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Archaeology of the Burren: Prehistoric Forts and Dolmens in North Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Part I: Kilfenora

Caherlahertagh; Ballyshanny; Caheremon; Doon; Conclusion

Caherlahertagh (130 feet), on a low hillock, near the road. About 5 feet of the finely built wall rises over the heaps of fallen blocks, its top level with the garth, which was divided into three by a T-shaped wall; an oval cloghaun stood in the north section. There is no trace of a gateway.[13] Beyond the road is a cromlech, the top slab now removed.

Ballyshanny (137 feet × 132 feet), much defaced, and standing on a rocky knoll to the west. The wall is 7 feet thick. There are some traces of a souterrain inside, and of steps, probably leading up to a gate, on the S.E.

Caheremon, near Kilfenora described by Petrie as ‘a fine remain,’ is now levelled with the field; it was of no great size.

Doon (296 ft. × 310 ft., or, with fosse, about 350 ft. each way, O.S. 16).
A fine fort, [14] on a hill 450 feet above the sea; it is of pear-shaped plan, surrounded by a fosse cut in the shale, with a regular curve and batter to each side, 25 ft. to 20 ft. wide and 5ft. deep. A fence crosses the fort, and west of it the ramparts are better preserved, and in parts faced with stone, rising 20 feet above the fosse, and 12 and 15 feet over the field. They have three gaps: the middle one has a mound across the fosse; the southern faces a rectangular block of shale, probably for a plank. The only feature to the east is a flight of seven steps, cut in the rock; the entire circuit of the rampart is about 970 feet. From this bold outpost of the Old World we see Liscannor Cliffs and castle, and the boundless sea, with its fringe of dazzling foam; Kilfenora, one of the earliest villages of Clare, and Lisdoonvarna, one of the latest; the castles of Smithstown and Lemeneagh, recorded by the Four Masters; and the inland barriers of Callan and Glasgeivnagh, with Elva, the legendary battlefield of the Firbolg with the great King Cormac mac Airt, closing the view on the north.

Plan of Doon Fort
Plan of Doon Fort

This Paper having far outgrown my original design, I must for the present omit the forts of more northern Burren, and conclude it by a brief statement of the facts which more especially forced themselves on me during my researches. (1) The key to the origin of our Irish forts lies as much in their congeners over the rest of Europe as in our own records. (2) The Firbolg legend, hitherto so unreservedly adopted to account for their origin, is (if not entirely mythical) only of value for two or three forts. It does not even touch on the cahers of Kerry, Cork, Mayo, and Ulster, still less on the British and Continental examples. (3) The evidence (so far as it goes) shows that such structures were built and rebuilt from a period long before the introduction of Christianity to (probably) the 14th century. (4) Very few of our forts were defensive in a military sense. (5) Their arrangement on lines and in groups also occurs all across Europe. (6) The question of masonry depends on geological, not racial conditions. (7) The features are stereotyped by the materials. (8) There seem to be traces of the work of the hammer but not of the chisel. (9) Wood was probably used for steps and lintels in a few forts.[15] (10) Water supply was deliberately excluded from the fort for sanitary reasons. (11) This and most other features existing in our forts appear in the body of Irish literature as commonplace phenomena of the buildings of the earlier middle ages.

It is greatly to be hoped that some of these cahers [16] may soon be vested as National monuments, not for rebuilding but for their preservation; this is of urgent need, for indescribable destruction is carried out every year. It is a reproach to us, as a nation, that we treat these priceless ruins as mere valueless jetsam of the sea of time. We make the forts our quarries and cattle-pens, the cromlechs our hovels and pig-styes, defacing and destroying for our sordid gains or mischievous pastimes. Would that we could utilise our pride in the past, whose glories we exaggerate, to the more practical purpose of preserving its relics, which we are helping, by direct injury or inexcusable apathy, to sweep with unsparing hands into the limbo of forgetfulness.[17]