What is a midden?

prehistoric midden of shells in the swamp Vilseskogen via Compfight

There is evidence of people living at Rathdown during the Neolithic or New Stone Age (2,500 BC). In March 1991 part of the cliff at North Beach, Greystones adjacent to Rathdown collapsed into the sea. A newspaper report of the time explains that Grove Residents Association salvaged the find.

‘The items which they recovered over the Easter holidays include a number of fine Neolithic flints, several shards of medieval pottery, some animal bones and teeth, medieval nails and a piece of buckle’ (1) 

The haul provided evidence that there was habitation at Rathdown from prehistoric to medieval times.

‘In March 1991, after a period of prolonged rainfall a large section of cliff collapsed just north of the Gap Bridge revealing a midden site.’(2)

The students are very taken with the word ‘midden’ (an old Norse word) and are initially disappointed to hear that a midden is the equivalent of a rubbish dump. But their interest is renewed when they learn of discoveries archaeologists make, about the type of food our ancestors ate by examining these dumping grounds.

Mollusks formed a significant addition to the diet of those living along the coast in prehistoric times. The children speculate from what they see on Greystones sea shore today that the shells found in the midden could have included oysters, cockles, mussels, limpets, whelks, periwinkles, crab claws and fish bones. The chemical composition of the shells slow down the rate of decay within the midden which in turn preserve other materials in the heap.


1. George Jacob ‘Historic find as section of cliff collapses,’ Bray People, April 1991

2. Patrick Neary ‘A Saddle Quern or Grinding Stone from Rathdown Lower, Co.Wicklow https://trowelucd.files.wordpress.com/1992/10/trowel_iii.pdf

Rathdown – Evidence in the Landscape (cropmarks)

An aerial survey by Cambridge University

in July 1970 found cropmarks that showed Rathdown

was a medieval village or town

with signs of a castle, church and houses.


You can see the original photos HERE.


Can you work out where the village and castle

may have been from the markings on the ground?


What are crop marks?

When places where people once lived are deserted,

they become overgrown.

RuinsCreative Commons License Mark Coleman via Compfight

Eventually they are buried.

What is underneath the soil can affect

how the crops above them grow.

Ditches dug into the ground fill up

with soil over time. Crops grow well in these place.

They grow higher and look greener.

These create ‘positive’ cropmarks.


Where there are walls, floors or foundations underneath,

there is a thinner layer of soil.

Crops don’t grow as well on top of this rubble.

This creates ‘negative’ cropmarks.

Positive and negative cropmarks can be seen best from the air.

RHB_UK_Harnhill-1672_LabelledCreative Commons License DART Project via Compfight

Click on this LINK to read more about cropmarks.

Click HERE for a very detailed excavation

at Rathdown dating from 1997.

The Middle Ages – The Village at Rathdown

Knaresborough Castle DoorCreative Commons License Stephen Bowler via Compfight

The village at Rathdown did well from 1308 under the Normans:

the Le Brun and then the FitzGerald families.

In 1534, a castle,

20 houses,

a watermill

and a fresh water spring were recorded at Rathdown.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Leo Swan reported that photographs taken from the air showed signs that there was once a large village there.

In the Middle Ages there were about five hundred people living at Rathdown, and further south at Greystones was deserted.


Viking Links to Rathdown, North of Greystones

Hooray for the sun! Reiterlied via Compfight

Evidence of Vikings in the area

1. The Viking settlers used coins that were Anglo Saxon from abroad

until 997AD when they opened their own mint in Dublin.

An Anglo Saxon coin of the time before the mint was open

was found at Rathdown.

Experts say that this means there were Viking settlers at Rathdown

or that Vikings in the area traded with the Irish at Rathdown.

2. Other signs of Vikings in the area include

that the road connecting Bray and Greystones, is called Windgates.

Windgates comes from the Viking word ‘gata’ which means ‘road’


3. There is a famous Irish history book written in the 17th century.

It is called ‘The Annals of the Four Masters’

In this book there is an account of the battle at Delgany in 1021

in which the King of Leinster beat Sitric,

the king of the Vikings from Dublin.

The book says that after the battle,

the Irish that had won killed any Vikings that were left.


There was a big battle in Bray too.

It was at a place called Sunnybank now

When the Vikings and the Irish fought there

it was called the ‘Bloody bank’.

Sunnybank in Bray is on the Dublin Road

near Ravenswell School, Amphibian King and Lidl.



King Heremon builds a rath at Rathdown

In 1699BC, during the Bronze Age  King Heremon came

and built a rath at Rathdown.

That is how Rathdown, which is to the north of Greystones got its name.

Mesolithic camp site Wessex Archaeology via Compfight

Imagine 1700 BC was the year the last species of mammoth

became extinct on Wrangel Island in the Artic Ocean!

People were living in Rathdown that long ago!

The mammoth at the Royal BC MuseumCreative Commons License Ruth Hartnup via Compfight

Click HERE to learn a couple of extra facts about mammoths.

What was the Bronze Age like? What is its link to Greystones?

Casting Bronze Age SwordsCreative Commons License Karsten Wentink via Compfight

The Bronze Age was the time between the Stone Age and the Iron Age. Bronze is a mixture of tin and copper. Bronze is harder than stone or either of the metals (tin and copper) from which it is made. Because bronze is stronger it could be used to make stronger tools and weapons. These discoveries led to improvements in the way people lived their lives.

