Friday, December 7, 2007
I got a bit "homesick" for Argyll and Dunadd today, so I dug out the camera and found the photos I'd taken while I was on holiday. There are some pretty good ones, if I do say so myself. ;)
But before I give you the pretty pictures, a quick history lesson. Dunadd is generally considered to be the "capital" of the Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada (Dál Riata). The traditional story is that it was founded c. 500 AD by Fergus Mór mac Erc of the kingdom of Dál Riata in Ireland (Co. Antrim). The archaeological record, however, doesn't really suggest any large folk movement around this time, more that Argyll and Ireland (especially Antrim) had strong links long before then. It's a theory I'm playing with in my first-century-set novel, The Ancestor Crown, and a good chunk of the story takes place in Argyll, away from the main line of the Roman advance. (Yes, there is method in my madness.) Dunadd itself turns up once or twice, and provides the backdrop for a few pivotal chapters.
Dunadd was an important site all throughout Dál Riata's flourishing, and it's in a superb location - defensible, and in the midst of one of Scotland's richest prehistoric landscapes (to get an idea of just how rich: linky).
As yet, Dunadd's precise function is still unknown: was it the place of residence for the king and his house, or was it merely a ceremonial location? In TAC - set a good four hundred years before the kingdom's flourishing - I've chosen it as the seat of the Royal Clan of the Epidii tribe, fulfilling both fuctions. It doesn't seem unreasonable to think that the Dál Riata would have adopted an already existing power base for their seat, and there are traces of an earlier, smaller fort, as my professors pointed out during our field trip.
And now, on with the tour! At the foot of the hill, you're faced with a short, but fairly steep clamber, until the ground levels out and you find yourself looking at this:
This is the entrance to the dun, carved straight out of the rock. As you can imagine, this would have given entrance to Dunadd a highly formal, even ceremonious, feel, and when I passed through, more than a thousand years after Dál Riata, I still got the feeling of being "waved through". It wasn't hard to imagine being watched by guards patrolling the rampart above...
From there, we pass into what I'll call the "main enclosure". The rampart is pretty well-defined, and it encompasses a wide area which includes what I think was a well. It's here that archaeology has uncovered traces of a fine metalworking workshop, which may have added to Dunadd's prestige. Marcus, my silversmith-turned-legionary, feels very at home here during his brief stay. :)
Here's a picture looking south over the rampart, out towards the hills and the Mòine Mhòr - the "Great Moss". I think, in Dalriadic times, this marsh would have just about surrounded Dunadd.
Another steep climb takes up to another outcrop (the inhabitants of Dunadd made clever use of all the natural terraces of rock, as we'll see). This is the interesting one: this is where the footprint is:
This rock slab is the most famous thing about Dunadd. On it there's not only a footprint, but a carved Pictish-style boar, and an ogham inscription. In the rock just behind the slab is a carved hollow, or "bowl", and it's thought these were all involved in the inauguration of the Dalriadic kings. An important feature of king-making ceremonies in Celtic Ireland was the king's symbolic marriage to the goddess of the land (the "Lady of Sovereignty", as she is sometimes referred to) and it's thought that a king placing his foot here was demonstrating that same union. Needless to say, I've got quite a few people who harbour hopes of sticking their foot here, including a certain Irish prince from chapter 24 of the Agricola.
(I came up with another, less serious theory: maybe the person whose foot fitted was the one who would be crowned king - a sort of mix of King Arthur and Cinderella, lol!)
The history of Dunadd really suggests a lot of religious significance. The Dalriadic kings were linked with the (then) up-and-coming Columban church on Iona, and according to tradition, this is where Saint Columba inaugurated Áedán mac Gabráin in the first Christian coronation of the Dalriadic kings (and probably tried his own foot on for size - wouldn't put it past him, lol!) When Dál Riata became Christian, Dunadd retained its religious emphasis. Quern stones inscribed with Christian crosses have been uncovered, amongst other things, alluding to a fairly active religious community.
The outcrop itself is quite small; only the king, a clergyman and perhaps a few elites would have been able to fit there during the inauguration ceremony: the lesser nobles and/or other clients of the king would probably have watched the proceedings from the main enclosure. The outcrop seems to be the focal point for the whole dun; if you look back at the photo of the gateway, it's the outcrop framed by the rampart, so it's the first thing you see as soon as you step through. Everything is making you look at that outcrop and what's going on there. I imagine the king would have cut quite an impressive figure, framed against the skyline like that. I thought I saw Phaedrus the ex-gladiator standing there with his foot in place, but it might just have been my imagination! (Think I might reread Mark of the Horse Lord soon!)
We now ascend to the highest outcrop on the hill, where it's thought the king's residence would have been. This is where photo fun really begins! From these images it should be easy to imagine how the landscape enhanced Dunadd's position, both in terms of defence and spectacle.
This is looking west, over the Moss, towards the Sound of Jura. I like how this one turned out; I think the beam of light adds a bit of drama!
Looking kind of southwest-ish. It doesn't show in the picture, but the side of the hill looking seawards drops into some pretty sheer cliffs for such a craggy hill. And the marsh would have covered a broader area (large parts were drained in the last few centuries for farming). Anyone trying to capture Dunadd would have had their work cut out for them (and yet somehow the Picts managed!).
This is looking east. Again, just to give you the impression of the kind of views the king would have enjoyed from up here. Good for defence, and good for the ego, no doubt! I actually spent a couple of hours up here by myself one morning, soaking up some atmosphere and looking down at the rest of the dun thinking, "That's where Cathal will challenge Marcus to single combat, and that's where Gairea will eavesdrop on Sargaid and the Chief Druid..."
The best photos I got, though, were the sunset pics. One evening we were treated to a pretty awe-inspiring sunset, so I snatched the camera and hopped up to the summit. Here are the best results:
Towards the Sound of Jura again:
Looking more northwest-ish:
Looking south. I like the gentler colour here:
Probably my favourite one, this is looking northwest-ish again:
This was coming up for about ten at night. Doesn't look it, does it? 'Course, the sunset was just so spectacular, I couldn't resist the urge to include it in a scene in AC - when Cathal puts the moves on Gairea. I'll be in for a challenge when it comes to doing it justice, though!
With such an incredible location - steeped in history, formidably defended and in the midst of such spectacular surroundings - it's no wonder this became the heart of Dál Riata!