Crannogs and Raths
A good old house, 200-400 years ago, was squarely built.
Most of us live every day in a highly rectilinear world. Our houses are built full of rectangles, and the sign of a good house is that its corners are perfectly square. We often live in villages or suburbs where right angles abound and the grid pattern structure of development is looked on as the height of progress and organisation.
But long ago it was different. In many places in Europe, but especially in Ireland, and specifically in Northern Ireland, people lived in round places, and inside those round places they lived in round houses. The remains of these round places can still be found on the rural landscape over there, and to stand in such a place today can be a special experience.
A rath is a circular earthwork with walls thrown up often to a height of ten feet. It has one opening which is often approached by a ramp, and sometimes outside the wall was a ditch produced by the excavation of the wall fill.
Inside was a cluster of buildings - a house or two and outbuildings. It is assumed that outside the structure were fields on which the farming family that lived inside depended.
Whether for defense, or to be in touch with some cosmic design that called for them to live in a circular manner, these farmers had an experience that was quite different from ours.
A rather dramatic variation on the circular design, and one seemingly even more built for security and defense, is found in the crannog.
Crannogs are artificial islands built in shallow lakes. They often are constructed on some form of natural submerged feature, such as a gravel bar or sand bank, but most of what extends above the water, with which it is completely surrounded, is man-made of logs and earth. The archeological remains of these unique constructions appear as small, circular islands today.
Inside the buildings are much like those found in a rath, and both settlement styles date to the same general time period. But there is something very special about a small circular farmstead in a lake reachable only by a bridge or a dugout canoe. It is not that we don't have other primitive round buildings in evidence from the past, or even still used in the present. But this is the only instance where the dwellers in such buildings create for themselves their own island on which to live.
There is something about living inside a round house, inside a round homestead structure, on top of a round island.
What manner of people would design such a unique structure in which to live out their mortal lives? Were they at peace with their world and happy to have created such a dwelling place? Or did they cower inside it in daily fear for their lives?
There is lots more to learn about these things. Try checking some of these places:
And if you want to visit an outdoor museum in Northern Ireland full of the types of houses people lived in there from the dawn of time, check out the website for the Ulster History Park.