In the early historic period in Ireland, perhaps somewhere about 500 AD the most common civilian settlement type was the ring fort, also referred to as rath, caher, cashel and lios, it is the most frequently observed field monument in Ireland. There may have been as many as 40,000 at one time. In some cases they were used up to the 17th century. They became the focus for the early Christian Church and in some cases, such as Killala, Co. Mayo, towns evolved from them.
The ring fort dwellers were dispersed rural farmers whose main farming occupation was cattle farming, the herd was the family wealth and much of early Gaelic society law - Brehon Law - uses the cow as a measure in judicial decisions.
The ring fort in Letterkeen Wood is significant because it's name occurs in the great north Mayo "Cattle raiding" saga - The Tain Bo Flidais. Thus, it can be linked to a specific historical period and to the fact that it was probably the home of a local chieftain. Lios na Gaoithe was excavated in the 1950's and some cist burials were discovered within the enclosure. Other finds included glass beads and bracelets which indicated that trade was engaged in by the ring fort dwellers.
The site is well preserved, isolated in a remote area within the Nephin Mountain Range, it has a splendour of its own. It is accessed by a forestry road which runs on the older "Togher", a few metres to the north of the ringfort. There are numerous other ring forts in the area, at Fauleens, Lecarrow and Cahergal. None of these are as easily accessed as Lios na Gaoithe.
This essay was written by JP McDermott of the Newport Historical Society. It was sourced from documents in The National Archives as well as The National Library. Other source documents can be found in The County Library, Castlebar, County Mayo.
The author may be contacted at the email address below.