Rathgall Hillfort - Ring of the Rath

03 Rathgall Hill Fort oblique by Aerial Archaelology use free via creative commons licence.jpg
03 Rathgall Hillfort.jpg
03 Rathgall Hill Fort by Aerial Archaelology Wiki use free via creative commons licence.jpg
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Rathgall Hillfort - Ring of the Rath




Wicklow County Council

GPS Location

52.802188, -6.663051

Short Interpretive Text

Rathgall Hillfort, known locally as ‘The Ring of Rath’ is an extensive hillfort from around 800BC. Enclosed and defended by four concentric ramparts (banks and ditches), the outer three ramparts are stone and earthen banks and are likely to be prehistoric in date. The fourth and innermost enclosure is dry stone built and possibly dates to the medieval period.

Interpretive Text

Located approximately 5km east of Tullow in the townland of Rath, is the extensive hillfort of Rathgall. A hillfort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. Rathgall is a multivallate hillfort, on the edge of a ridge with four concentric ramparts (banks and ditches) and extensive panoramic views. This impressive and important monument encompasses a total area of 18 acres. Excavations, started in 1969 by the late Barry Raftery revealed important evidence for Late Bronze Age settlement, industrial, agricultural and funerary activity at Rathgall, dating to circa 800BC.

Evidence of a large circular house was discovered in the inner stone circle with the second and third ramparts forming the main defensive walls. The house is the largest Late Bronze Age house discovered in Ireland. It measured 15m in diameter with an eastern entrance enclosed by a ditch 35m in diameter. Large numbers of artefacts were found associated with the house including coarse pottery, bronze objects, and stone and glass beads. A number of postholes were situated outside the ditch to the east of the house and its associated finds indicate that it may have originally been a workshop. Finds included clay moulds for making bronze swords and spearheads and tools, jet and lignite bracelets, glass beads, amber, gold and stone objects. The quantity of metalworking evidence found suggests that they were producing surplus to their own requirements and the extra was traded and exchanged for other goods. One of the most impressive finds was a small ring with mercury gilding. The gilding was used to stick gold to bronze. This rare and beautiful object confirms the wealth of the occupants and the talents of the metalworkers.

South of the workshop a ditch enclosed an area 19m in diameter that functioned as a burial and ritual area. It contained a central pit with a cremated adult enclosed by a U-shaped arrangement of 150 stakeholes. A cremated child was found in another pit and a coarse pot contained a cremated adult and child. A third pit contained a hoard of bronze objects, a chisel, spearhead and sword.

This hillfort was the homestead of a significant family, possibly a chieftan or tribal leader. Legend suggests it may even have been the seat of the kings of South Leinster. The impressive defences and large volume of artefacts reinforces the high status of the occupants of this site. The results of the extensive excavations by Barry Raftery in the 1970s allows a more comprehensive analysis of the site and understanding of its domestic, agricultural and ritual importance. In more recent years, there are numerous legends that are associated with the hillfort site including association with fairies and as a site of pilgrimage for childless couples.

There is a second hillfort situated directly across the road to the north in Knockeen townland which consists of an earth and stone bank enclosing an area 300m in diameter with a cairn in the centre. This site has not been investigated.

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ActiveMe, “Rathgall Hillfort - Ring of the Rath,” Lakeside Heritage Trail, Blessington Lake, accessed May 21, 2022, https://wicklowheritage.omeka.net/items/show/38.