destitute people used to live on the Hill at this time.
The Spire is opened on occasional weekends by a local heritage group, and we were fortunate that the trip coincided with one of those days. In a flat county, even small elevations provide magnificent views, and from the top of the 30m Spire (up a 165-stair spiral staircase!) these views were breathtaking, with Loughcrew – our next and final stop – being a dominant landscape feature.
Our final stop was at one of the most special and perhaps unspoilt archaeological sites in Ireland – Loughcrew passage tomb cemetery. Loughcrew (Irish name: Sliabh na Callighe – the Mountain of the Witch), like the great Boyne Valley tombs (Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth) dates from somewhere in the mid-Neolithic and represents an outstanding example of a cultural phenomenon which seems to have spanned the Atlantic coast of Europe from Orkney to the south of Portugal.
We were fortunate to have Prof. Muiris O’Sullivan with us for the day who is an internationally recognised expert on passage tombs and in particular the megalithic art for which Loughcrew, like Brú na Bóinne is famed. Following an overlong and unnecessary (but, nevertheless impressive!) reversing manoeuvre we headed off up the hillside towards Cairn T. The series of hills that comprise Loughcrew are littered with tombs; however, only one hilltop is easily accessible (a deposit has to be left to acquire the key for Cairn T, in the order of €50, at the Loughcrew Gardens coffee shop). On the way to the top we passed over the remains of extensive ridge and furrow cultivation, probably famine-era ‘lazy bedding’, and a number of older, possibly prehistoric field boundaries. Loughcrew is an exposed spot – the highest point in Meath, although given that Meath is a pretty flat county that is no great claim to fame – but the views from the summit are again magnificent. On the hilltop we split into small groups who took it in turns to go into the main tomb (Cairn T) with Muiris. Cairn T is particularly noted for the in highly-decorated roofstone and backstone in its end recess (in a cruciform chamber, the one in front of you!) which is illuminated on both the spring and autumn equinoxes. Much fun was had by all (but especially Katherine!) exploring the tombs and looking for decorated stones.
All in all it was, despite a few early hiccups, a fantastically successful trip and one which those who participated in will have lasting memories of. A big thumbs up to all concerned.

A little suggested reading
Cooney, G. 1997. The Passage Tomb Phenomenon in Ireland. Archaeology Ireland 11.3 (Supplement: Brú na Bóinne), 7-8.
Cooney, G. 2000. Sliabh na Callighe through time: Loughcrew, Co. Meath. Archaeology Ireland Heritage Guide, No. 12.
Sheridan, A. 1995. Megaliths and Megalomania: An Account, and Interpretation, of the Development of Passage Tombs in Ireland. Journal of Irish Archaeology 3, 17-30.
Haydn, A. 2011. Excavations at Trim Castle 1995-98. Wordwell, Dublin.
Raftery, B. 1972. Irish Hill-forts. In C. Thomas (ed.) The Iron Age in the Irish Sea Province. Council for British Archaeology Research Report No 9: 37–58.
Shee Twohig, E., Roughley, C., Shell, C., O’Reilly, C., Clarke, P. and Swanton, G. 2010. Open-air rock art at Loughcrew, Co. Meath. Journal of Irish Archaeology 19, 1-28.

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