Internationally important finds at Tullaghoge Fort, Cookstown: Durkan

Admin 2 Press Releases, Stormont

Foundations of houses thought to belong to the Gaelic O’Hagan clan, some 700 years ago, have been uncovered by the Department of the Environment (DOE) at Tullaghoge.
Tullaghoge was the place where O’Neills were crowned as chiefs of their lands, and the O’Hagans were the hereditary guardians of that site.

The rare archaeological remains, located outside of the well-known landmark of Tullaghoge Fort, have been uncovered during pre-development works for the creation of new visitor facilities. DOE and Mid Ulster Council are working closely on a project to improve visitor access and experience at Tullaghoge, increase visitor numbers and boost the local economy.

Highlighting the archaeological and historical importance of the recent finds at Tullaghoge, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “These preliminary findings have surpassed all our expectations. We believe that not only is this the first time such buildings of this date have been uncovered in the North but may well be a first for the entire island of Ireland.

“The houses are small sub-rectangular buildings marked now only by their surviving floors and measure around 5m by 3m internally. They would have had sod or clay walls supporting angled roof timbers known as crucks. A fire, set in its hearth at the centre of the house, would have heated the building, with the smoke rising to find its way out through a thatched or sod roof. At least two houses have been found so far along with the fragmentary remains of a possible two or three more. Archaeologists suspect that many more lie dotted around the hill, forming an O’Hagan farming settlement that supported the elite members of the clan who lived in the Fort or nearby on the hill.

“Tullaghoge is mostly associated with the O’Neill family who were very powerful in Ulster during the medieval and late medieval periods. However, the O’Hagans were the hereditary guardians of Tullaghoge and lived at the site from at least the 1200s until 1602. Their role as stewards of the site may well extend back to the 900s when the predecessors of the O’Neills, a Donegal dynastic group known as the Cenél nEógain, conquered this part of modern Tyrone. The O’Hagans trace their ancestry to the Cenél nEógain and played a role within the inauguration of kings and ‘O’Neills’ at Tullaghoge for centuries.”

The Minister, commenting on the development of new visitor facilities, said: “The visitor project has demanded much careful design in order that the needs of the modern visitor can be accommodated while ensuring the integrity of the internationally important monument and its surroundings. My officials are now liaising with their Mid Ulster Council colleagues about how best to preserve these latest finds within the development and make them a part of the new visitor experience.

“The Tullaghoge project is an example of how my department is out there, literally on the ground, working with new councils and communities across the North to deliver enhanced experiences at our heritage sites. A key objective at Tullaghoge is to raise visitor numbers to the area and create resulting positive effects for local business and employment. These exciting finds will further assist us in achieving that objective.”

Speaking about the significance of the latest archaeological finds at Tullaghoge, Councillor Linda Dillon, Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, said: “Tullaghoge is an ancient site, inextricably bound to the history of Ulster and to Ireland as a whole, and to have uncovered evidence of homes which could date back up to 700 years is remarkable.

“These latest finds serve to further position Tullaghoge as a ‘must-visit’ destination for anyone interested in Irish history and I’m delighted that the Mid Ulster connection with the seat of the O’Neill’s is being strengthened as we work towards achieving that balance between recognising, preserving and protecting our heritage, and the economic benefits to be derived from our area’s attraction as a place to visit and explore.”

Advanced archaeological works in 2014 also uncovered significant finds of Mesolithic flint tools (c.7,000-5,000 BC) and Early Medieval corn drying kilns (c.AD 600-900) on Tullaghoge hill but this season’s dig has surpassed archaeologists’ expectations.

For further information please contact DOE Historic Monuments Unit at: hmenquiries@doeni.gov.uk or on (028) 9064 3159.

Admin 2Internationally important finds at Tullaghoge Fort, Cookstown: Durkan