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

Part III: Northern Burren: Aghaglinny (or Feenagh) Valley:
Caheranardurrish; Caherfeenagh; Caherlismacsheedy

Caheranardurrish (O.S. 5, No. 1),[24] the second of the name, occupies the summit of the pass in a craggy field on the very brow of the south-western slope of the hill, and about 750 feet above the sea. According to O’Curry the name is actually Cathair an aird rois, ‘the fort of the high wood’ (not door) in contrast to the wood of Feenagh in the valley behind it. A levelled fort near Mungret, in county Limerick, also bore the name of Caheranardrish. Of either ‘door’ or ‘wood’ no trace now remains. The caher is a nearly circular ring wall; the rampart coarsely built of large blocks. It is in parts, especially to the south-west, 9 feet high and 8 or 9 feet thick; it seems to have no batter or terrace; it measures 114 feet in external diameter, and is much injured to the north and east. A large gap gives access to it from the side next the roadway, and another to the south probably occupies the site of the original gateway. The garth is crowded with the ruins of modern houses, for it was inhabited down, at any rate, to the Famine years.

From it there is a fine view up the Caher valley to Caherbullog and Slieve Elva, brightened by the windings of the little river, while we look through the ‘Khyber Pass’ to the grey sea and the highlands of Connemara. A short distance farther and we reach the opposite brow looking down the Aghaglinny valley [25] and over the level ridges to the Telegraph Hill in eastern Clare. Below us, in a grassy nook surrounded by crags, lie two great cahers; while groves of trees, a rare and very pleasant sight in Burren, show that the name Feenagh (Fiodnaigh in the O’Brien Rental, circa 1380) was not unwarranted in olden days.

Caherfeenagh [26] (O.S. 2)
The caher lies close to a ruined village, and on a sunny slope. It is a fine oval enclosure, the longest axis being north north-west and south south-east, and measuring 152 feet externally and from 95 feet to 105 feet internally, the latter measurement being obscured by fallen walls and bushes. The shorter axis east north-east and west south-west is 114 feet 6 inches externally, and 81 feet 4 inches internally.

The wall is built in three stages or terraces and in at least two sections; the lower terrace is 4 feet high and wide, the second 4 feet 5 inches high and 2 feet to 4 feet wide, the upper 5 feet high and 4 or 5 feet wide. The wall is 12 feet 8 inches to 14 feet 8 inches high to the north, east, and south, and has a batter of 1 in 12, being 17 feet 4 inches thick at the base. The masonry is curiously divergent in character; if we commence at the south and go round the eastern face we find it good and of fairly large flat stones, many 3 feet 6 inches long and 3 feet high, they are laid as stretchers in the base courses but as headers above.[27]

The filling is large, and is rather built than thrown in, the ivy has grown through the wall, and, on the day I planned the fort, a keen west wind sang and groaned through the interstices in a way which might easily have established the caher as a haunted fort, like the Lisananimas. We next meet a slight breach [28] and (facing the north-east) the gap of the gateway passing through the wall, but too defaced for measurement.[29] To the north of this the outer wall has fallen showing the clean built face of the inner section; the wall is here 8 feet 3 inches high and of large blocks.[30] In the next segment the masonry is very inferior, large and small stones being used indiscriminately in the facing, and spawls freely used to stop the crannies. In the northern segment large well laid blocks again appear of ‘cyclopean’ type.[31] The western segment is completely overthrown.

Internally there are considerable remains of three terraces, most of the lowest is intact, the second has suffered much, and was evidently once much higher as it has the remains of two flights of steps [32] to the north north-west and south south-west; these steps are 31 inches long, and 7 inches or 8 inches high, six remain above the debris in the northern flight, and only three or four in the southern; they run straight up the wall. The inner face of the upper terrace is too much defaced in many parts to enable us to decide as to the former existence of steps to the summit of the wall. The garth has been cleared, and modern walls have been built along the summit.

The Cahers of Feenagh and Lismacsheedy, Rathborney
The Cahers of Feenagh and Lismacsheedy, Rathborney

Caherlismacsheedy (O.S. 5, No. 2)
A massive and well preserved cliff fort remains about 700 feet to the south-east of Caherfeenagh, in the adjoining townland of Lismacsheedy. Its rampart is half moon-shaped in plan, abutting on a low cliff 30 feet to 60 feet high, and practically perpendicular, overhanging a fertile valley, pleasantly planted. The plan, like that of Cahercommane and some forts in Scotland and even Hungary, has an important bearing on the question of the age of the cahers as depriving of force the belief that Dun Aenghus necessarily consisted of three complete rings till the sea undercut the cliff below its walls. Above the caher rise craggy slopes and low terraces of grey and weather-shattered limestone up to the top of the hills in Aghaglinny.[33]

The rampart is very coarsely built of large slabs, numbers of which have been levered up in the adjoining fields; in some cases they have been propped with blocks underneath, like the slabs raised near the dolmens of Parknabinnia.[34] The wall is 18 feet thick at the ends and from 12 feet to 16 feet thick in other places; it is from 8 feet to 10 feet high, and seems to have been built in two sections, the inner 3 feet to 5 feet thick; it has large filling in some places. It is in fair preservation, save at the end of the southern horn, but has no trace of a gateway. The space enclosed is 170 feet along the cliff, where a modern wall has been built for the safety of the cattle, for the fort was formerly open between the horns; the garth is 147 feet deep. There is a recess in the wall to the north-east, perhaps for steps,[35] but now quite defaced, and it may have been formed by a collapse of the facing. The foundations of a hut D-shaped in plan, and 18 feet internally lie in the garth to the north-east.[36]