Navan Fort, the Emain Macha of early Irish literary and historical tradition, lies two miles west of the city of Armagh. The importance of the site rests not only with its identification as the ancient seat of the kings of Ulster but also with its archaeological importance as one of the paramount ritual and tribal centres of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age Ireland along with the other provincial 'royal sites' of Tara, Dún Ailinne and Rathcroghan.
This area features in mythology such as the Táin Bó Cuailgne (Cattle Driving of Cooley) and other tales involving Cú Chulainn. In these tales the site is referred to as Eamhain Macha (Evan Ma ha).
It is believed to be indicated on Ptolemy’s Map (possibly based on 2nd century BC sources) as Isamnion which is an earlier form of Eamhain (from which it is derived by syncopation - with syllables being lost: I(s)AM(ni)ON becomes IAMON, or Eamhain).
Navan Fort is built on a small hill and is circular, with a diameter of 250 m. It is delimited by a wall and ditch with the ditch inside the wall indicating that it was not used for defence, but was a ceremonial structure.
Inside the fort, at the highest point of the hill, is the main structure, known as Site B, which contains several levels of structures. The earliest structure was built around 500 BC in the late Bronze Age.
After that, several figure-of-eight structures were built, each over the previous one, from around 400 BC to 100 BC.
Then in 94 BC, the final structure, called the 40 meter building was constructed in this fashion. See below for pictures.
The building was constructed.
It was filled with stones gathered from other locations - the Cairn.
The building and stones were burned.
The remains were coved over with sods brought from various locations to form the mound seen today.
At the same time as the 40 meter building was built, that is, 94 BC, several other structures were created. They are:
• The outer wall of Navan Fort itself.
• The Dorsey - a series of what are called Linear Earthworks, 15 miles south of Navan.
• Other Linear Earthworks - called The Black Pig's Dyke, in other areas south and west of Navan.
We know the precise date because of dendrochronology, which dates oak trees very precisely.