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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: Slievenaglasha

Slievenaglasha (O.S. 10)
The lofty ridge at the high cliffs, almost overhanging the beautifully situated fort of Cahermore,[25] in Lackareagh, at the mouth of Glenquin (Gleanncaoin in 1311), is crowned by a remarkable early cemetery. It is best reached past the Russells’ house, up by the fort, along the echoing little glen below the cliffs, till we reach a vast talus of fallen blocks forming a rude ladder to the lofty summit. Cahermore, I may add, is a striking illustration of how little the fort-builders troubled them-selves to secure an absolutely commanding site. Such a one was attainable on the ridge beside the little glen, yet the fort was built beside a high crag platform commanding its outer enclosures and the rampart of the central ring. Seeing it, Cahernawealaun and Caherlisaniska, in Co. Clare (even without considering the overhung forts in other parts of Ireland, and several promontory forts in Mayo, Kerry, and elsewhere), we cannot attach such weight as other antiquaries have done to the mere theory that a fort is not residential if its ambit is overlooked by neighbouring high ground. This view fails to recognize how rarely our so-called forts are ‘castles,’ how usually ‘courts’ round a residence, whose builders hardly thought of attack or of siege, or mural assault as more than a mere possibility. The masonry of this noble fort is similar in parts to Langough, near Newmarket,[26] in eastern Co. Clare, the stones being in certain cases rudely hammer-dressed to take the angle of the next block when necessary.

Three small carns stand on the cliff-bastion, which towers behind the fort and rock platform. They are much defaced, 12 feet to 16 feet across, and rarely 4 feet high. The middle one has a looped cattle shelter (for which it was dilapidated); much of the material was used to build the loose-stone wall on the dangerous edge of the precipice.

Far more interesting is the group of eight carns on the highest summit, 700 feet above the sea. The weird, bleached grey heaps [27] on the brown moorland overlook the curved grey rock terraces of Mullachmoyle and Glenquin, and all central Clare to the hills of Slieve Bernagh, across Co. Limerick to the Galtees. Southward we overlook glittering lakes and dark woods to Inchiquin Hill and Callan; westward we see out past the edge of the old world, for, when the sun gets low, a white blaze glows behind the low hills - the sunset on the waters of the Atlantic.

(1) The north-east carn is 18 feet across and 4 feet high; it is kerbed by a ring of slabs, set on edge, and usually 4 feet long and 2 feet to 3 feet high. There is a central cist, long since opened and partly filled; its cell is still opened for 5 feet inwards. (2) To the south is a levelled carn; part of its kerbing remains, but the stones are spread too widely for measurement. (3) At 50 feet farther southward is a third one kerbed, and 5 feet high, much dilapidated by rabbit-hunters. (4) At 140 feet to the south is a heap with remains of the kerb, and two slabs of the cist, which was 6 feet long. Another mass of stones of doubtful nature lies in a hollow to the north-west. (5) At 80 feet to the south of the last carn is the chief monument of the group, and perhaps on that account the oldest, being on the actual summit. It stands looking across the valley (where the bare brown patches are reputed to be the beds of the wonderful Glasgeivnagh cow and her calf), to the great cathair of Mohernagartan,[28] the fort and cave of the divine smith, Lon mac Liomhtha. Farther up the plateau are seen the largest cairn on the hill, and the fine neighbouring dolmen at Cappaghkennedy, while far to the south-west the ruined cottage and shining slabs of the wrecked dolmens of Slievenaglasha [29] catch the eye. Everywhere lie the rain-fretted level pavements of the crag, showing (as the inhabitants believe) the actual tracks of the wonderful cow and Lon’s sons. So, at Kinallia such markings represent in popular idea the footprints of the soldiers and hoofmarks of the horses of Guaire Aidne’s guard pursuing the fugitive banquet, swept from the king’s table by the Easter miracle of St. Colman MacDuach.

The identification of strange stones with cows is early in Ireland, e.g., in a twelfth-century manuscript, ‘the cows of Aife are stones which are on the sides of mountains, and are like white cows from afar.’ [30] Tracks and lines of earthworks are frequently attributed to supernatural animals; the Rian Bo of Ardpatrick, Co. Limerick, and that near Ardmore, Co. Waterford, were made by the horns of St. Patrick’s cow, while the Dane’s Cast, the Worm Ditch, and the Duncladh in Ulster are believed to have been made by dragons, or by the Black Pig.[31] It is not impossible that the Cladh Ruadh trench from Kerry Head to Athea may have once been connected with another pig, as the strange boar, Banbh Sinna, son of Maelenaig, was slain at Temar Luachra, near its eastern termination.[32] The leaba patches are very apparent from the carn. I have given their curious legend elsewhere in these pages, and in Folk Lore, as it was preserved in 1839, and found practically unaltered in the recesses of these hills by Dr. Macnamara.[33] He and I were told by John Finn, in 1896 (I took it down at the time), a version mainly identical with O’Donovan’s. ‘At Slievenaglusha are the Glas Cow’s beds; no grass ever grows on them; she used to feed near the herdman’s house (at the dolmen),[34] and over Cahill’s mountain, where she could get plenty of grass, on to Teeskagh.’ His legend ended: ‘And she went away, and how do I know where? and there were no tidings.’ As another Tullycommaun version ended, ‘She was taken by an Ulsterman,’ one suspects that she was the cow hidden with the native of that province in the cave of Leaba na haon-bo, in Ballynahown, near Oughtdarra and Crumlin, farther west; but the natives say the ‘Hean bo’ was not the ‘Glas.’[35]

The chief carn is 42 feet in diameter, 7 feet to 8 feet high, and fairly perfect; it has no kerbing, and the cist (if it exists) is concealed. The heap was an important trigonometrical station on the new survey, and a shelter was built on top visible far across the plains. (6) At 30 feet to the south is a large but greatly levelled carn, also 42 feet in diameter, unkerbed, and hardly 3 feet high; pens and cattle shelters have been built out of the stones close beside it. (7) On the edge of the platform to the extreme south, 135 feet from the last, is a defaced little carn 18 feet across. (8) The last of the monuments lies across a shallow depression, and is about 255 feet westward from the last, and 288 feet south-westward from the chief carn. It is 30 feet across, and 4 feet to 5 feet high, nearly perfect, save that it has been opened at one point, and the central cist exposed by treasure-seekers. This, un-fortunately, is almost universal in Co. Clare, and took place everywhere too far in the past to recover any intelligible account of what was found. At the beginning of the last century it was recollected that pottery and crumbled bones, but no implements or gold, had usually been found. I carefully searched every open cist, but never found a particle of clay vessels or metal; only sometimes bones reduced to the smallest flakes. I know of no closed dolmen, save, perhaps, one, and four cairns apparently intact, which it is best not to specify at present. It is noticeable that the three southern carns of Slievenaglasha are unkerbed; if (as I believe) one of these is the oldest, then the more advanced form (such as we find at Poulawack and elsewhere), may be the later; however, kerbing is found round the mounds of important dolmens, such as Clooneen and Iskancullin.

 

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