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

Part II: Carran and Kilcorney

Cahermackerilla; Cahergrillaun; Moheramoylan

Cahermackerilla (O.S. 9., No. 8)
This fort is so called by Petty, but is pronounced ‘Carmackerrla,’ and by the natives Cahermacrole. The name has been translated ‘the fort of Irial’s son,’ possibly an O’Loughlin, with whom the name Irial was not uncommon. Strange to say, we find the name ‘Macirilla,’ the name of a Gaulish potter,[10] of one of the earlier centuries of our era. However, in the seventeenth century, some documents give the form Caher mac Connella (1624), and even in 1819 it was called Caher mac Connello.[11]

Plans of Forts near Carran

This caher is probably that called ‘Cathair mec iguil’ (or ‘iruil’) in the 1380 rental. It and the lands round it were held by the O’Loughlens, O’Briens, and O’Davorens, down to 1642, and by Brian O’Loughlin in 1659. It was occupied till about 1862 by a family named Kilmartin,[12] a member of whom lives just outside its ambit, and states that it has changed very little in his time. From having been so long inhabited the original internal arrangements are defaced.

It is a fine fort, a practically true circle of 140 feet external diameter; its masonry is large and very good, with a most regular straight batter, about 1 in 6, not the usual curve. The wall is 5 to 8 feet high and 15 feet thick, with small filling, the inner face being also battered and of smaller but good masonry. The gate faced E.S.E., its narrow passage running down a sloping rock. The large side stones remain parallel and 8 feet apart all their length, implying from their unusual width the use of wooden lintels.

The remains of modern houses and of cultivated garden plots occupy the garth; in these plots were often found ‘sharp flints that you could strike fire out of,’ and base metal coins ‘about as big as sixpences, with a cross and a head,’ but none were preserved.

A long narrow drain or ‘souterrain’ formed by roofing a rock cleft ran westward under nearly half the garth to the wall and into an outer enclosure. Though the ends are now stopped it is open all the way, for dogs have been sent through it.

The western enclosure is of equally good masonry, its wall is only 5 feet thick, but it is nearly 8 feet high. A low green valley runs east and west along the north of the fort.

Cahergrillaun (O.S. 9., Nos. 4 and 8)
The name is rendered ‘Dutch Chair’ in Mason’s Survey.[13] This is an oval caher, 120 feet north and south by 154 east and west, on a grassy hill north of the last. It is much overgrown by hazels, and encloses smooth green sward; the foundations of many late houses and enclosures adjoin it to the north and south. The rampart is 15 feet high to the north, and 9 feet to the east and west. It is of fine uncoursed masonry for 8 feet of its height, above which much smaller stones appear; perhaps many other cahers (we shall note another not many miles away) had inferior upper walls which have entirely fallen. The stonework to the west is of very large blocks and Cyclopean in style. It is noteworthy that the somewhat ruder and longer masonry (supposed by some to be of an earlier age than the larger and better-fitted blocks) occurs above the ‘Cyclopean’ masonry. Nay more, the masonry without spawls occurs above that with them. This is not a solitary case, nor confined to Ireland, for Dr. Christison notices it in the forts of Lorne.[14] We have this further proof of the doubtfulness of all attempts to date or group forts by their stonework. The rampart is 9 feet 6 inches to 10 feet at base, and 6 feet 7 inches to 7 feet at the top. It has the usual curved outline which was probably a regular batter which got bulged out by the settlement of the filling, which, like the facing, is large for some 8 feet high and small above.

The only internal features are a plinth or very narrow terrace, 12 inches to 18 inches wide (as at Cahercottine), and a flight of five steps to the west leading from the ‘plinth’ to a platform from left to right, and they measure (ascending) 12, 12, 15, 10, and 10 inches high, 23, 16, 13, and 12 inches tread, and 18 inches in depth. There are traces of a similar flight leading from right to left up to the same platform. This feature, though not unknown in the Kerry forts, seems unique in Clare. The gate faced S.S.E., its sides are parallel and of massive ‘stretchers.’ The passage is 8 feet 5 inches wide and 10 feet long, and if roofed, must, like Cahermackirilla, have required beams of wood.

Moheramoylan (O.S. 9., No. 4)
A defaced caher, possibly the Moher O’Loughlin in Eanty (1655) about 120 feet across, and so nearly levelled that it is only distinguishable on the new maps by the modern enclosures; lies on a craggy hill to the N.E. of Cahergrillaun and is circular in plan. Its gate faces south, and seems on the point of falling, as the east pier was distorted, the back stones having been removed. It is 6 feet high, 4 feet 4 inches wide (the exact width of the gates of Rannagh and Caherahoagh). It has two lintels, the outer and larger being 6 feet by 2 feet 10 inches, the passage behind it was 5 feet 3 inches wide, the wall 9 feet thick. The masonry seems to have been of very thin slabs, 5 inches to 8 inches thick, which accounts for its thorough dilapidation.

In the garth there are some late enclosures and a straight souterrain lying N.N.W. and S.S.E.; it is of the usual type, parallel walls of small stones 4 feet apart, roofed at the ground level with slabs, 5 feet 6 inches long. The term ‘Moher’ is used by the peasantry in the sense of enclosure rather than fort. This was the case even early in the last century, for we find leases of ‘the mohers of Ballymahony in Burren’ granted by the O’Brien’s to the England family.[15]

Gateway of Moheramoylan
Gateway of Moheramoylan

A cromlech stands on a green hillock 2000 feet westward from the fort. It has fallen towards the north, the sides were only about 3 feet high, including the part set in the ground; the massive top slab is 14 feet 5 inches east and west, and 9 feet 7 inches north and south by 8 or 10 inches thick.