Research at Maigh Leana, Co. Offaly
In the townland of Ballindown (In Irish: Baile on Dúnaidh – ‘the town of the fort’), situated 3 miles to the north of the town of Birr, Co. Offaly, lies the monument at Maigh Leana (SMR Number: OF035-003-; ringfort).
It comprises a massive circular earthen enclosure located at the end of a high esker ridge, a spur off the Eiscir Riada (ancient route way, exploiting a natural topographical feature comprising a raised linear glacial gravel ridge).
The Birr Community invited the Irish Heritage School to carry out some preliminary investigations to assess the archaeological potential of the site. To facilitate this, Ashely Green (PhD candidate, Bournemouth University), undertook geophysical assessment under licence form the National Monuments Service (results forthcoming).
About Maigh Leana
The site comprises a series of defensive features enclosing an area almost 85m in diameter, and using natural topography to maximise its defensive structure: the earthwork includes two earthen banks with a significant intervening fosse (width c. 5.0m x depth 3.5-5.5). A slight shallow depression, directly outside the outer bank may indicate the presence of a second outer ditch. The enclosure has an entrance at its eastern axis, measuring c. 5m in width, which may be original. A second entrance (2.0m in width) at the western extent could be a later addition. The inner bank varies in surviving height from 2.5-5.5m (internal to external dimensions), measuring 2.5-5.0m in width. The external bank is less well preserved, but it most extant on the southern side. There is a shallow depression in northern section of the interior, which merits further investigation.
The site is thought to be of late prehistoric date due to its form. Local speculation is that it may be the site of the Battle of Maigh Leana, recorded in the medieval text Cath Maige Leana (“the battle of Mag Leana”). Our understanding of the historical circumstances comes from translations of this text: Conn of the Hundred Battles, the High King of Ireland is challenged by and defeats Mug Nuadat. The text records the construction of three (burial) ‘mounds’, one of which may be this monument at Maigh Leana.
Thanks to Frank Molloy for facilitating access to the site, and to the members of the Birr Community, particularly Finbar Spain and Eimhin Shortt, who assisted with the work with archaeogeophyics surveyor, Ashely Green.
Green A, and Homes R. 2016. Poster: Accounting for Environmental Factors: Approaches to enhancing horizontal resolution and interpretability in geophysical surveys. [Web Published]. Academia.edu.
O’Brien C & Sweetman D. 1997. Archaeological Inventory of County Offaly. Stationery Office, Dublin.
O’Curry, Eugene (ed. & trans.) 1855. Cath Mhuighe Léana, or The Battle of Magh Leana, Dublin: The Celtic Society
Offaly History Society 2007. Ordnance Survey Letters for Offaly in 1838: The Battle of Moylena. [Web published]. Accessed 18/09/17