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

Part IV: West Corcomroe: Croghateeaun; Doonaunmore; Tuam an Gaskaigh

Croghateeaun is a mote-like, conspicuous hill, one of the best landmarks in the district, shapely and grassy, rising high above the plateau and even overtopping the lower row of cliffs. On reaching the top, where we were told to cross ourselves as a protection against the power of the ‘Dannans’ (whose chief stronghold it was), we found a flattened summit surrounded by the foundations of a strong ring-wall. The garth measures 54 feet north and south, and 60 feet east and west, and the wall is from 8 to nearly 11 feet thick of blocks 6 feet to 4 feet long. All the upper stone work has been thrown down the steep slope, but the foundations, even of the gateway, are well preserved. It faced the S.S.E., and (as can be seen by the plan) had two posts 2 feet apart, the passage widening inward from 3 feet 3 inches to 6 feet wide, and being faced with large blocks. There are traces of curved enclosures to the north-west and north-east. Below, on a rise to the south-east, were also traces of a wall of blocks larger and ruder than those used in the caher. A raised path wound down the hill from the fort towards the north-west, formed by a curved bank 18 inches to 2 feet high. The older people are firmly convinced that this is a most dangerous ‘fairy fort,’ and tell how some badger-hunters, after a convivial meeting on its summit, got overtaken by night. They soon afterwards returned home in sobered terror, declaring that they had seen ‘the whole fleet’ of its ghostly inhabitants.

We next passed a late circular enclosure with a much older-looking semicircular mound inside; near, and east of it, towards a cultivated field, is a small ring of tumbled stones, an ancient hut-site. Westward lies another but modern ring-wall, once a ‘bull park,’ called ‘Moher a tarriff.’ Then we ascend a range of cliffs 80 to 100 feet high by a grassy gully, and reach the projecting promontory of Doonaunmore with its strange ‘farbreag’ or detached pinnacle near the southern end.

Croghateeaun

Doonaunmore a fine example of the inland promontory fort of the type of Caherconree. It is about 500 feet long from N.N.E. to S.S.W., and is fenced across the neck by a great rampart 309 feet long, and curving outward in the middle. The rampart is 8 feet 3 inches to over 9 feet thick, with an internal terrace 5 feet high and 3 feet wide. Externally, it is from 8 feet to over 10 feet high in the middle, but is much broken towards the east end. It has reaches of good masonry (the blocks often 4 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet), with two well-built faces, a smaller filling of field stones, and at least one upright joint, and the trace of a second in the outward face. At one point, where it crosses a slight depression, there is a platform 4 feet to 5 feet deep outside the fort. The blocks present a most time-worn aspect; but as their inner surfaces are nearly equally channelled, the weathering must have taken place before the erection of the fort. Dr. MacNamara thinks that the slight traces of a thin wall to each side of the neck are ancient, but they did not seem very old to me, unless we suppose them rebuilt; and fencing was certainly needful to the east of the neck, where the side is sloping though steep. Inside the wall are traces of hut-enclosures nearly levelled. The only legend we heard was that the fort was the residence of a giant who was defeated, slain, and his ‘druid’s staff’ lost. Certainly it might be said of the builders, as of the Kenites of old, ‘Strong is thy dwelling-place, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock.’ The cave called after the Lysaghts, ‘Ooan a leeshagh,’ lies to the east of the fort; neither it nor the numerous other small caves (so far as I could learn) show signs of habitation.

Doonaunmore

Far up the valley, in the angle of the cliff where the three townlands of Crumlin, Oughtdarra, and Ballynahown meet, is a cranny and cave ‘not belonging to any of them.’ It is called ‘Labba na hean bo’; and there, ‘in the last great stroke for Ireland,’ the decisive last battle – ‘will be found the Ulsterman’ who will play so great a part in the conflict. The personality of the ‘one cow’ is less clear; but it is certainly not the ‘Glasgeivnagh’ cow, although she, too, is said to have ‘stayed’ in the valleys of this place.

Across the pass, to the east of Doonannmore, the cliff is called Doonaunbeg, and is a reputed ‘mote’; but I found no trace of walls to mark it as such. Farther eastward another gully ends in a long water cave; much of the roof has fallen in. Beside it, in a bold cliff facing westward, is the ope of Lysaght’s cave, overhung by a regular ‘mantel board’ of rock, so regular as to appear artificial.

Tuam an Gaskaigh
From the end of the gully a slight depression bears the name of ‘Barnagoskaigh,’ the champion’s gap. In the craggy field is a curious long fissure, partly natural, partly walled, and, for the most part, covered with slabs, so as to form a souterrain, 6 feet deep, and about 5 feet wide. It lies nearly east and west.

The ‘Tuam’ is a monument of unusual character, under which some of the residents suppose that the souterrain passes. This monument lies in a little shallow amphitheatre of crag, and is called ‘Tuam an Gaskaigh’; the edge of the depression is fenced at the top by an old wall, 4 feet 6 inches to 5 feet thick, of large, regularly-laid slabs. A slighter wall, nearly levelled, runs straight across the little depression from one end of the crescent wall to the other, forming a D-shaped enclosure, with the curve to the south. In the bottom of the hollow is the ‘giant’s grave.’ It has to the north a slab enclosure, nearly square, two north slabs leaving a gap between them; a large block to each side, and four in a row to the south; the space measures 6 feet 8 inches north and south, but the sides are now disturbed. From near its south-east angle ran a line of five large stones lying north and south. Our guide remembered them side by side, and touching, but they are now dragged about. The ‘champion,’ said tradition, lay beside them with his great sword; so, in hope of finding it and ‘some gold,’ three or four young men overthrew the stones and got nothing. ‘They had all to emigrate, and were not lucky’; but their act was not otherwise resented by the spirit of the mighty dead. No trace of a ‘tuam’ or mound remains.

Above the crescent wall, to the south-east, on a projecting crag, is the slight trace of a very small fort - or house-enclosure barely 50 feet across, and nearly levelled; it almost overhangs the hut-ring mentioned after Croghateeaun. At this point we descend into a narrow valley with good fields, hemmed in by parallel cliffs richly ivied, and a perfect prototype of embattled walls, bastions, and curtains. Up this valley we pass into Ballynahown, for the eastern wall marks part of its bounds, and soon reach the Cahernagrian forts.

 

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