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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: Caherbarnagh; Cahercloggaun

Killeany and Caher Valleys (O.S. 4 and 5)
It is passing strange that of the hundreds of visitors who stay in Lisdoonvarna none have attempted to describe fully the many objects of interest in the neighbourhood.[16] Taking the road from this watering place to the south of Slieve Elva we see through a break the long side wall mortuary chapel and holy tree of Kilmoon church. East of these, on a grassy rise, is the lofty pillar stone called ‘the Cross.’ It is a plain crag block, 11 feet 6 inches high, 13 inches wide, and 8 inches thick, and may be of ecclesiastical not prehistoric origin.

‘ Stone fort of the gap,’ is now nearly gone. Its green ring and a few stones barely rise above the field on a low knoll beside the road. It had a shallow fosse, and the name is cognate with Lisdoonvarna ‘earth fort of the gap.’ It is doubtful whether this ‘gap’ was the deep river bed at the foot of the slope or not. Lissateeaun, a bold encircled earth fort, apparently carved out of a natural knoll, rises in this valley, and is regarded as the ‘Liss’ in the place-name. We have already noted the curious doubling in some of our forts, as, for example, ‘Caherdoon’ which is also found in Scotland and Wales, as Catherton, Caermarthen (Caer Maridun), &c., Lisdoon, and Caher-lis. This probably springs from the old use of ‘cathair’ for city or monastic settlement, and its appendage to the word ‘dun,’ which, from its occurrence in place-names (dounon) in Ireland, Britain, and Europe, in remote times and in fort names (duna) [17] in Bosnia, we may probably regard as the oldest name for fort among the Celtic tribes. The process of ‘doubling’ has not ceased; for we find that between 1878 and 1895 the name of the ‘Black Fort’ of Aran had been expanded into ‘Doon du' 'hair,’ ‘the dun of the Black Cathair.’

A long valley lies to the east of Slieve Elva - a great brown bluff, 1109 feet high, ‘with its brow to the land,’ and a belt of trees on its sheltered face. Elva was the legendary scene of seven battles of King Cormac MacAirt, and overlooks the whole reach of Burren to Berneens, Cragballyconoal, and Tullycommane. On the south-eastern slope, above the little valley, where stands the interesting church of Killeany, founded by the evangelizer of Aran, lie two large cahers on a craggy ridge.

The name is locally understood to mean ‘fort of the silver bell’ but I found no legend to explain the name or account for the metal. A stream to the west is named Owencloggaun, and one might be tempted to fancy there was some legend of hidden bells of Kilmoon or Killeany, as there is at Kilnaboy and Dromcliff in the same county.

Cahercloggaun (from the North-east)
Cahercloggaun (from the North-east)

The fort stands on a craggy knoll, with a fine open view to Callan and Moher, and overhangs the valley of Killeany, where a stream breaks out of the rocks not far away. The fort was an ancient residence of the O’Loughlins, who, probably in the fifteenth century, built a peel tower in its garth preserving the ring-wall as a bawn, as was done at Ballyganner and Ballyshanny. The place is named ‘Kaercloghan’ on the Elizabethan map of Munster, circa 1560. Hely Dutton ingeniously revises its name to ‘Cahercallaghan.’ Its inhabitants seem to have been in constant trouble with the Government; in 1570 Brian O’Loughlin of this place needed a pardon; the next year another inmate, Donough Mac Rorie O’Loughlin, needed another, and in 1585 a large group of its inmates received pardon, Donough appearing again with his tenants or retainers, Edmond and Owen Mac Swyny, Teige Mac Brien and Teige O’Tyerney.[18] It subsisted as a castle till 1652, when it was allotted to the transplanted Pierce Creagh of Adare, county Limerick, who eventually settled at Dangan, near Quin.

Plan of Cahercloggaun
Plan of Cahercloggaun

The caher is a strong ring wall of 99 feet internal, and 119 feet external diameter, and nearly circular in plan. The wall is 8 feet to 9 feet high to the north, and at least 16 feet or 18 feet to the south, where it arises out of a deep hollow to several feet above the level of the knoll that formed the platform. It is of large, well-shaped blocks, laid in courses, and from 3 feet 6 inches to 5 feet long and 3 feet high in many instances; the masonry is of unusual character, for it is laid as if the builders strove successfully to avoid breaking joint, producing a close series of upright joints which, while allowing for settlement must have greatly weakened the wall. It was fairly perfect when I first saw it in 1878, and, indeed, even in 1885, but in 1896 much had been demolished, and a large heap of road metal indicated the destroyers and possible doom of this fine fort. It is some slight comfort that when the Society visited it in 1900 the demolition had evidently ceased for some time. It would be a disgrace to the people of Lisdoonvarna if they took no steps to preserve an interesting antiquity in their neighbourhood from destruction by sordid individuals and road contractors, who have abundant limestone all round. The gate-way faced the S.E. It had been demolished long before 1878, and, indeed, probably before 1839. To the left (south) of its gap heaps of grass-grown masonry, with traces of an ambrey and steps, mark the site of the castle. In the garth are the foundations of four regular curved enclosures, three to the south and one to the west.