By JG O'Donoghue
Hill of Uisneach- early Medieval Royal Assembly Illustration
A few months ago I was commissioned by David & Angela Clarke, landowners at Uisneach to create an interpretative illustration of the important assembly site at the hill of Uisneach in Co. Westmeath.The archaeological direction was provided by Dr.Roseanne Schot & Uisneach tour guide Justin Moffatt. The illustration shows the Mórdáil Uisneach or great assembly at Uisneach during the early medieval period. In the foreground you can see the figure 8 double embanked early medieval Rathnew Ringfort. On the rise beyond you can make out the mound of Carn Lúdach, from the bronze age and in the dip between it and the next slope you can make out Lough Lugh, named after the famous god Lugh in Celtic/Irish Mythology, whom the city Lyons in modern day France receives its name from.
Carn Lúdach, the mound in the background, was found with geophysical survey to have a 200 metre-diameter ceremonial enclosure surrounding it, probably dating from the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (c. 1000–100BC). Traces of the enclosure ditch can still be seen at the time of the illustration. In the illustration you can also make out a temporary wooden platform from which nobles or the local king is speaking to the crowd beyond
As mentioned the ringfort is called Rathnew, it was a Figure of 8 ringfort, 90 m diameter, 2 banks with 1 ditch between, the Banks were revetted with the outer bank 0.8m high with the inner bank 1.7m high. Inside were 2 houses; the so-called Eastern House and the Western House, both of which were probably thatched. The south entrance to the ringfort was causewayed across the fosse, with stone revetment and metalled surface, flanked on either side by a row of stones, 0.3m in height. And in the larger ring of the figure 8, you can make out the remains of a circular enclosure from the Iron age, at the time shown it would have just been a slight line, as shown. There is also a souterrain which were used for storage of foods and the like during the early middle ages. A souterrain is a cave like artificial structure, which are often quite cool, so you can imagine, good fridges. There is also pens for some pigs and the prize bull of the lord inside the ringfort proper.
As mentioned Uisneach was the place of one of the most important assemblies in early Ireland and shown here is such an assembly. A fair or market would have been a major component of the assembly, with trading of various foods/goods sheltered by awnings or other temporary structures and a large drinking hall as well as tents belonged to some of the more important visitors like lords and their lesser retainers. During excavations they found the remains of at least five large dogs at Rathnew so some are shown here. The excavations also revealed evidence of bronze-working and iron-working at Rathnew, which probably took place in some kind of shelter or structure inside the ringfort as shown beside the smaller house. Finally also shown here are Cooking pits/fulacht fiaidh where they are roasting meat
As you can see Uisneach was a place of immense importance to the people of early Ireland with great ritual and social importance. The site still has alot of beauty with magnificent panoramic views, well worth a stop as one explores ancient westmeath