Medieval settlement

Two fields to the east of Tlachtga lie the clear remains of a previously unrecorded medieval settlement (now allocated the SMR No. ME030-034—-). This clearly occupies at least one field and may stretch further to the northwest where the central hollow-way of the settlement gives way to a raised, straightened bank on the west side. Approximately nine burgage plots are distributed along the western side of the field with irregular raised areas to the east. In the southeast lies a large subrectangular enclosure (c. 110 x 90 m), itself sub-divided and with an apparent rectangular foundation in its southwest corner. The pattern of field boundaries in the surrounding area is extremely suggestive and clearly radial, radiating away from the central area of the settlement field. This suggests a possible earlier (perhaps early medieval) core to the site.

1.5 km to the north lies the ruined 15th century church at Rathmore, formerly the estate of the Plunkett family (see Leask 1933). This also appears to have a series of burgage plots associated with it, again to the west, as well as a range of other features of possible archaeological interest. The site of Rathmore has recently been the subject of an undergraduate dissertation by Siobhan Rheinisch of Sligo IT, who has kindly provided the lidar image. Rathmore has recently been very much in the news over the theft (and, thankfully, subsequent return of its well-known octagonal font base (http://voxhiberionacum.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/rathmore-font/). Again, it is hoped that the fields around Rathmore, particularly to the southeast, will be the subject of future funding applications.

Embanked enclosure

At the base of the Hill to the east, in the townland of Rathcarran, lies a large, Boyne-type embanked enclosure (previously unidentified, now assigned the SMR No. ME030-035—-). This is very similar to monuments of this type in Brú na Bóinne: c. 160m in diameter with very low banks (in this case no more than 1m), sloping downward slightly to the northwest and with a slight dome centrally, characteristic of interior scarping from which the enclosing bank was created. This is considerably further west than other Meath examples of this site type, and, assuming it is a late-Neolithic feature (as we assume these embanked enclosures are), implies significant earlier prehistoric activity in the area.

Low profile Boyne-type embanked enclosure in Rathcarran townland. Possible entrance to NNE, slope to NW.

One obvious place for such activity would be the hilltop itself. To the west of the road lies what appears to be a significant cairn (clearly visible in the field). Earthworks in this western field also appear to be suggested by early aerial photography. A second potential cairn feature lies within Tlachtga itself and comprises all or part of the central portion of the monument.

Slope shaded relief model showing western cairn (across the road from Tlachtga) and ‘esker’ to the east.

Between the hilltop and the embanked enclosure lies a low ridge, marked in the GSI Quaternary dataset as an esker, although of peculiarly linear form. This ridge also includes three possible mounds, the southernmost on top of a low hill. It is hoped that these will be the subject of future rounds of geophysical survey.

Outer embankments

To the north of the main enclosure are the remains of a pair of parallel embankments. While almost entirely destroyed, these may once have been significant features. The distance between the two embankments is c. 65 m and they appear to be carefully located to cut off the lowest approach to the summit of the hill. There are possible traces of enclosure to the southwest of the Hill also, giving some suggestion that the entire hilltop might once have been enclosed.

Slope shaded relief model of the outer embankments at the Hill of Ward. Two potential lines of defence are evident: inner paired banks and an outer ditch, along which a possible standing stone was located.

The presence of such an enclosure would suggest that the origins of Tlachtga lie earlier than the early medieval period to which ringforts (although Tlachtga is not in any sense a typical ringfort…) generally belong, perhaps as a Bronze Age hillfort or hilltop enclosure. If the entire hilltop were enclosed the overall size of such an enclosure would have to be truly massive – nearly 900 m along its long axis (roughly three times the size of Rathgall, Co. Wicklow and larger even than Brusselstown Ring, Co. Wicklow) by 550 m across.

There are suggestions of an enclosing feature even further to the north, where a ditch running parallel to the ‘inner’ enclosures follows the line of an old field boundary. In the 6″ and 25″ OSI mapping a standing stone (St Lawrence’s Stone) is marked on this boundary, potentially marking the northern limit of the site. Local folklore suggests that the St Lawrence’s Stone was removed mistakenly to the churchyard of St Laurence, Rathmore (a large stone certainly stands within the churchyard).

Conor Newman (2005) draws attention to two other standing stones to the east of the hill, while a possible third may have lain in Rathcarran townland, again to the east.

Newman, C. 2005. Re-composing the archaeological landscape of Tara. In Bhreatnach, E. (ed.) The Kingship and Landscape of Tara. Four Courts, Dublin.