Monday, August 4, 2008

Lough Gara and its Crannogs

There is something mysterious and magical about Lough Gara and its ancient crannogs. This remote and beautiful lake on the border between Sligo and Roscommon seems to invite and at the same time repel the casual visitor. Although I left this place some forty years ago I still yearn for its tranquil waters and find myself returning there regularly.

When Lough Gara was drained in the early fifties several crannogs or lake dwellings, some dating from as early as 3500 BC, were revealed around the shoreline. Our Stone Age ancestors once inhabited this area leaving behind their stone axes, arrowheads and such like remnants. Archaeologists have found evidence of occupancy in the Late Bronze Age (1200 – 800 BC), Early Medieval Period (600 AD) and as recently as the 17th Century. Some of these earlier artificial islands pre-date Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids and provide testimony to a bygone age. Today, they form the centrepiece of a local landscape rich in archaeology and history.

The word crannog comes from the Irish words, crann, meaning tree, and og, young trees or, more accurately, small woods. The word first appeared in literary sources at the beginning of the 13th Century. Estimates of the actual number of crannogs on Lough Gara range from 145 to 369, which is more than anywhere else in Co. Sligo. One of the most famous and well documented crannogs on this lake is Rathinaun, which was found to have been occupied and abandoned on no less than three separate occasions.

Archaeologists have viewed crannogs as defensive enclaves, high status residences and places for fishing and metalwork production. It has also been argued that Bronze Age crannogs were built in order to provide a place from which objects could be deposited in the lake as votive offrings. This lake and surrounding rivers are rich in such finds.

The waters of Lough Gara still hold many secrets although our understanding of the life of these early lake dwellers is growing all the time. It is regrettable that there is still not a re-constructed crannog for visitors to view or an interpretive centre to bring the rich heritage of this area to life.

Lough Gara, with its numerous abandoned crannogs is, perhaps, one of Ireland’s best kept secrets.

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