German Army documents indicate serious planning for a WWII invasion of Ireland.

Militärgeographische Angaben über Irland, Military and geographical assessment of Ireland. Mullocks Auctions UK.

Militärgeographische Angaben über Irland, Military and geographical assessment of Ireland. Mullocks Auctions UK.

Appearing at auction this week at Mullock’s Auctions in Shropshire is a surviving copy of the planning documents prepared for a German invasion of Ireland.

As part of the planning for the invasion of Britain in 1940 the Department for War Maps and Surveying of the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), German Army High Command, produced a series of military and geographical assessments to assist with planning the invasion. The OKH also produced a detailed assessment to assist with plans for Operation Green, the invasion of neutral Ireland. Entitled Militärgeographische Angaben über Irland, Military and Geographical Assessment of Ireland and labelled “Only for internal use”, the first edition of the document was completed on 30 September 1940. David Archer Maps have catalogued the contents of the assessment as three illustrated books and seven folding maps giving an overview of the geographical and industrial background of Ireland useful to an invading force. Maps included electricity power supply, railways with index of stations, radio installations, telephone and telegraph offices and a road map, emphasising traffic difficulties. There was also a book of 25 town plans with detailed maps of Dublin and Belfast. Another book contained photographs and descriptions of the coast, with sketch diagrams to identify locations from offshore.

Aerial photo of the Ardnacrusha hydro-electric power plant from Militärgeographische Angaben über Irland. Image: Daily Mail.

Aerial photo of the Ardnacrusha hydro-electric power plant from Militärgeographische Angaben über Irland. Image: Daily Mail.

Notably planning for the invasion continued after the abandonment of the invasion of Britain as a book with maps describing the West and North Coast (Mizen Head to Malin Head) was completed for a later edition completed on 15 October 1941. Although Ireland was a neutral state the documents demonstrate that the German High Command considered an invasion a real possibility and assigned considerable resources to the task of planning. The detailed mapping and photography of Ireland’s towns and cities and vital infrastructure, like the Ardnacrusha hydro-electric power plant (above), indicate just how close Ireland came to becoming a battlefield.

See more images from the document published by the Daily Mail.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. 2012. German Army documents indicate serious planning for a WWII invasion of Ireland. The Charles Mount Blog, 27 September 2012.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Kildare

The Perceptory of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Tully near Kildare

The Perceptory of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Tully near Kildare

For three hundred years the town of Kildare was host to a house of crusader knights.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights of Malta, originated in the early twelfth century as an international monastic order Continue reading

How to build a bog road

Gravel trackway from Mountdillon, Co. Roscommon. Photo courtesy of Archaeological Development Services.

In Chapter 30 of Cogitosus’ Life of St. Brigit is an important contemporary account of the construction of a bog trackway that sheds light on the materials used, the purpose of the track, how the workers were levied and how the work was organised. Continue reading

The O’Conor Faly Murders of 1306

Carrick castle, Co. Kildare, the venue for the notorious O'Conor Faly murders in 1306.

The O’Conor Faly murders of 1306 were the most notorious and shocking of Medieval Irish history.

In 1306 one of the most notorious and shocking murders of Irish history was carried out by Sir Piers Mac Feorais Bermingham on the family of Murtough O’Conor Faly, King of Offaly. Piers Bermingham had agreed to act as god-father to Murtough’s nephew and Murtough, his brother and all the O’Conor Faly chiefs had attended a baptismal mass with the Berminghams at Carrick, Co. Kildare on the feast of the Holy Trinity. After the mass the whole party entered the Bermingham Castle at Carrick and it was here that Birmingham’s men attacked and killed Murtough and his entire family. Twenty-nine people are said to have been killed and then decapitated.

 The O’Conor Faly sept or clan were descendants of the Uí Failge who were Kings of eastern Offaly (now part of Co. Kildare) and at times had been Kings of Leinster. When the Normans arrived in Kildare in the 1170s they had been forced out of their lands into the area of Offaly west of Tullamore. Here they had regrouped and at the end of the thirteenth century had risen against the English. Their most spectacular raid was in 1294 when they had captured Kildare castle and destroyed the records of the Lordship of Kildare.

