Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lough Gur, County Limerick

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Lough Gur in County Limerick is one of the most important and remarkable archaeological landscapes in Ireland. This small, horseshoe shaped lake has been surrounded by human settlements and activity going back over 5,000 years ago to the first farmers in the Neolithic period, though it is likely that this area was occupied even earlier, during the Mesolithic, though as yet no archaeological evidence has been found dating to this period.

The site is possibly most famous for its Neolithic settlement. Several houses, forming a small village, have been excavated on the south-facing slopes of the Knockadoon peninsula, which extends out into the lake. Both rectangular and circular houses were discovered. They were constructed by driving double rows of posts in 1m apart, these posts supported a hipped roof and screens made from woven hazel rods known as wattle. The screens were covered in daub, a mix of dung, clay and straw which when dried, would have been an effective breathable, but water and draft-proof, wall. The houses may have been insulated with a layer of earth sods, reeds or straw. An example of one of the rectangular buildings and a circular building have been reconstructed and now serve as Lough Gur’s Interpretation Centre.  

The Centre itself is very well laid out, with great information on the archaeology, history and folklore of Lough Gur. It has a number of superb reproductions of the incredible artefacts discovered at Lough Gur, and has informative interactive panels and exhibits making it fun for all ages. The visitor centre is an essential introduction to the complexity of archaeology in the region.

The foundations of an early medieval structure and field systems at the 'Spectacles'
From the Visitor Centre, your first stop will be a lovely walk that takes you past ‘The Spectacles’ where you can see the foundations of a number of buildings and field systems dating to the early medieval period. As you follow the path beyond the Spectacles, you climb ever higher and get spectacular views over Lough Gur. From here you can see the castles built by the Earls of Desmond in the later medieval period, and the earlier crannogs, small artificial islands, on the lake.
The foundations of one of the circular stone built ringforts (or cashels) at Carraig Aille

When you have finished your visit to Knockadoon, a short drive up the road will bring you to the cashels of Carraig Áille. These well-preserved early medieval stone ringforts have quite spectacular views, and are well worth the short climb up a hill. I will be featuring these forts in their own forthcoming blogpost.

The Lough Gur Wedge Tomb
 Another short drive from Carraig Áille and you can find a wonderful example of an Early Bronze Age wedge tomb, similar (though smaller) to that of Labbacallee in County Cork. Again, I will feature this tomb in it’s own blogpost as it is a fantastic site in its own right.

The lovely and peaceful Teampall Nua

Our next stop again just minutes along the road was the church ‘Teampall Nua’. This church is thought to date to the seventeenth century (though some architectural features look more medieval to me). It replaced an older chapel used by the Earls of Desmond.


Our final stop was Grange Stone Circle located just on the west of the lake and very easily accessible from the Limerick–Killmallock Road (R512). This stone circle is just incredible, it  is massive measuring nearly 50m in diameter. It is a near perfect ring of 113 contiguous stones (all the stones are touching). The entrance is marked with the tallest stones that are mirrored on the opposite side of the circle, apparently forming an alignment with the midsummer moon. The site is spectacular and will certainly feature in a separate blog post.
As an archaeologist I found the visit to Lough Gur to be almost like a pilgrimage. It is such a beautiful part of the country, and our visit barely scratched the surface of the sheer wealth of archaeological and historical sites clustered around the lake. A visit to Lough Gur is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in archaeology and history! You can find more information on Lough Gur from their website at

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