There is a midden located at the bottom right of the last remaining sand hill called in the townland of Molifinns on the Carrickfinn penninsula.

 

Carrickfinn kitchen midden
Carrickfinn kitchen midden

There have been various finds at this site over the years suggesting at least three phases of occupation.  It suggests that there were human habitation here in the Bronze Age, the Middle Ages and as late as the 19th Century when sand storms forced the inhabitants to move inland.  In prehistoric times this area was the edge of a forest, the roots of these trees are constantly been unearthed at Trá na Stacán on the westerly edge by the constant pounding of Atlantic waves. This forest sunk when sea level began to rise about five thousand years ago.

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W.J.Knowles examined this midden in 1902 where he found in one pit limpet, periwinkle and cockle shells, another closely spread with specimens of broken dog whelk. Dog whelk which was inedible to the inhabitants of the Bronze Age people was used to make a purple dye used for colouring yarn etc.  Teeth and bones of cattle, sheep, goat and red deer were found along with pieces of flint.

In 1967 the following artifacts were by local farmers.

A decorated bronze pin was found in the black habitation layer stratified in the sand dunes. Its head was hemispherical and brambled. A domed blue glass stud had been inserted into the top. The upper half of the shaft of the pin is circular in cross section. It widens in the middle and becomes square in the section below, thinning gradually to sharp point. On the upper portion of the pin there are three elongated incised triangles pendent from the head, each filled with short, transverse grooves. Four equally spaced zig-zag lines extend longitudinally down the upper round portion of the shaft. Along each edge of the pointed part of the pin there is a finely incised line and, in the centre of each face there is a faint zig-zag line in rocked-tracker technique. Length. 7.05cm; depth of head. 6mm.

A bronze pin found in the sand dunes. Flattened, circular head with short grooves radiating from the centre on top. The upper half of the pin is round in cross-section, the lower half square. Immediately below the head there are two longitudinal rows of oblique scores, on opposite sides of the shaft. Length. 7.9cm; depth of head. 6mm.

Midden bronze pin
one of many bronze pins found at the midden

A bronze needle was found in the sand dunes. Short and round in section. Oval eye at the wider end. Length. 5.3cm; Depth at wider end. 2.4mm; Width of eye. 1.5mm.

A polished stone axehead was found in at the bottom of a black layer in the sand dunes. A small specimen. One side convex, the other side flat. The slope of the cutting edge from the flat side is steeper than from the convex side. The butt squared. A few chips have been removed in antiquity. The nature of the stone couldn’t be determined. Length. 6.5cm. Width of cutting edge. 1.7cm. Maximum thickness. 1.45cm.

In 1969 a larger bronze pin was again found by a local farmer possibly at the Ard Mhór sand dunes. Flattened knob head. The top of the knob is ornamented with short radical scores. The shaft of the pin is round in section. It swells below the head and then diminishes gradually. Length. Approx 8cm. Depth of head. 1cm.

In 1985 Barry Rafftery from the Department of Archaeology in University College Dublin examined this midden. He found that there were at least three phases of occupation here. Although the midden was at a advanced state of  destruction he found a small rectangular stone lined hearth with associated cobbling. Large quantities of bones and shells were collected for detailed analysis. Some of the finds included a harp peg of bone or horn, a bronze pin and a rim of handmade pottery. A date in the 13th century was suggested.

Miden Red Deer antler 2
Part of a red deer antler found in at the midden

This date ties in with Mac Suibhne na dTuath or the Sweeney Clan taking ownership of Ros Scaite/Carrickfin from Muntir O Baoghill or the Boyle Clan who ruled the Rosses including Ros Scaite from ©1200 A.D. These inhabitants would have practised Booleying or in Gaelic Buaileacht. This involved bringing cattle to the mountain pastures in the summer months. This practice of transhumance started each year at the beginning of summer.

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The family members would round up their livestock and travel to the mountain pasture with a few older members of the community staying behind in their homesteads. Here they would erect a summer hut called a Bóhóg which built by using turf pairings for the walls and thatched with rushes or reeds from a nearby lake. While sometimes they who fix their existing Bóhóg. The livestock would be let out to graze with one of the younger children herding. Each evening they were taken back to the Bóhóg to be milked, with which the older children made butter. To preserve the butter until they returned to their coastal homes in the autumn they buried it in the bog. It is common for present day turf cutters to unearth this butter.

The main reason for going to a different pasture was to cure their livestock of crupán, an ailment which caused lameness, infertility and ill thrift. It was caused by a deficiency of cobalt in the sandy soil. The people of Carrickfin had tenantcy of mountain pastures in Augiles, a townland some 10 miles away in the 1823 according to the Marquis of Conyngham’s estate records. This ancient practice died out in early 20th century when modern fertilisers enriched the grass with many minerals such as phosphorus and cobalt.

Some of last tenants to live on this site were the Boyle and Hanlon families. After a series of sand drifts which covered their farms in the 1820s, they moved inland. The Boyle went to Bunaman and Keadue while the Hanlons moved close to Glenties.

©Jimmy Duffy 2016

 

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