The late prehistoric 'Royal Site' of Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon: An enduring paradigm of enclosed sacred space
Fenwick, Joseph P.
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Fenwick, Joseph P. (2018). The late prehistoric 'Royal Site' of Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon: An enduring paradigm of enclosed sacred space. Emania, 24 :35-51.
Rathcroghan (Cruácha), like the other late prehistoric royal sites of Tara (Temair), Co. Meath, Navan Fort (Emain Macha), Co. Armagh, and Knockaulin (Dún Ailinne), Co. Kildare features prominently in the literary imagination of early medieval Ireland. These places are presented as royal strongholds, distinguished cemeteries and the loci of great assemblies, a fading memory of an heroic pagan past eclipsed, it would seem, by the truth and light of Christianity. Recent archaeological field research and excavation, however, indicates that these places served not as great royal residences but instead as regional cult centres whose political and symbolic significance persisted long after their supposed demise. This article examines the archaeological evidence from Rathcroghan against a backdrop of comparative evidence from Tara, Navan Fort and Knockaulin. Despite superficial differences, these great royal sites share much in common, which seems to indicate a general accord in terms of ritual, ceremony and religious belief across much of the island of Ireland throughout late prehistory. The article further proposes that these centres of cult and kingship might have had a surviving archaeological influence above and beyond the literary landscapes in which they figure so prominently. Perhaps the unique form and layout of early Christian settlement in Ireland, which developed largely during the conversion period, might owe as much to the influence of these pre-existing royal sites and centuries-old vernacular tradition as it does to canonical law and Biblical allusion.