Defending Aileach

Article from the Inish Times, Tuesday, July 3, 2012
By Roisin McLaughlin
Short version available at Donegal Now

Photo by David Porter

 

Photo by David Porter, Buncrana Camera Club

Grianan Fort may not be a fort after all

Further evidence to indicate Grianan Fort may not be a fort after all – at least not in the sense previously thought – has come to light, the Inish Times can reveal.
Back in March we brought you the exclusive images which once-and-for-all proved the famous monument was aligned with the sun at the spring and autumn equinoxes, indicating the structure may have historically been used as a ritual site rather than for military purposes.
Now, following the recent Feile Grianan Ailigh festival, further information has emerged to support this theory.
During the festival, which took place at the end of May, Donegal-based “living history” company Eireann Edge – who specialise in ancient weaponry and battle re-enactments – performed some informal “experiments” which appear to support the growing theory An Grianan would not have been used primarily as a defensive fort.

Medieval weapons maker Charlie Gallagher from Eireann Edge explained how the group decided to test the monuments defences and discovered the doorway to the fort: “First of all we took some guys up from the show with spears and shields to see if you could get in through the door.”
“What we discovered was that the doorway is too narrow for someone carrying a spear, shield or sword – even just a shield. What would’ve happened is people would end up pilling on top of each other, and it would’ve been very easy to keep people in.”
The group also tested out how easy – or difficult – it would’ve been for archers to defend the fort. Charlie explained: “The idea with the arrow was like in any place, you can’t defend from blind spots.”
“What we found was that the only clear shot you could get was at 25 metres away from the wall. Any nearer and the only thing you could do is throw rocks or hot water, which could be easily blocked by a shield, even with the most basic equipment.”
Charlie also explained that although there are signs of earthen walls having been built around Grianan like at other ringforts of its age, the height and angle of these walls were neither at the right height or at the right angle for defensive purposes. He said: “The only other structures that I know to be like this – which have earthen ramparts and a solar alignment – are Newgrange-type structures which would’ve been ritual sites and built by powerful societies.
Charlie went on to point out that archaeologists had yet to find any evidence of battles having taken place at the fort. “Donegal was never peaceful back then and places never lasted more then a few decades without being attacked,” he explained. “Discovering the remains of a battle on the hill shouldn’t be difficult, even after thousands of years bits of spears, swords and even human remains would still be relatively close to the surface.”
Charlie concluded:” I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and I went into this with an open mind -we didn’t set out to discover this. But it’s a purely academic argument, and I now cannot see them having built Grianan as it is, knowing their attitude at the time.”
Charlie and Eireann Edge along with chariot demonstrator David O’Reilly, will be taking part in the “Defending Aileach” event on the Shore Green in Buncrana at the end of the month, as part of the town’s annual music and arts festival.

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