Emerald Isle

Dun Ailinne

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales and Legendary Royal Sites in Ireland

Dun Ailinne

Dún Ailinne is one of the great Royal Sites of Ireland, "a place of assemblies, a Rath with royal roads, a Grianan or palace, and a Royal Dún", where great ceremonies, rituals and gatherings took place, seat and crowning-place of the Gaelic Kings of Leinster.

All that remains of it now is a large circular embankment and ditch covering the hilltop of Cnoc Ailinne, but it has been in continuous use since the Neolithic at least, and became home to a great hall during the Iron age. There are also some large boulders in the centre, which might once have been standing stones, although they have been destroyed. Old tales tell that a giant called Buireach threw them into their present location. They may have given the Dún its original name.

The earliest activity uncovered on the hilltop was a small Neolithic enclosure, a possible Neolithic burial and possible Neolithic and Bronze Age habitation evidence, so it has been in use for a very long time.

Later, and far more extensive Iron Age activity comprised three major successive phases of construction, each partly cutting through the previous and all defined by circular trenches, representing large post and palisade structures, and called by the excavator, the ‘White Phase’, the ‘Rose Phase’ and the ‘Mauve Phase’.

The first, ‘White Phase’, comprised a circular trench which was dug to take the close-set timber uprights of a possible palisade or fence. It was subsequently dismantled and replaced by a far more complex structure - the ‘Rose Phase’.

Three concentric trenches, about one meter apart, enclosed an inner circular area around thirty meters across. The posts in the trenches were grouped by size, with the inner trench supporting the smallest and the outer, the largest.

The complex ‘Rose Phase’ structure was later dismantled and a larger but different structure was built - the ‘Mauve Phase’. This comprised two concentric timber circles around forty meters across, and a smaller circle of large free-standing posts, was erected at the centre with a trench inside it.

The site doesn't appear to have been lived in all year round until the Iron age, but was used for ceremonial feasting and festivals during the Spring and Summer. Many charred and scraped bones have been found nearby, from cows, sheep, pigs, deer and horses. A La Tène style sword, an iron spear-head, iron needles, glass beads and Roman bronze fibulae have also been found here.

The great legend associated with the area tells how a daughter of the King of Leinster, Aillinn, was kidnapped and died, followed shortly by her lover who perished of a broken heart. Two trees grew from their graves, one an apple, the other a yew, and after seven years these were shaped into wooden tablets, upon which were written all the love poems and traditions of Leinster. When the two wooden tablets were bought to the court of King Cormac Mac Art, they leaped together and could not be separated.

Dún Ailinne is marked on the map below!

Royal Sites of Ireland

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