Neolithic Houses in Ireland: A Broader Perspective. (Special Section)

By Grogan, Eoin | Antiquity, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Neolithic Houses in Ireland: A Broader Perspective. (Special Section)


Grogan, Eoin, Antiquity


Key-words: houses, Neolithic, settlement, domestic

Introduction

Over 90 structures have been identified as probable houses dating to the Neolithic period in Ireland (Grogan 1996; Cooney 1999; FIGURE 1; TABLES 1-3). While there is a considerable variation in size and form two principal types are discernible, the large rectangular buildings of the Early Neolithic and circular or oval structures that have a much wider chronological span. In the past some of these have been readily accepted as houses while other, generally more ephemeral, structures have occasionally been classified as having more temporary or specialist functions.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

A detailed assessment of the houses has been published recently (Grogan 1996) and the basic evidence has not altered in a major way since then. The aim of this paper is to discuss the general structural features of these buildings, to attempt an assessment of their date and function and to offer a glimpse of the broader settlement landscape in which they were constructed. Despite the large array of evidence we still need to be cautious in our interpretation. Targeted research on the nature of the Neolithic landscape, the diachronic features of Neolithic settlement patterns, and the social context of domestic activity (e.g. Bergh 1995; 2000; Cooney 1987; 2000; Cooney & Grogan 1999; Jones 1998; Grogan 1989) will provide a much more effective medium for analysis than the study of individual buildings. The growing body of habitation evidence, resulting principally from large-scale rural construction programmes, such as roads and pipelines, is indicating a greater diversity and distribution in Neolithic settlement.

Rectangular structures

The list of large rectangular Irish Neolithic houses continues to grow and over 40 of these have now been excavated (FIGURE 1, TABLE 1). These include older discoveries, such as Lough Gur, Co. Limerick (3+ houses, O Riordain 1954; Grogan & Eogan 1987), Ballyglass, Co. Mayo (O Nuallain 1972), Ballynagilly, Co. Tyrone (ApSimon 1976), Knowth (5, Eogan 1984; Eogan & Roche 1997; Eogan & Roche 1998) and Newtown (Gowen & Halpin 1992), Co. Meath, Tankardstown South, Co. Limerick (2, Gowen 1988; Gowen & Tarbett 1988), and Pepperhill, Co. Cork (Gowen 1988). More recent discoveries include those at Corbally, Silliot Hill, Co. Kildare (3, Purcell 1998; 1999), other houses nearby in the same townland excavated by Red Tobin, Ballygalley (2, Simpson 1996; Simpson et al. 1990; 1994) and Ballyharry 1 (2, Crothers 1996), Co. Antrim, Cloghers, Tralee, Co. Kerry (Dunne & Kiely 1999; Kiely 1999), Enagh (McSparron 1999; 2001) and Thornhill (5?, Logue 2001; Anon. 2000), Co. Derry, Inch, Downpatrick, Co. Down (McManus 1999), Drummenny Lower, Co. Donegal (Dunne 2001), Platin, Co. Meath (Declan Moore; Corlett 2001), and Coolfore (O Drisceoil 2000), Rathmullan (Emmet Stafford) and Richardstown, Co. Louth (Byrnes 1999). Although the majority are rectangular some are almost square (e.g. Tankardstown 1, Coolfore and Corbally 3) and two sites, Ballygalley 1 and Inch, have apsidal entrance compartments. While substantial slot trenches that supported plank walls define most of the houses, a few structures, such as Inch, Coolfore and Pepperhill appear to have been built of post uprights supporting lighter wall cladding.

Some of the buildings have a single room or compartment and these tend to be the shorter examples with a length to width ratio of less than 1.6:1. Good examples include Ballynagilly, Tankardstown 1 and Corbally 1. Another group have two or three compartments. In these instances one compartment is usually considerably larger than the other(s) and this equates in size with many of the single room structures. The Cloghers structure, however, has three compartments of roughly equal size. There are some exceptionally large houses, such as Cloghers, Tankardstown 2 and Ballyharry 1 (phase 1). …

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