12th century Norman motte unearthed at Mount Stewart in Co Down

Laser technology images of the Mount Stewart motte

NATIONAL Trust rangers were joined by more than 100 volunteers in recent months to uncover a 12th century Norman motte from beneath dense scrubby woodland at Mount Stewart Demesne.

The monument sits in a part of the estate, on the shores of Strnagford Lough in Co Down, which was acquired by the conservation charity three years ago and investigations immediately began into its scale and state of repair.

"There are records of visits being made to the motte to inspect it going back to the 1950s and the observation was made that the overgrown shrubbery and invasive trees were a developing threat to the condition of the monument," National Trust regional archaeologist Malachy Conway explains.

"To get a clearer picture we commissioned LiDAR, a surveying method that uses light in the form of pulsed laser to measure distance from the air and create high resolution digital 3-D maps of the ground. The images revealed an imposing structure that stands nearly eight meters tall, with a surrounding ditch nearly five metres wide."

An Anglo Norman period motte, the structure is defensive; a large, tall mound, 23m in diameter, surrounded by a deep ditch.

"Mottes and motte-and-bailey castles were constructed in Ulster following the arrival of John de Courcey and his knights in 1177 as they set about capturing land from the native Irish tribes and petty kings and began consolidating their position in eastern Ulster through the building of these imposing defensive structures," Malachy says.

"A motte like this would have been seen for miles, being a symbol of power and control. This is a remarkably well preserved example.'

A survey was carried out with volunteers from the Ulster Archaeological Society in advance of clearance work – a year ago the motte could barely be seen due to dense vegetation – and 850 hours of volunteering later it is now visible, though, to protect it, not accessible, to visitors to Mount Stewart.

"Six miles of [new] trails are already in place, with the area around the motte opening very shortly, and we are encouraging visitors to explore these lesser known areas of the estate," says National Trust area ranger Toby Edwards.

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