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

Part I: Noughaval

Caherwalsh; Cahernaspekee; Caheraneden; Cahermacnaughten; Caheryhoolagh

Caherwalsh (162 feet x 156 feet), an irregular enclosure of large stretchers, 9 feet thick. It is late, and much levelled, and several house-sites remain in the garth. A slab enclosure, nearly 16 feet square, stands outside the fort to the west. There seems to be part of a small caher farther south, but it is evidently rebuilt.

Cahernaspekee (105 feet), a circular caher, its walls 8 feet thick, with a terrace ‘veneered’ with flat slabs, and much dug up by rabbit and treasure seekers. The gate faced the south, in which direction lie an oblong garth, coarsely built, a small cairn, and a ring of stones, the latter perhaps was set to mark out the ground for an intended fort.

We now turn eastward, and meet two rude enclosures, with a grassy valley between; the western surrounds a much defaced oblong slab-hut, and is ‘veneered’ with most fantastic water-fretted blocks. Beyond these is a very fine cromlech, 25 feet x 6 feet, of three chambers, the central marked by four pillars, the eastern pair being 5 feet high; they supported a lintel now fallen.

Plans of Forts near Noughaval
Plans of Forts near Noughaval

Caheraneden (100 feet), a fort fairly built of large blocks, often 5 feet long, stands eastward on a low ridge, whence it is named. The wall is 8 feet thick, with very small filling; the face towards the south is removed, and only three courses remain along the ridge. An oblong slab-hut stands to the east; it is 12 feet × 6 feet, with a little annexe 3 feet square. A green road, [8] formed by the removal of the top strata of the crag, leads from the caher southward to a fallen cromlech; two of its slabs are 9 feet 6 inches ×6 feet.

We then ascend a slightly rising ground to the east; on the summit, near a large strangely-shaped boulder, are a late and badly built oval enclosure (140 feet north and south) a small ring wall surrounding a sort of cairn, and lower down the slope a caher (111 feet). A large cromlech stands inside, partly embedded in its wall. Probably the followers of some chief laid him (like Joab) ‘in his own house in the wilderness.’ [9]

Eastward in the valley a perfect cromlech stands in a levelled cairn. Turning from it, towards Ballyganner hill and castle, we pass a curious rock basin, forming a well, and reach the small and broken castle embedded in the ring of a caher (115 feet); the wall of the latter is 12 feet thick, and in it stands a late-looking house-site, 41 feet × 24 feet, and two other enclosures. Two cahers on the hill top, near the seventh cromlech (one slab of which is 18 feet 6 inches × 6 feet), and a large caher on the southern slope, are greatly broken and nearly levelled; nor are three or four others between it and Lemeneagh, nor Cahermore and Caheraclarig, in Sheshy, near Caherscrebeen, in much better condition. The unusual number of early remains in this district, and the pains taken by the present staff of the Ordnance Survey to mark the same accurately on the large scale maps, lead me to give a fuller account and list than I should otherwise have thought of doing.

Caheraneden – Fort and Slab Hut.
Caheraneden – Fort and Slab Hut. [10]

Cahermacnaughten (O.S. 9), 127 feet ×130 feet.
Two miles north from Noughaval stands this fine caher, noteworthy as being the place where our great scholar, Duald Mac Firbis, studied the Brehon law under Donald O’Davoren, who was himself (in the earlier years of Elizabeth’s reign) author of a glossary of Irish terms. [11] We have also the rare but welcome aid of a full description of the place when it formed the centre of the O’Davoren’s ‘town’ in 1675. The sons of Gillananeave O’Davoren in that year made a deed of family arrangement which their father confirmed as his will.

‘ The following is the partition of the ‘keannait,’ or village of Cahermacnaughten, viz., the site of the large house of the caher within, and the site of the kitchen-house, which belongs to the house within the caher, and the site of the house of the churchyard on the west side of the caher and all the gardens, extending westward from the road of the garden of Teig roe mac Gillapheen (not including Teig roe’s garden), and the house site between the front of the large house and the door of the caher, at the north-west (sic) side and the large house which is outside the door of the caher.’ The ‘green of the booley,’ water supply, and several townlands are also distributed. We find a very similar arrangement recorded in the ‘Tripartite Life of St. Patrick’. A ‘caher’ or fortified monastery being surrounded by a vallum, and having a ‘tech mor’ or ‘great house,’ a church, an ‘aregal,’ a kitchen, a ‘pranntech’ or refectory, a guest-house, and a graveyard.

Plan of Cahermacnaughten
Plan of Cahermacnaughten

The caher consists of a nearly circular wall 10 feet high and thick, nearly perfect, and of massive blocks, many 4 feet 6 inches × 1 foot 6 inches, the longest being laid as headers, bonding into the filling for 3 feet. The gate faces E.S.E., and is a late mediæval porch, two side walls with roof corbels; it has a batter of 1 in 8; this is not apparent in the dry stone wall. The foundations of the houses rise but little above the dark earth and rich grass of the interior. A large house (48 feet N.E. and S.W. ×15 feet 6 inches internally, the walls 3 feet thick) occupies the southern segment; another building with three rooms lies in the northern. There are traces of two other small huts inside and of some others outside the caher, but no ‘churchyard’ is visible. A well lies a few hundred feet to the S.W.

Caheryhoolagh Cathair Ui Dhualachta, O’Douloughty’s fort, probably the ‘caherwooly’ of 1641) lies in a state of great dilapidation on the western edge of the townland of Cahermacnaughten.