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This new database shows you all the ancient hill forts across Ireland

The database reveals that Mayo and Cork each have more than 70 ancient hill fort sites.

shutterstock_160584689 Dun Aonghasa, Inis Mór, Aran Islands Shutterstock / Steve Heap Shutterstock / Steve Heap / Steve Heap

LOCATIONS AND DETAILS of all the ancient hill forts across the landscapes of Ireland and the UK are being mapped on an online database for the first time.

Hill forts were fortified settlements built as a form of protection against armed enemies. Most hill forts date back to the iron age, which began in Europe around 1200 BC.

With the help of “citizen scientists”, researchers have spent five years recording information on every hill fort across the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

A total of 4,147 ancient sites have been recorded in the database. Most of these date back to the iron age.

These range from well-preserved forts to places where nothing more than crop marks remain.

So how does it work? 

The website can be accessed here.

Each hill fort that has been catalogued across Ireland and the UK appears as an orange dot on the screen.

Users can click onto the specific hill forts they are interested in (the orange dots) and will be given a detailed summary of the ancient site.

Dún Aonghasa hill fort on the Aran Island of Inis Mór is one of Ireland’s most famous hill forts.

Part of Dún Aonghasa’s summary reads:

There were two main phases of construction. The fort was initially constructed at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. There are three entrances in the enclosing elements that may date to the Late Bronze Age and up to seven entrances which were probably added during the Early Medieval period (Cotter 2012a, 55).
Up to ten structures were identified within the interior of the fort during excavation. A wide range of artifacts has also been identified. The stone banks have been substantially rebuilt in modern times.

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The database has been designed to help those that don’t have an extensive knowledge of hill forts.

With details of both world-famous sites along with little-known hill forts, the database helps walkers, cyclists, history enthusiasts and everyone in between to learn about their local landscapes.

Users have the option of searching for hill forts based on location, type of landscape, age of the site and the site’s structure.

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The database reveals that Mayo and Cork each have more than 70 ancient sites.

The research found that Clare has 54 hill forts, Kerry has 42, while Donegal has 40.

Antrim was found to be the hot spot in Northern Ireland for these sites, with a total of 15 recorded.

Tyrone is the second largest hot spot for hill forts in Northern Ireland with a total of 8.

Down and Armagh have three, while Derry has two.

Information on all the hill forts has been gathered together on a website that’s freely accessible to the public.

Professor Ian Ralston from the University of Edinburgh, who co-led the project said: “It is important that our online database will be freely accessible to all researchers and interested parties.”

“Standing on a windswept hill fort with dramatic views across the countryside, you really feel like you’re fully immersed in history. This research project is all about sharing the stories of the thousands of hill shorts across Britain and Ireland in one place that is accessible to the public and researchers.”

Hill fort history

The oldest hill fort dates back to around 1000 BC and the most recent to 700 AD.

Excavations of hill forts show that many were used as regional gathering spots for festivals and trade shows.

The research team from University College Cork, University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford were funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to gather information from citizen scientists on hill forts.

Over 100 members of the public gathered information about hill forts they visited.

They identified and recorded the characteristics of the forts, which was then sent over to the team for analysis.

The public will continue to have the ability to contribute to the database. They will be able to upload their own images and text about their visits.

Read: Explainer: What’s being done to bring anti-HIV medication into Ireland?

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