2004:0139 - SITE AR126, CAHIRCALLA BEG, Clare

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Clare Site name: SITE AR126, CAHIRCALLA BEG

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 04E0024

Author: Graham Hull, TVAS Ireland Ltd, Ahish, Ballinruan, Crusheen, Co. Clare.

Site type: Fulacht fiadh

ITM: E 532768m, N 675505m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.826306, -8.997605

A previously unrecognised fulacht fiadh was examined as part of the N18 Ennis bypass, east of the N68 Kilrush road at the margin of an open boggy field. It was found near the base of a steep incline that dropped down from an area of outcropping karstic limestone to wet ground at the west. The hillside was densely wooded, mostly with hazel scrub, and little or no topsoil was present over outcropping limestone. A small stream ran parallel to the road and west of the monument.

In plan, the burnt-stone mound was crescent- or croissant-shaped, with the horns closing to the wetter west side. It measured 13.5m by 17.5m, had amaximum height of 1.6m and it is estimated that the mound was composed of 400 tonnes of burnt stone. A rectangular trough, edged with six large limestone slabs, was found between the two horns of the mound and this measured 1.8m by 0.9m and was 0.45m deep. The volume of the trough was approximately 0.75m2.

Seven distinguishable deposits of burnt stone were recorded in the body of the fulacht fiadh. These were clearly structured dumps of burnt stone, sequentially becoming part of a growing mound, associated with the water-filled trough. A row of retaining slabs had been inserted into the mound during its use to prevent the stone debris tumbling back into the trough.

Fulachta fiadh tend to date to the Bronze Age, although Iron Age examples are known. Research in the Mooghaun area of County Clare indicates that these monuments may have served as gathering places for local community feasting. This said, fulachta fiadh probably did not have a single function and the debate about cooking place or sauna or textile manufacturing will probably not be solved by this example. However, as development-led excavation increases the number of fulachta fiadh dug in a scientific manner, more of these monuments can be seen to be not just mundane domestic sites.

Discussions of how long each monument was in use have tended to rely on statistical analysis of the volume of the mound and trough. The Cahircalla Beg fulacht is special in that, although it did not produce significant artefacts (a few fragments of animal bone), it had a relatively unusual identifiable stratigraphic sequence of deposits that will lend itself to providing an absolute chronology for the site using radiocarbon dating.