Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Saturday, 25 February 2006

Ancient refuge found by workmen

Archaeologist in souterrain
The stone-built tunnel leads into the hillside

Workmen have unearthed 1,000 years of history on a County Down building site.

They have come upon an underground stone-built tunnel in Raholp, where our ancestors might have hidden from the Vikings or from warring neighbours.

Archaeologist Ken Neill said that with chambers off from the main tunnel it was a quite complicated souterrain, and probably built by better off farmers.

The opening that led to the tunnel - which leads into the hillside - will be sealed and the passage left alone.

"It was really somewhere for you to get down and hide when your area was being attacked by your neighbours or Vikings," he said.

"You would get down into this and you would be relatively safe.

Archaeologist in souterrain
The stone-built tunnel leads into the hillside

"It would be a brave man that would come down one of these after you - not knowing the plan of it and not knowing at which corner he stuck his head round you'd be waiting on the other side with an axe or whatever."

There are about 1,000 known souterrains in Northern Ireland, about 100 of which are in County Down.

They are one of Ireland's most distinctive archaeological features but very few are accessible to the public.

While the one on the building site is being closed off the Finnis souterrian, near Dromara, is open to the public.

Known locally as Binder's Cove it was found in the 18th century and consists of a main passage of around 30m in length and two straight side passages on the right hand side, each approximately 6m long.


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