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History and Heritage

Harryville Motte and Bailey

Photograph from National Library of Ireland of Harryville Motte

In the 12th century, the Normans conquered much of County Antrim and County Down after having taken over England the century before. They created the core of the Earldom of Ulster. During this campaign, they built great mounds of earth topped by wooden towers, referred to as mottes, as defensive structures. 

The Harryville (Ulster-Scots: Herrieville) area's motte-and-bailey is one of the best examples of this type of fortification in Northern Ireland. Ordinary people lived in scattered farmsteads, creating security by using the land, sometimes enclosing their land in ring-shaped earthworks (raths), at others building lake dwellings (crannogs) or else underground refuges (souterrains). Gradually people began to live in houses, in small groups or clachans.

A motte-and-bailey castle is a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised earthwork called a motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. Relatively easy to build with unskilled, often forced, labour, but still militarily formidable, these castles were built across northern Europe from the 10th century onwards, spreading from Normandy and Anjou in France, into the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century. The Normans introduced the design intoEngland and Wales following their invasion in 1066. Motte-and-bailey castles were adopted in Scotland, Ireland, the Low Countries and Denmark in the 12th and 13th centuries. By the end of the 13th century, the design was largely superseded by alternative forms of fortification, but the earthworks remain a prominent feature in many countries.

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