Eachtra Journal

ISSN 2009-2237

Fulacht fiadh and corn drying kiln at Stagpark, Co. Cork

May, 2011 · Written by: Eachtra Print This Page This entry is part 34 of 37 in the Issue 10

Archaeological Excavation Report

Fulacht fiadh and corn drying kiln

Bronze Age

The site occurs within an area where a cluster of Bronze Age fulachta fiadh sites have been identified.
Three burnt mounds were recorded (CO019-019, -020 and -021) within 800m of Stagpark 2, while two other burnt mounds were excavated as part of this road project within Stagpark townland; Stagpark 3 (04E1119) was 800m away to the south. The intense use of this small area for the purposes of heating stones and water has produced a date range that suggests occupation on a long-term, if perhaps intermittent basis from at least the Early Bronze Age. Additional evidence from another fulacht fiadh (Mitchelstown 2, 1200m to the north) augments the general suggestion that many of the fulachta fiadh sites in this area were primarily in use during this period, as it was found in association with pits that produced an Early Bronze Age date. With the exception of the burnt mound at Mitchelstown 2, which was located on the northern bank of the Gradoge River, the remaining burnt mounds are not located adjacent to any known or contemporary water sources. The underlying subsoil is however a heavy clay which holds water very effectively being almost impermeable. The heavier wetter ground in the area was used for sites such as these, but archaeological evidence indicates that contemporary occupation occurred on the higher drier ground, for example the extensive occupation site found at Mitchelstown 1 (04E1072), found just 2km to the north and the occupation site at Stagpark 1 (04E1120) 200m to the south.

Medieval Period

Corn-drying kilns were used to dry cereal grains and other crops in order to facilitate crop processing, to harden grains prior to grinding and  to convert the grain into malt; the process of making malt is described in some early texts, and differs only minimally from the manner of malt preparation today (Binchy 1980). Lowering the moisture content of the grains also made them less susceptible to mould, fungal and insect attack and therefore increased the likelihood that they would come through storage intact. Drying kilns first appear in Britain during the Roman period, and it is possible that their use may have been due to necessity; to fumigate the grain crops in order to stop the spread of the stored product pest, the grain weevil (Sitophilus granarius): the earliest findings of these beetles from archaeological contexts in Northwestern Europe are all from within the Roman Empire (Reilly 2003). It is not known when the grain weevil was introduced into Ireland, the earliest example found to date is from late Viking/early Anglo-Norman levels at Waterford (Reilly 2003) and the use of kilns in this country predates this (e.g. a radiocarbon date of Cal AD 410-485 was obtained from Kiltenan North, Co. Limerick: 02E0666). Their use continued in some parts of Ireland into the relatively recent past, Scott (1951) described several kilns that were still in use up to the beginning of the twentieth century.
These examples demonstrate that the timeframe during which these monuments were in use was vast, spanning revolutionary changes in the approach to and organisation of agriculture in Ireland.
O’Sullivan and Downey (2005) suggest that the geographical distribution of kilns is predominantly northern and western based on patterns in early nineteenth century Ordnance Survey maps. However, this pattern is because they were used in these areas in the more recent past; many archaeological examples of corn drying kilns have been found in Leinster and Munster during the course of recent infrastructural development. This suggests that they are a common archaeological site type and medieval texts suggest that there may even have been one kiln for communal use in every rural neighbourhood (Kelly, 1998).

Author: Bruce Sutton

Download the report

Issue Navigation«Previous entry | Next entry»