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

Part V: Corofin District: Dysert, Rath and Kilnamona Parishes: Glencolumbcille; Mullach

Glencolumbcille (O.S. 10)
The venerable church [36] dedicated to the great Columba, the patron of Ireland and of Iona, gives the name to the valley. I heard no tradition of the saint’s sojourn here as I did at Crumlin. The church (as little known) I may describe, for it has been wrongly attributed to the fifteenth century,[37] because an inserted doorway is of that period. It is of the late eleventh or early twelfth century; the west end and much of the north wall are destroyed, and part of the south side rebuilt in modern times, from the jamb of an early window eastward. The east light has a chamber and recess, and a well-built splay; it is 16 inches wide, but the head is gone. There are projecting handle-stones in the east gable. The building measures 41 feet 9 inches outside by 21 feet 6 inches; it is 16 feet 6 inches wide inside, the walls being 2 feet 3 inches to 2 feet 6 inches thick. The upper half of a conical quern of sandstone, 13 inches across and 7 inches high, lies at the north-west angle of the ruin.

The ridge on which the church stands lies between the glens at the foot of Cappaghkennedy Hill, between Glenquin and the rich thickets of Glencolumbcille - golden, scarlet, and pink in the autumn, with ash, hazel, hawthorn, pegwood, and wild guelder rose - running up past Cappagh Castle to the lonely hermitage and well of St. Colman MacDuach, under the huge Eagle Cliff of Kinallia. Glencolumbcille church commands lovely views of these and the terraced hills, and down the ‘pleasant valley’ of Gleann Caoin, with a broad, open view of the low land down the glen.

Glencolumbcille
Glencolumbcille

I include this site, however, not for its religious interest or its beauty, but because the church and burial-ground stand within a large low ringfort of earth and stones 236 feet across the interior, north and south, 258 feet east and west, and about 280 feet over all. It is largely of dry-stonework [38] to the south, and is much removed; the mound round the north semi-circuit is 10 feet to 12 feet thick, and 6 feet high, faced with large stones in part, but now featureless, for I found no trace of a gate. The area is terraced up on each side of the ridge for about 4 feet over the field. The occurrence of churches in forts is rare in the lower Shannon valley. Templenaraha oratory, with a massive ring-wall, near Ruan, I have noticed. Tulla church, in eastern Clare, had two circular ramparts about 150 feet and 480 feet across, stated in the life of St. Mochulla, in 1142, to have been dug and stone-walled by the seven converted soldiers of King Guaire, about A.D. 620.[39]

Moyarta and Kiltinnaun stood on low, flat-topped motes, with fosse and annexe; Killilagh and Rathborney, beside circular earthworks. In the neighbouring County of Limerick an imposing example occurs at Cloncagh church,[40] of which I give a plan. It is 750 feet to 770 feet across, and consists of two mounds with a fosse between, such as St. Enda of Aran raised about A.D. 480, round the monastery of his sister, Fanchea, at Rossory,[41] where a circular fosse and mound remain. Templebryan Church, Co. Cork, stands in a large ring 400 to 500 feet across, with a souterrain and pillar-stone inside the ambit. Abbey Grey, or Monasternalea, in Athleague, on the Suck, is girt by a large mound 600 feet inside, and 700 feet over all, with a fosse 25 feet wide. It is, therefore, quite as probable that the Glencolumbcille eathhwork [42] is ecclesiastical, as that some earlier chief gave his dún to God and the church in the days of St. Columba. To the north-east of this work, close to the road, is a plain cross with three steps, and a thin octagonal shaft, each face only three inches wide. Across the road, on the fence, is a large natural block of limestone 4 feet long by 3 feet high, with six little round holes, the third and sixth larger than the rest, the reputed marks of the saint’s fingers.

Cloncagh
Cloncagh

Mullach (O.S. 17)
I visited again the great cathair on Mullach ridge in Dabrien. I found that the hill (ridge) is locally named Clochán wullach and the fort Caherwullach. The large limestone boulder on the ridge is understood to be the ‘Clochan.’

My first brief description in these pages [43] is from a letter of Dr. Mac-namara; from notes on my subsequent three visits I may expand it here. It is a fine oval ring-wall of good masonry, the batter in parts being curved and in others in two slopes, 1 in 4 below for 6 feet up, and 1 in 3 above. The outer face of good large blocks sometimes 3 feet long, the inner of small stones. The rampart is often over 9 feet high and thick, the summit usually 6 feet 6 inches. Four inches lower is a narrow terrace from 27 inches to 36 inches wide (a part only 15 inches wide), being best preserved round the northern half, and reaches to the south-east. It is usually 4 feet above the garth. There are recesses perhaps for ladders, but the northern is only 10 inches deep, while 9 feet 6 inches long. The north-western is clearer, being 3 feet 3 inches wide. There is a well-defined rock cutting, a tank, or, more probably, a souterrain, in the south-west segment. The fort measures 129 feet north and south, and 138 feet east and west outside, and the garth 112 feet and 120 feet inside respectively.

 

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