The Beaker period saw the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age and the arrival of metal working in Ireland. It is likely that the transition was gradual as shown by the continued use of wedge tombs into the early Bronze Age (Jones 2007). Apart from the Beaker pottery discovered at Beaverstown, evidence for Early Bronze Age settlement on the peninsula is limited. Cooney (2009) relates that evidence on Lambay Island for Bronze Age activity is also scant. One of the sites excavated in the townland of Coldwinters prior to the construction of the Airport to Balbriggan section of the M1 contained coarse pottery and flint with a provisional Late Neolithic/Early Bronze age date (Opie 2002). The Historic Landscape Characterisation study (Courtney and Goucher 2007) refers to the discovery of three cist burials on the Rogerstown estuary as evidence of the continuous presence of human settlement in this area during the earlier part of the Bronze Age. A cist burial containing a Food Vessel and skeletal remains was also found on the site of Knocklea passage tomb near Rush (Ó Ríordáin 1968). Bates (2001) records the discovery of a Beaker vessel and cist graves at Burrow quoting a letter written by a teacher in 1872. However these finds could not be located in the files of the National Museum (Courtney and Goucher 2007).
On the Donabate-Portrane peninsula evidence for later Bronze Age settlement has been discovered over the last 10 years (2000 - 2010). Excavations undertaken prior to the construction of the M1 uncovered several Fulachta Fiadh on sites bounding the landward side of the peninsula. Fulachta Fiadh are the most common prehistoric monument type in the county with over 7000 examples known (Carlin et al. 2008). They can exist in clusters ranging from of 2 to 6. Sometime referred to as burnt mounds they consist of charcoal enriched soil and heat shattered stones with a surface expression if it survives, as a low lying mound (O'Sullivan & Downey 2004). Used for heating water it is likely they were used to cook food though other theories for their use include clothes dying, leather working and brewing.
The archaeological remains of a Fulacht Fiadh excavated at Staffordstown on the route of the M1 consisted of a possible hearth, trough and a shallow pit. Some organic material consisting of shell, wood and bone was also found (Lynch 2002). Two more Fulachta Fiadh sites were discovered and excavated in the neighbouring townland of Thomondtown.
On the Donabate-Portrane peninsula considerable archaeological assessment work was carried out for the Local Area development plan for Donabate village in 2006. This included a program of geophysical survey and follow up test trenching in the townlands of Ballinmastone and Corballis. The initial testing (Baker 2006) focused on the route of a proposed ring road around Donabate village. This work has identified several possible Bronze Age settlement sites on the peninsula.In the townland of Corballis two Fulachta Fiadh sites have been identified in adjoining fields 85m apart on the base of the opposing slopes of a ridge which overlooks a possible Bronze Age hut site in Ballamastone. The subsoil in both trenches is a light grey marl indicative of liminal or marshy land characteristic of the sitting of Fulachta Fiadh (Baker 2006). The Fulacht Fiadh site to the south of the ridge was found with associated drains and pits. Several enclosures were also identified by the geophysical survey in the townland of Corballis but not investigated with test trenching. Further geophysical survey (Harrison 2007) and test trenching (Frazer and Eriksson 2008) has been carried out in the Ballinmastone lands. Two burnt spreads have been identified as possible Fulachta Fiadh sites. An enclosure ditch and possible hut have also been identified close to one of the Fulachta Fiadh. Two additional possible Bronze Age enclosures were also identified in neighbouring fields.
A test trench across a circular geophysical anomaly identified in the townland of Ballymastone revealed possible foundation trenches for a hut with a post hole or pit within. Baker (2006) suggests that it can be compared directly to a plan of Hut 3 at Curraghtoor Co. Tipperary a Middle-Late Bronze Age settlement and its internal diameter can be compared to huts at Lough Gur Co. Limerick (5.3m diam.) and Clonfinlough, Co. Offaly (5.2m diam.) of the same period (Waddell 1998, 207-211).
In the nearby townland of Corballis two Fulachta Fiadh sites have been identified in adjoining fields 85m apart on the base of the opposing slopes of a ridge which overlooks the possible hut site in Ballamastone. The subsoil in both trenches is a light grey marl indicative of liminal or marshy land characteristic of the sitting of Fulachta Fiadh (Baker 2006). The Fulacht Fiadh site to the south of the ridge was found with associated drains and pits. Several enclosures were also identified by the geophysical survey in the townland of Corballis but not investigated with test trenching. Further geophysical survey (Harrison 2007) and test trenching (Frazer and Eriksson 2008) has been carried out in the Ballinmastone lands. Two burnt spreads have been identified as possible Fulachta Fiadh (Plate 7) sites. An enclosure ditch and possible hut have also been identified close to one of the Fulachta Fiadh. Two additional possible Bronze Age enclosures were also identified in neighbouring fields.
This evidence suggests that in this part of the peninsula there was significant Bronze Age settlement. The Fulacht Fiadh would also suggest there was still reasonable forest cover on the peninsula. Pollen diagrams from environmental analysis carried out on Fulachta Fiadh sites excavated for the Bord Gais East West pipeline suggested forest clearance followed by regeneration after the site was abandoned (Grogan et al 2007). Grogan et al (2007) in conclusions from their research suggest that Fulachta Fiadh were a component of everyday life in the Bronze Age and that the number of sites suggests they operated at a community and possibly even a familial social scale. The evidence from the archaeological assessments in Ballinmastone and
Corballis if proven to be Bronze Age in date would support this theory.Whilst no specific dating is available for the possible Bronze Age sites in Balllmastone and Corballis, the excavation carried out in Beaverstown (Hagen 2004) which uncovered early Neolithic and Beaker material also uncovered a section of an enclosure ditch dated to the late Bronze Age. Finds included late Bronze Age coarse ware pottery. A pit within the enclosure contained a small amount of cremated bone with some burnt stones and some flecks and larger pieces of charcoal. The interpretation documented in the excavation report suggests that the amount of bone is too small to be an actual cremation burial (Hagen 2004). Deposition of bone on Bronze Age settlement sites is not uncommon (Cleary 2005). Monitoring, on another part of this development site revealed a spread of charcoal rich soil and burnt stones, a possible Fulacht Fiadh which was preserved in situ (Hagen 2004, Assessment report).
Whilst to date no metal artefacts dating to the Bronze Age have been discovered on the peninsula the archaeological evidence suggests that through out the Bronze Age people lived and farmed in the area. In discussing Bronze Age discoveries in County Dublin along the East West gas pipeline route Grogan et al (2007) mention the suggestion of a possible late Bronze Age territory focused on the hillfort at Knockbrack, a large univallate hill-fort (Keeling 1983), and concentrated in the fertile coastal landscape between the Ward and Devlin rivers. Late Bronze Age settlements on the Donabate-Portrane peninsula would have been within this territory clearly viewed from Knockbrack.
Special thanks to Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd, NRA and IAC for facilitating access to unpublished excavation and archaeological assessment reports.