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THE RATHS OF IRELAND
Many descriptions of royal abodes in Irish poems are evidently purely fanciful, but underneath the poetical adornments we can discern the features of the great wooden hall which appears to have been the residence of the tribal chieftain, whether Keltic, Norse, or Saxon, throughout the whole north of Europe in early times." The thousands of earthen rings, generally called raths, which are still scattered over Ireland, are believed to be the enclosures of these kings' or chieftains' homesteads. Were they intended for serious military defence ? We are not in a position to answer this question categorically, but the plans of a number of them which we have examined do not suggest anything but a very slight fortification, sufficient to keep off wolves. At all events we never hear of these raths or duns standing a siege ; the conquering raider comes, sees, and burns. We are therefore justified in concluding that they did not at all correspond to what we mean by a private castle. And most certainly the motte-castle, with its very small
-, citadel, and its limited accommodation for the flocks and herds of a tribe, was utterly unsuited to the requirements of the tribal system.
A good deal of light is thrown on the way in which Irish chieftains regarded private castles at the time of the invasion by the well-known story of one who refused a castle offered him by the invaders, saying that he preferred a castle of bones to a castle of stones. Whether legendary or not, it represents the natural feeling of a man who had been accustomed to sleep trustfully in the midst of men of his own blood, tied to him by the bonds of the clan. The clan system in
1 I am informed that the “Crith Gablach,” which gives a minute description of one of these halls, is a very late document, and by no means to be trusted.
2 Vide the Irish Annals, passim.
Ireland undoubtedly led to great misery through the absence of a central authority to check the raids of one clan upon another ; but though we occasionally hear of a chieftain being murdered “by his own,” we have no reason to think that clan loyalty was not sufficient, as a rule, for the internal safety of the community. So that a popular chieftain might well refuse a fortification which had every mark of a hateful and suspicious invader.
Unfortunately there is—or has been until quite recently—a strong prejudice in the minds of Irish antiquaries that works of the motte-and-bailey kind belong to the prehistoric age of Ireland. Irish scholars indeed admit that the word mota is not found in any Irish MS. which dates from before the Norman invasion of Ireland. We must therefore bear in mind that when they tell us that such and such an ancient book mentions the “mote” at Naas or elsewhere, what they mean is that it mentions a dun, or rath, or longport, which they imagine to be the same as a motte. But this is begging the whole question. There is not the slightest proof that any of these words meant a motte. Dun is often taken to mean a hill (perhaps from its resemblance to Anglo-Saxon dun), but Keltic scholars are now agreed that it is cognate with the German zaun and AngloSaxon tun, meaning a fenced enclosure. It may be applied to a fort on a hill, but it may equally well be
1 There is another story, preserved in Hanmer's Chronicle, that the Irish chief Mac Mahon levelled two castles given to him by John de Courcy, saying he had promised to hold not stones but land.
2 Joyce's Irish Names of Places, p. 290.
3 See J. E. Lloyd, Cymmrodor, xi., 24; Skeat's English Dictionary, “ town." In the “Dindsenchas of Erin," edited by O’Beirne Crowe, Journ. R. S. A. I., 1872-1873, phrases occur, such as "the dun was open," "she went back into the dun," which show clearly that the dun was an enclosure. In several passages dun and cathair are interchanged.
applied to a fort on the flat. Rath is translated fossa in the Book of Armagh; Jocelin of Furness equates it with murus. 1 The rath of Armagh was evidently a very large enclosure in 1166, containing several streets, houses, and churches, so it was certainly not a motte.? It is of course not impossible that the Normans may sometimes have occupied an ancient fortified site, but we may be sure from the considerations already urged that the fortifications which they erected were of a wholly different character to the previous ones, even if they utilised a portion for their bailey.
