This past summer I was lucky enough to travel to Ireland for research purposes. One of my favorite historical sites to visit was Craggaunowen, located near Shannon, Ireland. It contains several re-enactment sites, including a ring fort.
Ring forts were typically placed atop a hillside with a palisade fence surrounding it. The fence could be made of wood and wicker like you see in this photograph. A large ditch, similar to a moat would surround the fencing and then another hill would provide additional protection. The Irish called these ring forts "raths" and the Norman invaders also used them when they came to Ireland. The Normans renamed them ring works, and they were built near churches (likely to enlist the aid of the local clergy).
Anywhere from three to ten houses might be inside a ring fort, and the houses were made of either stone or whitewashed wicker. Here is the entrance to one of the whitewashed huts. The roofs were made of thatch and just below the doorframe, the Irish would hang a bundle of wool. Our tourguide believed it was for three purposes: one, to ward off evil spirits; two, to allow bundles of wool to air out; and three, to prevent folk from bumping their heads on the door.
Ring forts were set up in a community fashion, allowing people to work outdoors and talk as they treated animal hides, worked with clay, or even carved items out of wood. In this photograph, you can see a woodworker's lathe as it might have been seen almost a thousand years ago. I'd love to do a woodworking hero in a future book and research the old tools. My husband has promised to help me out.
I chose a ring fort as the setting for my May 2007 Irish medieval release, Her Irish Warrior. Hope you've enjoyed seeing a different type of setting! Next time, I'll take you inside the hut and even inside a secret passageway found in a ring fort.