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~ 4.7 km W by S, at the NW edge of Downpatrick, approached via the cathedral and Down County Museum, is The Mound of Down, a fine Iron Age defensive earthwork in the middle of which a Norman motte-and-bailey was built. It has recently been damaged by 'conservation' work. The cathedral stands in the middle of another defensive site or D�n, which gave its name to the citadel before the spurious 'Patrick' was added by a Norman war-lord in the 13th century. Signs similarly motivated proclaim Downpatrick as "Ancient City of Down" when they really mean "Ancient Citadel of Down".




Ireland in Prehistory

The study of the human past in Ireland, through analysis of the material remains of different cultures, has established that when New Stone Age (neolithic) farmers arrived about 3000 BC they encountered very few inhabitants, though evidence exists for earlier settlements near beaches in Antrim, Down, and Louth, and along the River Bann extending back as far as 6000 BC. The presence of neolithic settlers from about 3000 BC is deduced from artefacts such as pottery and flint arrow- and axe-heads, as well as by the form of megalithic long-barrow and passage tombs—tombs constructed of large stones covered over by elongated earth barrows or circular mounds. The long-barrows are of two types: the court tomb and the portal tomb (the latter also frequently known as the portal dolmen). The court tomb is so called because the passage leading into the burial chamber at the recessed end of the barrow opens out to an open space or court immediately in front of the burial chamber itself. There are more than 300 court tombs sited mostly in the northern half of the country with concentrations in Mayo, Sligo, north Donegal, and around Carlingford Lough. Portal tombs are so called from the two large upright stones forming the entrance to the burial chamber; a capstone is set over these and slopes backwards to rest on backstones. Originally covered by a barrow, in their denuded state they are striking features of the Irish landscape. Ireland has some 150 examples of portal tombs, mostly in the court tomb area.

The passage tombs are a separate category to the long-barrow types, and include some of the most remarkable megalithic constructions in Europe, among them New Grange, Knowth, Dowth in Co. Meath, and Carrowkeel in Co. Sligo. The passage tombs are most often set on a hilltop inside a large circular mound surrounded by kerbstones. The burial chamber is entered by a passage, often of considerable length. Many of the stones are engraved with ornamentations such as spirals, interconnecting loops, lozenges, and circles with lines emanating from them. The tombs are mainly concentrated along an axis from the mouth of the Boyne to Sligo, with other examples on the Antrim coastline and in Leinster. They date from roughly the same period as the long-barrow tombs but would appear to represent a more advanced culture.

In the Bronze Age remains were interred with food vessels or beakers, hence the term ‘Beaker Folk’. During the Bronze Age Ireland had a significant metal industry, and exported artefacts in bronze, copper, and gold to Britain and the Continent. Bronze rapiers and gold torcs survive from c.1000 BC, while from c.700 BC there are trumpets and cauldrons in bronze, as well as many types of gold ornament. From this period the type of lake-dwelling known as the crannóg, wooden platforms built near the lake's edge, make their appearance. With the Celts, who probably began to arrive c.300 BC, came the Iron Age culture known as La Tène, after a site in Switzerland, which had a characteristic style of ornamentation seen on such monuments as the Turoe Stone, and in metalwork. The Celts also introduced the ring fort, which remained the basis of the social structure of pre-Christian Ireland.

Amongst the hill forts are Emain Macha, Ráth na Ríogh at Tara, Grianán Ailigh in Donegal, and Dún Aonghusa on Aranmore. There are other field monuments. The standing stone (gallán) was used to mark burial sites and boundaries, and the many examples date from the early Iron Age down to the early Christian period. Some carry ogam inscriptions. There are also stone circles which belong to the early Bronze Age. These are mostly concentrated in south-west Munster and mid-Ulster.


Michael Herity and George Eogan, Ireland in Prehistory (1977).







Quoile A bend of the River Quoile can be seen in the left background and, in the right foreground, is the Mound of Down or Rathkeltair. There is much debate concerning this site. One of the major earthworks of Ulster, some believe that it was the residence of Celtchar mac Ulthechair, the legendary Iron Age hero of the Ulster Cycle. In any case, it seems to have become the administrative centre of the Kings of Dál Fiatach by the early Christian period.

In 1177 John de Courcy, an Anglo-Norman knight from Somerset who had come over with Henry II in 1171, marched north from Dublin with 22 horsemen and about 300 soldiers. The force was joined by Irish allies at the plain of Muirhevna.

De Courcy then pushed north into Ulster. He then attacked the capital of the kingdom of Dál Fiatach and surprised the defence so much that the local ruler, Rory MacDunleavy, had to flee. MacDunleavy as high-king of the Ulaidh returned a weeklater with a large force. The fierce and bloody battle was fought along the River Quoile but de Courcy held on to his position. De Courcy used his position in Downpatrick to colonise much of eastern Down and Antrim. He was eventually ousted himself by another Anglo-Norman, Hugh de Lacy, in 1199.