Rathbeg - An Ráth Beag, the Small Fort, provides us with a confused idea as to the function of this monument. The name was first recorded in the late 19th-century by the Irish language scholar John O'Donovan.
Rathbeg from the roadside
Despite its name denoting a place of residence, it has been identified is a ring-barrow. It is located approximately 540 metres to the North-West of Rathcroghan Mound itself. The monument is sited on a high knoll at the South-West end of a small ridge, and is composed of a small central cairn surrounded by a pair of concentric banks with inner ditches cut on the perimeter of the knoll. The placement of the ditches inside the banks automatically removes the possibility of the monument having any kind of defensive function. The inversion of this system on sites is sometimes suggested to indicate a ritual/ceremonial welcome. The overall diameter of the feature is approximately 36 metres.
A barrow, or tumulus, is almost exclusively associated with single or multiple burials. There are a wide range of different types of barrows, usually named in accordance to their shape. Usually originating in the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Ireland, their later interactions and reinterpretations by successive generations preserve their ritual importance, but their role oftentimes changes. This can be seen by the reuse of such monuments at sites such as Tara, Navan Fort, and our own Rathcroghan, to name just a few.
The literature concerned with Cruachan gives us context for a number of the archaeological features on the complex. Burial mounds and tumuli such as Rathbeg legitimise recorded references to Cruachan being described as one of the three Heathen Cemeteries of Ireland by Christian scribes in the 12th-century manuscript Lebor na hUidre - The Book of the Dun Cow.
Given Rathbeg's location in respect to the main mound at Rathcroghan, and the ease with which one can observe the main mound, and vice-versa, from the summit of either monument, lends itself to many theories regarding, firstly, its ritual purpose, and secondly, the status of the presumed corpses deposited at Rathbeg. Only excavation could deliver any answers in that regard, but there is a tantalizing possibility that a member or members of the Iron Age Aos Dána or of the high-status warrior caste being buried at the site. Its central proximity in relation to both Rathmore and Rathnadarve also suggests the possibility of interaction between these features in some ritual or ceremonial capacity.
For now, however, all we can do is stand on its summit and attempt to transport ourselves back to when the complex was at its zenith. D. Curley
Rathbeg can be seen to the south of the N5