The Corlea trackway dates from BC148: wood samples subjected to tree-ring analysis reveal the felling date. Its length was about one kilometre, running from dry land in the north-west to the south-east, where an island of dry land was located in a bog. The track continued for another kilometre in a south-west direction into what is now the townland of Derraghan More. The Corlea trackway is not the only one in this area. Around 60 others have been located spanning a time period from BC4000 to AD1000. The Corlea trackway is considered to be bigger and heavier than any other prehistoric road in Europe.
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The Corlea trackway excavation work was began in 1985. At the time four other trackways were discovered in the same bog. Sixteen more tracks were found on the western edge of the bog when the peat was extracted by milling machines. Archaeologists are not sure of the destination of the Corlea track. It might have been part of a dry-land route leading to a Shannon crossing at Lanesborough or part of a highway leading to royal Cruachain.
The remains were preserved by the wet bogland in which they reside. Corlea’s trackway was large enough for wheeled vehicles, but it was not in use for a long time as it sunk into the peat.
Farmers living on dry land would build the trackways to connect with other dry land settlements and move their animals safely across bog areas. The trackways consist of wooden planks used as walkways through the wet bog. In some instances bundles of packed hazel or birch rods were added in thick layers to make a walkway more stable. “Hurdle” trackways were constructed using pre-constructed panels of woven brushwood, which were then placed end-to-end on the wet bog. Sometimes logs and split planks were employed on top of the brushwood.
Corlea’s trackway used a sophisticated construction process. The upper is made of four metre long split oak planks laid edge-to-edge. Below these are parallel pairs of long straight stems. To secure the planks pegs of hazel, birch, or oak were driven into the stems. The people who constructed the trackway would have needed hundreds of oak trees, which they would then have to trim and split using mallets and wooden wedges. By the time of the building of the Corlea trackway, iron axes of the shaft-hole type were in use. The Corlea builders also used iron adzes to smooth the surface of split planks.
In order to preserve the 80 surviving metres of the Corlea trackway, the water table in the bog was raised by building a wall using plastic sheeting inserted vertically around it. Four artificial lakes were built to insure a high water table. These conservation efforts raised the bog’s moisture content to the original 95%.
The Corlea Visitor Centre is built on the exact axis of the trackway in the bog. Inside there are 18 metres of the excavated and conserved timber trackway on display. An AV presentation on the excavation and preservation of the timbers is on offer as well as interpretative panels and artefacts. A boardwalk across the bog leads from the rear of the building and follows the course of the trackway within the bog. A guided tour gives information on the plants and animals of the bogland habitat.
Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre
Kenagh, county Longford
On Ballymahon road (R397)
Tel. 0 43 332 2386
Open: April-end Sep, daily, 10am-6pm; bog area by guided tour only at 10am-5pm on the hour, lasts 40 min, AV presentation of 17 min
Note: Another article on our website, Flag Fen gives details of a trackway in England’s fen country.
Insider Tip: Try to time your visit for good weather. The wind can really blow over the flat bog land. This is a fascinating attraction.