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

Part V: Moheraroon; Caher-Moheraroon; Fanygalvan

Going south from Poulacarran, round the ridge of Fanygalvan, with its conspicuous dolmen,[35] we find, close by the road to Castletown, a group of stone forts. The western, beside the road and in Sheshymore, is a mere ring of filling, thanks to road-menders.

The second caher lies not far to the north-east, in Moheraroon,[36] and is a conspicuous little ring-wall on a crag covered with low hazels. The wall is very coarse and badly built, of shapeless large masonry, to the north-east. It has a terrace 18 inches wide and 1 foot 8 inches high, the wall 1 foot 8 inches higher, or 4 feet 4 inches over the garth, which is 3 feet higher than the outer crag. The wall is 7 feet 8 inches high and 6 feet 6 inches thick at that point, and 4 feet 8 inches wide on top. The fort is 94 feet over all, and 81 feet across the garth. The gateway is defaced, but its lintel measures 4 feet 8 inches by 1 foot 6 inches by 8 inches; so it must have been narrow.

This fort lies to the north of the last. It is of better but coarse masonry. Much of the wall to the south and east is thrown down, probably by rabbit-hunters. The rampart is circular, 6 feet 6 inches thick, 7 feet 6 inches high to the south, and 7 feet high to the north and north-east. There are remains of a terrace 3 feet wide, from which is a flight of steps of unusual arrangement, rising from the platform of the terrace in a recess and running up the wall. The more usual types are the sidelong steps in a recess, and the simple steep flight, which in the apparently very primitive steps in the ‘modernized’ (if not late) fort of Caherahoagh [37] becomes an actual ladder, with spaces under the stone rungs. In Dangan (Cahermoyle), near Ballyvaughan, we have a recess with one shelf-like step in the terrace itself; and in Dun Eoghanachta, in Aran, a flight begins some feet above the ground in the terrace. The gateway faced the east, and was recently overthrown before 1896; but one pier is entire, with a lintel resting on it, and a plan and elevation are recoverable. It had another opening, with very slightly inclined jambs, and unusually high (7 feet). The jamb was of fourteen courses of thin slabs, averaging 5 to 8 inches thick.


The passage is 4 feet wide, increasing inward to 6 feet at a point 4 feet 6 inches from the outside, again very unusual. Here two slabs are set in the wall, their edges projecting into the passage, doubtless at a wooden door, the north being 10 inches higher than the south slab. Inside these, the passage is 4 feet 3 inches long (making it 9 feet long in all). The lintels measure respectively, from the outside inwards, 5 feet 4 inches by 13 inches by 3 inches, 6 feet 2 inches by 20 inches by 11 inches, and 4 feet 9 inches by 14 inches by 17 inches. The first lies outside the gateway; the others rest on the pier. Another lintel lies in the garth, and is 6 feet 10 inches by 25 inches by 6 inches, and near it one 4 feet 8 inches by 19 inches by 5 inches, either belonging to the inner passage or a relieving slab. The upper course of the gate (as at Cashlaun Gar and the souterrains of Mortyclough caher and the south-west cahers of Ballyganner) projects like a cornice, the better to support the lintels. The sum of the breadths of the lintels, 8 feet 9 inches, so closely corresponds with the length of the passage and the three outer (4 feet) to the outer section, that it very probably was roofed for its whole length (like Cahermoygilliar, county Cork). In this, as in its height, its splay, and its cornice, it is most exceptional, and it is a loss to archaeology that it was not examined before its destruction.[38] The unfortunate haste and lack of interest in prehistoric remains when the 1839 Ordnance Survey hurried O’Donovan and O’Curry through this rich but difficult district, and the difficulty of the country and the shortness of the time at my disposal from 1892 down, left it undescribed till, like an older fortress, ‘the gate is smitten with destruction, the fort and towers dens for ever.’ A hut circle lies 145 feet east from the gate, but not in line with it. The structure was probably of wood, fenced (as at Ballyganner Hill near Cahernabihoonach) with a ring of slabs, 3 feet to 3 feet 6 inches high and long, round its base. Most of the slab rings known to me in Clare are close to forts, but strange to say, outside their ambit.

The fourth cathair lies to the north-east, about 500 feet away from its neighbour, just over the edge of Fanygalvan. It is by far the best built fort of the group, though its wall is thin, only 4½ feet to 6½ feet thick, and rarely 6 feet high, with eight courses and a batter of 1 in 12. The masonry is large and carefully fitted, some of the blocks being 4 feet to 4 feet 9 inches long, and 14 inches to 16 inches thick. It measures exactly 100 feet across the garth, and about 112 feet over all. Inside, two loops of late-looking wall adjoin the rampart. The gateway faced south. Its eastern pier rests on a foundation block 4 feet 6 inches long. The place whence the corresponding block was recently removed is visible, but the actual width is not clear. It will be noted that as we go northward each cathair is better built than its predecessor, and is probably older, as bad masonry is a late, decadent feature in the cathairs of Ireland. The Moheraroon forts lie along a craggy ridge, beside a low green valley, hemmed with steep bluffs and low cliffs, the dolmens, pillars, and mound on Fanygalvan Hill being visible up its gap to the north, and the curious rock called Farbreaga, or ‘sham man.’ At the southern end of the valley in Fanygalvan, and not far from the road, a low knoll, with steep sides 6 feet to 9 feet high, with a flat top, tempted the early fort-makers to enclose it with a wall, of which some three or four courses of large blocks only remain. There are no house sites inside. The garth is 84 feet across, and is 2 or 3 feet higher than the outer ledge on which the wall rests. It is all turfed with the hay-scented woodruff and rosettes of the saw-fern.