McNamee talking to Pat, Oliver and Nuala
on Radio Ulster
Michael McNamee, from Radio Ulster's "Your Place & Mine" programme went underground to talk to Pat, Oliver and Nuala about the reconstruction of this hidden marvel.
Here to see video taken on the dayinside
(Note: Most of the video in this
clip was shot using a night vision camera and thus
appears in black and white.)
Here to listen to the report as
transmitted on 'Your Place and Mine'
Getting the right solution to the lighting problem was vital to the success of the project. Without it, the souterrain would have been in total darkness and thus would be quite inaccessible to visitors. As the souterrain is located around 120m across a field in a fairly remote area, a renewable source of energy for the lighting was required. It had to be low maintenance and reasonably vandal proof. Initially wind power was considered but it was decided that this would probably be too intrusive and so the council chose to explore the possibility of using solar power. There are clear instructions on the use of the lights which switch themselves off automatically after 15 minutes.. you can of course reactivate them by pressing a push button on each light.
How to get there:
The souterrain is located off the Carrigagh Road, about 2.5 miles south of Finnis. (Map ref. J272442)
From Finnis: (which is on the B7 Rathfriland-Dromara Road, near Dromara) take the first road on your left past the chapel. This road is the Carrigagh Road and is marked with a sign for 'Legananny Dolmen'. Continue along this road until you reach a crossroads - continue straight ahead (continuation of the Carrigagh Road). Go past the road which is signed to Legananny Dolmen. About 400 yards further you will see a small lay-by on your left with a wooden sign marking the souterrain.
From the south: take the main Banbridge-Castlewellan Road. Then take the A50 turn off at Moneyslane onto B7 Rathfriland-Dromara Road. Continue towards Dromara for around 3.5 miles until you see a sign for 'Legananny Dolmen'. Turn right at this sign into the Slievenaboley Road. Continue along it and take the first road on your left. This is the Carrigagh Road. Continue for a short distance until you see a lay-by on your right and a wooden signpost for the souterrain.
The Early Christian settlements in Ireland:
In the 5th century AD Ireland underwent a radical change which transformed the nature of the Irish settlement and made a lasting impact on the natural environment. Pollen records testify to a huge upsurge in grasses and weeds associated with pasture and arable farming - indicating a revolution in the landscape.
At about the same time Christianity arrived on the scene and closer contact with the world of the Romans was established. From then on technological advances spread and agriculture in Ireland, and thus food production, improved dramatically, leading to a substantial increase in the population.
This increase in population lead to the construction of literally tens of thousands of ringforts or 'raths', as they are more commonly known, the remains of which we see almost everyday throughout the Irish countryside. These raths provided the security a settlement needed at the time but towards the end of the first millennium the ringfort fell out of use. The reasons are lost in time and there are many suggestions as to why their popularity faded. One of these suggestions is that the arrival of the marauding Vikings meant the ringfort defences became obsolete since they'd moved warfare onto a different plane.
It was at this time that, as the ringforts vanished, a new innovation in defensive architecture appeared - the souterrain.
A souterrain is an artificially built or dug underground structure, often built within pre-existing ringforts but many were constructed independently of enclosures and the most common are built in a dry-stone style.
They were made by digging an open trench which was then lined with dry-stone walls, roofed with large lintels and then covered with soil. The simplest consist of one or two passages which open out into chambers little more than a metre wide and would rarely have a height of more than 1.75m. The passages between the chambers are usually narrower and lower and the construction process frequently included an obstruction such as a hanging lintel which 'squeezed' the access space thus reducing the opportunity for rapid or easy ingress - these are often referred to as 'creeps'. Other Irish souterrains show the use of blind alleys and split levels which were designed to confuse the intruder.
The function of the souterrain has long been the subject of debate and the most accepted opinion is that they were used primarily as a place of refuge and occasionally as a storage site.
It's perhaps harder to accept that these - hard to access - tunnels were where people stored their everyday goods but, seen as refuges from quick enemy raids, where the object would have been to capture people , they must have been effective. It would have been a very confident raider who would have been the first to crawl down a dark tunnel into the unknown with an unknown number of people, who knew the layout intimately, ahead of him in the dark.