Robert de Bermingham had taken part in the original Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland and Strongbow, the leader of the expedition, had granted him the lands of the Uí Failge. His descendant Piers Bermingham was baron of Tothemoy, the part of north-east Offaly next to Co. Kildare. In 1289 he had been appointed by the King to guard the Marches or frontier of Leinster from Rathangan north to his barony of Tothemoy. This had placed the Berminghams and O’Conor Faly on a collision course and they had been at war intermittently since that time. In 1306 however there must have been a truce and the baptismal ceremony on the feast of the Holy Trinity was presumably intended to cement improved relations between the two frontier families. Perhaps a baptism could have been followed by a marriage alliance? What the O’Conor Faly didn’t know is that Piers Birmingham planned to use the occasion to administer the coup de grâce.

The murders took place at Carrick castle which is on the road from Edenderry to Kinnegad in western Co. Kildare. Carrick castle is actually a thirteenth century Hall-House, a rectangular three-story block with vaulting over the first floor that supported a main hall on the second floor. The Hall-House is situated conveniently next to a thirteenth century church and it was probably here that the baptismal ceremony took place with the after celebrations planned for the Hall-House. The murders were reported on extensively in the contemporary chronicles.

 The Annals of the Fours Masters recorded that:

 “O’Conor Faly (Murtough), Maelmora, his kinsman, and Calvagh O’Conor, with twenty-nine of the chiefs of his people, were slain by Sir Pierce Mac Feorais Bermingham in Mac Feorais’s own castle, by means of treachery and deceit.”

 The fullest account was written in the Annals of Innisfallen:

“Muirchertach Ó Conchobuir Fhailgi and In Calbach his brother, were slain by Sir Piers Bermingham, after he had deceitfully and shamefully invited them and acted as god-father to [the child of] the latter and as co-sponsor with the other. Masir, the little child who was a son of the latter, and whom Piers himself had sponsored at confirmation, was thrown over [the battlements of] the castle, and it was thus it died. And twenty-three or twenty-four of the followers of those men mentioned above, were slain, for In Gaillsech Shacsanach (she was the wife of the same Piers) used to give warning from the top of the castle of any who went into hiding, so that many were slain as a result of those warnings. And woe to the Gaedel who puts trust in a king’s peace or in foreigners after that! For, although they had [the assurance of] their king’s peace, their heads were brought to Áth Cliath, and much wealth was obtained for them from the foreigners. “

 As the Annals of Innisfallen indicate Bermingham was not punished by the King for the murders but instead received a sizable reward. In fact it is recorded in the Calendar of Justiciary Rolls of Ireland that on the 9th of June 1306 Bermingham and his accomplices appeared in the Royal Justiciar’s Court at Naas. They requested a payment for the beheading of felons. The individuals beheaded aren’t named but this undoubtedly refers to the O’Conor Faly and his family who been killed just weeks earlier. Bermingham was granted a £23 reward from the Royal treasury by the Justiciar. The suspicion is that this was a government sanctioned murder. But if its aim was to remove the threat to the frontier posed by the O’Conor Faly clan it failed and in fact hostilities recommenced immediately. The O’Conor Faly would continue to be a threat to the English province until the plantation of Offaly in the sixteenth century.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The O’Conor Faly Murders. The Charles Mount Blog, September 29, 2011.

The Journal of Irish Archaeology Volume XIX 2010: Review


One of the highlights of the archaeological year is the publication of the Journal of Irish Archaeology by the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland. This latest volume XIX for 2010 is edited by Prof. James Mallory of Queen’s University Belfast and includes six papers on a variety of topics ranging from prehistory to the post-medieval period. There are papers on the rock art of Loughcrew and George Petrie’s work on megalithic tombs. There are surveys of Inis Airc Island, medieval church altars and the limestone quarries of the Hook Peninsula, and there is also a report on the excavation of early medieval and prehistoric features at Ballyburn Upper, Co. Kildare.

Open-air rock art at Loughcrew, Co. Meath

Elizabeth Shee Twohig, Corinne Roughley, Colin Shell, Ciaran O’Reilly, Peter Clarke and Gillian Swanton

Elizabeth SheeTwohig et al. report on 10 new examples of rock art found in the vicinity of the Loughcrew, Co. Meath passage Tomb cemetery since 2003. They discuss the geology and location of the art and present a catalogue and drawings and review the earlier discoveries. They discuss the repertoire and organisation of the art. In the conclusion they suggest that the open-air rock art and passage tomb art could be contemporary.

Druids’ altars, Carrowmore and the birth of Irish archaeology

David McGuinness

David McGuinness in a paper on the history of archaeology explores how George Petrie’s work on the Carrowmore megalithic cemetery in 1837 and the opening of the Knockmary Tumulus in the Phoenix Park Dublin in front of the members of the Royal Irish Academy lead to the acceptance of megalithic sites as tombs rather than temples.

