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

Part IV: The Eastern Border: Inchiquin Hill; Crossard Caher; Caherblonick

Inchiquin Hill (O.S. 16)
If we pass round the hill road to the south of the lake of Inchiquin, we are surrounded with senses of no less beauty than interest. Leaving the picturesque bridges and stream of the Fergus, with the old ruined mill at Clifden, and the lofty tower of Tirmicbrain on the hill side, above the terraced garden of Adelphi, we pass high above the lake, overshaded with birch, larch, and other overarching trees. Vistas up steep and wooded slopes, up runnels shaded with fern and tall foxglove, or down to the lake, swan-haunted as in legendary days,[4] to the Castle of Inchiquin and the great natural fortress of Doonauns, meet us at every turn. Then a wild, rocky pass, between cliffs, opens to the left, and passing round a bluff, we reach the high cross-roads at Crossard. We note the ruined chapel of the short-lived Moravian colony, planted by the Burtons in 1795. There we get pretty views on either side - one over lilac bushes, to the lake, the other across the Fergus, the ivied court, the church and broken round tower of Kilnaboy,[5] to the grey rampart of Burren.

Crossard Caher lies down the slope: it is a late-looking and most rudely-built ring-wall, only 3 feet 6 inches thick, and 8 feet 6 inches high, the enclosure measuring 148 feet across the garth. All mark of the gateway has vanished, but an old road is traceable across the crags from the south-west side. The caher has no trace of terrace or house sites, and was probably a mere baun. We then pass the green woods and copper beeches of Elm Vale, noting that the well called ‘Brian Boru well’ on the map is locally ‘Boru’s well’ (understood only as meaning ‘red cow’), and we reach the townlands of Caherblonick.

The name has existed at any rate from before 1540, when Henry VIII. confirmed to Morough O’Brien, King, and first Earl of Thomond, the lands of Caherblonghe. We need not trace the succession of its owners, but merely cite one late grant, rich in fort names, whereby in June, 1709, Andrew Hehir, of Cahermacunna, and his son, James, granted to John Stacpoole, of Ennis, the lands of Cahircomane, Cahirblunig, Cahirnahally, Ballymacnavan, Lisnahow, and Fanamore.[6]

It is impossible to tell whether the name ‘stone fort of the lard’ is derived metaphorically from the richness of the land or from some tradition like that of ‘the cellar full of deer’s tallow’ at Caherscrebeen, which lies just visible across the valley.[7] Where pigs abounded the name was usually ‘Muckanagh,’ and does not allude to lard.

Caherblonick is on a limestone slope at the base of the ridge of Keentlae, falling in the shale hills of Boultiaghdine (locally understood as ‘trodden into mire by cattle’), which, fluted by the runnels of several little streams, fall in steep slopes from the uplands of Keentlae. In one of these runnels was found a group of bronze celts, plain and socketed, and on the plateau above, a fine leaf-shaped bronze sword.[8]

Below the road, in craggy fields, ending in low cliffs above the broad valley, lie several forts. Beyond them we see the shattered tower of the late church of Kiltoraght, the strange, artificial-looking cleft on the hill of Ardnegowl, like an embanked road, the cairn of Clooneen, the brown old castle of Lemaneagh, with its gables and turrets, and the grey terraced hills of Leanna, Mullach, and Knockanes.[9]

The first fort is much levelled. As it is not far above Parcnahilly, it may be the Cahernahailly of the records. East from it, and above it on the slope, is a rectangular ‘moher,’ with thin walls of large, flat slabs, and, within, the foundations of an oblong hut and a small, circular annexe. It is not marked on the new map.

Caherblonick - the east fort

Caherblonick lies further to the north-east, about 100 yards away. It is a well-built ringwall of excellent masonry of regular blocks, usually about 2 feet 6 inches by 18 inches, in regular courses, with the unusual features of several pairs of upright joints, each divided by a line of single blocks about 2 feet long. We have noted a similar arrangement of joints carried to excess in the fort of Cahercloggaun, near Lisdoonvarna.[10] The rampart is 12 feet thick, and from 6 feet to 8½ feet high, being best preserved to the north and the west. It is more broken and of smaller masonry to the south-east. It has a bold batter (often as much as 1 in 7), and has two faces, and a filling of large blocks. One joint only runs for 5 feet up the wall, which suggests an early rebuilding of the upper part. The garth is oval, being 125 feet east and west, and 153 feet N.E. and S.W. Slight traces of the gateway are found to the east. It had a threshold 3 feet 10 inches by 3 feet, so may have been about the former width. Buried deeply in moss and cranesbills are two hut foundations; one to the N.W. is oval, and 12 feet long, built against the wall; the other is near the gate, and is 9 feet inside. There are only slight traces of other enclosures, for the garth is filled up with 4 feet or 5 feet of debris.

Caherblonick – Plan of Fort
Caherblonick – Plan of Fort

Like Cahercottine, near Noughaval,[11] Caherblonick has a dolmen and a cairn near it. The cairn is a disfigured heap of earth and large blocks, 70 feet in diameter, and 9 feet high. It lies about 140 yards to the north of the caher, and is crossed by a boundary wall. It has, as usual, been explored by treasure-seekers in several places.

Caherblonick - the east fort

The dolmen is about 100 feet to the west of the fort, and is called ‘Labba’ or ‘Lobba yermuth,’ as usual. It tapers and slopes eastward. The south side measures 10 feet 10 inches by 4 feet 3 inches by 6 inches to 8 inches, and has a very regular hole (perhaps partly natural, but evidently partly ground) through its side. The west end being 5 feet long, left, I think, an entrance between it and the fallen north slab. The whole seems to have been 15 feet over all, and 16 feet long, the axis lying E.S.E. and W.N.W.

The third caher lies 300 yards to the east of the cairn, Caherblonick being almost equidistant from it and the western caher. It is on the edge of a low ridge, round a deep ‘bay’ running into the slope. The wall is of beautiful polygonal masonry, smooth white blocks very closely fitted together, and only 6 feet high, with the unusual batter of 3½ inches to the foot. The fort is oval, measuring over all 140 feet north-west and south-east, and 114 feet north-east and south-west. The wall has two faces, and is from 9 feet to 12 feet thick, clinging to the edge of the crag to the north and north-east. The garth is filled up for 4 feet above the field, and has a hut site to the N.W

Another and smaller caher lies on the edge of the ridge on the eastern side of the ‘bay,’ just inside the edge of Drummoher. The mere foundations of three other cahers - two of small dimensions - lie in the valley at Cahermacon, and on the edge of Ballycasheen.

Caherblonick - Plan of Dolmen
Caherblonick - Plan of Dolmen