Souterrain at Fennor

SOUTERRAIN at FENNOR, SLANE, CO. MEATH

Etienne Rynne

In June, 1963, while digging foundations trenches for a house on the southern side of the river Boyne about 1,100 metres to the south east of Slane  Messrs. Joe Ledwidge, jnr.,and Liam Kiernan, both of Slane, discovered a souterrain. The site is in the townland of Fennor and can be plotted on the O.S. 6 inch scale sheet No. 19 for Co.Meath at a point 10.9 cm. from its southern margin and 39 cm. from its western margin. It is at a height of 135 feet above O.D. in the brow of a rather steep rise overlooking  the river Boyne and 100 metres distance from it. Following on a report to the National Museum Of Ireland by Mrs. Margaret Conway Moattown, Kildalkey, Co. Meath the discovery was investigated by the writer who would like to take this opportunity to thank Miss Eileen Binchy, Department of  Archaeology, University College, Dublin, for considerable help with the actual investigation. Thanks are also due to Sergeant John Berkery, Garda Siochana, Slane, and to Mr. Ledwidge for much help on the occasion.

The souterrain, as known and surveyed, consists of two passages and a chamber, the latter being almost an appendage  or extension of the shorter of the two passages. The principal passage, that is , the longer one, is at a higher level than the shorter passage and the chamber which are aligned at approximately right angles across its southern end. The souterrain is dug into boulder clay and, apparently. into the rock sub stratum, which, according to Mr. Ledwidge, was generally encountered at a depth of about 60 or 70cm. below the present ground surface. Both of the passages and the chamber are lined with dry-stone walling, roofed with transversely laid lintels which have smaller stones filling the interstices between them, and, in so far as could be examined, have a mud floor. The surface of the ground slopes very gently downwards from South-West to North-East, that is in the same alignment as the principal passage of the structure. The Northern end of the souterrain, as known, is 23 metres from the western boundary of  the field and 37 metres from the northern boundary. No surface indications of any associated structure were noticed, no excavation was undertaken and no finds were made.

Passage One

Three of the foundation trenches of the house cut across this passage and in digging them some of the lintels of the passage were removed so that entry could be affected at two points, one at the northern end and the other about half way along its length. Its surveyed length is about 14 metres and it averages about 85 cm. in width and about 90 cm. in height, where the floor is free from rubble debris. It runs in a roughly NE-SW direction for most of its length, before curving very slightly towards the south at a point about 9 metres from its northern end.

At its northern end the tops of the lintels are about 20cm. to 25cm. below the present ground surface while at the opening made about half way along its length they are about 40cm. below the present surface. When this is added to the fact that it was not possible to find clear evidence for any continuation of the passage beyond the point of discovery at its northern end, and that the ground began to slope more steeply downwards just north of this point, it would appear very probable that the original entrance to the souterrain ( or less likely, but just possible, its terminus ) may have been at or very close to the present northern end of this passage. The passage originally continued at its southern end but this is blocked with collapse or deliberate filling. However as the last three lintels of the passage at this end ( and the floor, in so far as it could be judged ) rise appreciably higher than those elsewhere in the passage, it would appear likely that its present termination may be close to its original end.

The dry-stone side walls of this passage are only slightly corbelled, except for the topmost course, immediately below the lintels, which projects further inwards than the others. There were twenty five lintels in the roof of this passage when surveyed (including the one removed about half way along its length ), but at least two or three had been removed from its northern end during the digging of the foundation trench for the house.

Entrance to passage 11 and the chamber is through a gap 45 cm. wide in the floor of this passage about one metre from its southern end. The floor of the passage at this opening is of stone consisting at its northern edge of a flat slab laid on top of the dry stone walling of the northern side wall of passage 11 below it, and at its southern edge of a large slab resting on the edge of the lintels of the chamber and of passage 11.

Passage 11 and Chamber

Descending through the floor of passage 1, as one faces southwards there is a small rectangular chamber on the right and a blocked passage on the left, the former being little more than the segmented western end of the latter. The total known length of the passage and chamber combined is about 4.1 metres, of which just under 3 metres is the passage and about 60cm. the chamber, the remaining 55 cm. being the short distance separating the two which is neither part of the passage nor of the chamber, but rather, the entrance to the chamber.

The chamber is one metre wide, 60cm. long and 85cm. high. For the most part its floor is covered with rubble debris which has slipped in, apparently through the opening in the floor of Passage 1. The two side walls are slightly corbelled, but the end wall rises vertically to the roof. The roof consists of three transversely laid lintels, the central one resting on the edges of the other two.

The chamber is separated from Passage 11 by a jamb like construction projecting about 35cm. inwards from the southern sidewall. This consists principally of a large stone, 55cm. by 30cm., thick, which does not, however, reach the roof but which has some dry-stone walling filling the space between its top and the lintel above it. The gap between this jamb like feature and the northern side wall, that is the entrance to the chamber, is just over 60cm. wide.

Passage 11 runs roughly south eastwards from the chamber and, for its known length, in a straight line with it. It averages about 95 cm. in width and is blocked at its eastern end by collapse of deliberate filling. Its known length is roofed by six lintels, the westernmost one (i.e. that at the eastern edge of the entrance through the floor of Passage 1 ) is dangerously cracked. The floor of this passage is covered with a considerable amount of rubble debris.

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Because of the absence of any associated find or surface structure and because of the apparent lack of any significant feature, it is difficult to offer any opinion as to the purpose and date of this souterrain. On general grounds, however, it may be concluded that it served as a place of refuge connected directly or indirectly with a habitation site dating from some time during the first millennium after Christ.

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