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

Part VI: Knockauns Mountain; Liscoonera; Cahermoyle; Cairns; Bawn; Caherbeg; Other Forts

Knockauns Mountain (O.S. 4)
Eastward from Caherduff fort,[1] about a mile and a quarter away, lies a curious group of ring walls, seeming, with one exception, to be late and decadent. They lie on that ancient road from Ballinalacken to Faunaroosca, where it joins the steep zigzag laneway from St. Columkille’s Church at Crumlin,[2] rising past the nearly levelled rectangular cathair on its rock ledge. To the east lies the shale dome of Knockauns. On its broad limestone base, rising 220 feet above them, and 976 feet above the sea, lie several forts. They command, like Caherduff, the whole Killonaghan Valley and the bluff Black Head, looking westward across the waves to the Connemara Peaks and Slyne Head.

The old roads are worth noting; the main one runs from Cahermac-crusheen past Oughtdarra. Beyond Knockauns Mountain, it runs northward, past Faunaroosca round castle and Ballyelly forts [3] over the mountain. It dips into the Caher Valley, near Formoyle, and runs up past Caheranardurrish, down through the Feenagh Valley, past the great forts of Caherfeenagh and Caherlismacsheedy [4] to Glenarraga, opposite the Ballyallaban forts. It then runs round the mountains past Lough Rask, Muckinish Castles, Bealaclugga Creek, and Corcomroe Abbey, up to the Carker Pass into Co. Galway. By it, apparently, the Siol Muiredaigh, in 1094, invaded the Corcamodruadh.[5] The latter, under Tadhg, son of Ruadri ua Chonchobhair, checked them at Fiodnagh (Feenagh) in a desperate but drawn battle, and they were glad to retire, both sides having lost heavily. Readers of the Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh will remember the appearance of the odious banshee Bronach to Prince Donchad and his army at Loch Rasga, and the fierce ‘Battle of the Abbey’ in 1317, as well as the ambuscade in which king Conchobhair Ruadh ua Briain fell in the wood of Siudaine near Muckinish in 1267.[6]

A small ring wall stands on the edge of the bluff, very like Caherduff, save for its poor late-looking masonry and irregular plan. It has a very flat curve to the south-west, then an abrupt turn, nearly an angle, as at Caherdooneerish. Much was levelled when two cottages were built in its garth, but the northwest segment was kept for shelter. The wall had two faces and large coarse filling. The inner face is of small ‘stretchers,’ the outer of larger slabs. It is 7 to 8 feet high, bulged and irregular in its lines.

A large fort, indifferently called Cahermoyle and Caher-more, lies about 300 yards from the last, about 770 feet above the sea. It is evidently the chief and oldest fort of the group, being of fine masonry and on the choicest site, overlooking a shallow grassy hollow, invaluable for keeping cattle under its occupants’ eyes, but hidden from the rest of the plateau. The fort is circular: its wall, 7 to 8 feet thick, of large, regular courses, and still over 5 feet high, with a batter of 1 in 7. Only three courses remain to north and west, and there is little or no debris, so that evidently all the smaller stonework was removed for road making. It measures 122 feet over all and about 105 feet inside; there are no house sites.

A low heap of stones lies in Derreen West, just beyond the road, and 755 feet above the sea; west from it is another low grassy mound of earth and stones, also probably sepulchral.

A late enclosure lies about 700 feet from the last and the same distance from Cahermoyle. It was probably a late cattle-pen, being poorly built of long blocks with field-stone filling. It has no describable plan, and is about 42 feet across at the widest point. The wall is in parts 5 feet high, and rarely over 4 feet thick; it resembles some of the 17th century enclosures near Leamaneagh Castle.

The southern end of the grassy depression is guarded by a well-built little ring wall, about 300 yards from Cahermoyle on a slightly rising crag. It is correctly shown as a fort in the 1839 map, but not in the later survey. It is regularly oval, 70 feet across east and west, 86 feet north and south, and is built of large shapely blocks, with many upright joints, like the masonry of Cahercloggaun; the inner face, as usual, is of far smaller stones, and but little remains. The wall is 6 to 7 feet thick, 9 feet high to the north, and 5 to 6 feet elsewhere, save where is in nearly levelled to the south. The gateway faces the latter point, but only its west pier remains. Several walls cross the garth.

Caherbeg, Masonry
Caherbeg, Masonry

Three more ring walls, now nearly levelled, lie eastward near the new road. One is in Derreen South (a long townland named from a long destroyed little oak wood),[7] another in Knockauns Mountain; both are low rings of mossy stones, the third is barely traceable. A more substantial one, but reduced to a heap, stands on a low crag, beside another grassy hollow suitable for cattle. Most of these little flimsy ‘Mohers’ and ‘Cahers’ are probably late bawns, degenerate representatives of the great ring walls of Ireland, Britain and the Continent. They are, however, far superior to the ‘pounds’ and ‘bull parks.’ Even these last are called ‘Caher’ and ‘Moher.’ ‘It was my father built these Cahers’ said a little boy proudly to me at Doolin.

The upland of Elva has no forts, and was doubtless once a vast ‘booley’ [8] where cattle were sent to feed in summer. The herds could easily be driven near the forts in cases of sudden alarm.

The new road runs across the boggy upland with deep gullies and runnels, rich in water-loving plants. At the crown of the ridge we overlook Munster for 70 miles to the blue peaks of Corcaguiny, out to Mount Brandon and back to the Galtees and the Silvermines. Hills in five out of the six Munster counties are visible, and Connemara is behind us. Thence the steep road runs past the ancient church and curious well, holy tree and pillar stone of Kilmoon, past Knockateeaun back to Lisdoonvarna.