Does creativity require a bit of solitude? Consider the stereotype of writers toiling away in an attic somewhere. Virginia Woolf said women need a room of our own, and long before man caves men were retreating to workshops to create all sorts of wood crafts. Our Irish ancestors had this figured out. In fact, they took the whole idea of retreating to create something artistic to a whole new level. They didn’t just have a workshop or studio apart from their main living quarters. They had whole islands.
Crannogs were man-made islands on lakes. Their most common purpose seems to have been to give people a place to get away from others and create, although people did live in them sometimes. Just making a crannog required some creativity. To be very clear, a crannog wasn’t just a structure on an island. It was a constructed island. Our Irish ancestors made them with wood. The name reflects that. Crann is the Irish for tree. It takes some serious craftsmanship to build a functional island that actually floats and can support a structure and people walking on it.
What Did Irish Crannogs Look Like?
Crannogs were usually round or oval shaped. They had a sort of wall around the edge built of narrow branches woven together. People would build one or more structures on a crannog. Perhaps they had one dwelling house and one work studio. The buildings were small and round, with a cone shaped roof. Sometimes they built crannogs close enough to the lakeshore that they could wade out to them. Occasionally they build a walkway to the crannog. They either arranged massive stones in a path or built a floating walkway. But the standard thing was to build them further out and to use a boat to get to and from the crannog. This made them safer from intruders, something every creative soul can appreciate.
While crannogs were used for various purposes, evidence suggests that our Celtic ancestors often used them to do metal work. They built and used crannogs over a period of centuries. The types of objects metalsmiths made in them and the styles used would have varied over the ages. Ancient Irish metalsmiths would have made everything from Irish jewelry including rolled metal collars and bracelets to metal chalices to weapons. Their designs would have evolved from the spirals of the La Tene era to Christian motifs.
You can get a taste of the inspiring isolation of a crannog in Ireland today. We had thousands of them at one time, and some still survive in varying states. You can also visit newer crannogs such as the one at the Irish National Heritage Park in County Wexford. County Clare has more than 20 surviving crannog sites mapped online.
No man is an island. But on this particular island, we do appreciate that sometimes we all need to be alone on an island. And the best way to do that is to just make your own.