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Finnis Souterrain

Legananny Road, Dromara, Dromore, County Down, BT25 2HS
Information Board located at Finnis Souterrain or better known locally as Binders Cove.

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About

Finnis Souterrain

Souterrains were commonly referred to as ‘an uamh’ or cave. ‘Binder’ was the nickname given to a previous occupier of the souterrain field. They date from the early Christian period, between the sixth and tenth centuries AD. This was a period of civil unrest, with the constant threat of Viking raids, intertribal cattle raids, and regular theft of slaves. Although there is some debate about the purpose of souterrains, it is thought that they were built mainly as places of refuge and occasionally used for storage.

Finnis Souterrain, locally known as ‘Binder’s Cove’, is a securely built underground granite structure made up of three passages. The main passage with large stones near the base giving way to smaller stones creating an inward batter or curve, runs from east to west for approximately 29m - the first 7.5m around 1m in height running to a low ‘lintelled’ defensive structure beyond which it opens out and curves gently downwards. Its sidewalls are characterised by an outward stepping of the topmost wall course, which provides a platform or ledge onto which the massive roof lintel stones were set. Two side passages extend from the central passageway in a north easterly direction, and there are low lintels at the entrance of each of these chambers both around 6m in length. In the first side passage a roof aperture above these large lintels possibly provided a vantage place for someone to hide and surprise an unwelcome intruder.

The site opened to the public in July 2003; it needed little other work other than removing several tonnes of accumulated earth and some fairly minor repairs, a testament to the endeavours of its builders over 1000 years ago!

Binder’s Cove is on private property and access is by kind permission of the landowner.

When visiting the site please wear suitable footwear and bring a torch with you for access.

 

The Site 

‘Binder’s Cove’ – is the local name for the site.  Souterrains were often called ‘coves’ or ‘caves’ in the countryside.  Clinton (2001) states they are commonly referred to in ancient tracts in the same way, as ‘an uamh’ – a cave.  He also states that the given price for building a souterrain was two cows.  ‘Binder’ was the nickname of a long gone owner/occupier of the souterrain field.

The site is a scheduled monument on private land.  Access has been granted under an agreement between the landowner and the Council and relates to the fenced-off area only. 

The present entrance to the souterrain is not the original access, the location of which is not known.  Archaeologists think that the main passage continued beyond the present entrance.  A report in the Northern Whig of 1836 mentions stone steps down to the souterrain but these have not been found.  It is not known when the present access to the site was made but Lewis (1837) mentions the Rector of the Parish in 1833 having the souterrain cleared out an iron door put on the souterrain to protect it.

Binder’s Cove is a securely built underground structure made up of 3 passages.  The main passage runs E-W for approx. 95 ft/29 m.  The first 24.6 ft/7.5 m or so consists of a low roofed passage of around 3.4 ft/1m in height running to a low ‘lintelled’ constriction, a defensive feature.  Beyond the low lintel the passage opens out, running for approx. a further

70.5 ft/21.50m m curving gently downward – you can feel the air becoming cooler!  The roof height varies, rising to approx. 5ft 4”/1.6m towards the back.  Two side passages extend from the central passageway to the right in a NE direction.  There are low lintels at the entrance to these chambers.  The chambers are around 20ft/6m in length.  A suspected 4th side passage, on the left of the main passage, in the vicinity of the low lintel, was recently investigated but no evidence was found to establish its existence. 

A feature of the first side passage is the constricted entrance characterised by large lintels and an apparent roof aperture above this lintel, possibly providing a vantage place for someone to hide and surprise an unwelcome intruder.  Also look out for some 1940’s graffiti in the chambers.

The souterrain is of drystone wall construction of granite.  There are larger stones near the base and smaller stones higher up in the walls creating an inward batter or curve.  The main passage sidewalls are characterised by an outward stepping of the top most wall course which provides a platform or ledge onto which the massive roof lintel stones were set.  Thus the lintels along the main section of the passageway do not have to span the entire width of the passage a feature which reduces not only the size of the lintel stones but the weight of stones as a result.  Towards the rear of the main passage the walls and roof take on a more corbelled appearance and here the structure appears to widen as a result.

The site has been known for at least 200 years and has been ‘rediscovered’ many times over the years.  Clinton (2001) states that Walter Harris and Charles Smith in 1744 were the first to note the ‘presence of cupboards or cubby-holes in this souterrain, which they described as ‘niches’.  There appear to be a least 3 such niches, 2 at ground level, and a cubby-hole at waist level towards the end of the main passage, there are also air vents.

The site was opened and cleared in 1977/78 and surveyed by archaeologists but not formally excavated.  The present landowner expressed an interest in opening the site to the public and this was achieved in July 2003 through a project instigated and led by Banbridge District Council (with funding from Environment and Heritage Services Built and Natural Heritage, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and assistance from the Mourne Heritage Trust).

Several tonnes of accumulated earth were removed from the souterrain which needed little other work – a testament to its builders over 1000 years ago!  Some fairly minor repairs were made inside, solar lighting installed, and the floor covered in stone chippings and the old iron door replaced.  A new field boundary and an access path were created, a small lay-by for parking and an interpretative board were provided. 

