Leinster / Longford

Corlea Trackway – an ancient bog road over 2,000 years old!

Ireland might be small, but it’s full of surprises! Despite having visited every county and following heaps of other Irish travel accounts online, I still come across lots of places and attractions that have managed to escape me. Last year, one of those surprise finds was the Corlea Trackway in Longford.

I was searching for things to do in Longford at the time, so it’s not exactly a surprise that I came across it. What did surprise me, was that I hadn’t heard of it before.

The Corlea Trackway is an Iron Age bog road (or togher), dating back over 2,000 years. The road was discovered in bogland, near the village of Keenagh in Longford, in 1985.

It really is a hidden gem and I have no doubt that visitor numbers would be sky-high if it was located elsewhere on a main tourist trail.

So start planning your trip to the midlands and be sure to put this fascinating find on your itinerary!

The bogland where the Corlea Trackway was discovered.

Bog Roads in Ireland

In ancient times, Ireland’s midlands were largely covered by raised bog. Archaelogists have found that an entire network of wooden roads existed, which were used by people to access or cross through the bogs. The roads provided important and necessary links between farming communities.

Many bog roads were simple constructions, consisting of stems of trees laid down end to end on the bog. Such tracks would have been sufficient for individual needs. Others like the Corlea Trackway, were much more elaborate.

The Corlea Trackway

The Corlea bog road was a very sophisticated construction for its time. While it’s exact purpose hasn’t been determined, experts believe the road at Corlea was built to allow for the passage of wheeled vehicles.

Thanks to the anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment of the bog here, the bacteria which would usually cause wood to decay was absent. This meant a large stretch of the road remained largely intact.

Analysis of wood samples from the track, indicated a felling date of 148 B.C. Incredibly, the wood is so well preserved the marks from stone and metal axes can be clearly recognised.

While roads similar in age and construction have been found in the Netherlands and northern Germany, the Corlea Trackway is bigger and heavier than any of those prehistoric roads. In fact, it’s one of the largest bog roads or trackways found in Europe.

Excavated and preserved section of the Corlea Trackway.

How was it built?

The road’s upper surface was constructed from oak planks. Measuring up to 4 metres in length, they were laid side by side upon parallel runners. Wooden pegs were then hammered through the planks to keep them in position.

Hundreds of mature oaks would have been felled to complete the road. They had to be trimmed and cut to the required length before then being split into planks. This was achieved by hammering wooden wedges of varying size into the trunks, a painstaking but effective process.

Of course the entire road was built using only the primitive tools available at the time. It would have been a massive undertaking. Unfortunately, within 10 years and possibly much less, the Corlea Trackway had disappeared into the bog. It remained hidden there until its discovery in 1985.

Excavation and Preservation at Corlea

Following its discover, the road was partially excavated under the leadership of Professor Barry Raftery of University College Dublin.

Incredibly, the timber planks unearthed at Corlea had a near perfect appearance. However they needed immediate treatment before they dried out, which would cause them to warp, shrink and crack.

Conservation of the timber was a long and elaborate process, during which the planks even had to be transported to Portsmouth in England for freeze-drying. The entire process of conservation took two and a half years to complete.

An eighteen metre section of the trackway was excavated and now remains on permanent display inside the purpose built visitor centre.

Bord na Mona have also worked with the Office of Public Works (OPW) to conserve the section of raised bog which contains another 80 metre section of the trackway.

Corlea Visitor Centre

The Corlea visitor centre sits on the exact axis of the trackway in the bog. After seeing the excavated part of the road inside, you can walk around the visitor centre and follow a path which follows the same line of the trackway.

The excavated trackway is inside a specially designed, temperature controlled hall to ensure the preservation of this ancient wooden structure. Access into the room is by guided tour only.

Boardwalk at the back of the visitor centre.

The trackway is inside a temperature controlled hall in the visitor centre.

There’s an interesting audiovisual presentation that’s about 15 minutes long and goes into more detail about the whole project, including the conservation process.

The excavations also uncovered lots of ancient artefacts, providing a window into the lives of people during the Iron Age. Some of these are on display in the circular exhibition hall, alongside numerous information panels.

There is a café but it was closed when I visited. Going by online reviews it seems that it may be permanently closed as the demand it just not there. However, there are some tables just outside the entrance to the visitor centre so if it’s a fine day, consider packing a picnic.

Exhibition area inside the visitor centre.

Picnic tables outside the Corlea Visitor Centre set amongst the trees

Picnic benches just outside the visitor centre.

Corlea Bog Amenity Walk

While you’re there check out the new amenity walk, which is a more recent development. You can follow the trail from outside the entrance to the visitor centre. The walkway leads you around an area of bog currently being managed to return it to a natural, semi-wild condition. The bog will provide a protective habitat for plants, birds and wild animals.

Opening Hours

The visitor centre is not open all year round. It usually opens in early April and the season extends to early/mid October. Check the Heritage Ireland website before visiting or call the visitor centre to confirm opening times. 

Getting There

The Corlea Trackway and visitor centre is just 15km (about a 20 minute drive) south of Longford town, near Keenagh village.

I found it really interesting and definitely worth a visit. Oh and in case you need any more encouragement, admission is even free.

No Comments

    Leave a Reply