Dunmisk Enclosure, County Tyrone

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Dunmisk Enclosure is an important site in County Tyrone, Ireland, since it contains the remains of a Christian burial ground and chapel as well as prehistoric earthwork. It is assumed to be one of the few industrial centres of Ireland during prehistoric times, and was later used as the base for an early Christian monastic community. Set atop a hill, it provides a majestic view of the Camowen Valley and is located on the prow of a gravel ridge. In fact, the site owners were quarrying for gravel when they chanced upon the site in 1984-85 and handed it over to archaeologists for excavation. Upon excavation, the major findings were various crucible artefacts, more than 500 graves and a magnanimous half-finished wooden structure, quite possibly a church.

The name of the site may be a reference to St. Patrick’s brewer, as it literally means Mescan’s hill fort in Irish. The site was earlier thought to be a fort, though the findings of the excavation proved it to be of religious nature. The enclosure covers total area of 3,500 sq m, even though only 860 m were covered during the excavation. Archaeologists who excavated the site determined, via the elimination process, that settlements were made on the hilltop, even though there are no other proofs of the same.

The prehistoric industrial site is located away from the graveyards, even though graves did encroach the area. Several significant findings were made in the industrial portion, such as fragments of various tuyeres, numerous mould fragments, 145 sherds of crucibles and substantial quantity of slag. The fact that crucible used for producing glass were found at this enclosure makes it quite important from the historic point of view. This is so because it is the first glass manufacturing site in the whole country. The excavation unearthed thirteen separate glass items here, which further accentuates the gravity of its significance. Apart from these, three copper alloy pins, an amber head, a section of a lignite bracelet and two sherds of flat-rim ware also discovered here.

The archaeologists also found evidence of a medieval Christian monastic settlement, which was possibly building a church before abandoning the site due to unknown reasons. Along with that, a large number of graves, numbering up to 535 and several with multiple inhumations, were also found. Identifying the gender of those buried in the graves was possible; skeletons of 26 males, 27 females and 40 juveniles, among those 30 being less than ten years old, were determined. The site is assumed to have a workforce of both sexes, which was in the process of building a rectangular wood-based structure. The foundation of the structure is set towards the east, while the rest of the structure is lined with post-holes. Numerous graves have are situated in line with the structure, and some are even located within it. This gives rise to the school of thought that advocates the possibility of the site being a church, quite possibly the lost Domnach Mescain.

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About the author

Originally from Scotland, Colin now resides near the beautiful seaside town of Portstewart on the Causeway Coastal Route. By day he works in IT and by day off he spends much of his time travelling around the Island with his young family, writing about his experiences for many sites both locally and nationally.