Finn’s Seat: topographies of power and royal marchlands of Gaelic polities in medieval Ireland
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FitzPatrick, Elizabeth, & Hennessy, Ronan. (2017). Finn’s Seat: topographies of power and royal marchlands of Gaelic polities in medieval Ireland. Landscape History, 38(2), 29-62. doi: 10.1080/01433768.2017.1394062
Hill- and mountain-top cairns and mounds in Ireland are often viewed as epiphenomenal features of the medieval landscape. In recent years, research on early medieval ferta, ancestral burial places cited in the legal procedure of taking possession of land and invoked during disputes over land, has highlighted the role of some sepulchral cairns and mounds in boundary maintenance. This paper proposes that particular cairns and mounds, imagined at least as early as the tenth century as Finn s Seat (Suidhe Finn), acted as territorial markers in boundary formation and continuity, and signified royal marchlands (mruig ríg) where Gaelic kings went to hunt and to fight. It is argued that such lands were essentially forests, where a range of natural resources were available. A window onto royal marchlands is provided by the medieval Finn Cycle of Tales (fíanaigecht) which encodes knowledge of medieval territorial boundary zones in the names of the places where the quasi-mythical warrior-hunter and border hero, Finn mac Cumaill, works for the king of Ireland, hunts with his fían (wild band) and accesses the Otherworld.