The site of Lagore Crannog

Slaves may have been held at a fortified lake dwelling in Dunshaughlin. A crannog is a man made island in a lake or marshy area constructed to offer protection to a farming family. The name, crannog, is derived from the Irish word, crann, meaning tree; as wood was the main material used in the construction of the crannog.

Meath has at least thirteen crannog sites, many of which are now not located in lakes but instead in marshy ground. The most famous crannog in Meath is the Lagore crannog, an artificial island near the eastern end of a lake, located about a mile east of Dunshaughlin towards Ratoath. Lagore has been described as the single richest site of the period. Moore in the Archaeological Inventory of Co. Meath says that the crannog was constructed of brushwood and peat interspersed with timber and that there were three occupation phases and three successive palisades. The Dunshaughlin historian, Michael Kenny, gave a tour of the site in July 2009.

Lagore first came to national notice in May 1839 when workmen uncovered several bones protruding from the side of a drain and upon investigation a large amount of bones were uncovered. William Wilde, Oscar’s father, wrote about the site, describing it as a circular mound, slightly raised above the surrounding ground. The highest point at the centre was eight feet high and the structure had a circumference of 520 feet.

In 1848 when the landlord had some labourers digging trench they uncovered bones and artefacts. Many of these artefacts were sold to collectors. There was no National Museum at the time. Some chancers decided that it would be easier to sell any old item around the house rather than actually dig at the crannog site. So many false items were sold, that for a time all faked or spurious artefacts were called “Dunshaughlins”.

The Lagore Crannog was excavated by American students from Harvard University during the summers of 1934, 1935 and 1936.  The Harvard excavators  had to secure permission from the landowners at the time, who were Patrick Rogers of Ratoath and Mrs. Angelo Murphy from Dunshaughlin. The excavations took place during the “three wettest summers in living memory” according to Michael Kenny. Pumping capacity was limited and the site was flooded on a number of occasions. In more modern times the riverbed has been lowered and a lake no longer forms on the marshy surrounding land.

Hugh Henken, the archaeologist, heading the dig suggested that the human bones uncovered were the result of a massacre of the workers constructing the crannog. The bodies including the back of the skulls were cut to pieces and scattered about the site but the front of the skulls were taken away by the raiders.  The Irish government paid the entire cost of the labour for the excavation as part of its Unemployment Relief Scheme.

The Harvard excavation uncovered huge amounts of animal bones and timbers which formed heaps over five feet high. The timbers were taken away and burned while the animal bones rendered into lime. According to Michael Kenny “they raped the site, desecrated it.” Bones of cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, dogs, cats and fowl were  discovered. There was evidence of iron and bronze working. Leg irons suggest that slaves were part of the society.

To reach the crannog there may have been a bridge or walkway. Dugout canoes may have been used to cross the water and in the case of Lagore a large oaken dug out canoe was unearthed. Two large sections of the crannog were not excavated.

The name, Lagore, means either the lake of the goats or the lake of the horses. This crannog was important from the seventh until the tenth century as a royal site of the kings of South Bregia. The kings of North Brega lived at Knowth. Saint Seachanill established a church on other side of lake. The first king recorded at Lagore is Diarmait Ruanaid in the later half of the seventh century. A number of battles occurred at the crannog. In 850 the crannog was burned to the ground by the Duleek men and destroyed again in 934 by the Vikings of Dublin. Another story has a Danish king with a collar of gold drowning in the lake. In recent times antlers of the great Irish deer were found at lake site near Dunshaughlin and a stone axe was discovered at the eastern end of the lake site.

Maeldun, one of the kings of Lagore, is now commemorated in a modern housing estate with another housing development being named “Crannog”.