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

Part VI: Cahermakerrila Group

Cahermakerrila Group (O.S. 9)
Had I been able to work my survey on consistent lines, this should have been included as part of the Cahermacnaughten group, which it adjoins; but by accident of means of access the two are practically cut off from each other, and I always found it more easy to reach the former forts from Corofin and the latter from Lisdoonvarna. From that spa-town we go eastward, crossing the river valley, and seeing on a bold bluff a lofty mound - a reputed ‘fairy hill.’

Lissateeaun, Lis an tsidheán, the fairy fort, lies in a townland called Gowlaun, from the ‘fork’ (Gabhal) of the stream. It is a mote-like mound, shaped out of the natural bluff, but raised and rounded so as to form a high flat-topped platform sufficiently imposing as seen from the road bridge to the east. A shallow fosse runs round it on the side of the plateau in a semicircle. There are no other mounds or hut sites, nor is it easy to fix its actual height, as it runs into the natural slopes. The summit lies about 400 feet above the sea.

Its resemblance to a burial mound may have helped its reputation as a sidh, but it very probably was, if not in origin, at least in use, a true lis or residential fort, as its name implies. Sidheán in Co. Clare living usage, by the way, implies rather a passing gust or whirl of wind in which the fairies travel. It is a prophylactic usage to bow or take off your hat as the gust reaches you.[6] The fort is reputed to give its name to the Castle of Lisdoonvarna, ‘the fortified fort of the gap.’ The gap is the river gully, and the levelled ring wall at the head of the slope to the north is Caherbarna.

The mossy court walls sheeted with polypodium alone mark Lisdoonvarna Castle, long the residence of the Lysaghts (Gillisachta) and the Stacpooles. In the same townland, turning eastward, we pass the foundations of a cathair on a conspicuous green knoll. The road cuts through another levelled ring wall in Ballygastell. Nearly opposite to the south of the road are a killeen graveyard for children, and some old enclosures. Farther on in Ballyconnoe is a small house ring, its wall coarsely built, and now barely a yard high, on a knoll of crag. Near it, roads run northward towards Toomaghera (or ‘Toovarra’) chapel, and south-eastward (a bad, but ancient, road) along a green shale ridge, past a heap of fallen masonry, once Binroe Castle, to Cahermacnaughten. A rich marshy tract, as so often, runs from the foot of the ridge as far as the shale covers the limestone. The further reaches of the road run on to Noughval southward, and through Kilcorney valley eastward, past Caherconnell and the Cragballyconoal forts and dolmens, past Poulaphuca dolmen, down a steep descent into the Turlough valley, on to Corcomroe Abbey, being evidently one of the ancient thoroughfares of Corcomroe.

We have imperceptibly reached a considerable height above the sea, which is visible, both westward, beyond the high round castle of Doonegore, at the north end of the cliffs of Moher, and southward, in Liscannor Bay. Turning from the Toomaghera road into the craggy fields we enter the townland of Cahermakerrila. Beyond it lies the other large townland of Cahermaan.

The names of these lands (so far as I am aware) first appear as Cathair lapain and Cathair medhain in the O’Brien rental, usually dated 1390.[7] No other record is known to me till two centuries later, when we find ‘Kahirlappan’ in the Fiants of 1583 [8] then a deed of settlement of Turlough O’Brien of Dough (Dumhach) Castle at the close of Elizabeth’s reign, in 1602, names ‘Karrowmickerill alias Caherlappane.’ The inquisition on the death of Donat, ‘the Great Earl’ of Thomond, has ‘Cahervickarrelaw and Caher laffan.’ Turlough O’Brien’s inquisition, taken (after his death, August 1st, 1623) in 1627, recites the above settlement, by which he conveyed ‘Cahermakerrilla and Ballyloppane’ to his son Daniel O’Brien, who was born 1579, and was a most kind protector to some of the dispossessed English settlers in 1642. Finally, I need only mention the Down Surveys, 1655, with ‘Karrowmeekereel or Carrowlupane.’[9]

There was probably a name group (such as occurs elsewhere) with the various prefixes; Bally (townland), Carrow (quarter), and Caher (fort), and the compounds mac Irilla or lapane. I may remind my readers that this place should be carefully distinguished from the great fort and townland in Carran parish.[10] The first is locally pronounced Cahermaakerry-laa, the other, Cahermacnole. These forts are called respectively Cahermakerrila and Cahermackirilla on the ordnance maps, but the Carran name is unwarranted by the best records and by local usage.