Casting Bronze Age SwordsCreative Commons License Karsten Wentink via Compfight

The Bronze Age was happening in Europe around 4000BC.  But it did not begin in Ireland until settlers came from France arrived in Ireland around 2000BC. They knew how to make tools and weapons from bronze. They taught the Irish how to do this.

You can read more about the Bronze Age on the ‘Ask About Ireland’ website HERE and a powerpoint about The Bronze Age on the Seomra Ranga website HERE.

Casting Bronze Age SwordsCreative Commons License Karsten Wentink via Compfight

According to the Annals of the Four Masters, people lived in Greystones during the Bronze Age. A rath was built near the end of the Bronze Age in Rathdown to the north of Greystones by King Heremon.

Rathdown – 4,500 years ago

The very first visitors to Greystones,

4,500 years ago didn’t stay where the town is today,

but instead they settled at Rathdown, just to the north.

This was when the Stone Age people came.

In 1992, part of the cliff at Rathdown collapsed into the sea.

Newspaper reports at the time say that

Neolithic flints were among the finds.

The Neolithic era is sometimes called the New Stone Age.


1. The Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age came first.

It lasted from 2,700 million years ago

to around 10,000 years ago.

During this time men were hunter gatherers.

Tools were mostly made of stone

but also of wood, bone and leather.


2.During the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age

smaller stone tools such as arrow or spear heads were made .

The first boats were made

so men could now fish as well as hunt.

Man’s best friend the dog was tamed during this time.


3.During the Neolithic or New Stone Age

man started to farm the land.

Can you imagine the early farmers

working on the land at Rathdown?


This is a flint that a student found in the school playground.

Why Stone Age people settled at Rathdown

DSCF2126 Urban_Mongoose via Compfight


So the question is why do you think

people long ago decided to live at

Rathdown rather than Greystones?

We think these early settlers chose to live in Rathdown

• Because it was more sheltered,

(Greystones would be wild and windy.)
• There was the sea and a fresh water spring nearby.
• They could eat the birds and animals in the wood.
• It was on a hill. They could see their enemies coming.


We think these early settlers chose to live

north of Greystones because it was more sheltered.

There were the advantages of living beside the sea

and having a fresh water spring nearby.

Woodland birds and animals

could have been a source of food.

Teachers can find more Stone Age resources

by clicking on THIS LINK.

A Short History of Greystones (with pictures)


Creative Commons License Photo Credit: long may she rain  via Compfight

History of Greystones

Long ago no one lived in Greystones.

It was too wild and wind swept.

But people lived at Rathdown.

There is evidence that people have lived there

from the time of the Stone Age.

Then King Heremon built a rath

Sheep of Kings
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: mollydot via Compfight

in a more sheltered spot to the north of Greystones.

This was at Rathdown.

This was 500 BC.

Pestle and mortar - Choquequirao - Peru

 Mark Rowland via Compfight

Early farmers lived at Rathdown too

By the Middle Ages there were 500 people living at Rathdown.


Joachim S. Müller via Compfight

The Vikings came by boat and by land from Dublin.

Viking swords
Photo Credit: Arild Nybø via Compfight

Greystones is in County Wicklow.

Wicklow means ‘Viking Meadow’.

85 Haithabu Herbstmesse WMH 02-11-2014 Kai-Erik via Compfight.

Vikings were fierce warriors from the North of Europe.

Later the Normans lived at the castle.

They were skilled soldiers from the North of France.

William's silhouette
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Matthijs via Compfight


In 1301, the wild, Wicklow tribes,

the O’Tooles and the O’Byrnes burnt down the castle.

They came on foot and horseback.

Greystones (Na Clocha Liatha in Irish) is a coastal town in County WicklowCreative Commons License William Murphy via Compfight

In 1800 no one was living at Greystones.

Described as a ‘wild headland’,

English speaking sailors

sailing on the Irish Sea

used call the area ‘the grey stones’

because of the grey rocks.

In 1825, there were 7 fishing families living there.

Noose Mike Dean via Compfight

The arrival of the railway changed all that.

Now we are a town in the ‘commuter belt’.

People live in Greystones

and commute by train to Dublin city to work.

Lots of tourists come and visit us on the train.

It is a good place to visit and a GREAT place to live.


204 of 365 - …upon the mountains like a flame

Fearghal via Compfight




The Stone Age – and its links with Greystones.


Let’s start at the very beginning …

The Stone Age was the time when stone

was used to make tools and weapons.

The Stone Age lasted  approximately 3.4 million years.

The Stone Age ended about 2,000 years BC.

The Stone Age ended when people learned

to use metals like bronze and then iron.

In 1992, part of the cliff at Rathdown fell into the sea.

Among the rocks and stones were found artifacts like flints.

These artifacts showed that people had lived at

Rathdown from Stone Age times.

Click on this link from Encyclopedia Britannica Kids

on Scoilnet to see what an artifact is.

Click on this link to see a newspaper article from the

Bray People in 1992 reporting the find.

The flint at the top of this post was found

in our school yard in 2006.

Read about how it was discovered here.