Irish Project Areas

3. The Promontory Forts on Waterford’s Copper Coast

Woodstown, Co. Waterford

Erosion has remodelled many coastal promontory forts into stacks and separate promontories in Co. Waterford. These forts may have been originally built in the Iron Age though were occupied into the medieval period. They are fortifications, with banks and ditches separating them from the surrounding cliffs. A complex of over 29 promontory forts is between Tramore and Dungarvan, overlooking the Celtic Sea. This area includes the ‘Copper Coast’ named after mining evidenced by adits, shafts, spoil heaps, ore yards and engine houses.

Woodstown promontory fort is on the eastern side of Annestown Strand. The banks and ditches are under severe erosion today. The sea has split the promontory fort into small islets. At low tide, the largest of these islets called Green Island can be walked to from the shore. Erosion continues here with caves and sea tunnels found around the promontory, islets, stacks and stumps.

The fort overlooks the beach at Annestown. It has a double bank and ditch defence on its landward side. A causeway is on its eastern side. A standing stone was once in the field landward. A hut site has been identified on one of the islands from the UAV model undertaken by CHERISH. Geophysics has been undertaken landward. Further geophysics is being prepared for within the fort and islands. Soil samples for dating and identifying the purpose of these forts is to be collected. The methods will involve coring and eroding cliff section recording.

The enclosing ditch at Woodstown Promontory Fort, close to Annestown Beach, Co. Waterford
The double embankment at the entrance to Woodstown Promontory Fort, close to Annestown Beach, Co. Waterford

Islandhubbock, Co. Waterford

Islandhubbock has the highest cliffs of the Copper Coast in Co. Waterford. There are three promontory forts here with heights up to 70m at Ballyvoyle Head. Landward in the surrounding fields are early medieval raths or ringforts, ecclesiastical enclosures and ogham stones. The writing one ogham stone from around the 5th century AD suggests the people who lived here are descendants of 1st-century BC King of Munster Nia Segaman.

One of the promontory forts has a hut site and underground passage called a souterrain. This fort has three ditches and two banks on its landward side. This suggests it is more important than other forts that only have one bank and ditch. The nearby two promontory forts at Ballyvoyle Head had a prominent landmark on the 19th-century Admiralty Charts. This was a Napoleonic watchtower. This would also have aided vessels passing this coast. Only a wall is still standing today. This tower reveals a significant maritime purpose for these forts as they would be able to observe the sea routes. CHERISH has recorded these forts by UAV and explored the access to the sea below.

Islandhubbock, Co. Waterfordserve the sea routes. CHERISH has recorded these forts by UAV and explored the access to the sea below.
 Islandhubbock Promontory Fort showing three banks at the entrance with Ballyvoyle Head in the background

Ballynarrid, Co. Waterford

There is a concentration of eight forts around Ballynarrid near Bunmahon in Co. Waterford. The Irish place names here include Illaunobrick and Templeobrick that mean Island of O’Bric and church of O’Bric respectively. The promontory fort of Illaunobrick is marked as Danes Island on maps. References to Danes suggests some people thought Vikings built this fort. However, the older Irish names remember an important family group, the O’Brics, who were early medieval kings in southern Waterford.

Today Illaunobrick is very difficult to reach due to erosion and is almost a sea stack. Templeobrick is a stack today. There is a local story that the O’Bric stronghold was on Templeobrick. Foundations of a building were still visible there in 1841. An entrenchment for the Illaunobrick promontory fort and three hut sites were marked on the Ordnance Survey map from this time. Today, there is only a narrow impassable isthmus to this island.

Silver and lead mining here in the 18th- and 19th centuries has left adits in the cliffs, and shafts in the fields. This has destabilised the cliffs increasing the erosion. Illaunobrick is too dangerous to reach so UAV has been used to photograph and model the eroding cliff edges. The location of three rectangular features on the island has been identified from the UAV model. These are where the grass is higher and lower and could be the hut sites loosely marked on the early Ordnance Survey map. Magnetometry landward of the forts is revealing further possible ‘castle’ features, mines and smelting areas. CHERISH want to do further resistivity geophysics here to determine if there are any buried stone walls associated with these features.

Illaunobrick at Ballynarrid, Co. Waterford
 Illaunobrick or Danes Island with the Templeobrick stack to the left

Dunabrattin, Co. Waterford

One of the larger promontory forts along the Copper Coast is located at Dunabrattin Head. It is 7.5ha. This contains within it a smaller promontory fort at only 0.16ha. Dunabrattin means fort of the Britons. This suggests there were close links with Britain during the Iron Age and early medieval period.

It is an important fishing area with people fishing off the rocks today. Boatstrand fishing harbour is nearby. A World War concrete pillbox is on the southern tip of the promontory. This shows the headland was an important observation post and location to monitor any landings at the nearby beaches. Slumping of the cliff of the smaller promontory fort and narrow gullies between islets indicates continuing erosion. Hut sites and enclosures probably associated with the construction of the promontory forts were reported in the 20th century. CHERISH could not identify these features during ground survey. Therefore, geophysics and UAV was undertaken. An outer ditch to the smaller promontory fort is in the geophysical dataset and walk over survey. Circular features suggest further enclosures within the larger fort.


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Mining and Erosion along the Copper Coast

News Letter

Waterford’s Copper Coast, with its proliferation of promontory forts and reports of severe erosion, is a case study area for the CHERISH project. The area is known as the Copper Coast after the mineral deposits there that were mined extensively from 1824 to 1908.

