IV: The Eastern Border: Keentlea; Cahermore Killeen; Gortlecka; Toormore;
The great wooded ridge of Keentlea, or Ceanntsleibhe, over the lake round
which we have passed, is known in the older records as Ceann Nathrach, ‘adder’s’ or ‘serpent’s
head.’ An ancestor of the O’Quins is called Aenghus Cennathrach,
and may have either given to, or derived from, the hill his strange
surname. Strange as is the name, it is not without an equivalent in
a Celtic, but not snakeless, land. A ‘serpent’s hill’ is
named in Gaul in the fifth century as even then bearing an ancient
name, ‘Ad montem quem colubrarium . . . vocavit antiquitas.’
On the other slopes of this large ridge we may notice a couple of defaced
cahers. I can hear of no trace of any fort on the top where stood the
legendary ‘House of Conan’; but Cahergal stood on a knoll
in Maghera, and is levelled almost to the field.
Cahermackateer is called Caherwickyter in a ‘Fiant’ of 1601; Caher
mac Teire in the Act of Settlement Confirmation to Murrough, Earl of Inchiquin,
in 1676; and Cahermacdirigg in the Survey of 1675. Only a low fragment of
its wall, built with large, shapeless blocks, remains, embedded in a fence;
the rest was cleared away for a cottage and garden. It lies behind the house
to the south-west of the bench mark 316.5 on the O.S. map 16.
Cahermore Killeen (O.S. 17)
The old name of this fort was ‘Caher-drumassan, or Cahragheeduva,
in Killeen,’ 1655. It is a fairly preserved but featureless ring-wall,
surrounded by thick groves of hazels. It is slightly oval, 135 feet to
136 feet internally. The wall is 11 feet thick for most of its circuit,
but widens to 12 feet 9 inches near the gateway, as is often the case.
Only the north jamb of the gate remains; the outer opening cannot be
measured; the inner passage is 6 feet 9 inches wide. The wall is of fairly
large blocks - some 4 feet 6 inches by 2 feet; it consists of an outer
section 8 feet thick, and a terrace 3 feet thick; the height varies from
6 feet to 8 feet or 9 feet; the batter is 1 in 4. It stands on a low
crag with no outlook.
Gortlecka (O.S. 10, 17)
Two dolmens remain near the foot of the strangely-terraced hill of Mullachmoyle,
but in a delightfully retired grassy plain. Of the western dolmen,
only the west stone is standing, and measures 8 feet long, 4 feet 6
inches high, and 9 inches thick. Some stones and broken slabs lie about
among the hawthorns and brambles.
The eastern dolmen (O.S. 17) was inhabited till recent times, like
the dolmens of Parknabinnia, Commons, Slievenaglasha, and Cappaghkennedy.
The theory that
they were slab huts is, however, rendered very improbable by the fact that
most show traces of mounds or cairns; and one was within human memory buried
in a cairn. The Gortlecka dolmen formed the bedroom of a small cabin, and stood
in a now nearly levelled cairn; it was of the usual type, tapering and sloping
eastward. It was 12 feet long; the east end complete; the north 9 feet by 4
feet 2 inches to 5 feet high; the east 3 feet 6 inches long and the south 4
feet 3 inches. The irregular cover is over 7 feet wide, and 11 feet long, overhanging
the end by 2 feet. The west end has fallen inwards, and leans against the north
side; the dolmen being 5½ feet high. The top of each side is hammered,
as is common in Clare; but in this case the inner faces of the sides have been
picked to a smooth surface which I hardly ever noted elsewhere, even to a much
lesser degree. The cover has curious ‘footmarks’ and other depressions.
In the parish of Ruan, Dr. George U. Macnamara called my attention to
a defaced dolmen, unmarked even on the new maps. It lies to the
south-west of Ruan, and not far from that village. It had been thrown
a former tenant of the farm who met with some misfortunes which he
attributed to his rash act. Strange to say, his successor, who broke
up one of the blocks, hurt his hand soon afterwards, which may secure
the preservation of the poor remains. It was a cist lying N.N.W.
and S.S.E.; at the east ‘end’ is a stone 2 feet 5 inches wide,
and 11 feet thick, and 4½ feet high; beside it is the base
of a broken slab 34 feet long; the bases of other blocks to the west
north show that the chamber was 7 feet 3 inches long internally,
and, perhaps, 4 feet 3 inches wide. A side slab 4 feet 6 inches by
lies in the enclosure.
Templenaraha (O.S. 25)
Westward, down the same road, is found the venerable little oratory of
Templenaraha in Ballymacrogan West. It lies in Parcnakilla fort; the
church is of fine ‘cyclopean’ masonry (like that in the
Round Tower of Dysert O’Dea), and measures 24 feet by 16 feet
10 inches externally; the walls being 3 feet thick. The ring wall in
which the church stands is nearly levelled; it measures 151 feet across
the garth, or about 170 feet over all. The wall has two faces of large
blocks with large filling; and was 8 or 10 feet thick. The history
and dedication of the oratory would be of the greatest interest; but
it is apparently nameless and unrecorded. The usage of ‘rath’ in
the place-name for a stone fort coincides with several passages in
our older literature.