Clare County Library
Clare Archaeology
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | OS Maps | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

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

Part III: Northern Burren: Glenarraga or Ballyvaughan Valley: Ballyallaban; Cahermore

Ballyallaban (O.S. 5, No. 7)
Few of our cahers are more beautiful in situation than those of Ballyallaban. When we leave the Gleninshen cromlechs we pass round the grey, bare brow of the hill, through crags and streams, the wet rocks shining like silver network across the glen. Then the roads descends in loops above the Ballyvaughan valley, till we see on the slope below us a group of forts as shattered and outworn as the craggy shoulder on which they rest:-

‘Forgotten, rusting on those iron hills,
Rotting on the wild shore, like ribs of wreck,
Or like some old-world mammoth bulked in ice.’

Beyond, lie two majestic ranges of terraced mountains, pearly grey with violet shadows. Through the open valley we see the distant city of Galway and the foam-brightened sea. Below us lie Ballyvaughan and the ruins of Newtown and Rathborney, while groves of trees, cultivated land, and green slopes, relieve the prevailing greys and blues of the landscape.


A fine stone fort, practically circular, measures 168 feet internally. The wall is from 6 feet to 9 feet high and 8 feet or 9 feet thick, with two faces of large well-fitted blocks (often 4 feet by 3 feet by 2 feet), with large filling. The batter (where apparent) is slight, and in some places the wall even hangs out. There is the unusual feature of a plinth or pro-jecting base course (such as we see in our round towers and oldest oratories) along the north-western segment.[46] The inner face and filling have been removed from about 4 feet above the ground, leaving what Lord Dunraven considered a terrace, but which (like those at Balliny and elsewhere) is a mere makeshift. The light often shines through the interstices of the outer face with curious effect. Some trace of steps remained to the north-west, two blocks being once apparent; they have been, I think, removed or covered. The gateway (a) is a late mortar-built turret facing the south-east;[47] it has a recess for a porter’s seat, on the north side. The gateway has an old-looking lintel, 6 feet 4 inches long, and is 4 feet 8 inches wide, and 6 feet high (no unusual dimensions for ancient dry-stone gate-ways), and, perhaps, springing from the use of the materials of the original gateway in the reconstruction.

Cahermore - Ballyallaban
Cahermore - Ballyallaban

The garth contains some irregular enclosures; a long wall (f) crosses it from the south to the north north-east, probably forming a ‘traverse’; this feature is found at Caherscrebeen and in some Irish and German forts. A circular hut foundation lies to the north, and an oblong building to the south (b). The latter measures 36 feet by 15 feet, and its sides and west end lean inward, which led Lord Dunraven and Miss Stokes to suppose that it had been a boat-shaped oratory; but its thin walls, 2½ feet to 3 feet thick, could never have borne the thrust of an arched vault or the weight of a corbelled one of 15 feet span. A rock cutting, with a wall and square platform, lie before the gateway (30 feet distant); another cutting approaches the fort on the north, and many blocks have been levered up and left unused on the crags. From the regular curve of part of the boundary wall of the field, about 100 feet to the west of the fort, and its evident following of the curve of the rampart, we might suppose that (as at Glenquin) there had been an outer, later, and inferior ring wall, measuring, perhaps, 400 feet across.

A ‘moher,’ or straight-walled enclosure, lay 90 feet south from Cahermore; it measures 117 feet across, with walls 6 feet thick, and has been nearly levelled since 1895.

A small ring wall, 70 feet from the last and to the east, occupies a slightly higher knoll. It had a wall built in two independent sections from the crag upward, as I had two opportunities of observing while it was in course of demolition in 1898. The wall was only 4 feet 6 inches high, and the sections were (the outer) 4 feet 3 inches thick, (the inner) 4 feet 1 inch. The foundations of the southern section still remain as the road contractors left it. A third foundation of an oval caher lies in a grassy field east of Cahermore.

It is a shameful fact that, in a country incumbered with stones, ancient buildings should be so wantonly swept away for the sordid gain of private persons; but educated public interest in and respect for ancient Irish remains are almost non-existent in the country.

Rath. At the foot of the hill, 2000 feet to the north-east of Cahermore, is a very fine rath, nearly circular, thickly planted with trees and underwood, and girt by an earthwork, rising in parts 20 feet to 30 feet above the fosse, which is 6 feet deep, and usually full of water. The rath is over 100 feet in internal diameter, and about 200 feet over the fosse.

Three other stone forts, now defaced and almost levelled, lie along the edge of a ‘turlough,’ which the Rathborney stream in wet seasons converts into a lake.

The only other fort site at the southern end of the valley is (so far as I can find) one above Gragan Castle and near the road at the Corkscrew Hill, where it is plainly visible; it consists of two low concentric rings covered with bracken and quite defaced.