At least 26 promontory forts survive on cliffs of up to 70m high and research at Irish promontory forts including Drumanagh and Dalkey Island in Co. Dublin and Dunbeg in Co. Kerry suggest their use from the Iron Age to early medieval periods. Ogham stones recorded along the Co. Waterford coast at Knockmahon, Island and Kilgrovan suggest that there were ecclesiastical sites in the surrounding area in the 5th- to 7th-century.

The National Museum of Ireland’s (NMI) topographic files record the finding of a number of objects in the area which indicate a long history of mining. The Reverend Patrick Power (1909) described a circular copper ingot of Romano-British Type found around 6km upstream from the estuary at Bunmahon. A group of finds given to the NMI in 1850 included two paddle-shaped instruments of oak found a depth of 20m. They were ‘apparently of great age’ in the 19th century. The description of their long narrow handles and spoon-shaped blades indicate that they could have been used to gather up broken fire-cracked rock, a product of the mining process. An Irish 17th-century trade token found near Knockmahon Castle could have been lost by merchants or seafarers transporting the natural resources produced by mining activity.

While undertaking aerial surveys and geophysical surveys on the promontory forts on the Copper Coast, the CHERISH team has inevitably come across the evidence of the mining: adits or entrances to underground mines in the cliffs, mine shafts and spoil heaps above the cliffs, along with ore yards and engine houses.

The mineral resources of the Copper Coast may have been important since prehistoric times, although much of that evidence has probably been disturbed by post-medieval mining and erosion. Sixteenth century historical sources record mining near Knockmahon promontory fort and in the mid-18th century, Francis Wyse from Waterford City, took a lease for the mineral rights west of Bunmahon (Cowman, 1983). Above the beach west of Bunmahon Head promontory fort, in Templeyvrick townland, the entrance to underground mines can be seen. Many mines along the coast were worked for up to 400m out to sea.


Templeyvrick mines on Trawnamoe Strand beside Bunmahon Head.
Templeyvrick mines on Trawnamoe Strand beside Bunmahon Head.

Beside the Knockmahon promontory fort is a landing place called Stage Cove. It has a modern concrete slipway today but at low tide it is possible to see that the access through the bedrock has been cleared. This would have allowed larger vessels to land and access the ore yard. In 1863, copper ore was being shipped from here to market in Liverpool and Swansea, when weather permitted boats to come close to the shore (Du Noyer, 1865). A UKHO chart dating from 1849 depicts vessels anchored off the ore yard in a sailing view.


Stage Cove landing place at low tide, Knockmahon
Stage Cove landing place at low tide, Knockmahon
UKHO sailing view from 1849 showing ore yard and engine houses around Knockmahon (L7194).
UKHO sailing view from 1849 showing ore yard and engine houses around Knockmahon (L7194).

Thirteen adits have been recorded into the cliff at Illaunobrick promontory fort or Danes Island in the townland of Ballynarrid. It has been suggested that the mines in the area could have been worked in the Bronze Age. This has been refuted by Historian Des Cowman (1982) using local records and through the identification of a drill hole which suggests that most of the evidence we see today are the result of are Industrial period mines. Mostly inaccessible today, these mines have contributed to the cliff erosion and there is very little trace of the promontory fort embankment defences today with only an impassable ‘goat track’ onto the stack. The 1840 edition of the Ordnance Survey map marks ‘site of entrenchment’ on the landward side of Illaunobrick and Thomas Westropp (1914-16) says it was nearly gone by 1841. Local knowledge records cliff rock falls around Ballynarrid and the neighbouring townland of Ballydowane in the 1970s and 80s.


Illaunobrick with mines into the cliff
Illaunobrick with mines into the cliff

This abundant heritage of the Copper Coast indicates this was an area with rich mineral, marine and agricultural resources, attracting settlement that traded across the Irish and Celtic Seas perhaps as far back as the Iron Age. The surveys conducted to date allow us to create a baseline record of the site against which future erosion can be measured. It also allows us to cast further light on the varied history of the region from prehistory to the more recent past.


  • Cowman, D. (1982) Bronze-Age Copper-Mines at Dane’s Island. Decies 20: 22-7.
    Cowman, D. (1983) Thomas (“Bullocks”) Wyse: A Catholic Industrialist during the Penal Laws, I. Decies 24: 8-13.
  • Du Noyer, G. (1865) Explanation to Accompany Sheets 167, 168, 178, and 179 of the Maps and Sheet 13 of the Longitundinal Sections of the Geological Survey of Ireland illustrating Parts of the Counties of Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and Tipperary. Hodges, Smoth and Co., Dublin.
  • Power, P. (1909) ‘On an ancient (prehistoric?) copper ingot from Bonmahon’, J Waterford SE Ir Archaeol Soc 12, 86-89.
  • Westropp, T 1906, ‘Notes on certain promontory forts in the counties of Waterford and Wexford’, J Roy Soc Antiq Ir 36, 239-58.
  • Westropp, T. 1914-16, ‘Fortified headlands and castles on the south coast of Munster: Part II, from Ardmore to Dunmore, Co. Waterford’, Proc Roy Ir Acad C 32, 188-227.
  • Westropp, T. (1920) The Promontory Forts and Traditions of the Beare and Bantry, Co. Cork Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 10 (2): 140-159.

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