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

Part VI: Ballyganner Group; Ballyganner Huts; Cahercuttine; Lismoher

Ballyganner Group (O.S. 9)
So difficult is it to explore this tract, and so rich is it in lesser antiquities, that after examining its forts and dolmens (in 1895 and 1897), and revisiting it (in 1898, 1900, 1902 and 1907), I still found objects worth description.[1] I made another extensive exploration in 1911 for ancient roads and hut sites, and now give the results as a step towards completion. In that labyrinth of high walled fields and crags and bushes it were folly to claim completeness for these notes, but I believe I can have overlooked little of importance (after seven visits) in the area bounded by the roads, Ballyganner Hill, and a line through Caherkyletaan, Cahercuttine, the small house ring to the east of the last to Caheraneden, Mohercloghbristy, and the dolmen in Ballyganner South, and back to the dolmen on Ballyganner Hill and the enclosures and dolmen in Sheshy and Clooneen. In all I recorded some 55 forts and bauns - 6 of earth, 10 dolmens, 8 huts outside the forts, 4 souterrains, 4 rock-cut roads, 3 tumuli, some low earth mounds, and over 10 cairns, some 90 early remains in all, besides two castles and two churches.

I found nothing to add to the notes on the forts and dolmens save that Mr. O’Dea, of Ballyganner Castle, told me that the ring-wall enclosing the dolmen [2] is named Cahernabihoonach, the thieves fort (bitheamnach), and that he never heard the name Cahernaspeekee applied to the fort, so called on the maps. He says that the field called Parccauhernaspeekee (Pairc cathrach na spice) lies to the north-east beyond Caheraneden. Some of these fort names are very vague; in 1887 the name of Caheremon was transferred to the mortar-built ruin called Cashlaunawogga. In 1895 I was told by a herdsman that Ballykinvarga was ‘called Cahernaspeekee, because of its spikes,’ or abattis. As a rule I have rarely found any doubts about fort names in Co. Clare; usually the consensus of the old people is complete, and the doubt only introduced by a young, and therefore less authoritative, person. Dr. Macnamara and I found it equally hard to get genuine names inserted [3] and inaccurate names [4] altered on the maps, and sometimes the map names were got by leading questions,[5] a practice we carefully avoided. ‘S. F.’ (Sir Samuel Ferguson) in 1857 gives ‘Caherflaherty’[6] as the name of Ballykin-varga cathair; this, in 1838, was the name ‘Caherlahertagh,’ given to a fort, beside which the new road from Kilfenora to Noughaval has since been made. Now, the latter name seems forgotten on the ground, and it is called ‘Caherparkcaimeen.’ In the Book of Distribution Ballykinvarga is called ‘Caherloglin’ in 1655; this last one suspects to be Caherlochlannach the Irish equivalent of the late incorrect term ‘Danish Fort;’ but it may be Cathair ui Lochlainor O’Loughlin’s fort’ or ‘Lochlan’s fort.’

In the case of Ballyganner, I fancy that, as the craglands got deserted and became ‘winterages’ for cattle, and the people moved to the roadsides for convenience (especially after the great Famine), the names became useless, save to a few herdsmen, and gradually got confused, and at last forgotten. The younger herdsmen can rarely give any names, while a number known to the older men are almost impossible to locate, for those who remember them are usually too old to bring one spot. O’Donovan’s sad lack of interest in all save the chief forts,[7] and his neglect of the Inquisitions of Elizabeth, James and Charles I and the great Surveys, left the surveyors free to put down names sometimes but vaguely located by their informants. Numerous names well attested in the documents (such as Cahercommaun, Caher-screbeen, Caherminaun, Cahercotteen, and Caheridoula) were found by us to be extant on the ground, and often widely known, though not on the maps.

Map of the Ballyganner Group of Antiquities
Map of the Ballyganner Group of Antiquities

Ballyganner Huts [8]
In the field to the south of the large tumulus is a hut 19 feet long east and west, 24 feet north and south, with two cells, the western 6 feet by 5 feet, the eastern filled with the collapsed beehive roof. The west cell has walls 3 to 4 feet thick; the roof was formed of corbelled slabs, much tilted up to throw any wet out of the room; it has a small lintelled door 20 inches wide into a semi-circular room, 12 feet over all. The lintel is 5 feet 18 inches by 10 inches.

The largest tumulus is of earth and stones 51 feet across, 6 to 8 feet high, and perfect. The other lies 159 feet to the north-east, and is 37 feet across, only 5 feet 6 inches high, the top and centre dug out.

Another hut to the south-east of Caherwalsh is 33 feet across, a fan-shaped court. There is a hut 6 feet inside, with wall 3 feet thick at the south-east corner, touching which and outside it is a circular hut with walls of equal thickness and 6 feet inside. In the field to the south of this last is a house-ring 3 feet thick and 25 feet inside, shown as a small circle on the new maps.

The ancient road near Cahernaspeekee may have been a cattle walk, leading to what appears to be a dry pond and continued beyond it. The only other ancient object I noticed on the last exploration of the townlands is a massive early wall of masonry like Caherwalsh at the O’Dea’s garden, which was probably made in an early bawn.

The cairn between this fine fort and the dolmen opposite to its gate to the south [9] has been entirely removed and the blocks of the dolmen uprooted and overthrown since 1897. The dolmen to the south-west, marked ‘Cromlech’ on the new maps, is a slab enclosure of two compartments, each 3 feet wide, lying north and south, the whole 7 feet 8 inches square, of unknown use, and I think late, certainly not a ‘Cromlech.’ There seem to be remains of an actual dolmen in the same field to the west-north-west of Cahercuttine. A large slab stands east and west, and other stones lie near it forming a cist, 8 feet long and 6 feet wide at its west end.

This is not the imaginary fort shown on the 1839 map near and to the east of the Noughaval road from Caherminaun. It is correctly shown on the 1899 map as to the south of the lane to Noughaval House. Part of its northern facing has been removed to widen this lane, the rest is of large well laid blocks, and is fairly complete, but rarely more than 5 feet high. The garth is level with its top and thickly grassed. The ruined doorway faces the east; its lintel is 6 feet 3 inches by 2 feet by 1 foot.