The Carran fort name is possibly miscopied in the Hardiman copy of the O’Brien Rental, where it is Cathair meic iguil (? iruil). It is possibly the Cahervikellie of the Fiants, 1583,[11] and appears as Cahermacknoull in the inquisition of Morogh O’Cashyn, 1623, and Cahermaconnela in the above cited inquisition, 1627. In 1754, in the will of Dr. Michael Moran (of the family living at Willbrook in later years) we find the same form: ‘I leave my brother, Connor Moran, my part of the farm of Mohermollan and £6 to be paid him yearly during my interest in the farm of Cahirmacnoul and Knockaskeaghine,’ [12] with reversion to the testator’s sons, Patrick and Austin. Lastly, I need only cite Monck Mason’s Survey, where (along with a list of clergy under the heading of ‘natural curiosities’) appears ‘Cahermacconela.’[13] Revision is certainly badly needed in scores of names on the Ordnance Survey maps. Strange to say, in the opening centuries of our era, a Gaulish potter stamped his name, Macirilla, on his fragile wares,[14] which have survived so many wrecks of empires, and may survive others.

The anonymous form, ‘Irial’s son,’ seems old, recalling such names as the local saints (Findclu) inghean Baoith, of Killinaboy, or (Sinnach) mac Dara, of Oughtdarra, also such names as Ardmhicchonail (named with Ardchonaill in the section of the Book of Rights, circa A.D. 1000, among the king of Munster’s nominal residences in Thomond in this district) and perhaps Cahermacconnell and Caherconnell.[15]

Cahermakerrila was called after a local family, a branch of the Corcamodruadh (O’Conor and O’Loughlin) tribe, called Slicht Irriell, from some ancestor, who bore the name Irial, which occurs in the tribal descents from the 14th century down. In 1396, Irial ua Lochlain, son of Rossa, Lord of Corcumruadh, was killed by treachery, in revenge for Maelshechlainn ua Lochlain, whom he had previously slain.[16] As the ‘mac Irilla’ form of the fort name does not appear in 1390 it is possible that it originated from some son of this chief about 1430 or later. Of course this does not prove that the founder lived so late; forts are commonly called after their later occupants, as in Co. Kerry.

The ‘Sleyht Irryell’ held lands in Gragans barony (Burren) in 1586, and joined in the ‘Composition of title’ between Sir John Perrot and the Clare gentry. In 1591, Irial son of Rossa (an interesting repetition of the ancestral name two centuries earlier) [17] and others of the posterity of Mealaghlin O’Loughlin, of Ballyvaughan and Benroe (Binroe) Castle, made an agreement with Donat, the fourth Earl of Thomond, on the lines of one made by their predecessors with the Earl’s great grandfather, Conor, before 1540. They undertook not to mortgage or sell (even) a sod of land, or any castle, without Donat’s consent, and to submit to his decision, subject, in certain cases, to the arbitration of Boetius Mac Clanchy, John, son of Tornea O’Maelconary, and Owen O’Daly.[18] A copy of the deed remained with Mac Clanchy (the chief brehon), and is found among the Mac Curtin MSS. in the Royal Irish Academy.

The later history of the place tells us but little of moment. Piers Creagh, of Limerick City and Adare, was transplanted by the Cromwellians to Burren, about 1655. The family traditions are valueless; there is nothing to show that the Creaghs were O’Neills;[19] they are called ‘Russell, alias Creuagh, of Adare,’ in the late 13th and 14th centuries.[20] There is nothing whatever to support the tale that the O’Quins exchanged these lands for Adare with the Creaghs. Myth centres equally round the Quins and Creaghs of the latter village. From the rich callows and oak woods of the Maigue the family was brought to the bare uplands of Burren, and later we find them in the goodlier heritage at the old chief castle of the Mac Namaras at Dangan ivirgin near Tulla, where their representatives are still found. In 1664 Piers was confirmed under the Act of Settlement in ‘Cahermakerilla or Caherlappane,’ and other lands; I know of no later mention of the older alias- name.

As to names of forts with personal compounds in Co. Clare much of interest could be written. Leaving out the mythic Fearbolg Irgus, whose name is connected with Caherdooneerish, at the beginning of our era we have Lismacain near Magh Adhair, named from Macan, slain in the raid of king Flann to the latter place in 877.[21] Cahercommaun is possibly called after Comán king of the Corcamodruadh, whose son died in 702, and Duntorpa from Torptha, another king of the tribe in 750. Grianan Lachtna, near Killaloe, is most probably called after the early chief Lachtna (whose ‘camp’ was on the slope of Cragliath above the Borhaime Ford [22] at the raid of king Felimidh of Cashel, about 840) rather than from the later king, uncle of king Brian. We have met many such names in Co. Clare, Cahermacclanchy, Caherhurley, Cahermurchadha, Cahershaughnessy, Cahermacnaughten, Cahermaccrusheen, Cahermacrea, Lismehan, Lissoffin (Lios Aedha fionn) and others.