Sunday, 27 May 2012

Dunnyneill Islands

Dunnyneill Islands are located in southern Strangford Lough, close to the village of Killyleagh, County Down. The Dunnyneill Islands consist of the main island (measuring 100 yards in diameter) and a second, smaller island linked by a short stone causeway.

Island Taggart lies to the north-west of Dunnyneill Islands.

Laura Burns of BBC NI has produced the story.

Excavations on Dunnyneill have revealed a 7th century "trading emporium" frequented by merchants from as far afield as modern day Russia, Germany, Iceland and France.

Back in early medieval times, there was no cash economy, few buyers, and even fewer sellers, but there are surprising parallels between these ancient trading outposts and modern shopping centres.

Dunnyneil Island

According to the archaeologist Dr Philip MacDonald, who led a dig on Dunnyneill, merchants would have brought wine and other luxury products to Ulster to exchange at emporia for furs, seal skin, slaves and famed Irish wolfhounds.

"High status members of the Dal Fiatach [the local dynasty whose royal centre was Downpatrick, County Down] and local traders, would have frequented the island," he said.

In medieval times, the king controlled trade and wealthy merchants travelled the seas to buy and sell goods. The trade in imported prestige items would have been important for the king of Dal Fiatach, to signify his status and power.

"This little speck of an island had a very high significance to the wealth of the Ulster Kingdom," explains Tom McErlean from the Centre for Maritime Archaeology.

"Dal Fiatach, or the Kingdom of Ulster, was a great maritime kingdom. It was fairly cosmopolitan with connections all around the North Sea."

The particular kind of pottery found at Dunnyneill is evidence that luxury goods were imported in some quantity from the continent.

"Dunnyneill played a big role in creating their wealth … [it] would have been a profitable stopping point for foreign wine merchants. The Irish kings valued wine very much. There was a big market for wine here. It would be very much worthwhile," said McErlean.

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