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

Part III: Northern Burren: Killeany and Caher Valleys:
Cragreagh; Cooleamore; Caherbullog; Cahermoyle; Derrynavahagh

Cahermore, a ring wall of large blocks and exceptionally good and regular masonry, lies in this townland, a short distance to the N.E. of Cahercloggan, on the edge of abrupt crags. The garth is 99 feet in diameter, and the wall 5 feet or 6 feet high apparently without small filling. The defaced gateway faces the N.E. on the edge of a steep descent.

We pass above the valley, through rich grass and low hazel scrub to a high point on the western road, whence the descending valley of the Caher river can be seen nearly to Caherbannagh. The low walls of a small rectangular fort of good masonry, and another well-built ‘ring’ lie below the road in Lisheeneagh and Lismorahaun. In the latter townland is also a very small stone fort, barely 50 feet across, perhaps the Lismoran or Cathairpollo of the 1380 rental and other documents, which was granted, in 1665, to Murrough ‘of the burnings,’ Earl of Inchiquin.[19] It may be noted that another Caherpollo, alias Fahassane, lay close to Noughaval, perhaps at Caherwalsh, and that record remains of a fort, Cahirelany, adjoining the southern edge of Caherbullog in 1711 [20] , which, perhaps, corresponds to Lisheenagh.

Cooleamore Cromlech from the North-east
Cooleamore Cromlech from the North-east

Below the eastern road on the opposite side of the valley from the last is a cromlech. It stands on a long grassy mound near a low cliff. Part of the north side and east end remain with enough of the broken bases to give a complete plan. The remaining north slab is 10 feet 7 inches long, and slopes eastward from 6 feet 8 inches to 4 feet 9 inches high, being probably hammer-dressed. The cist tapers eastward, from 6 feet 8 inches to 5 feet, but extended farther westward for 8 feet, and is therefore about 20 feet long; its axis lies N.E. and S.W., and a small pillar, 5 feet high, stands at its N.E. corner. Not far to the northeast ‘Cahernateinna,’ ‘the fort of the fire,’ is marked on the maps of 1839 and 1893; it is also described as a caher in the Ordnance Survey Letters, and Mr. Frost’s History of Clare, but when we, with Dr. Wright, and Dr. Munro, examined it, we found that it was only a modern sheepfold, loosely built, with no ancient foundations; we searched carefully and found no remains either at it or in the fields for some distance around. It is difficult to discover how this non-existent fort got its curious name, and was placed on the maps and in a local ‘History and Topography’; this shows the endless distrust necessary in revising our lists of mere ‘map-names’ and antiquities derived from published sources.

Plan of Cooleamore Cromlech
Plan of Cooleamore Cromlech

This townland possesses two cahers, ‘the two Caherbollucks,’[21] which were surrendered to the Government by Sir Tirlagh O’Brien, to whom they were regranted in 1583. The lower fort bore the townland name in 1839, but is now known as ‘Cahermoyle’; this name, and that of ‘Cahermore,’ as already noted, are so general as to have ceased to be proper names in Clare. The upper fort is now ‘Caherbullog’; the name is variously rendered ‘fort of the leathern bag’ or ‘fort of the wind gap (bellows).’ The latter term is certainly very appropriate in this valley, along which the hemmed-in gale rushes at times with the greatest violence, but the former is elsewhere accompanied by legends (resembling those of the wooden horse of Troy or the oil jars of Ali Baba) in which soldiers are introduced into a fort concealed in leathern bags. We find also that Ptolemy mentions a camp named Blatum Bolgum in ancient Britain in the first century of our era, which may suggest the same idea.

This fort is featureless and much dilapidated, though it looks well from either of the roads, between which it is nearly equidistant, being near the bottom of the valley. It is a slightly oval ring, 91 feet north and south, and 96 feet east and west. The wall is 7 feet thick, 8 feet high, and coarsely built; the garth is level with the top of the wall save where the southern section has been raised by a modern wall. Wherever the outer face has fallen the clean built face of a second section appears as at Caher-screbeen, and, perhaps, implies an enlargement of the original fort by building a new rampart round it. There are no ancient foundations apparent in or around the fort.

The upper caher, is found near the conspicuous modern house of that name. It lies up the western slope between the old and new roads, and is a ring wall 75 feet internally, and measuring almost exactly 100 feet external diameter. It is coarsely built with two faces and small filling; it is 6 feet and 7 feet high and 11 feet thick. There are two looped enclosures in the garth, and two of those puzzling little huts, 3 feet to 5 feet internally, supposed to be kennels. Mr. R. Macalister [22] contests this view, and found that some of the natives of Fahan agreed with him – but, leaving out of the question the greater hardihood of men and dogs in those early days many valuable and well-bred dogs are still kept in even more open kennels even more exposed to the inclemency of the same enemies, ‘winter and bad weather,’ than an animal in these small huts could well have been. Indeed we read of ‘a fosse (? souterrain) in the middle of a courtyard among the dogs’ in ‘Bricriu’s Feast,’ and of the cries of the dogs and horses in the burning forts near Ventry.[23] In the field to the south of the fort is the great pit called Poulna-gollum, after the doves that once hid in its leafy sides; it leads down to a hidden river.

Diagram of Upper Caherbullog
Diagram of Upper Caherbullog

This townland has near its southern end, on the slope near the eastern road, a well-built caher of large blocks on a steep knoll; the garth is level with the top of the wall, which is from 5 feet to 7 feet high, but much gapped and defaced as a modern house and enclosure stand beside it. I failed on three occasions to find a larger caher marked to the north of the last. Still farther to the north a steep and nearly lost road leads past Caheranardurrish to the Feenagh Valley.

In dealing with the forts in their order we have had to neglect the arbitrary divisions of the long extinct parishes, so we may note that Cahercloggaun, Cragreagh, Lisheeneagh, the Caherbullogs and Derrynavahagh are in Kilmoon, Cooleamore and ‘Cahernateinna’ in Killeany and Lislarheen in an intrusive angle of Rathborney.

The topographical treatment of the remaining portion of central Burren is difficult. The only well-marked natural divisions are the Aghaglinny valley and the Glenarraga valley south of Ballyvaughan; the rest is a range of nearly level plateaux, divided by the Kilcorney valley and its heights, which have already been described. It may therefore be best to describe the portion west of Carran and north of Noughaval up to Lissylisheen, and then the part from the Corkscrew Hill to Cahermackirilla, near Killeany, which (except for Mortyclough) practically completes the prehistoric remains in Burren. The shore district of Killilagh must then be described. Outside these tracts the cahers are few and far between in the other parts of Clare. The word ‘complete’ must, however, be taken as only implying approximate completeness, for it is scarcely possible to go a second or even a third time over one of these wild crag-lands, even after a previously careful examination, without finding the remains of forts, dolmens, ‘caves,’ and hut-circles, which, among the endless blocks and ridges of shimmering grey crag, can scarcely be identified (even when previously known) from a distance even of a hundred yards.