Medieval Fortress discovered in Ireland

A team of Irish and American scholars have found a major fortified settlement in northwest Ireland. The site, which dates to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, was a base for MacDermot lords who ruled over the county of Roscommon during the medieval period.

Finan and the team conducted an extensive topographical and geophysical survey of two related sites, the Rock of Lough Key and a moated site on the shore of Lough Key, where they discovered the lost medieval Irish fortress. Photo courtesy St Louis University

Saint Louis University history professor Thomas Finan was one of the leaders of an extensive topographical and geophysical survey of two related sites, the Rock of Lough Key and a moated site on the shore of Lough Key. “We first conducted a survey of the interior of the Rock of Lough Key, a site mentioned in historical records as an island castle of the MacDermot lords,” Finan said. “The results from that survey are a little difficult to interpret because of a great deal of nineteenth century construction on the island.”


The survey at the moated site fortress, however, revealed much more than Finan had hoped: “We have a few references to a market town existing on the shores of Lough Key in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which is curious because it is one of the only references to such a site in a Gaelic context before the arrival of the English. What the settlement was and where it was located has been a bit of a mystery until now.”

Topographical and geophysical surveying revealed not only a core moated site (a Gaelic fortification constructed by the highest status nobility in medieval Ireland), but a number of roads, enclosures and possible buildings. “There is no doubt in my mind that we are looking at a major, unstudied settlement,” he added.


This region of Ireland was just outside of English control during the 12th and 13th centuries, so this offers the opportunity for researchers to examine the a frontier medieval Gaelic settlement.

Finan, who had directed the very successful excavations at Kilteasheen from 2004-09, says that the potential for the site to yield significant amounts of research far exceeded his expectations.

“The site has great potential. We know that this was a center of administrative and political lordship in Gaelic Ireland, but perhaps more importantly it was a center of economic activity,” Finan added. “But, further, we have a great deal of interconnected historical documentation that was compiled at monastic sites on the islands of Lough Key, so the potential for amassing a longer term record of political, economic and even climatic data related to medieval Gaelic Ireland is huge.”

The  National University of Ireland-Galway also took part in the survey.  Finan hopes they will be publishing the results of the survey in the coming months, and he is developing a variety digital means of presenting the data from the site to a wider audience.


Source: Saint Louis University