It was surprisingly mild and dry for this time of year, so I decided to go visit the crannóg at Srahrevagh in the Nephin Begs.

[An tSraith Riabhach = The grey or streaked river-meadow or valley-bottom, per]

Crannógs are man-made island structures, built within lakes and marshes, that typically served as domestic dwellings. They are generally said to date from anywhere between the late Bronze Age and the Early Medieval. O’Sullivan (3a, below), however, states that “crannogs, as we know them, were only built from the Early Medieval (AD 500-1200) period onwards”.

In Ireland, we have well over a thousand examples extant, while there are some 350 to 500 in Scotland, depending on definition, and one in Wales.

The definition issue appears to partly centre around whether a crannóg was necessarily built using wooden piles, wattle and other natural materials, or if stone-based structures also qualify. My understanding is that, whatever about the materials used, a dwelling constructed on a pre-existing island does not count, nor does one built on the margins of lakes which then had its surroundings dug out and flooded intentionally, in order to cut it off from the ‘mainland’.

Whatever about their original period of building, it appears that some were still in use up to the 17th Century.

“Crannogs are among the most evocative and intriguing archaeological sites found in the Irish landscape”, [O’Sullivan, 3a, below].

Like natural islands, I have always felt there is something particularly appealing about crannógs. They have clearly defined boundaries and are easily observed (though not necessarily recognised!). There is a clear sense of ‘there’ about them, of ‘otherness’ and of places to ‘get to’. I think they bring out the child explorer in us all.

Indeed, It has been suggested that, because of their location, they represent a type of high-status dwelling, given that they would have required more material and been more labour-consuming than the roughly contemporary ringforts built on terra firma [Stout and Stout, 2, below].

On the other hand, O’Sullivan (3b, below) points out that crannógs

“have traditionally been interpreted as defensive island refuges occupied at times of danger, or as high-status or aristocratic lake-dwellings used for social display and prestige. Several crannogs, however, have produced relatively modest material assemblages and could be interpreted as the island homesteads of the ‘middle classes’ or perhaps even the poor.”

“Other crannogs may have been used only as places for metalworkers and other craftsmen to practice their trades” [O’Sullivan, 3a, below].

Like the nearby ringfort at Lios na Gaoithe, the site at Srahrevagh is unfortunately now surrounded by dense non-native conifer plantations.

What’s interesting about this site is its size, form and location, or at least what its location might have looked like during its pre-plantation usage period. The lake is remarkably small, perfectly round and barely bigger than a sizeable ringfort. In the Google Maps screenshot, below, you’ll notice how it looks like a meteor crater, so perfect is its circular shape. Situated on a height, at 160m altitude, you have to trudge up through long grasses and over wet trenches from the forest track at lower ground along Glen Augh.

The red pin, by the way, represents what I think may be another man-made structure closeby, on slightly lower ground. Here, there is what may have been part of some embankment.

While I’m neither archaeologist nor expert, I found myself wondering if this is indeed a crannóg, or if it might be simply a drowned ringfort. The lake seems very small to bother building a crannóg within and I didn’t see any inflow or outflow channel alimenting the water. I’ll certainly have to check for that again, on my next visit. Add that to its remarkable roundness and I have to wonder was the ‘lake’ itself man-made?

Nor does the islet seem 10m in diameter, an oft quoted minimum size for crannógs.

Anyway, if nothing else, at least I amused myself with my musings.

The picture below is of lovely Cladonia floerkeana, Matchstick Lichen, growing on dead wood right by the crannóg at Srahrevagh.

crannóg at Srahrevagh

Crannóg at Srahrevagh – Sources

1. “Crannogs : A study of people’s interaction with lakes, with particular reference to Lough Gara in the north-west of Ireland”; Fredengren, C; Wordwell, 2002.

2. “Early landscapes : From prehistory to plantation”; Stout, G. and Stout, M.; chapter in ‘Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape’; Cork University Press, 1997.

3. The pre-eminent authority on crannógs in Ireland would appear to be Professor Aidan O’Sullivan of UCD. From his writings,

3a. “Crannogs : Lake dwellings of early Ireland” (Town House, 2000).

3b. “Early medieval Crannogs and imagined Islands”; chapter in ‘Relics of Old Decency, archaeological studies in later prehistory : Festschrift for Barry Raftery’; Wordwell, 2009.

4. Crannogs on Wikipedia, retrieved 26.11.2023.