Moated Site in Carnaun
No two moated sites are the same but they are generally identified as a rectangular platform enclosed by an earthen bank and ditch. The bank may have been surmounted by a wooden palisade and the surrounding ditch or moat would have been water ﬁlled. Access to the central platform would probably have been gained by way of a bridge over the moat and through a gate in the palisade. Although being primarily for defense, the moat might also have been used as a water source or a ﬁshpond. The majority of these sites are located on low wet ground.
Of the 900-1000 probable moated sites in the country the majority are to be found in the South East. These were areas that were heavily colonised by English settlers in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Very few are to be found in the heartland of Gaelic controlled areas. Their distribution would indicate that they were built in the border areas of the increasing pressure from the resurgent Irish from the second half of the thirteenth century onwards. They functioned as the defended homesteads of Anglo-Norman who could not afford the expenses of building and then maintaining stone castles. .
To the rear of Carnaun school, behind the playing field there is a very good example of this site type. It is one of five in the barony of Athenry. It consists of a 34 metre square platform enclosed by two banks with an intervening moat. The entrance is indicated by a gap in both banks and a causeway across the moat about halfway along the side adjacent to the playing field wall. Apparently prior to the building of the pitch, a broad flat ridge ran from this entrance, which could have been the original pathway to the enclosure. Inside the enclosed platform there are the remains of three possible structures and a modem dry stone enclosure. The latter was for holding livestock denoted by a sheep ‘póirín’ on one of its walls. Of the three possible structures, without excavation it is impossible to tell whether they are primary or later additions to the site. The same may be said of a rectangular annex adjoining the south west side of the enclosure, this is defined by a low grassed over bank. Along the southern side of this feature and from the west corner of the main enclosure, a shallow channel runs for some twenty metres. This is thought to be a leat, a conduit for water serving the main moat, although there is no modern water source on this direction. Interestingly if you follow this channel, through a small bóirín, west of the moated site you arrive in a field which contains the remains of what seems to be a field system and possible dwelling sites. Again it is hard to say whether these are contemporary with our present study but may be evidence that the supposed leat was in fact another pathway linking the two sites.
Moated sites are dated based on their similarity to well dated examples in England and on the excavation of only six examples in Ireland. Therefore it can be said that the dating of this monument type in Ireland may be imprecise. There is only one surviving account of the building of a moated site in this country. The site of Ballyconnor Co. Wexford was built in 1282-4 and cost £13 l ls. 6d. which was 12% of the annual income of the manor of Ross! It has been argued though that this was atypical, the largest payment being £9 15s. for the gates. Without this major expense the construction of a simpler moated site could have been afforded by a well to do tenant.
The study of moated sites is still in its infancy which is surprising as they are the most numerous form of Anglo-Norman settlement on the landscape.
Written by Frankie Wilkinson
Published here 08 Feb 2021 and originally published 1999
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Page 152 of The Lamberts of Athenry Book