OS Grid Reference: SM 73719 25062. About 1 mile to the west of St David’s, at Nant-Y-Felin, in Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro), Wales, is the prehistoric hill-top settlement site and hillfort of Clegyr Boia, which derives its name from a 6th Century pirate; however, the place was settled long before that in the Neolithic Age, and continued to be settled, in one way or another, up until the Dark Ages. The rectangular-shaped hillfort and earlier Neolithic settlement occupy the summit of this small rocky hill (named after an Irish pirate leader called Boia) and are enclosed by ramparts that join up with the existing rock outcrops – forming a secure, defensive site. Legend tells that the fort was destroyed by fire. Archaeological excavations took place on Clegyr Boia in the early 1900s and, more recently in the 1970s. There are two holy wells: one being Ffynnon Dunawd and, at the southwest side, there is Ffynnon Llygaid. From the western side of St David’s: take Pit Street and then Feidr Treginnis road until you see the hillfort in front of you. At least two footpaths lead up to the hillfort from the lane.
Timothy Darvill (1988) tells us that: “The rocky summit of this steep-sided hill on the coastal plain of south-west Dyfed was first occupied in early Neolithic times, and is one of the largest settlements of the period in Wales.
“About 3800BC, at least two rectangular houses stood on the hilltop. Their occupants were probably cattle farmers, and in addition to the large quantity of pottery recovered there were flint tools and polished stone axeheads made from locally outcropping rocks. Whether this settlement was defended is not known, but in Iron Age times a substantial rampart, which still stands 1m high, encircled most of the hilltop. The entrance, fortified with a long entrance tunnel, lay at the south-west corner of the site.”
Darvill adds that: “Legend attributes the site to Boia, an Irish pirate of the 6th century AD. Boia’s wife apparently sacrificed her stepdaughter Dunawd to heathen gods but on the same night Boia himself was slain by a second pirate, named Lisci, and his castle was consumed by fire from heaven.”
Chris Barber (1987) says that: “This small fort is situated on the summit of a large mass of igneous rock which rises about 45 feet above the surrounding farmland and is roughly 320 feet long by 100 feet wide. ……the summit has been fortified by a bank of stones mingled with earth. Originally, the bank would have been faced on both sides with large slabs set on end, in a similar fashion to the camp of Bwrdd Arthur on Anglesey. Most of the facing stones at Clegyr Boia have been removed for building purposes, but some still remain in place.
“The camp is roughly a rectangular parallelogram with an outpost on the north-eastern extremity. The interior of the main camp and the annexe have been hollowed out, and these excavations have, of course, provided the stone and earth to build the ramparts. In the sixth century the site was occupied by Boia, a Gwyddel chief who gave St David considerable problems, although the latter eventually dealt with him by causing fire to fall from heaven and consume the fortress. There is reputed to be a well here that is a small hollow in the rock, just large enough for a fist to be inserted. It is claimed that the water is good for soothing sore eyes.”
Children & Nash (2002) tell us more, saying that: “Clegyr Boia is set within rectangular ramparts, measuring 100m by 25m, that may be of Iron Age date. The settlement, excavated in 1943, consists of two Neolithic house structures, a fire pit and a midden (Williams, 1953, 24-9). An earlier excavation revealed a possible third hut, located centrally within the rampart area (Baring-Gould, 1903). Outside the settlement area, a large number of Mesolithic flint scatters suggest continuous occupation of the peninsula for well over 4,000 years.
“One of the houses is oval, the other rectangular. The rectangular structure (7m by 3m) comprised two rows of posts, which may have supported a timber roof. An “unused pit” investigated inside this structure by Audrey Williams was compared by the excavator to similar pits discovered under the Pentre Ifan monument. She also suggested a link between the two sites on the basis of pottery evidence.
Children & Nash go on to tell that: “The oval hut yielded evidence of extensive burning. Barker (1992) has suggested that the burning, plus the deposition of pottery in each of the contexts, indicates possible ritual abandonment. We would argue that the settlement and the two nearby monuments are contemporary, and that the former may have suffered natural abandonment towards the end of the Neolithic, only being re-occupied in the Iron Age. Pottery from the oval hut appears to be identical to examples found in the rectangular structure and in the midden to the west. Three different Neolithic pottery styles have been identified in all, and are similar to wares found in Cornwall, Southern Ireland and the Wessex region. The evidence suggests that a possible exchange network linked these areas. Barker (1992) proposes a Middle Neolithic (4,300 to 3,300 BC) date for the pottery from Clegyr Boia. Recovered from the floors of two huts were shouldered bowls, a number of animal bones, mainly of wild cattle, and limpet shells.
“A series of hearths to the west of the oval hut yielded a flint arrow-head and a partly-polished stone axe of gritty volcanic tuff (Houlder, 1988). Limpet shells, pottery, and oak and birch charcoal were recovered from the midden. Cattle bone was found in both huts. The bone, together with the shells, suggest that the people of Clegyr Boia existed on a mixed economy of hunting/gathering/fishing with an element of domesticated herding. The settlement may have supported only two or three small family units at any one time.”
Christopher Houlder (1978) adds to the above saying that: “The rocky summit of a small hill has been enclosed by ramparts joining outcrops to form a secure Iron Age dwelling site, for which precise dating evidence was lacking in excavation. Important Neolithic remains included the substantial rectangular house of a group of cattle farmers, whose pottery indicates an Irish connection in the third millennium B.C.”
Sources / References & Related websites:-
*Airne, C. W, M.A. (Cantab.), The Story of Prehistoric & Roman Britain — Told in Pictures, Sankey, Hudson & Co. Ltd., Manchester.
Barber, Chris, More Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987.
Children, George & Nash, George, Monuments In The Landscape . Volume 5 — Neolithic Sites of Cardiganshire Carmarthenshire & Pembrokeshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 2002.
Darvill, Timothy, AA Glovebox Guide — Ancient Britain, Publishing Division of the Automobile Association, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1988.
Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber & Faber, London, 1978.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.