3 March 2009

A 2000 Year Tradition

I want The Map of Watchful Architecture to help us see old structures afresh and new structures in a historical light, bringing new illumination. The map represents certain structures, perhaps built centuries apart, as fundamentally the same. For example, the Border was predicted by the 2nd century structure of the Dorsy, an official entrance into Ulster. Nowadays, just south of the Border the Garda Síochána perform spot checks on buses, looking for illegal migrants. Instead of two categories, 1st Century Gate and 21st Century Immigration Control, my map uses just one: checkpoint. Immigration control is revealed as inheritor of a long tradition while at the same time an ancient site is drawn into the contemporary dynamic.

Detail from The Map of Watchful Architecture 1.0

Adding to the diversity of checkpoints in Ireland is a timber castle discussed in Archaeology Ireland lately (Volume 21, No. 2. Issue No. 80). We are well used to seeing old stone towers in the landscape and it is interesting to realise that once wooden towers dotted the landscape too. None have survived but there is documentary evidence for them. One particular wooden tower is referred to in reports, letters, and we even have an image. In 1575, under the earl of Essex, the English constructed a fort on a strategic crossing-point of the River Blackwater, near modern day Blackwatertown. This construction was to control access in and out of western Ulster. It was the gateway to a contested territory, Hugh O’Neill’s lands in South-East Tyrone.

Apologies for the low quality of this reproduction

On the one side of the Blackwater the tower was of stone. On the other side is an impressive wooden tower, four stories high. It is the darker tower in the above image. Huge uprights at each corner are obviously the major structural features. Note the bridge; it seems to link both towers. Anyone using it certainly had to pass through the right-side structure and possibility the timber tower too. This makes the structure a filtering installation. A sixteen century checkpoint. Part of a long tradition going back, and forward.