SMR No.: KD028-038001-
Monument Type: Hilltop Enclosure
On Knockaulin, a moderately steep-sided, round-topped hill (OD c. 183m), in improved pasture overlooking the Curragh to the NW, and traditionally, the ‘Dún Ailinne’ of early Irish literature - seat of the kings of Leinster. O’Donovan, jointly compiling the OSL for Co. Kildare in 1837, noted that the name ‘Ailinne’ was said to derive from an ‘ail’ or stone on the site (KD028-038004-). He also noted that in the literature, Dún Ailinne is referred to as, ‘a place of assemblies, a Rath with royal roads, ... a Grianan [palace] and a Royal Dún’ (Herity 2002, 102-3 [46-7]). A substantial earth and stone bank (H 5m) and deep internal fosse encloses a very large oval area (c. 470m N-S; c. 385m E-W; c. 13 hectares) The enclosing elements hug the 150m contour SW-W-NW, and serve as a townland boundary SE-S-W-NW. A causewayed entrance (unexcavated bedrock) at E is approached externally by a revetted/kerbed roadway (L c. 40m; Wth c. 8m) which continues internally (L c. 70m) towards the summit of the monument. In the interior, O’Donovan (op. cit.) recorded a ‘Rath on the apex of the hill’ (KD028-038006-) and it is indicated on the 1st ed. (1838) of the OS 6-inch map which also records ‘St John’s Well’ (KD028-038002-) in the NW sector. From 1968 to 1975, seasonal archaeological excavation and geophysical prospection was undertaken at the monument (Wailes 1970 (a), 79-90; 1970 (b), 507-17; 1971, 5-11; 1973, 234-41; 1974 (a), 13-14; 1974 (b), 345-58; 1976, 319-38; 1982, 1-29; 1990, 10-21; Johnson 1990, 26-31; Jackson and Wailes 2007). The earliest activity uncovered on the hilltop was a small Neolithic enclosure (KD028-038007-), a possible Neolithic burial (KD028-038005-) and possible Neolithic and Bronze Age habitation evidence (KD028-038003-). Later, and far more extensive Iron Age activity comprised three major successive phases of construction, each partly cutting through the previous and all defined by circular trenches, representing large post and palisade structures, and called by the excavator, the ‘White Phase’, the ‘Rose Phase’ and the ‘Mauve Phase’. The first, ‘White Phase’, comprised a circular trench (diam. c. 22m) which was dug to take the close-set timber uprights of a possible palisade or fence. It was subsequently dismantled and replaced by a far more complex structure - the ‘Rose Phase’. Three concentric trenches, c. 1m apart, enclosed an inner circular area (diam. 28.5m). The posts in the trenches were graded by size; the inner trench supporting the smallest and the outer, the largest. An entrance at NE was flanked by substantial, diverging fences which contained an avenue flanked by parallel posts, which itself contained two short trenches. A smaller, conjoined enclosure at S (diam. c. 25m), formed by two concentric timber circles, had its own entrance at NE but communicated with the main enclosure via a narrow (Wth 1m), but defined gap at N. The complex ‘Rose Phase’ structure was almost entirely dismantled and a slightly larger but different structure built - the ‘Mauve Phase’. This comprised two concentric timber circles (ext. diam. c. 42m) with an entrance at ENE. A smaller circle (diam. c. 25m) of large free-standing posts (diam. c. 0.5m), was erected at the centre, and contained a smaller circular trench (diam. c. 6m) with well-defined post holes, but no obvious entrance. The ‘Mauve Phase’ structure was in turn dismantled. and later material deliberately deposited on the site included redeposited glacial till, followed by thin lenses of humus containing animal bone (cattle 54%, pig 36%), burnt stone, charcoal and ash - evidence, perhaps, of periodic feasting? Radiocarbon dates and finds, including an iron sword, an iron spear-head, iron needles, fragments of bronze fibulae and glass beads, indicate a late-prehistoric date (c. 390 BC - c. 320 AD ?) for the ritual activity at Dún Ailinne. Segment of the rock-cut ditch of O’Donovan’s ‘Rath’ (KD028-038006-) cut through all the later prehistoric levels on the hilltop. Of the substantial bank and fosse enclosing the hilltop, one radiocarbon date obtained from the humus beneath the rampart gives a terminal date for its construction of probably sometime after 700 BC (Waddell 1998, 344).