Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark has served as a magnificent treasure chest for archaeological research. Archaeological evidence gives us the opportunity to connect with those who came before us, learn about the evolution of humanity and better understand the ancient civilisations that have shaped the world we live in today.
Amazingly, the Geopark has a near continuous history of settlement, beginning with the first prehistoric people of Ireland, right up to our present day communities. In this way, the Geopark is a tangible celebration of the past, present and future here in Ireland. Throughout the Geopark, the remnants of history are visible and intertwined, making for a fascinating example of archaeological storytelling.
The remnants of Ireland’s first settlers, who settled in Ireland around 10,000 years ago, have been discovered throughout the Geopark. Due to the nomadic nature of these communities, it isn’t so easy to find evidence of their experience, however numerous stone tools such as axe heads and scrapers made from Geopark sourced rocks have been found along shorelines, such as Lough MacNean. These Mesolithic tribes dwelled on the shores of seas and lakes, unable to forage the dense forest land.
With the Neolithic period, came a drastic change. The Mesolithic approach of hunting and gathering was exchanged for a settled way of life. Permanent dwellings were created, farming began and large areas of upland forest were cleared for agriculture. Some of the most precious and revered legacies of the Neolithic people are their megaliths, or large stone burial sites. When visiting the Cavan Burren Park, near Blacklion, you have the opportunity to see many Neolithic hut sites and megaliths. This discovery tells us so much about this ancient community, their rituals and the beginnings of tradition in Ireland.
The Bronze Age didn’t grace the emerald isle until around 4,000 years ago, but what an event in history that was. Numerous tools have been discovered throughout the Geopark, displaying a great big step in humanity’s evolution. During this period in history, settlers began to abandon the traditional megalith tomb and began to use a more humble method, a burial pit. However, they also began using a new type of tomb, the wedge tomb. A magnificent example of this can be spotted in Cavan Burren Park, known as the Giant’s Grave.
The Celts invaded Ireland around 2,500 years ago, and with them came the Iron Age. Iron being a much stronger and more durable metal than bronze allowed Ireland to advance at a fast pace. You can spot the traces of this period throughout the Geopark in the form of numerous promontory forts, including a fantastic example found within Cavan Burren Park.
During the late 5th Century, missionaries began to arrive on the island of Ireland. The most famous of these, (however not the first, contrary to what many believe) was St Patrick. He and his contemporaries founded many churches throughout the land. By the 6th Century, the Irish church had developed greatly, leading to the creation of many monasteries. Although they began as places for worship, monasteries gained great respect and attracted visits from kings and influential leaders. Many of these sites can be found throughout the Geopark, including, Devenish Island monastic site, Inishmacsaint High Cross on Lower Lough Erne, and Drumlane Abbey on the shores of Lough Oughter.
By the 12th Century, the creation of kingdoms and political divide had overtaken the island of Ireland. In 1169, the Norman invasion led to major shifts in Irish society, including the development of towns, castles and churches. There was also a sharp increase in agriculture, and Ireland had begun a new chapter in it’s colourful history. Beautiful examples of this active period can be viewed at Anglo-Norman motte and bailey on Turbet Island in Belturbet and Clogh Oughter Castle on Lough Oughter.
The Plantation of Ulster
In the 17th Century, English and Scottish settlers began to dwell on lands that had been seized from Catholic Irish landowners in the Ulster counties, which included Fermanagh and Cavan. The settlers were armed and prevented further rebellion, as the communities in Ulster had been the most resistant to English invasion. Numerous plantation castles are still visible across Ireland and within the Geopark. Sites to spot these great examples of history are, Monea, Tully, Portora and Castle Caldwell.
Ireland’s population grew at a staggering rate between 1700 and the time of the Great Famine in the 1840s. With the need for crop growth and the ever decreasing availability of land, many farmers resorted to farming on land of poor quality. Ever resilient, Irish farmers began to employ solutions such as burning peat rather than coal and creating “lazy beds”, which was a method of tillage that helped crops grow in poor soil. Across the Geopark, abandoned cottages can be found, often with examples of “lazy beds” adjoining them. These sites will always serve as a great archaeological reminder of a difficult time in Ireland’s past.
The Geopark is a refuge for amazing species, for incredible flora and fauna. It'...