Native Enclosed Settlement and the Problem of the Irish ‘Ring-fort’

Native Enclosed Settlement and the Problem of the Irish ‘Ring-fort’

By Elizabeth Fitzpatrick

Medieval Archaeology, Vol.53 (2009)

Abstract: One of the most sustained monolithic traditions of Irish archaeology is the classification of a wide variety of earthen and stone enclosures (ráth and caisel) as ‘ring-forts’. This is an impediment to understanding the significant changes that native enclosed settlement underwent through time since it encourages archaeologists to fit their evidence to the category rather than to assess each enclosed settlement on its own merits. It also conceals differences between various forms of enclosed settlements inhabited from the 7th to the 17th century AD, occasionally later. The proposal is therefore that the ‘ring-fort’ is a chimera and that the use of that term should be discontinued so that study of native enclosed settlement can be liberated from its insular base and used to explore social change in Ireland. A field study from the Burren, Co Clare is used in support of this argument.

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