The Beautiful Fort
Excavations and other investigations of Dun Ailinne (the Beautiful Fort)
have established that it was the scene of major and regular gatherings
going right back to Neolithic times. It is the largest pre-Norman
earthen enclosure in Ireland, covering some 44 acres. The ditch or
‘henge’ which circumscribes it is the best preserved and largest such
feature in Ireland.
More recent geophysical investigations by Dr Susan Johnston of the
George Washington University added new chapters to a story that suggests
Dun Ailinne was a nexus for tribal communication, spirituality and
probably the commerce that would be part of a large coming together of
people from many parts.
There are mentions of Dun Ailinne in documents from about 800 AD onwards, including one which lists the ‘overthrowing’ of ‘pagan’ sites in favour of the new Christianity.
Dun Ailinne Interpretive Park
Kilcullen itself has recognised the importance of Dun Ailinne to
its own modern position. As the ancient feature is on private land, the
community has provided a Dun Ailinne Interpretive Park at the south end
of the town. With a magnificent sculpture centrepiece based on a
spearhead found during the Wailes digs, the mound and ditch park is
appropriately at what was once a key junction on the main road south
from Dublin, where the Carlow and Athy roads went their separate ways.
Dun Ailinne spear monument
The sculpture was designed and produced by local artist Noel
Scullion, and has a number of interactive elements which mark the times
of year that may have been particularly important to those who came
periodically to Dun Ailinne. These include the Spring and Autumn
Solstices, when the rising sun, if visible, bursts through a carefully
aligned hole in the edifice. There’s also a feature related to Midsummer
A board with eyecatching graphics and information in both English and Irish offers a timeline of the site’s known and surmised activities.
The Park Opening
The Interpretive Park was officially opened in 2008 with guest of honour Bernard Wailes making an emotional return to the place where he carried out the work for which he will be best remembered here. A special ‘Dun Ailinne and the Clann March’, commissioned by Kilcullen Community Action and sponsored by Sir Anthony and Lady O’Reilly of Castlemartin, was composed and played for the occasion by renowned piper Liam O’Flynn.
Dun Ailinne is ranked in archaeological importance with Tara, Knoc
Cruachain (Co Roscommon), and Amhain Macha (Navan Fort, Armagh) although
it has never received the same public attention because it is on
private land. It is currently being assessed for consideration as a
UNESCO World Heritage site.
Dr Johnston has applied for funding to carry out further geophysical exploration of the site, of which approximately 25 percent has been investigated. Professor Wailes died in April of 2012.
All photographs © Brian Byrne/Kilcullen Diary