Ciarraí O'Sullivan (MPhil Candidate)
Territory and Community in Early Medieval Ireland: A Landscape Archaeology of the Túatha of Uí Chonaill, Co Limerick
Supervisor: Dr Tomás Ó Carragáin
Early Medieval and Viking Research Group
The focus of this thesis is the Túatha of the Úi Chonaill, which consists of the western half of Co. Limerick. In the early medieval period, this area was controlled by the Uí Chonaill segment of the Ui Fhidgente. This area is important because the historian Paul MacCotter has recently mapped the nineteen subdivisions of this territory, including its secular and royal túatha as well as its ecclesiastical estates. This mapping was made possible by the fact that the pre-invasion túatha of this area remained in use as a unit of sub-infeudation down to the sixteenth century when the lordship of the Desmonds, who ruled the area, ended.
The presence of this territorial framework is of interest because it means the archaeology can be looked at in its historically territorial context. This is in contrast to previous work on settlement in Ireland, which, with some exceptions, have not taken account of this framework and instead, have used modern administrative boundaries (e.g. counties and baronies) This situation is understandable because until recently most maps produced by historians showed only the floating names of kingdoms without boundaries. This situation has changed as a result of MacCotter’s work on mapping of local kingdoms, and also the sub-divisions of local kingdoms, namely the ‘secular’ túatha,royal túatha, and ecclesiastical estates. Detailed mapping such as this is not possible everywhere, because the relevant sources do not survive.
This, therefore, makes the study area of this thesis a significant exception. The presence of this territorial framework means that the archaeological signature of the early medieval túatha can be investigated, something that can be rarely done elsewhere. This aim of this thesis is to see if there is any correlation between what the historical sources say and what the archaeology reveals, for example, if the historical sources says this a royal túath, does the archaeology reflect the same. This thesis also aims to compare different and similar types of túatha. It will investigate whether commonalties between types of túatha can be revealed but equally more important, if variations can be shown.
In studying this area, this thesis will begin by carrying out a general desk based survey of the overall area before focusing on a number of case studies that best suit the research questions and aims of this thesis. This thesis will employ a landscape interdisciplinary approach. It will draw on archaeological, place-name, historical information in order to gain a full picture of the area. It will also take into consideration a broad range of sites, dating from the early medieval as well as relevant prehistoric and later medieval. GIS will be used to combine and represent this information. An extensive programme of fieldwork will be carried out within the chosen case study areas. Within the case studies area, sites will be visited in order to explore the inter-visibility between sites, the possible view from the site and to consider the ‘qualities’ of being in a specific landscape.