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

Part VI: Ballyganner Group: Ballykinvarga; Caherlahertagh; Caherminaun; Ballykeel; Lisket; Cahermon; Fanta Glebe

This very remarkable fort is getting widely known; it has recently been illustrated by Dr. Guébhard in the Report of the Prehistoric Congress, in France, 1906, and by Mr. Champneys in the valuable illustrations of his work on Irish Architecture. I have given in our Journal, 1913, a good general view by Dr. George U. Macnamara.[23] The bad practice of resketching has ‘enriched’ our pages with several false views, such as that of the crannog of Lough Bola and those of Ennis Abbey (especially the screen) in 1889 and the view of Cahercashlaun (so far as regards masonry) in 1899.[24]

Though apparently on a rather low site, there is a wide outlook; one can see from its wall the Telegraph and Snaty peaks in Slieve Bernagh in the far east of Clare, Inchiquin hill, Inchovea tower, Callan, Doon fort, Tully-commaun ridge, and the Noughaval forts and carns.

A coin of Alexander, King of Scotland, has recently been found in Ballykinvarga fort; it (like the hoard of coins of Edward II, found in the abattis, near the gateway) was probably plunder from the wars of the Bruces, in 1315, against whom Murchad O’Brien, King of Thomond, served. A coin of King John has also been found recently in the gateway of Cahermacgorman fort, near Corofin; coins earlier than the reign of Elizabeth have rarely been found in Co. Clare.

I may add a late record of the place to my former notes.[25] Morough O’Brien, nephew of Boetius Clanchy of Knockfinn, in his will, Nov. 16th, 1630, mentions his properties of Ballykinvarga, Carrowkeele, Cahermeene, Ballykeile, and also Cahirmeenan (all fort sites). He leaves bequests to his cousins Gorman, Thomas, and Arthur, of Limerick, and Donogh O’Brien, and desires to be buried in Killilagh Church.

The only notes I need add are that two upright joints occur to the west of the gateway and one to the east.[26] The supposed dolmen to the south-east of the fort, beside the old hollow track from the gateway near the east wall of the field, consists of two small set slabs and two ‘covers;’ of the last, the southern measures 9 feet 3 inches by 7 feet 6 inches the others 7 feet 5 inches by 1 foot and 7 feet by 6 feet 6 inches. All is so pulled about that no plan is possible; the slabs probably belonged to a simple cist about 7 feet long.

In the next field to the south is the unmarked foundations of a ring wall, 87 feet over all, with an outer facing of large blocks; all the rest of the stonework has been removed.

Caherlahertagh [27]
This remains as I saw it in 1895. I found in 1907 that it is locally called ‘Caherparkcaimeen,’ from a levelled fort used as a killeen, or child’s burial ground, a short distance away. In this cemetery is a double cist of large thin slabs.[28] The southern compartment has two divisions, 7 and 8 feet long, and 3 feet 6 inches wide; the northern is of the same width and 7 feet 6 inches long. They are in a low enclosure, 14 feet 7 inches square, kerbed with large blocks. The cists have been cleared out, since 1895, when they were buried in debris and the partition hidden. The place, unlike many killeens, is believed to be consecrated ground, and was probably, from its name, Kilcaimeen, dedicated to the patron of Iniscealtra, a 7th century saint, half-brother to Guaire Aidhne, King of Hy Fiahrach Aidhne, the district round Gort.

The late Dr. Joyce, in Irish Names of Places, is mistaken as to the townland being called from ‘an old castle ruin,’[29] for the townland is called from a fine ring-wall of the name although even the new maps leave the fort nameless. The fort,[30] though much injured, is remarkable; the masonry is neither horizontal nor polygonal, but of long, sloping courses, running into wedges between the adjoining layers. I have rarely seen more than one such course in any other fort. The blocks show many signs of hammer work, such as we also find on other forts round the border of Burren, Ballykinvarga, Roughan, and Glenquin, besides Cahermacrea and Langough in eastern Co. Clare. Hammer work is alleged to exist in Dun Aengusa, but I failed to see any trace of it. It is not a mark of late origin, for numerous dolmens in Co. Clare have the top edges of their sides chipped to an even line, and one at Gortlecka is even picked inside.[31]

