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

Part IV: West Corcomroe: Caherdoon; Caherduff; Other Forts

Ballynahown Group of Forts
Ballynahown Group of Forts

Caherdoon is now getting named by the natives, ‘Caherlochlannagh,’ a mere late rendering of ‘Danish fort’ growing up in the decay of true tradition. It stands on a slightly raised sheet of rock, over 550 feet above the sea, and is an unusually fine and well-preserved ring-wall, beautifully built. As at Doonaunmore, the faces of the slabs are greatly channeled. I could not satisfy myself that the inner surfaces were equally worn. The plan and masonry are most regular, which favours its early date; for, as I have elsewhere shown,[4] the inferior masonry always rests above the better building. The caher measures 105 feet over all, and encloses a circular garth, 84 feet to 85 feet in diameter. The wall is built in two sections, each with good, separate faces, and each little over 5 feet in thickness, or from 10 to 11 feet thick in all. The inner section forms a terrace from 3 feet to 6 feet high; but I saw no traces of steps up to it. The outer wall has a batter of about 1 in 12 where not bulging out. The height varies, being 9 feet 6 inches to south-west, 6 feet 2 inches to south, 8 feet to east, and 6 feet to 7 feet high for much of the ring, save to the north-east, which is much demolished. It was probably kept for shelter on the sides next the sea. Several upright joints run up the whole height of the wall in the southern segment. The gateway faced the north-east; only the foundation of the northern pier is traceable. There are two nearly levelled loops of wall to the south and north, and the lower part of a small circular hut (joined by side walls to the rampart) on the south-east. In the south-west quarter of the garth are two modern huts, inhabited down to very recent times. There is also a souterrain, 27 feet from the western terrace, measuring 18 feet 8 inches, north-east and south-west, and 5 feet wide, lined with walls of small masonry, and roofed with great slabs, large and thin; one measures 7½ feet by 5 feet 4 inches, by 10 inches to 12 inches. Near the southern end, to the east, is a small side apartment, only 4 feet by 3 feet wide. It is interesting to contrast this fort with Caherdooneerish. The latter shows traces of rebuilding, patchwork, and, at least, two entire rings added to the wall, and showing differently spaced upright joints at various levels. At Caherduff all the work seems of one period; but the wall is much lower than at the other fort.


A defaced dolmen, called ‘Labba’ and ‘Dermot’s bed,’ lies in the field to the east of the caher. It is quite overturned: a large prostrate slab and other stones remain, one leaning against the other; it is unmarked on the maps, and I could not find it on my last visit. An ancient enclosure lies in the next field to the east.


Crossing the ridge we find, a short way down its northern slope, on a knoll in front of a low ridge, an important fort named Caherduff, lying half a mile from Caherdoon. Nothing in its appearance suggests its gloomy name, unless, perhaps, that it occupies the shady slope opposite to Cahernagrian. It is built on a well-selected low knoll. The wall is 9 to 10 feet thick, and is of remarkably good masonry, more like Cahernagrian than like Doonaunmore and Caherdoon. It is over 10 feet high where best preserved, i.e. to the south and north-east, in parts 9 feet high; but great gaps occur, and the north and north-west parts are greatly defaced. The wall has two faces, and large filling, and has traces of a terrace, 28 inches wide. The batter is 1 in 12, and well carried out; much of the inner face has been destroyed. The garth is slightly hollow and very irregular, 96 feet across (north and south); the fort measuring about 116 feet over all. There are large rocks about the garth, and a slight, oblong hollow, as if the rock- surface was quarried out, and the space fenced with large blocks at intervals.

Caherduff Fort near Crumlin
Caherduff Fort near Crumlin

The outlook to the north is very fine, comprising all the Killonaghan Valley, and much of Galway Bay, Black Head, with Caherdooneerish, and the slopes, from the sandhills of Fanore (the site of one of the earliest settlements in Clare), Balliny (latest inhabited of the Clare cahers),[5] the Round Castle of Faunaroosca, and St. Onchu’s Church. Every period of human history in Burren is represented in the scene. The other forts are of but little interest. The trace of a small ring-fort lies in the uppermost enclosed fields below Caherduff; and wandering over the plateau to the west of the great cliffs, we found three rude old enclosures of slab masonry, partly rebuilt, but embodying ancient work, though neither regular nor massive. They were evidently cattle bauns. A low, grassy valley, and late house foundations, lay from them toward Cahernagrian, and the long pass from Oughtdarra.

Inland Forts
These are of but little interest, but may be noted. Two earthen forts called ‘mote’ and ‘Lislard’ on the maps, and similar in character, lie on the ridge where the road descends to Ballinalacken. Each is a low earthen ring, with a rounded mound about 6 feet high in the garth, and may be sepulchral. The word ‘mote’ is even used for cahers in this parish.

Knocknaskeheen Caher has been so completely demolished since 1839 that no trace can be found on the green knoll where it once stood, and which commands a beautiful view of the sea at Bealaghaline, with Doonagore Castle and the end of Moher to the south-west, and out to Callan and Slieve Bernagh to the south-east.

Caherreagh or Caherkinallia is an ordinary ring-wall, much gapped and defaced, at the end of a long, craggy spur or knoll, projecting into a marshy hollow.

Caherbarnagh is levelled, barely marked by a few blocks and a slight ring, beside the road from Lisdoonvarna to Kilmoon.

Ballyreen (O.S. 4)
The Ballyryan of the maps has a group of several decayed forts called Shanbally or Oldtown.