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An Dún Mór (Doonmore)

I stumbled on An Dún Mór (Great Fort) at Fairhead, Northern Ireland quite by chance today, whilst out walking. From a distance, the hillfort of An Dún Mór is quite imposing and must have been quite a well-defended fortress. Using the natural landscape to its advantage, it’s spectacularly situated on a basalt volcanic outcrop, with extensive views across the Ballycastle bay area.

Dún Mór was a fortified fortress/residence most likely occupied around 800 AD through to about 1300 AD. The ancient site has been excavated on two occasions. Once in 1938 by V. Gordon Childe and once by a team from Center for Archaeological Fieldwork at Queen’s University, Belfast. On this occasion, the university worked in conjunction with the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, Northern Ireland.

V. Gordon Childe

Photograph of An Dún Mór by Roland Keates

Childe Excavations

Childe excavations revealed that Dún Mór was divided into two main areas. A flat summit upon which the occupants of the site lived and a levelled terrace beneath the summit, where supplies could have been stored. Unfortunately, these flat surfaces are not visible today.

Gordon Childe team had also discovered foundation footings on the terrace. Finding these footings Childe, knew the terrace would have been enclosed by a large stone wall. This would have given extra security for the fortress and allowed wooden posts been secured in place to hold up a roof of some kind. Childe team found a stone gatepost at the terrace entrance, evidence of small scale iron workings for the manufacture of Shale bracelets.

Several paved areas and stone hearths were uncovered demonstrating that this would be the residential part of the site. Fragments of glazed and coarse broken pottery were found as well as fragments of a querm stone for grinding cereals.

fort, Hillfort

Sketch of An Dún Mór

Belfast team Excavations

The team from Belfast found even more than Childe. They found fragments of a secon rotary quern stone and also undisturbed habitation layers. These layers were sampled to uncover evidence of the diet of the occupants and to provide material for radiocarbon dating. The dig also uncovered new evidence that the fort was much older than the Anglo-Norman period and was a Gaelic Dún associated with the Dál Riata dynasty, who had tribal territory on both sides of the sea, in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It was believed that the fort at Dún Mór was most likely a Motte and Bailey Castle, built by the Anglo-Normans, who conquered much of the north Antrim for a brief period in the decades either side of 1250. However, the artefacts found by both excavations demonstrate that while it may have been occupied during the Anglo-Normann era, it had older origins.

V. Gordon Childe, Northern Ireland, dún mór, fort, Hillfort, fortress

Photograph of An Dún Mór by Roland Keates

More History

For much of the early medieval period (Circa 400 to 1169 AD), the northeastern corner of Co. Antrim was part of the Gaelic Kingdom of Dál Riata (Dalriada.) This small kingdom extended its influence into Argyll in western Scotland, possibly around 400 AD. Carving out a kingdom on both sides of the sea of Moyle, which would, in time, form the core of later Scottish monarchy.

It has been noticed by archaeologists that Dún Mór is, in its form and setting, is closer to that of a Scottish Early Medieval fort than the more typical Irish rath or Cashel fortess. It is likely that the fort at Dún Mór was, when first constructed, the residence of a powerful member of the Dál Riata, from where that person was able to dominate the entire Ballycastle area. It is uncertain if the site lay unoccupied for a time after its initial phase of occupation, but it was reoccupied during the 1200s possibly by Anglo-Normans.

V. Gordon Childe, Northern Ireland, dún mór, fort, Hillfort, fortress

Photograph of An Dún Mór by Roland Keates

Finding Dún Mór

Originally I was looking for a filming location used in the Game of Thrones and happen on this site, whilst overhearing a conversation with two guys. This is when I started to read more about this ancient fort. It’s quite an easy fort to find and parking in the farmers’ field is brilliant, but he chargers you £3.00 per car.

To get to the carpark you need to follow the Fairhead road, from Ballycastle BT54 6RD. Once you head to where the honesty box is, look straight ahead and you will see the fortress.

Northern Ireland, dún mór, fort, Hillfort, fortress

Map reference to get to An Dún Mór,

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