Reconsidering early medieval seascapes: new insights from Inis Airc, Co. Galway. Ireland

Ian Kujit, Ryan Lash, Michael, Gibbons, Jim Higgins, Nathan Goodale and John O’Neill

Field survey of Inis Airc, Co. Galway suggests that the island with its stone church, graveyards, cashel and possible oratory, holy wells and open air altar may have been an early medieval ecclesiastical settlement.

Settlement and economy of an early medieval site in the vicinity of two newly discovered enclosures near the Carlow/Kildare border.

Nial O’Neill

This is a report of the excavation of an unenclosed early medieval subsistence and manufacturing site as well as the testing of the two hilltop enclosures, one with a large burnt deposit at its centre, and a Bronze Age hut site at Ballyburn Upper, Co. Kildare. The discussion is focussed on the unenclosed subsistence and manufacturing site as this is an indication that not all activity took place within the enclosed farmsteads known as ringforts and cashels.

Altars in Ireland. 1050-1200: a survey

Griffin Murray

This assessment of eight stone alters from the medieval period finds that they were all of a uniform size and shape in order to hold a reasonable number of religious artefacts and that there decoration was influenced by altars of wood and metal.

Between the sea and the land: coastal limestone quarries on the Hook Peninsula, Co. Wexford

Niall Colfer

Niall Colfer discusses the post-medieval industrial limestone quarries of the Loftus Estate of the Hook Peninsula, Co. Wexford. He notes that the stone was used to construct many of the landscape features we see on the peninsula today.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The Journal of Irish Archaeology Volume XIX 2010: Review. The Charles Mount Blog, August 25, 2011.

Teddy Roosevelt and the Celtic Twilight

Presidential portrait of Theodore Roosevelt by John Singer Sargent, 1903.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most extraordinary people to have held the office of President of the United States. A graduate of Harvard he served in a variety of administrative and elected offices culminating in the Presidency on the death of William Macinley in 1901. Roosevelt also had an insatiable curiosity about the world. He travelled extensively, climbed mountains, hunted wild game, fought in Cuba and ranched cattle in North Dakota. He was a progressive and conservationist and helped establish national parks and forests as well as supporting the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Roosevelt also had a lifelong interest in world literature and poetry and was the author of books ranging from a History of the War of 1812 to The Winning of the West and was an editor of Outlook Magazine. What has been little appreciated was his interest in early Irish literature.

At the end of the nineteenth century an Irish Literary Revival lead by people such as Lady Augusta Gregory and William Butler Yeats, amongst others, emerged. Like any revivalist movement the Irish Literary Revival or Celtic Twilight drew on an earlier literary tradition, in this case the Medieval Irish manuscripts that preserved versions of Iron Age mythology. Lady Gregory in her book Cuchulain of Muirthemne, published in 1902, had made the whole Ulster cycle of Irish Iron Age mythology accessible to a new audience. The poet William Butler Yeats wrote the Preface to the book and with Lady Gregory and others went on to found the Abbey Theatre, later to become the National Theatre of Ireland, in 1904.

Roosevelt’s newly discovered correspondence with T.P. Gill, the Secretary of the Irish Department of Agriculture (recently published in the Irish Times), indicates that he had obtained a copy of Lady Gregory’s book from Gill in 1903 and had also ordered a copy of Douglas Hyde’s A Literary History of Ireland. Hyde had helped found Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic league) in 1893 and later served as President of Ireland from 1938-45. His Literary History of Ireland dealt with literature in the Irish language from the time of the Celts to the eighteenth century.

Roosevelt clearly enjoyed the work of the Irish Literary Revival and especially the new interpretation of Irish mythology and in 1907, while still in the White House, published an essay in The Century Magazine entitled The Ancient Irish Sagas. The essay was an appreciation and discussion of what is known as the Ulster Cycle. Roosevelt dealt with the Ulster Cycle in the context of North-European literature and made comparisons with Norse Sagas and Arthurian Romances.

Illustration of Queen Meave from Theodore Roosevelt's 1907 article in the The Century Magazine.

In the essay Roosevelt noted that:

In our own day there has at last come about a popular revival of interest in the wealth of poems and tales to be found in the ancient Celtic, and especially ancient Erse, manuscripts, – the whole forming a body of prose and poetry of great and well-nigh unique interest from every standpoint…

He regretted that littlie research had been carried out in America on Celtic literature and recommend that chairs of Celtic should be established in the leading Universities. He also wanted to see popular versions of the poems made available for the layman. Roosevelt was interested in the world that the tales conjured. He commented:

They played chess by the fires in their great halls and they feasted and drank and quarrelled within them, and the women had sun-parlors of their own.

