Glossary of Terms



Airgíalla (Orighialla, Oriel).  A federation of clans across Counties Monaghan, Armagh and Fermanagh. During the 12th century AD, north Louth became part of the Airgíalla, under the jurisdiction of the O’Cearbaill (O’Carroll).

Anglo-Normans: Originally Vikings who had settled in northern France, the Normans conquered Britain after the Battle of Hastings 1066. ‘Anglo-Norman’ is the term used for those Normans, mostly from Wales, who invaded Ireland in and after 1169 and overran most of Leinster. Once in control, the Anglo-Normans built many mottes and stone castles to protect their new towns and roads.

Barrow: A raised, circular earth monument, usually with a central burial of an important individual.

Beaker People c.2400 – 1700BC. The appearance of a new set of ideas or people, as seen by distinctive ‘Beaker’ pottery and new burial traditions. Burial moves towards one-person-to-a-grave with accompanying pottery or ‘Food Vessel’. This period coincides with the first use of metal working (gold, copper and bronze).

Boulder Burial: Bronze Age placement of one or more large boulders. These placements typically do not have associated burials, although later graves may be put near them.

Brega: The Kings of Brega took their name from Mag Breg, the plain of Brega, in modern Counties Meath, Louth and Dublin. They formed part of the Uí Néill kindred, belonging to the Síl nÁedo Sláine branch of the southern Uí Néill.

Bronze Age, c.2400–500 BC. The Bronze Age period shows the manufacture and use of bronze tools. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin and was typically used for high status cutting tools such as axes, spearheads and halberds (scythes).

Cairn: A mound of smaller stones. Some cairns can have a retaining (or kerb) wall and monument types include ‘Long Cairn’ (or Court Cairn).

Cist: A Bronze Age, stone-lined box with a lid set in the ground containing a human burial, often with an accompanying pottery vessel.

Conaille Muirthemne was a kingdom located in what is now south-east Ulaid (Ulster) from 688 to 1081 (approximately). Its people were the Cruithne.

Court cairn (Long cairn):  A Neolithic communal burial monument where an open court leads to an internal gallery with chambers beneath a cairn of stones. Typically they are shaped like a capital ‘A’. Double-ended court cairns are more ‘H’ shaped, narrowing in the middle.

Dolmen (Portal Tomb): A dolmen or Portal Tomb consists of three upright stones supporting a large capstone. They date from the Neolithic period and occur across Europe.

Dún Dealgan, The ‘Fort of Dealga’. Dún Dealgan gave its name to Dundalk and is also referred to as Castletown Mount. Dún Dealgan is referred to as the home of Cúchullain, contains at least one souterrain and is likely to have been a very important prehistoric and early medieval site. The Anglo-Normans built a large motte on this site and at the base was planted ‘Castletown’.

Ecclesiastic site: An early medieval religious foundation that incorporates a church, a graveyard and other buildings used in running a community from a religious order.

Henge: A Neolithic circular monument normally marked by a large bank with a ditch inside the bank.  The bank focuses on activities inside the henge, where there can be a stone circle or other standing stones. Used for large scale communal gatherings.

Iron Age, c.500BC to AD400 in Ireland. A period where the use of iron becomes more common. A time where clan territories are consolidated across all Ireland.

Medieval period: 6th century AD to 16th century in Ireland. Divided into:

  • early medieval, 6th century to 12th century
  • high medieval, from the 12th century to c.1400
  • late medieval, from c.1400 – 16th century

Megalithic Art: Art inscribed on megalithic stones and natural rock outcrops. Usually in patterns of rings, spirals, zig-zags, straight and wavy lines. Almost certainly accompanied by other painted motifs that have since disappeared.

Megaliths / Megalithic:  A megalith is a very large stone. Megalithic usually refers to a monument built of very large stones. Often used when referring to Neolithic tombs.

Motte: An Anglo-Norman earth and wood castle consisting of a large mound surrounded by a ditch. On top of the mound is a wooden building known as a keep.

Neolithic c. 4000-2400BC in Ireland. The Neolithic was a farm-based lifestyle that migrated across Europe from c.7000BC onwards. In Ireland, Neolithic people specialised in clearing the wild forests and making huge communal monuments.

Ogham is an early medieval alphabet used primarily to represent the Old Irish language. The vast majority of the hundreds of known inscriptions consist of personal names.

Passage Tombs: A Neolithic burial monument where a passage leads to a chamber inside a large mound.

Puck Fair, Killorglin, County Kerry. Every year a wild goat is caught in the mountains. This goat is then brought back to the town and crowned "King Puck". The goat is put into a small cage on a high stand in the middle of the town. The fair has been traced back to the 1600s, but could date back much earlier.

Radiocarbon dating:  A scientific dating technique that measures the decay of Carbon 14 atoms which collect in all living things during life. The older the sample, the more the Carbon 14 atoms have decayed.

Ring-ditch: A small circular ditch that probably once formed part of a barrow, but where the barrow mound has been removed through ploughing. However, some ring-ditches appear to have held upright posts so there may be several burial monuments represented by these rings.

Ringfort: An early medieval, circular enclosure with a bank and external ditch. Usually seen as a fortified farmstead with a central building and lots of open space for corralling animals.

Sacred King: Someone or something that contains the essence/spirit of a sacred thing. Most mythical ‘Sacred Kings’ represent annual crop processing and animal slaughter at the harvest.

Souterrain (from French ‘sous terrain’, meaning ‘under ground’) is a term used by archaeologists for an underground structure made of galleries and chambers, usually dating to the early medieval period in Ireland.

Souterrain Ware. An Irish coarse pottery consisting of bucket shaped pots that are scorched and blackened as if used for cooking. Dating is generally given as 8th to 12th century AD. Souterrain ware is an Ulster tradition and this pottery type is not generally found outside the province.

Viking period: part of the early medieval period of 9th century to 12th century when Ireland was subject to Viking/Danish/Norse raids and influence. Coincides with the establishment of the first walled towns and the introduction of coinage in Ireland.