Navan, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland

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A hilltop enclosure west of Armagh city, the ancient Emain Macha, and the first capital of Ulster. Excavations carried out by Dudley Waterman between 1961 and 1971 show that the site has a long history stretching back to the Neolithic. The main use of the hill begins in the 3rd century bc with the construction of a massive enclosure 230 m across and with a ditch 4.5 m deep. Inside were a series of circular structures and monuments of which the most substantial was an earthen mound 50 m in diameter and 6 m high (site B). In its early life this comprised a ditched enclosure in which a series of periodically renewed figure‐of‐eight timber post‐built structures were erected. Finds from the site included the skull of a Barbary ape, which is taken to illustrate the wide trading links that the site had by the middle Iron Age. The figure‐of‐eight structures were replaced by a single massive timber structure with concentric rings of postholes about 95 bc, the whole thing being rapidly filled with stones and then burnt before being encased in its mound of earth and stone.

The Navan fort passes into history as the ancient seat of the kings of Ulster and perhaps the setting for the epic tales of Cu Chulainn. When Emain Macha was finally abandoned is uncertain, but it seems likely to coincide with the establishment of a very early church nearby at Armagh, where St Patrick established the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland.


D. Waterman (ed. C. Lynn), 1997, Excavations at Navan Fort 1961–71. Belfast: Stationery Office

Subjects: Archaeology.

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