Dun Mac Uisneachan / Dun Mac Sniachan

Dun Mac Sniachan / Dun-mac-Sniochain / (or Dun Mac Uisneachan/ Dun Mac Uisneadian) is a large vitrified fort in Benderloch at 245 m by 50 m.
The site is also known as Beregonium around which there is considerable folklore which is explored on that page.

Tbe fort has been called, although rarely, Ban Tighearna, or the Lady's Fort; one entrance is called Sraida Bhan Tighearna, or the Lady's Street, and may point to Deirdre, who was so renowned from Loch Etive to Lochness. (R Angus Smith)1

The Vitrified fort dates from the 1st millennium AD (around 350 AD) mostly likely established on a pre-existing defensive site and settlement that may have been used for 500 - 1000 years before.

It was first excavated in 1873, then in 1874 (Smith 1875)
description of the fort and vitrification by R Angus Smith in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Vol 9


Descriptive List of Antiquities near Loch Etive. Part III.
from this paper : -
The first point worthy of mentioning is the wall of Dun Macuisneachan itself. It is of a height of 5 or 6 feet in some places, and vitrified outside chiefly. I touched it tenderly. Inside the vitrified wall was a regularly built wall, but without mortar. The stones were flat. The inside wall is built of pretty regular stones, the outside of rubble concreted by fire. I found this at two points, not daring to go round it all. It would seem to imply that the more refined houses were built within the less refined, the first standing in place of our plaster, whilst more covering may have been upon it than there is now. Among the stones that fell from this built wall was a piece of a sword a few inches long, the tang for the handle, and a part of the blade. It is of iron, and presents nothing unusual in shape. It is excessively rusted, and the layers begin to separate. It is made of pieces, thin and imperfectly welded together; two pieces at least are prominently, exposed by a split.
This was in the northern part, looking towards the ruined Lochnell house. In the compartment enclosed by this wall, a trench about 18 inches deep brought out the rock, and nothing important was found, but the natural ground was reached. A few remains of burnt bones were also found. The second compartment from the sea was most fully protected, and I expected to find most there, and dug it first. It showed a wall crossing the fort, and was properly a partition not vitrified. The inside of the compartment had rubbish in the middle to the depth of 7 feet. There were bones found at more than one depth, and especially at about 4 feet, with abundant pieces of charcoal. The bones were of the present breed of cattle and horses.
At the depth of about 3J feet was found an iron brooch or fibula of the ring pattern. It is very much corroded, but there is no difficulty about the intention. We have silver brooches exactly the same used at the present day. It is in principle the Tara brooch. There are two iron fibulte in the Dublin Museum. I know of no iron brooch exactly like this. (See annexed fig.) Some call it' a mere ring ; I think otherwise.

There is a fresh water spring on the southeast edge of the hill.

This first section of the fort “measures about 245m in length by a maximum of 50m in width internally,” and much of it can still be traced all along the full length and breath of the geological ridge upon which it sits. However, the timber-laced walls that stood all round the edges have, obviously, all but disintegrated. This earlier part of the fort, wrote Richard Feacham (1977), “was superceded by a small subrectangular, now vitrified fort, about 170 feet long by 60 feet wide, and by a circular and probably vitrified dun measuring about 60 feet in diameter.”

This fort was occupied for some considerable time into the Common Era, as material remains found amidst excavation work here at the end of the 19th century, “including metalwork of Roman date…suggests an occupation in the early first millenium AD.” (Harding 1997)2

The monument is of national importance as an excellent and rare example of three successive defensive sites in use or re-used from at least the Iron Age into the early historic period.

postcard of Beregonium in 1909

It has several large area of complex structures.
There is a well, a street connecting it to the Dun at Dunvalenrigh/Craigneuk
It is rare to find a vitrified fort in this area and there are few so far north.
there is a lot to learn about this highly signficant site in the middle of our community

Scheduling information http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/SM2179

