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South Barrule hill fort

In the parish of Malew.
On the Isle of Man.

OS Map Grid Reference: SC258759
Latitude 54.14970° Longitude -4.66908°

South Barrule hill fort has been described as a Timber Castle although is doubtful that it was such, and also as a probable Uncertain.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a archaeological monument protected by law.


If one of these possibilities represents the main use of the hill-fort, it is quite likely that the local population resorted to jt as a place of refuge long after they had ceased to live there permanently. There is a hint in the ‘Chronicle of Man the earliest account of Manx history, that this was done as late as 1316. In that year a band of Irish robbers was plundering the south of the island, and the place where the Manxmen chose to do battle with them is described as being on the lower slopes of South Barruie. There may have' been many reasons for this choice of battlefield, but a possible one is that the population had taken refuge behind the old fortifications on the mountain-top, and that the menfolk had advanced from there in an attempt to put an end to the plundering. In the event most of them chose to live and fight another day, for we are told that they fled at the first onset, leaving about forty dead on the field, and the plundering went on uninterrupted. (Gelling 1961-2)

South Barrule is the only stone-built hillfort on the Island. The defensive area is roughly oval in plan, about 500 ft by 600 ft, and was doubtless originally surrounded by a rubble rampart with one or more entrances. The rampart is now greatly dilapidated, but sufficient remains on the west and north-east sides to indicate that it was a wall, face on the outer side, with a ledge or platform on theinner side. The maximum height of the rampart is now 4 ft 6 inches, but was originally much greater. The original entrances are larely obscured but a gap on the north side is probably original, with a number of other gaps in the rampart which may be modern. There is a feeble inner bank along the north and north-west sides, with a small group of hut foundations in the same area (Bruce 1938).
A low oblique photograph, taken under conditions of slight snow cover,reveals a thick cluster of upwards of 30 hut-sites crowded within the inner enclosure of the hill for, showing that this was probably a truehill-top town like those of the Celtic tribes of Wales and elsewhere about the first centuries of our Era. The huts are so ruined and crowded together that it would be difficult to plan them on the ground (Manx Mus. Ann. Rep. 1953).
This Iron Age hillfort is apparently of two periods with contour following defences which are generally weak. Only the northern part of the inner ring of defence can now be traced. It is a weak bank spasmodically fading to a terrace with glacis type bank. As all the hut circles which were traced occur within the inner bank it would appear to be the earliest defence. the outer height of the bank is 1.1m on average, the inner height is 0.3m and the terrace is an average of 5.0m wide.
The outer bank is generally as described by Authority 2, with the strongest portion to the north-east as a barrier across the easiest line of approach along the ridge on which no outlying defence could be traced. Here the bank is 10.0m wide with an average inner height of 1.1m and an outer height of 1.3m. It shows evidence of stone walling and is pierced by a modern entrance at C. At A is an entrance 2.0m wide with an angular out-turn 8.0m long with some stone walling. The rampart is not entirely lowered - see ground photograph - and the entrance may be modern. B R S Megaw confirms that both these entrances are probably recent.
To the north and north-west the rampart continues in reduced strength and is completely lowered for a 2.0m simple gap at B which may be an original entrance. Along the south side of the hillfort is a terrace 4.0m wide with outer rock facing which has deteriorated to a scree effect.
Fifteen hut circles were certainly identified and surveyed. They have internal diameters 2.5 to 5.0m with generally incomplete walls 2.0m wide with maximum outer height of 0.6m and maximum inner height of 0.3m. The huts have a scooped-out effect and some are almost waterlogged. Entrances are vague but may be 1.0m wide gaps in the north-east. Around and about them are closely set hollows with an average diam of 2.0m. They were not surveyed and may be storage pits or hut circles. In these case no periphery bank exists.
The OS 1:2500 representation of the defences is marred by pecks at the foot of, and along the middle of, the rampart in the Northern half of the fort. Published survey revised. The area is peaty with coarse grass and heather covering (F1 JR 29 11 55).
Traces of over 70 huts can be seen on the surface, all within the inner rampart, with the larger ones in general on the east side of thehill top. Limited excavations were carried out in 1960-61 and 1968, amounting toa single section through both ramparts and an examination of four huts. A radiocarbon date of 523 (+ or - 84) BC was given by a sample from the later of two hearths in one of the huts. Pottery was relatively plentiful, some of it belonging broadly to the 'flat-rimmed' category. The inner rampart, at the point where it was sectioned, was strengthened by a modest chevaux de frise made of timber. The inner posts were upright and the rest inclined outwards atprogressively sharper angles the greater the distance from the rampart. All that remained of this rampart were some large slabs laidas headers, with a turf backing. The outer rampart is of much more solid construction, having a vertical drystone face on the outside and a solid backing of large slabs and rubble with a little turf. The original entrance through it is probably the gap on the east side, while on the north-west side there is a small postern gate. No trace was found of an external ditch, nor was anything discovered to give a hint of the rampart's date (Gelling 1961; 1963; 1971). (PastScape)

Comments (by Philip Davis)

The Hill fort, surrounded by a massive drystone wall, would have remained a suitable retreat in the medieval period, even with the walls collapsed, but can never have been a place of long term settlement. Although people must have retreated to such places in troubles times, particularly in places like the Isle of Man which were subject to raids well into the medieval period, historical evidence of such practices is scant and Gelling's interpretation of the chronicled events of 1306 is interesting.
No author has suggested this as the site of a medieval 'castle' (presuambly using R.A.Brown's definition of 'A fortified residence of a lord') since it is clear there was no permeant or high status medieval occupation of the site but it does seem probably this site had some use as a medieval refuge although it is debatable if that constitutes enough to describe it as a 'fortification'.
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This record last updated on Tuesday, April 18, 2017