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A view of the crannóg at Ballinakill Lake. Photograph by John Kelly

Digging up the Bronze Age in South Galway

Evidence of a bronze age settlement has been discovered in South Galway. Recent preliminary investigations have revealed that at least one crannóg, and possibly up to four, may exist on Ballinakill Lake, close to Lough Cutra.
The 90-acre lake may also include a causeway linking one of the prehistoric man-made islands to the shoreline.
Just one of the crannógs is above the water level in the lake and according to Christy Cunniffe, community archaeologist with Galway County Council, “the submerged features warrant further examination”.

Christy Cunniffe, archaelogist, with Christy and Daniel Carey at the crannóg. Photograph by John Kelly
Christy Cunniffe, archaelogist, with Christy and Daniel Carey at the crannóg. Photograph by John Kelly

The archaeologist also suggested that a seemingly linear rock formation under the water may have been a causeway joining one or more of the crannógs to the shore but added that log-boats may also have been used.
“Crannógs would not be that common in South Galway. These are significant. A 90-acre lake with the potential to have at least three crannógs in it and other prehistoric monuments around it, suggests that there was a strong pre-historic presence here,” Mr Cunniffe claimed.
Nicknamed Carey’s Island, it was known to be man-made since the 1990s but it was only confirmed to be a crannóg when it was visited by the council’s then field monument advisor, Mr Cunniffe, earlier this year.
According to Mr Cunniffe, the crannógs indicate that the area has been inhabited from the Bronze Age through to the present day.
“This appears to be evidence of continuation of settlement here. This land was farmed 4,000 or 5,000 years ago,” Mr Cunniffe confirmed.
“Good land is always good land. No matter if it is now or was 4,000 years ago, farmers want to settle on good land. They always want good land then and now so people shouldn’t be surprised about finding archaeological sites on farms,” he noted.
“The people here would have been living off the landscape,” he said, outlining that fish stocks would have been much higher than they are today and birds, especially waterfowl, much more numerous.
According to Mr Cunniffe, the people living on the crannógs on the lake would have likely been extended family and related also to the people living on the surrounding land.
“The word crannóg comes from the Irish word for young trees, so there would have been a lot of timber here. Building a crannóg was not a one-man job, so what you are looking at is a society at work. These were people working together. This was an organised group, maybe an extended family and probably the old meitheal system,” he said.
“We forget how sophisticated these people were. In the burial of men at that time you often find bronze razors and in the burial of women you might find bronze mirrors. It was a rich, sophisticated society,” he added.
“I expect there was a huge Bronze Age landscape here. These sorts of discoveries are made when people do a bit of exploring and look more closely at the landscape,” Mr Cunniffe said.
Local farmer Christy Carey realised the island was manmade and suspected it was a crannóg two decades ago but his initial efforts to highlight it to the relevant authority were fruitless. He and his son, Daniel, had been trying to build a jetty to moor their boat on the island when they discovered piles in the ground.
“We dug down a bit and found wood; that is when we realised the island was man-made. When we took up the wood we found they were crude stakes. That was back in the early 1990s,” Christy recalled.
Already evidence of bone, charcoal and a burnishing stone have been found but now Mr Cunniffe believes a more detailed archaeological-survey is required.
“The charcoal could have been burnt wood from cooking or it could have been used for smelting metals,” he speculated.
“What we intend to do now is to invite the underwater unit here for a full archaeological survey. We have conducted a visual inspection of the crannóg but we would like to find out more,” Mr Cunniffe said.
“We have a spectacular archaeology here in South Galway but we don’t know it,” he concluded.

By Nicola Corless

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