N.B. – ‘A’ has become effaced on the plan; it was to the south-south-east

The gateway is also unusual in having small pillars at each angle of its entrance; rarely do even two occur, and those are always at the outer side. The four measure - the outer, left 10 inches by 14 inches, right 9 inches by 14 inches; the lower ones nearly the same. They rise 3 to 4 feet above the debris, and are perhaps 6 feet high if cleared. The lintels have been thrown down, and are 4 feet 6 inches long by 30 inches by 18 inches, a broken one, 3 feet 8 inches long, also remains.[32]

The wall is 10 feet 6 inches thick at the gate, which is 3 feet 8 inches wide between the pillars. The wall is 4 feet to 5 feet high at the gate, but is lost in heaps of debris; it is 8 to over 10 feet high round the south and west segments; the inner facing is nearly entire, though (as usual) of far smaller stonework than the outer face; the filling is large and carefully packed; the batter is 1 in 6 and in parts as much as 1 in 3½, a very unusual slope.

There are two flights of steps; the north-eastern was hidden in debris and coarse grass, and the southern nearly so in 1895. The latter now shows four steps over the debris, each is 10 inches wide, and is of two or three blocks in a recess 4 feet wide, and going straight up the wall. I incline to think this an older type than the ‘sideways flight.’ The other stair, instead of being in a recess, projects from the wall face; the steps are 5 to 6 inches wide and 8 to 13 inches high, 33 to 48 inches long; these flights most probably led to a terrace, but if so, this has left no trace. The rampart, when entire, may have been 14 or 15 feet high. The garth is 102 feet wide, the fort 123 feet overall, approximately circular. Only late pens remain inside.

Some forts occur - one on the edge of Ballykeel and Maryville, westward along the road from Caherlahertagh; another, the lowest courses of a well-built ring wall, is beside the road near the ‘A’ of Maryville on the map, it is of excellent masonry. There are two stone forts close to Kilfenora in Ballykeel South. The larger is on a knoll, well seen from the main road; it is much gapped, but of good masonry, with, I think, trace of an outer ring. These forts to the east of Kilfenora were examined for me with his usual kindness by Dr. Macnamara. That nearest to the Fair Green is shown on the map; though greatly overturned, it measures 102 feet across (it is strange how often this measurement occurs both in earth forts and ring-walls). The outer facing remains to the south and west in reaches of good masonry, one block is 4 feet long; its cathair is quite featureless. The rabbit hunters of the village have overthrown the forts near them, as is so usual.

The larger one on the east border of Ballykeel is the ruin of a fine structure, and is well seen from the road to Corofin. It consists of two concentric rings, and was a well built ‘handsome’ fort, but not very large. It is nearly all knocked down, and is in the same field as the last. There is a short reach of the facing of the inner ring about 8 feet long. The central fort is 47 paces across, the outer ring lies 10 to 12 yards outside it, and is 67 yards in diameter. It was built with blocks of unusual size - one 9 feet long, and apparently was a single stone wall, always a late feature.

There is a standing stone in Ballykeel which, possibly, like the stone crosses, meared the termon of the old monastery and cathedral of Kilfenora. The forts from Doon and Kilfenora westward call for very little note, being featureless and the majority of earth, sometimes with remains of stone facing.

Lisket is an earthen fort 135 feet across: the ‘platform’ is 105 feet across and is flat-topped, but had a rampart rarely a foot high, giving the garth a slightly cupped appearance like one of the Coolreagh forts near Bodyke in the east of the county. The fosse is about 14 feet wide, the platform rising 5 feet above it. The fort, called ‘Ballybaun fort’ on the map, is nearly obliterated by tillage; it was about 30 yards across (north and south). A similar liss, 35 yards across (north and south), lies east of Ballybaun House where the ‘R’ of the parish name ‘Kilfenora’ is marked on the maps. The herdsman of Ballybaun knew of the other forts, but said that they were hardly noticeable. There is a curious single block of stone with a battlementled outline in the last described liss, 6 feet by 3 feet by 8 inches, like the side of a dolmen save for its irregular top.

Caheremon [33] is hardly traceable at a bend of the road north from Kilfenora. Petrie calls it ‘a fine remain’ if he be not confusing it with Ballykinvarga. Dutton in 1808 calls it Caheromond, and adds that its walls were covered with orpine. It is said to have had two rings, but I found bare trace of the ring of small filling of one. I seem to recollect the walls as standing in 1878 and 1887, but may be mistaken.

Fanta Glebe contains a cathair, utilised as a feature in the Rectory garden, the former residence of the Protestant Deans of Kilfenora. It is a fairly complete ring of small stonework, 105 feet over all, and is thickly planted and quite featureless.