It is of course difficult to decide in some cases (both in Ireland and elsewhere) whether a mound which stands alone without a bailey is a sepulchral tumulus or a motte. There are
mottes in England and Scotland which have no baileys attached to them, and do not appear ever to have had any. In Ireland, the country of magnificent sepulchral tumuli, it is not wonderful that the barrow and the motte have become confused in popular language. It would appear, too, that there exist in Ireland several instances of artificial tumuli which were used for the inauguration of Irish chieftains, and these have occasionally been mistaken for mottes. As Mr Orpen has shown, there are generally
8 indications in the unsuitability of the sites, in the absence of real fortification, or in the presence of sepulchral signs, to show that these tumuli did not belong to the motte class. Magh Adair, for example, which has been adduced as a motte outside the Norman boundary, is shown by Mr Orpen to be of quite a different character.
1 Joyce, Irish Names of Places, p. 273. 2 Annals of the Four Masters, 1166.
3 See Orpen, “Motes and Norman Castles in Ireland," in Journ. R.S. A. I., xxxvii., 143-147.
At many sites in Ireland where the Normans are known to have built castles at an early period of the invasion there are no mottes to be seen now. It is probable that where the Norman conquerors had both money and time at their disposal they built stone keeps from the first, and that the motte-castles, with their wooden towers or bretasches, were built in the times of stress, or were the residences of the less wealthy undertenants. But we know from documents that even in John's reign the important royal castle of Roscrea was built with a motte and bretasche,” which proves that this type of castle was still so much esteemed that we may feel reasonably certain that when Giraldus speaks of “slender defences of turf and stakes” he does not mean motte - castles, but mere embankments and palisades.
But there is another reason for the absence of mottes from some of the early Norman castle sites. Those who have examined the castles of Wales know that it is rare to find a motte in a castle which has undergone the complete metamorphoses of the Edwardian period. These new castles had no keeps, and necessitated an entire change of plan, which led either to the destruction of the motte or the building of an entirely new castle on a different site. The removal of a motte is only a question of spade labour, and many
i Sweetman's Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, i., 412.
2 That a motte-castle of earth and wood seemed to Giraldus quite an adequate castle is proved by the fact that numbers of the castles which he mentions have never had any stone defences. It may be a mere coincidence, but it is worth noting, that there are no mottes now at any of the places which Giraldus mentions as exilia municipia, Pembroke, Dundunnolf, Down City, and Carrick.
3 This word must not be understood to mean that this new type of castle was Edward's invention, nor even that he was the first to introduce it into Europe from Palestine ; it was used by the Hohenstauffen emperors as early as 1224. See Köhler, Entwickelung des Kriegswesen, iii., 475.
sites in England can be pointed out where mottes are known to have existed formerly, but where now not a vestige is left. There are many other cases where the Edwardian castle shows not a trace of any former earthworks, but where a motte and bailey a little distance off probably represents the original wooden castle.
The passion for identifying existing earthworks with sites mentioned in ancient Irish history or legend has been a most serious hindrance to the progress of real archæological knowledge in Ireland. It is not until one begins to look into this matter that one finds out what giddy guesswork most of these identifications of Irish place-names really are. O'Donovan was undoubtedly a great Irish scholar, and his editions of the Book of Rights and the Annals of the Four Masters are of the highest importance. The topographical notes to these works are generally accepted as final. But let us see what his method was in this part of his labours. In the Book of Rights, he says very naïvely, about a place called Ladhrann or Ardladhrann, “I cannot find any place in Wexford according with the notices of this place except Ardamine, on the sea-coast, where there is a remarkable moat.” No modern philologist, we think, would admit that Ardamine could be descended from Ardladhrann. In the same way O'Donovan guessed Treada-na-righ, “the triple-fossed fort of the kings,” to be the motte of Kilfinnane, near Kilmallock. But this was a pure guess, as he had previously guessed it to be “one of the forts called Dun-g-Claire.” To the antiquaries of that day one earthwork seemed as good as
Newcastle, Worcester, Gloucester, and Bristol are instances. 2 Rhuddlan is an instance of this.
3 Book of Rights, p. 203.