The Mysterious Bog Roads of Ancient Ireland, Part I
The Mysterious Bog Roads of Ancient Ireland
In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher looks at the bog roads of ancient Ireland and their builders.
The Bogs of Ancient Ireland—Impossible to Cross
Central Ireland was once covered by an extensive, raised bog. Today, because of peat mining and tree cutting, much of the great Irish bog is gone. But in ancient times, it was a huge wetland area of peat, mosses, quicksand, and ponds. Forests of willow, birch, hazel, and alder surrounded the mire. Traveling through such a bog was risky business, indeed. Imagine you’re in the early second century. And you say you want to cross the mucky mire on horseback? Lads and lassies, beware! The bog will suck down you and your mounts, and you’ll disappear without a trace.
Ancient Roadways, Predating the Romans
As archaeologists began exploring the bog sites, they discovered a few ancient roadways made of wood. First in 1957. Later in the 1980s. Through carbon-dating, they learned the trees used for the construction of the bog roads were felled as early as 157 BC. Then they found that ancient peoples had built an entire network of wooden roads that crisscrossed the country’s bogs.
In fact, five different roads converged on the ancient village of Tara and its legendary palace. Tara was the seat of ancient kings of Leinster and Meath. The roads were called slige. In Chapter 10 of The Celts, Peter Beresford Ellis tells us: “The Slige Cualan ran southeast through Dublin across the Liffey… The fifth road, the Slige Mòr, ran south-west from Tara to join the Eiscir Riada, a natural ridge running across the whole country from Dublin to Galway. Significantly the name means ‘Sandhill of Chariot Driving’.”
The Corlea Trackway
Because the bog roads were constructed of wood, few have survived. But sections of one road were found preserved under the peat, whose anaerobic environment prevented decomposition. It’s the Corlea Trackway near Keenagh, in County Longford, Ireland. (See the picture of a reconstructed section.) Known locally as the Danes’ Road it was constructed of oak planks up to 3.5 meters wide (11 feet), enough for two chariots to pass abreast. It was 15 centimeters thick (6 inches). The ancient builders even adzed the planks to make them smooth.
The Corlea Trackway is unusual in that it wasn’t built to last. It’s estimated it would sink into the bog in a mere ten years. It also ended at an island, and so the builders may never have intended it to connect to other roads. Some speculate it was only for ceremonial purposes. Or was used for some diplomatic function. But we know from other sites that their main purpose was for transportation. So this particular road adds one more mystery.
Next week we’ll conclude our look at the bog roads of ancient Ireland, with Part II.
Sources for this post were The Celts, by Peter Beresford Ellis, and Pagan Celtic Ireland, by Barry Raftery.
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