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View of Drumanagh with Martello Tower

Drumanagh is a headland on the coast of County Dublin, near the village of Loughshinny, twelve miles north of the City of Dublin. On the headland stands a 19th-century Martello tower and there is also a large Iron Age promontory fort which has produced Roman artefacts, and which is also interpreted as a Roman fort.

Some archaeologists have suggested the fort was a bridgehead for Roman military campaigns, while others suggest it was a Roman trading colony or a native Irish settlement that traded with Roman Britain.[1][2] the debate goes beyond academia, as the presence of a substantial Roman military installation goes against the Irish "national myth" of being the land which escaped the hand of the Romans. This may expain the sloth with which the site has been explored.[2]


Lambay island

Roman finds have long been known from the island of Lambay, just off the County Dublin coast close to Drumanagh. Some remains (Roman brooches and decorative metalware) were discovered on the island, which are thought to date to the 1st century AD. The nature of artefacts found there also demonstrated Romano-British trading.

The fort site at Drumanagh is nearly 1,000 yards long and 200 yards wide. The area consists of a small peninsula defended by three rows of parallel ditches on the landward side. It is surrounded on three sides by the Irish Sea, showing huge erosion that could have reduced its size to the present 44 acres and may have destroyed evidences of old Roman structures.

The site is privately owned and is a Recorded Monument, protected under the Section 12 of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994, and by a Preservation Order placed on it in 1977. Although its archaeological importance has been known since the 1950s, when ploughing turned up sherds of Roman samian ware, it has not been subject to archaeological excavation, but numerous artefacts have been dug up by illegal metal detectorists. One such collector attempted to sell a trove of Roman coins and ornaments at Sotheby's in London in the 1980s, which was impounded and deposited in the National Museum of Ireland. Since then, a legal dispute over ownership has prevented the artefacts and their provenance from being discussed publicly.[3][2][4]


Tacitus wrote that his father-in-law, the Roman general Gnaeus Julius Agricola, in 82 crossed the sea from western Britain and conquered "tribes unknown" to the Romans. Some archaeologists[5][6] have suggested that the Drumanagh fort may have been used by Agricola, then Roman governor of Britain, for an invasion of Ireland in AD 82. Tacitus mentions that Agricola entertained an exiled Irish prince, thinking to use him as a pretext for a possible conquest of Ireland. Agricola, says Tacitus, "crossed in the first ship" and defeated peoples unknown to the Romans until then. He does not specify which body of water he crossed and other scholars have suggested that it was the Clyde or Forth; however, the rest of the chapter exclusively concerns Ireland.[7]

Agricola fortified the coast facing Ireland, and Tacitus recalls that Agricola often claimed the island could be conquered with a single legion and auxiliaries.[8] This conquest never happened, but some historians believe that the crossing referred to was in fact a military expedition to Ireland.[9]

Vittorio De Martino[9] argues that there was continuous interaction between Roman Britain and Ireland. Professor Michael Herity of UCD stated that the quantity and nature of the material from the site, taken together with the structural evidence, suggest a rich Irish emporium, which traded extensively with the Roman world.[10]

Tuathal Techtmar

Tuathal Techtmar is a legendary and possibly historical King of Ireland. It is said that he was exiled to Britain in the 1st or 2nd century, and returned with an army to seize the kingship.[11] This legend of Tuathal Techtmar has been connected to the exiled prince whom Agricola entertained. Amongst others, Richard Warner makes the connection and suggests that Drumanagh may have been the bridgehead for an invasion of exiled Irish and British adventurers, who, with Roman support, carved out kingdoms in Ireland.

A group of burials on Lambay Island, just off the coast near Drumanagh, contained Roman brooches and decorative metalware of a style also found in Roman Britain from the late first century, and archaeological discoveries in other parts of Ireland, including Roman jewellery and coins at Tara and Clogher, support the possibility of a Roman invasion of Ireland.[12]

Outside links


  1. "Yes, the Romans did invade Ireland": Richard Warner, British Archaeology 14 May 1996
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Experts Claim Romans May Have Established Colonies in Ireland", Shawn Pogatchnik, Los Angeles Times, 17 November 1996
  3. John M. Byrne, "Drumanagh Promontory Fort", Archaeology News & Views website, 2003, retrieved 22 July 2009>
  4. "In Brief", British Archaeology 12, March 1996, retrieved 22 July 2009
  5. Barry Raftery, Pagan Celtic Ireland, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 1997
  6. Gabriel Cooney, "Ireland, the Romans and all that", Archaeology Ireland, Spring 1996
  7. Tacitus, Agricola
  8. Tacitus Agricola
  9. 9.0 9.1 Vittorio di Martino (2003), Roman Ireland, The Collins Press, London, 2003
  10. Irish Times, 24 January 1996
  11. "Roman Ireland: What did the Romans ever do for us?", Blather.net
  12. R. B. Warner (1995), "Tuathal Techtmar: a myth or ancient literary evidence for a Roman invasion?", Emania 13, pp. 23–32
  • Cooney, Gabriel. Ireland, the Romans and all that from Archaeology Ireland, Spring 1996.
  • Di Martino, Vittorio. Roman Ireland, The Collins Press. London, 2003.
  • Raftery, Barry. Pagan Celtic Ireland. Thames & Hudson Ltd. London, 1997.