Long memories at Clashanimud

Not Clashanimud – a similar Bronze Age hillfort: Rathgall, in County Wicklow
Laurel Lodged, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We are often now asked to believe that European countries have no culture, or even any connection to their own pasts – that they are all lands of immigrants, blank sheets on which anything can be written. However, one of my abiding interests has always been the astonishing continuity of some of our heritage, customs, building techniques, placenames, vocabulary, stories, traditions and so on here within the British Isles. Our islands are a wonderful hunting ground for this kind of material, but every so often something comes along which really knocks your socks off. Let me take you on a mini trip to Ireland – Cork, to be precise.

There are quite a few ‘Clash …’ type placenames in County Cork: Clashaganniv (trench of the sand), Clashanure (trench of the yew), Clasharusheen (trench of the little wood) and Clashatarriff (trench of the bull), for example. The ‘clash’ or  ‘trench’ element in these placenames is generally taken to be an indication of some kind of digging or earthworks, as you would expect. Among these is a Bronze Age hillfort called Clashanimud, or trench of the timber (Irish: Clais-an-adhmuid ), situated on private land in the township of the same name.

The Clashanimud hillfort south of Bandon in Cork was constructed round about 1100 BC (official estimates say somewhere between 1214 and 1027). Two concentric circular enclosures 52.5 yards apart form the fort, which is 400 yards wide and covers 22 acres. Standing at 587 feet high above sea level, the structure would have had a commanding presence over the valley.  Hillforts of this type sometimes show signs of habitation: not here. Its strong defences included stone ramparts. Clearly Clashanimud represented a significant investment in time and manpower by a powerful ruler or set of rulers.

In 2004-6, it was excavated by a team from University College, Cork, who discovered … wait for it … the remains of what had once been 3,000 solid oak posts on top of the ramparts.

The team found that two hundred years after it was built, which counts as ‘almost immediately’ on this type of timescale, the hillfort was – shall we say – ‘decommissioned’. A large fire rendered it useless defensively. It’s impossible to know what the motivation was here – war, internal strife, revenge, ritual destruction – but it must have been one hell of a fire, as that quantity of oak isn’t all that easily burned. This suggests, at least, that the fire was started deliberately rather than an accident.

So here we have a fort named ‘trench of the timber’ (the singular form is often used in Irish placenames to stand as a collective noun for the many) in which, in the twenty-first century, were discovered the remains of thousands of oak timbers, in existence for a very short time, long forgotten – yet the name commemorating this brief but important distinguishing feature lived on, passed down unchanged through successive generations of local people in a tiny corner of Ireland for three thousand years. Salvador Dalí once painted ‘The Persistence of Memory’, using melting watches as an image – that title is exemplified much better by something like this imo.

Incredible. A land of newcomers with no connection to its past? I don’t think so.

© foxoles 2022