Although common, souterrains are, by their very nature, dark underground structures and are not suitable for general public access.  Thus, Binder’s Cove gives an almost unique opportunity for the public to visit one of these hidden places.  Souterrains date from the Early Christian period, from approx. the 6th to the 10th century AD.  It was a time of civil unrest with the threat of Viking raids and inter-tribal cattle raiding and the stealing of slaves.  Although there is some debate about the purpose of souterrains it thought that they were built mainly as places of refuge but were used for storage on a day to day basis.  This souterrain would have made a useful cool store in the summer.

Geophysical Survey  - ‘the missing crowbar’:

The Council, as part of the project, commissioned a small scale archaeological geophysical survey in 2003 to check for the possible 4th passage & to look for evidence of a settlement in the vicinity.  The ‘77/78 survey mentioned the possibility of a 4th passage and the owner’s grandfather had, many years ago, lost a crowbar through a gap between the souterrain and the rocky outcrop in the field. Was there a second souterrain or another passage? The Geophysicists did a magnetometer and earth resistance survey of 0.64 ha in and around the souterrain.  Sadly, the survey “...did not locate additional passages within the souterrain complex, however a number of field systems, possibly of medieval origin and at least one structure was identified”.  The survey report goes on to state:

“... an unusually large number of archaeological features” including “... a large enclosure complex, or a series of succeeding complexes, to the western side of the survey area appearing to be associated with at least one substantial stone structure, of medieval or post-medieval origin.  In the north, the souterrain appears to dominate the landscape with all adjacent archaeological features respecting its limits, with the added possibility of a trackway leading to it.  In the east another potential enclosure was identified.”

See also the BBC NI Website  - “Your Place and Mine” for info, video, etc on this site - http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/yourplaceandmine/down/A1956017.shtml

Please note all the dimensions given are approximate.

There is a piped stream which crosses the field, this structure appears to be on the road side of this and is rectangular.  Something also showed up to the right of the souterrain, as you enter, between the 2 side passages – a small, circular enclosure.

 

Advice for visiting 

Finnis Souterrain – is located in a shallow depression approx. 120 m/131 yards along a rough path across a field from a roadside lay-by.  There are 3 pedestrian gates along the path and wooden steps down to the entrance.

It comprises 3 underground passages and requires bending and stooping – “hunkering down” to enter. The height from floor to roof varies to just over 3ft/1m at its lowest to around 5 ft 4”/1.64 m at the end of the main passage, at its narrowest point its around 3 ft/1 m wide.  There is a very low lintel about 24.6 ft/7.5 m from the door.  Be careful approaching this low lintel and on entering the 2 side passages to avoid banging your head.  Beyond this the roof height increases and it is possible to straighten up.

For group visits - as it is a confined space - it is recommended that no more than 4 people enter at any one time.  Allow one group to go out before allowing another group in.  Advise visitors to keep their head down and to be cautious approaching the low lintel mentioned above and on entering the side passages.

As this monument lacks some of the more interesting defensive structures seen in some other souterrains it allows relatively easy access.

The souterrain floods during winter approx. from October to March and will be closed during this period. 

A low level of lighting has been provided - read instructions on site.

The floor has been covered in stone chippings and is dry. 

Parking: Lay-by off Carrigagh Road, Finnis

Grid Reference: Finnis Souterrain J272442 - OSNI Discover Map Series 1:5000 – Sheet 20, or Slieve Croob Outdoor Pursuits Map.

Check in advance the site is open by ringing Visitor Services and Attractions +44 (0) 330 137 4046. 

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Call direct on:

Tel +44 (0) 33 0137 4046

Map & Directions

Opening Times

Season (1 Jan 2023 - 31 Dec 2023)
Monday - SundayClosed
Bank HolidayClosed

* Summer 2023 - Currently Closed for repairs.

The souterrain floods during winter approx. from October to March and will be closed during this period.

Check in advance the site is open by ringing Visitor Services and Attractions on +44 (0) 330 137 4046.

Map & Directions

Road Directions

Binders Cove and Legananny Dolmen are located near each other within the Mourne and Slieve Croob Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The souterrain is located off the Carrigagh Road, about 2.5 miles SW of Finnis/Massford.  Legananny Dolmen is located about 3 miles SE of Finnis/Massford and is well signed. 

From Dromara:  to get to Binder’s Cove - take the B7 to Finnis/Massford, about 1 ½ miles south of Dromara.  At Finnis take the first road on your L past the chapel, the Carrigagh Road (signed for Legananny Dolmen).  Stay on this road through x roads and ignoring sign for Dolmen until you see lay-by for site on L.  To visit Legananny Dolmen retrace your route along Carrigagh Road, take a R into Legananny Road and continue until you reach the junction with Dolmen Road, turn L into Dolmen Road and park at lay-by provided.

From Banbridge: take the A50 - Banbridge-Castlewellan Road for Castlewellan for approx. 9 miles to Moneyslane X roads.  At Moneyslane, at ‘Ulster Arms,’ turn L into the B7 towards Dromara.  Continue towards Dromara for around 3.5 miles until you see a sign for 'Legananny Dolmen' at X roads.  Turn R into the Slievenaboley Road.  Continue along the Slievenaboley Road looking out for first road on your left - the Carrigagh Road – turn L into this road.  Continue for a short distance until you see a lay-by on your R and a wooden signpost for the souterrain.

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