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For other uses, see Dun (disambiguation).
Ruined dun in Loch Steinacleit on the Isle of Lewis
Walls of Dún Aonghusa, a dún on Inishmore, Ireland
Dunamase, central Ireland (from Irish Dún Másc, "Másc's fort"

Dun is a generic term for an ancient or medieval fort. It is mainly used in the British Isles to describe a kind of hill fort and also a kind of Atlantic roundhouse. The term comes from Irish dún or Scottish Gaelic dùn (meaning "fort"), and is cognate with Old Welsh din, whence Welsh dinas (meaning "city") comes. It has also crossed into English as town.

In some areas duns were built on any suitable crag or hillock, particularly south of the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth. There are many duns on the west coast of Ireland and they feature in Irish mythology. For example, the tale of the Táin Bó Flidhais features Dún Chiortáin and Dún Chaocháin.

Duns seem to have arrived with Celtic cultures in about the 7th century BC. Early duns had near vertical ramparts made of stone and timber. Vitrified forts are the remains of duns that have been set on fire and where stones have been partly melted. Use of duns continued in some parts into the Middle Ages.

Duns are similar to brochs, but are smaller and probably would not have been capable of supporting a very tall structure. Good examples of this kind of dun can be found in the Western Isles of Scotland, on artificial islands in small lakes.


The word in its original sense appears in many place names, and can include fortifications of all sizes and kinds, for example, Din Eidyn, in Gaelic Dùn Èideann which the Angles renamed Edinburgh, Dún na nGall in Ireland (Irish Gaelic: "fort of foreigners") renamed Donegal by English planters during the Plantation of Ulster, and the Broch Dun Telve in Glenelg.

The Proto-Celtic form is *Dūno-,[1] yielding Greek δοῦνον. It is ultimately cognate to English town.[2] The Gaulish term survives in many toponyms in France and Switzerland:


  1. ^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, ISBN 2-87772-237-6
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, ISBN 0-19-861112-9
  • Scotland Before History - Stuart Piggott, Edinburgh University Press 1982, ISBN 0-85224-348-0
  • Scotland's Hidden History - Ian Armit, Tempus (in association with Historic Scotland) 1998, ISBN 0-7486-6067-4

See also[edit]