Roosevelt’s interest in culture, world literature and emerging literary trends marks him out as one of the most interesting people to have held the office of President. Where it not for Roosevelt’s many other accomplishments that fact alone would make him worthy of our interest.

Further reading

Douglas Hyde’s 1899. A Literary History of Ireland. Full  text here.

Augusta Gregory 1902. Cuchulain of Muirthemne.  Full text here.

Theodore Roosevelt 1907.  The Ancient Irish Sagas. The Century Magazine. Full text here.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Teddy Roosevelt and the Celtic Twilight. The Charles Mount Blog, July 28, 2011.


Were there bridges in Medieval Ireland?

Artist's interpretation of the building of the Medieval bridge at Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly. Drawing by Mark Offutt, of Discovering Archaeology

One of the areas often omitted from historical and archaeological accounts of Medieval Ireland are bridges. Standard reference works make no mention of bridges and few articles on individual bridge sites, apart from the find at Clonmacnoise, have appeared. It has been assumed that most travel required the fording of rivers at crossing points referred to as Áth in Irish. However, analysis of the Irish Annals, manuscripts written by monastic scribes who chronologically recorded notable events, indicate that there were bridges throughout Ireland in the Medieval period, built both by the native Irish and by the later Anglo-Norman settlers. The large number of bridges suggests that the prevailing view of Medieval transport and travel needs to be revised.

Nine sets of Annals were examined for references to bridges: The Annals of the Four Masters, The Annals of Connacht, The Annals of Ulster, The Annals of Clonmacnoise, The Annals of Tigernach, The Short Annals of Ireland, The Annals of Loch Ce, The Annals of Innisfallen, The short Annals of Leinster and the Annals Hiberniae. There are references to twenty-two bridges during the period 924-1500 AD. These bridges are mentioned primarily due to their significance to military campaigns, either as the sites of battles or because they were built or demolished during the course of campaigns. Two sets of temporary pontoon bridges built across boats have not been included. The locations of the bridges of Tine and Áth Caille were not identified and have been left out of the map below.

The distribution of Medieval Bridges mentioned in the Irish Annals.

The earliest mention of a bridge is in 924 AD at Cluain-na-gCruimhther (Cloone) Co. Leitrim where Muircheartach O’ Niall defeated a force of Vikings. However the archaeological survey of the bed of the river Shannon at Clonmacnoise identified a bridge which was dated earlier to 804 AD. Examination of timbers in other river beds will probably push this date back even further. Bridges are recorded at the rivers Shannon, Bann, Suck, Lee, Garravogue, Liffey, Yellow, Corrib, Barrow, Nore, Ballysadare, Avonmore and possibly the Brosna or Silver rivers. The bridges were built at Cloone, Co. Leitrim, Athlone, Co. Westmeath, Shannon Harbour and Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, Athleague, Co. Roscommon, Cork City, Sligo town and Ballysadare, Co. Sligo, Dublin City, Newbridge, Co. Kildare, on the River Corrib near Galway, on the Yellow River near Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim, at Coleraine, Co. Derry, Newbridge and Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, Leihglinbridge, Co. Carlow, Kilkenny city and Drogheda, Co. Louth. Many of the bridge locations such as Athlone, Sligo, Drogheda, Coleraine, Ballinasloe later grew into sizable towns.

All the bridges, apart from the example built at Sligo in 1360, were of timber. A number of the bridges were built of wickerwork hurdles. The three bridges built in 1120 by Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair, King of Connaught, at Athlone, Shannon Harbour and Ballinasloe were of wickerwork hurdles. Toirdhealbhach built two more wickerwork bridges at Athleague and Athlone in 1140, another at Athleague in 1153 and at Athlone in 1155. Ruaidhri Ua Conchobhair built a wickerwork bridge at Athlone in 1159. The use of wicker hurdles would have allowed the bridge components to be fabricated from material available in the local area or they could have been prepared off site. The panels would have been relatively easy to transport on horse-drawn drag carts to the river site and then quickly assembled.

The lack of discussion of bridges in Medieval studies has lead to the impression that transport and travel was slow and difficult. The construction of bridges over the major rivers, and possibly over the minor rivers as well, would have greatly facilitated transport and travel as well as military campaigning. In future the use of bridges should be given grater consideration in Medieval studies.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Were there bridges in Medieval Ireland?. The Charles Mount Blog, July 21, 2011.