The monument is an impressive group of prehistoric defensive remains comprising two successive forts and a dun, dating to the Iron Age (between 500 BC and AD 500) and later. The monument is located on the summit of a steep-sided rock outcrop aligned NE-SW, known as Dun Mac Sniachan. It is visible as a series of grass-grown stony banks, with sections of exposed vitrified walling, enclosing the outcrop and two further areas within it. The outcrop rises to a height of 40m above sea level and is situated close to the NE shore of Ardmucknish Bay and overlooking Benderloch to the E. The monument was first scheduled in 1961, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The earliest fort is the largest of the three, taking in much of the rocky outcrop. It covers an area measuring approximately 245m by 50m, enclosed by a wall running around the margin of the summit. The wall survives for much of the perimeter as a low grass-grown stony bank, though some sections of vitrified material can be traced. The entrance to this fort was located probably from the E where a natural gully ascends the outcrop. The later fort is much smaller and sits within its predecessor at the SW end of the ridge. The interior measures 52m by 21m and is enclosed by a vitrified wall, which is visible for the most part as a grass-covered stony bank, spread up to 6m wide in places and standing up to 1m high. On the NW edge the wall clearly overlies that of the earlier fort. On the SE edge of this fort a stretch of vitrified inner facing stones is exposed. The dun is situated at the NE (lower) end of the ridge and measures about 18.3m by 15.2m within a wall about 3m thick. The wall survives as a grass-grown bank of stony debris. Immediately SW of the dun are the remains of two outer walls running across the width of the outcrop, each with a gap in the centre forming an entrance. No corresponding entrance can be seen in the dun itself, although four large earthfast boulders are in alignment with the other entrances through the two ramparts and may indicate a blocked entranceway.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan and includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.
Statement of National Importance
Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

Despite considerable vegetation cover, much of the walling and earthworks survive and the main features and structural components of both of the forts and the dun are visible. There are numerous patches of exposed vitrified walling, including a considerable stretch on the SE edge of the later fort which stands over 1m high. The interiors of the structures appear relatively undisturbed despite the presence of trees and shrubs, and only a small area of the later fort has been excavated. There is excellent potential for the survival of important archaeological remains.

Limited archaeological excavation of the later fort in the 19th century revealed considerable stretches of vitrified walling in the later fort and evidence for modification and reconstruction of the fort during different phases. There were also traces of rectangular stone buildings within the fort and a number of finds were recovered, including a tanged iron sword, an iron dagger, iron ring, enamelled bronze circular mount, a bronze ring, several querns and a considerable quantity of animal bone. The excavation evidence places the later fort's construction and occupation around the early first millennium AD. The presence of an earlier fort and a later dun demonstrates that there is a considerable time-depth to the monument's development sequence, making it a particularly important site. There is good potential for the survival of further structures, sub-surface features, artefacts and ecofacts, all of which can provide information about the site's occupants and daily life, the construction, function and layout of both forts and the dun, and many other aspects of prehistoric society and economy. The site also has excellent potential to contribute towards the study of vitrified forts and to help further our understanding of their design, construction and purpose. Overall, this is a particularly important example of Iron Age and early historic defensive settlements of different forms and phases, and has excellent potential to enhance our understanding of the nature of such sites, their origins, development, use and re-use.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is a rare and impressive example of a group of three successive defensive sites occupying and re-using a rocky ridge. Whilst close proximity to similar sites is relatively common in Argyll, it is unusual to have three successive defensive structures constructed at the same location over a long period. A similar example is known at Dun Skeig in Kintyre where there are three successive sites comprising a fort and two duns. Dun Mac Sniachan is particularly interesting as it comprises two vitrified forts, which are far less common than duns in Argyll; and the dun itself is atypical as a notably large example with outworks.

