27/02/2006

DoE step in to protect souterrain

The Department of Environment is to protect an ancient hideaway recently uncovered in Co Down.

The monument was discovered by a builder working on a new house at Rooneystown, near Raholp when the ground below his digger gave way exposing what was thought to be a stone tunnel. He realised that the well-built feature might be of historical interest and contacted the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS).

EHS archaeologist Ken Neill visited the site the next day and immediately confirmed that the 'tunnel' was actually a previously unrecorded example of a souterrain, built during the Early Christian period over 1000 years ago.

Mr Neill said: "Souterrains are usually known as caves or coves throughout the countryside. They were underground tunnels built as a refuge against raiders. Some were rock-cut but most were built by digging a trench, lining it with drystone-walling and placing heavy stone lintels across the top before covering with earth. It was one of these lintels which had given way under the weight of the digger to expose the souterrain. Many were built within circular earthen raths or stone cashels, but others, like this one, are discovered in apparent isolation although there was almost certainly originally a house nearby. "

Mr Neil said that the Rooneystown souterrain extended around 11 metres into the hillside, with apparently several other blocked up chambers leading off from it.

He warned anyone discovering a souterrain not to enter it as many were in an unsafe condition particularly as they were often discovered by damage being done to the roof lintels.

(SP/GB)

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