2012 Leave a comment
The most common kind of field monument in Ireland is one that most people have never heard of. They’re called fulachta fiadh (or fian, singular).
Maybe monument is too grand a word for them. But there is more that is mysterious about the fulachta fiadh than the name. Despite being so plentiful, the experts are not absolutely sure of what their function was. This of course leaves the door slightly open for amateurs like ourselves to propose their own fancy theories!
Giant cooking pots?
All that appears of the fulactha fiadh today is roughly circular indents. The ones I’ve seen are under three metres in diameter. Originally most were lined with stone or probably with impermeable clay. The most widely accepted theory is that they were communal cooking places. They would be filled with water and a large fire lit nearby. Stones were reddened in the fire and then rolled into the water to bring it to the boil. Meat was placed in the water to cook, probably wrapped in leaves. Strong evidence for this theory is provided by the burnt stones usually found in the vicinity. It’s also pointed out that most fulachta fiadh are near rivers or streams – and assumed that this is for easy access to water for the pit. Furthermore, people have in recent times recreated similar structures to show that this system of cooking would have worked.
Or an African legacy?
OK, so this amateur’s uninformed theory: I recently had a moment of doubt about the water boiling explanation on seeing pictures of strikingly similar structures in Africa. And even if it was forty thousand years earlier, it’s worth remembering that our forebears did bring some technologies with them. In Africa, the usage is much more straight forward.
The submerged pit simply provides a stable (wind sheltered) place in which to manage a fire consistently for roasting meat over. Having a contrarian bent, I rather fancy this theory. It seems a less laborious method of cooking – though of course we are not renowned for always doing things the easiest way. It removes the problem of hot water seeping away.
But what about them all being near rivers? Well let’s remember that the rivers were the main arteries through the country, much of which was wooded. Many of the early settlements stemmed out from river banks. One could imagine that for a communal event, people would move along the rivers to meet, rather than navigating through woodlands.
And the charred stones? Well the stones around any open fire would be charred.
I have the kevlar suit on in anticipation of being corrected by some sensible archaeologist.