Duns and forts in Argyll are frequently as impressive for their location as their preservation, and they vary considerably in terms of size and complexity. Dun Mac Sniachan is a fine example of the exploitation of topography to help construct a defensible site. This isolated ridge is surrounded by sheer cliffs on most sides; it dominates the landscape and is in an ideal settlement location, close to the shore of Ardmucknish Bay and overlooking agricultural land. From the summit, there are excellent views in all directions, but especially out to sea and across to a number of other potentially related, broadly contemporary sites on the islands of Mull, Kerrera and Lismore.

Its importance is enhanced by its close proximity to the supposed location of 'Beregonium', the legendary capital of the Dalriada. The Scottish philosopher, Hector Boece, located this site just to the SE of Dun Mac Sniachan in his 'Scoturum Historiae', written in the 16th century. This monument has much to tell us about the factors influencing choice of location, the importance of defence and protection, and the significance of visibility to and from and between these sites. The continued or repeated use and re-use of this important location has the potential to illuminate the patterns of landownership and the division of land during the Iron Age. It is clear that this was a significant place to many generations of prehistoric people.

Associative characteristics

The place-name 'Dun Mac Sniachan' indicates the presence of a defensive settlement and suggests the site has been occupied over a long period. Both forts and the dun are shown on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map: the southernmost fort is labelled as 'vitrified', while the dun is labelled as 'stone circle (remains of)'. Today the site is popular for its views with walkers and visitors: access to the summit is up the gentler NE slope along a well-worn grassy path.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance as an excellent and rare example of three successive defensive sites in use or re-used from at least the Iron Age into the early historic period. The defensive works and sections of vitrified walling are well preserved and there is high potential for surviving artefactual and ecofactual remains and structures within and around the forts and dun. The site has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular the design and construction of Iron Age and later defensive sites, their occupation and reuse over time, and the links these places had with contemporary sites elsewhere, particularly in western Scotland and the Irish Sea region. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand early Scottish communal fortifications.


Feacham, Richard, Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.pp. 109.
Harding, D.W., “Forts, Duns, Brochs and Crannogs,” in The Archaeology of Argyll (edited by Graham Ritchie[Edinburgh University Press 1997]).
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll- volume 2, HMSO: 1974.
Smith, R. Angus, Loch Etive and the Sons of Uisnach, Alexander Gardner: London & Paisley 1885.
Harding, D W 1997, 'Forts, duns, brochs and crannogs: Iron Age settlements in Argyll', in Ritchie, G, The archaeology of Argyll, Edinburgh, pp. 131.
MacKie, E W 1976a, 'The vitrified forts of Scotland', in Harding, D W, Hillforts: later prehistoric earthworks in Britain and Ireland, London, pp. 227, 233-4.
Nisbet, H C 1974a, 'A geological approach to vitrified forts, part I: the archaeological and scientific background', Sci & Archaeol, vol. 12, pp. 4, 5, 7.
Nisbet, H C 1975a, 'A geological approach to vitrified forts, part II: bedrock and building stone', Sci & Archaeol, vol. 15, pp. 12.
RCAHMS 1975, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the ancient monuments: vol. 2: Lorn, Edinburgh, pp. 69-70.
Smith, R A 1875a, 'Descriptive list of antiquities near Loch Etive. Part III', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 10, pp. 78-80.

The area was excavated in the late 19th century

The late 19th century excavations on Dun Mac Sniachan produced Iron Age metalwork dating to the early 1st millennium AD, although how these relate to the complex of structures at the site is less clear (Smith 1875).
Graham Ritchie - The Archaeology of Argyll (edited by Graham Ritchie [Edinburgh University Press 1997])

other references for the future
Reconnaissance excavations on Early Historic fortifications and other royal sites in Scotland, 1974-84: 2, Excavations at Dunollie Castle, Oban, Argyll, 1978 - Leslie Alcock* and Elizabeth A Alcock : the only chronological pointer for the complex Dun Mac Sniachan is a bronze disk with red and yellow enamelling which is perhaps first century AD, or later (MacGregor 1976, cat no 175

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