Dunragit’s ceremonial mound

Dunragit

The Mote of Droughduil


The area around the village of Dunragit in Galloway contains one of the largest prehistoric ritual complexes in Britain. Aerial photography and excavation have enabled archaeologists to build up a picture of henges, processional roads and other features. These are mostly hidden below ground, but one major element of the complex is still visible today: an impressive artificial mound, standing between the main A75 highway and the railway, not far from the shore of the Solway Firth.

The mound is known as the Mote of Droughduil (or Droughdool). Until recently it was thought to be a motte – the base of a small castle – constructed in Norman times. An older theory suggested that it might be the presumed ‘Fort of Rheged’ which some people believe to be the origin of the name Dunragit. Rheged was a North British kingdom that flourished in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Its precise location is unknown but the most popular hypothesis sees it as encompassing lands on either side of the Solway.

Excavations conducted by a team from Manchester University during 1999-2002 confirmed that the Mote of Droughduil was built long before the kings of Rheged or the Norman lords of Galloway. It was a key nodal point in the prehistoric complex and seems to have been used as a viewing platform where important religious rituals could be observed. At some point, a ceremonial cairn was placed on the summit, and the mound itself was re-shaped to give a tiered or ‘stepped’ profile. To me, this re-shaping makes it reminiscent of the Doomster Hill at Govan, another ceremonial mound of artificial construction. Both sites were probably used for important public gatherings in very ancient times. Unfortunately, the Doomster Hill was destroyed in the name of Progress, and it now looks as if the Mote of Droughduil might be heading for a similar fate.

Permission has recently been given for a road-building project which will by-pass Dunragit village. The A75 is a very busy highway, much-used by heavy vehicles travelling to and from Stranraer (a major port for ferries between Scotland and Northern Ireland). I can understand, therefore, why people living along this route tend to support the construction of a by-pass. The trouble is, the new road at Dunragit will cut through the sacred landscape of prehistoric times. When the big machines start ripping up the hallowed earth, it’s hard to see how the Mote of Droughduil can survive.

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Notes

My thanks to Liz Roberts for sending me the link to Kenneth Roy’s article on this topic.

The Canmore database has an entry for the Mote of Droughduil. For recent information, see the report of the Manchester University excavations.

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14 comments on “Dunragit’s ceremonial mound

  1. Thomas Gavin says:

    Wow Tim, need to get over and have a look!

    • Tim says:

      It’s certainly worth seeing, Thomas. And it’s only about 8 miles from the Early Christian carved stones at Kirkmadrine. Whithorn isn’t far away either.

  2. Mick Deakin says:

    Is it within range of Newton Stewart Tim ?

  3. Tony Walker says:

    I always thought that Dunragit was more likely to be Din rhag coed – the fort by the wood, rather that Din Rheged….

    • Tim says:

      Quite possible, Tony. And the fact that alternative meanings exist is adequate proof that we don’t really know what the name means. This uncertainty ought to discourage people from using Dunragit to make assumptions about the location and extent of Rheged.

  4. What a fantastic site. Some Irish based possibilities re: the placenames…for what its worth:

    Dunragit > Dún Reicheit > Dún Rec(c)aid: ‘The fort of selling/bartering/exchanging’…

    Droughduil > Droch Dúil: ‘Dark/evil creature/element/being/essence’…

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for this place-name info, Terry.

      Being sceptical of the ‘Dun of Rheged’ theory I’m always glad to see alternative derivations for Dunragit. In the case of Droughduil, the possibility of an association with a dark or evil entity makes the mound seem even more mysterious and interesting.

  5. Jo Woolf says:

    Very interesting – another site I didn’t know about. I can’t believe that they would be allowed to drive a road through there – seriously?

  6. mattt says:

    did doomster hill and tynwald serve the same purpose,? tynwald ,isle of man ,where two men called the deemsters made laws .

    • Tim says:

      Yes, it seems all these artificial mounds were used for ceremonial purposes of one kind or another. The comparison between Tynwald Hill and Doomster Hill is especially close, as both had a similar ‘stepped’ shape and were associated with kings of the Viking period. Both were probably used as royal parliament hills at around the same time, by Manx Vikings and Strathclyde Britons respectively.

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