Prehistoric findings in Donegal may have been from the Bronze age

Two archaeological sites found in Letterilly

Michelle NicPhaidin


Michelle NicPhaidin


Two new archaeological sites were found through advance archaeological services on the N56 Letterilly to Glenties (Kilraine) road scheme.  

Both sites were found in the townland of Letterilly and both are prehistoric in date, probably dating to sometime in the Bronze Age which spanned from about 2,500BC to 700BC.

Fulacht Fiadh

The first site in Letterilly was a typical ‘burnt mound’ also known as a ‘fulacht fiadh’, discovered within peat about 1m below the surface of the bog. This site was a low mound of heat fractured stone and charcoal rich soil about 40cm thick and 6m x 4.5m in diameter.

Underneath the mound was the base and part of the sides of what would have been a large timber lined trough (2m x 1.6m). These sites are one of the most common sites found throughout Ireland and the majority of them date to the Bronze Age. Most troughs are dug into the water table so that they naturally fill with water, while others had to be filled manually from a nearby water source. The Letterilly trough had moss wedged in between the wood planks which may have helped filter the water seeping into the trough.

Stones were heated in an adjacent fire and dropped into the water to bring it to the boil. Repeated use caused the stones to crack and the wasted ones were thrown aside over time forming a mound. The consensus used to be that the majority of fulacht fiadh were used for cooking, however the hot water could have been used for a variety of purposes, including bathing in association with saunas, leather-processing, textile-dying or even brewing.

Pottery and flint tools 

Letterilly 2 was found on dry ground in amongst an area heavily shrewn with granite boulders. This was a more unusual site. Little spreads of heavily burnt bone were found with charcoal and sherds of decorated pottery and flint tools. The pottery is typical of the Bronze Age and it is currently being examined by a prehistoric pottery specialist.

In the Bronze Age some types of pots were used for cooking, storing and consuming food, while others were used as funerary urns for cremations. Cremation were the most common burial rite at the time. Examination of the burnt bone by a bone specialist may determine if it is human or animal. Specialist studies should help the excavator interpret whether this was a habitation or burial site. Preliminary indications are that this might be one of the most north-westerly discoveries of this kind of pottery.


Both sites are overlooked by the only previously known archaeological monument in Letterilly - a low enclosure which has commanding views over the landscape (known on the Record of Monuments and Places as DG074-001). That site is thought to be early medieval but it’s never been scientifically dated. 


The works were carried out by TVAS Irish Archaeology Services, contracted by Donegal County Council and under archaeological Licence/Direction from the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.