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Fulachta Fiadh - Ancient Cooking Places

One of the most interesting type of ancient monuments found in Kilbritain are Fulachta Fiadh - early Bronze Age cooking places. In Cork county alone over 2,000 of these sites have been recorded, so it is no surprise that this includes several in the Kilbrittain area.

These cooking places involved use of a small stone pit or in some cases a wooden trough. The pit or trough were filled with water and this was brought to the boil by adding heated stones. Joints of meat, sometimes wrapped in straw to keep the meat in one piece, were then placed in the pit and cooked.

As the stones were added often they cracked into smaller pieces. After the cooking was finished, these fragments would be removed from the cooking pit and thrown to one side. Over a period of time these stones would form a mound around three sides of the pit. This horseshoe-shaped mound is very characteristic feature of Fulacht Fiadh and is often the only way of locating one.

This cooking system might seem primitive but experiments have shown it to be very efficient. For example at a reconstructed site in Ballyvourney, Co. Cork, a 4.5 kg leg of mutton was cooked in four hours. The process of heating water with hot stones also might seem time consuming, but in fact to bring 450 L to the boil in the Ballyvourney experiment took just about half an hour! Not too bad for 2,500-3,000 years ago. In fact this system was reckoned to be still in use into historical times.

In legend, Fulachta Fiadh were the cooking place of the Fianna. As they were lead around the country by Fionn MacCumhal, the hardy band of young warriors would feast on wild boar and deer. It had been suggested that the term ‘Fulacht Fiadh’ meant ‘cooking place of the Fianna’ and indeed on earlier maps the sites are sometimes called ‘Fulachta Fian’. However it is more likely that ‘fiadh’ comes from the Irish for ‘deer’. Later tradition says that the warriors would avail of the hot water for much needed baths (hopefully after cooking the meat).

It is likely that the cooking sites were associated with more permanent settlements, were the community could cook large amounts of meat fairly economically. All they would need was a ready supply of fuel for the fire, trees primarily, and a handy water supply in the form of a stream. And of course someone to catch the main course ! (If they weren’t already raising their own livestock.)

It is no surprise then that Fulachta Fiadh are so widespread. In Kilbrittain parish, there is a group of five sites in Garryndruig townland. Like many sites, the mounds and pits no longer exist. These particular Fulacht Fiadh were recognised by the burnt stones and earth in arable land. This especially becomes visible after ploughing. In this case they are located near a stream for convenience.

There are two other recorded Fulacht Fiadh in the East of the parish. Of course it is highly likely that there are several unrecorded sites in the area as they wouldn’t show up in pasture land or may be concealed in rough land.

Brendan Shiels, Jan-2003.

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