Lissanduff or the ‘Dark Fort’ as it’s known locally, consists of two sets of concentric circles (raths). The site dates from the early Bronze Age and is a very important archaeological site in Ireland. The main rath would have been a large standard enclosure used as a fortified home for people and animals, these were built in defensive locations to offer maximum protection from raiders. The farthest set of concentric banks are more intriguing, they are oval in shape and have a water spring at their centre. Archaeologists have discovered that non-porous clay was used to line the banks of the oval in order to create a deep pool of water, which would have been used for water rituals.
To fully understand the significance behind this site we must first understand the environment of the time. The bronze age spread to Ireland around 2000 BC when settlers from Europe arrived, the culture of these people merged with that of the native neolithic and so began the Irish Bronze Age. The landscape here would have been very different from today, forests would have covered much of the lowland areas, the dune system and river would have existed as a natural boundary, created by the outflow from a receding ice sheet which covered the area some 10,000 years BC. The view to the ocean at that time would have been much the same as today.
Although stone implements were still used, bronze revolutionized tools and weapons and as the skill based developed, more and more sophisticated decorative bronze items were produced and the first workings of gold appeared. Why a water ritual site here? No-one can categorically say why, although we know that similar sites excavated have produced valued items of a similar style and look.
We must remember that at this time there were three major influences upon life, belief and culture, these were ‘the sun, fire and water’. Water in particular, held a significant mystery and importance, not only was it life sustaining, it was the only physical material that could reflect your image. In a time of no mirrors, when people had very little idea of what they looked like, this would have been quite significant in importance.
In traditional early Irish mythological, the other world could be reached by water, through a pool, a lake or the sea. This idea of water as a gateway between worlds is linked with boundary-symbolism: Water was, at one and the same time, a barrier between earth and the supernatural world and a means of access to it. As well as being reflective, you could pass your hand through the surface into what seemed like another unknown world. To pass an axe or other valued item through this reflective portal, let it go and then withdraw your hand back to your world would have been a significant and symbolic action to carry out. Water has and still has this symbolic link through religions, baptism, and holy wells are two that are commonly used today. Another significant factor to consider about Lissanduff is that it is located on the boundary of the western extreme of the ancient kingdom of Dariada and at the end of the Ballaghmore, the great road which ran from Tara to the north coast.