Scholars uncover one ringfort to rule them all

THE former ‘capital of Cork’ appeared to have been short-lived, according to archaeologists who believe it was destroyed by an invading army.

The size of the ringfort near Innishannon suggests it was constructed under the orders of a powerful chieftain; somebody who probably controlled most of the Cork region.

An enemy strong enough to have destroyed it and the chieftain’s army most certainly came from another county, if not another province.

UCC Professor of Archaeology, William O’Brien, believes that the people who built the massive ringfort were expecting an attack and they hurried to construct it.

The site was chosen carefully, though. The 3,200-year-old ringfort at Knockavilla, just a few miles north of Innishannon, had commanding views of the countryside.

“You could see all the way to the Galtees and across to the mountains near Killarney. It was picked very carefully,” Professor O’Brien said.

There were no professional standing armies in late Bronze Age Ireland. “Essentially it would have been built and defended by people who were farmers for most of the year, but who owed loyalty to their chieftain,” the professor said.

Professor O’Brien’s team think the ringfort was built in a very short time, possibly even within a couple of months. It would have been back-breaking work and its construction would have involved certainly several hundred, if not thousands of people.

A ditch was built outside the first circular wattle fence defence. The second defence was a circular mound topped with massive oak palisades.

“The ditch would have been dug primarily into rock. There were no iron tools at the time. They probably would have had to lever the rock out. That would take a lot of serious effort,” Professor O’Brien said.

More than 2,200 years before the Vikings started building settlements in Cork City, a chieftain was able to galvanise a whole region into a major cooperative effort.

“There were nearly two kilometres of defensive enclosures. That means it was almost certainly a big collaborative effort. The scale of the building was way beyond the ability of just a few people. It must have been built under a centralised political demand, which may have controlled most, if not all, of Cork,” the professor said.

The late Bronze Age represented a time of turmoil and warfare, not just in Ireland but around the world.

At the time, the mighty Hittite Empire was dying. The Assyrians, who were more technologically advanced in warfare, were becoming the dominant force in the Middle-East.

Bronze Age weaponry was also taking an effect in Ireland and wars within the country became endemic. It was one of these wars which probably finished off Cork’s prehistoric capital.

The rival factions probably clashed away from the fortification.

The victors then set fire to it and then looted what they could.

“The attack led to the destruction of that political power (in Knockavilla). It was a disaster for the people who built that fort. They never inhabited it again,” Professor O’Brien said.

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