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

Part VI: Knockauns Mountain:
Caherdooneerish; House Ring; Caherdoonteigusha; Aghaglinny; Ballyallaban Rath

Caherdooneerish (O.S. 1)
The fort of Irgus,[9] a contemporary of Queen Medb, is on the summit of Black Head, about 650 feet above the sea. It is locally called Dunirias and Caherdooneerish.[10] I revisited this fine upland fort with Dr. Hugh G. Westropp in 1914, getting an unusually clear view to Mount Nephin and the Curlew Hills 60 to 70 miles northward. Some treasure-seeker had cleared out the gate, which I was able to plan. It is 2 feet 9 inches wide; its lintel, measuring 6 feet 2 inches by 2 feet by 9 inches lies before it; the piers are 6 feet deep, then the wall sets back to the north for 6 feet to what was either a ramp or flight of steps, as the terrace remains, being 5 feet high. Farther on is another slope beyond which the terrace is only 2 feet high: it is 3 feet 7 inches wide. The outer section of the wall is 6 feet higher (10 feet outside to the north, 13 feet high south from the gate); it is 6 feet 3 inches thick on top, with no batter, but bowed out in parts. The terrace can be traced all round. There are no hut sites in the garth or round the fort outside.

House Ring
Close beside the new road, and south from the long wall running down the western flank of the bluff, are two ruined cottages. Between them is a curious little oval house ring, shown on the 1839 map - not on the new one. It is of large blocks rising about 4 feet over the field, and is about 30 feet north and south, and 33 feet across; it is full of rich earth, and overgrown with brambles and hawthorns, covered with flowers: it was unusually full of birds on our visit.

Caherdoonteigusha
This fort [11] stands on a low knoll beside the new road and under the old road round Black Head. Just behind it rises an ivied rock terrace, and its walls are pierced and nearly hidden by the knotted ivy. A cottage has cut into the north-west flank, and the garth is cultivated. In face of all this, I had passed it by in 1885 and 1895 without recognising its character, despite the guidance of a map. What can be seen of the wall shows it to have been of large good masonry, with packing of round field stones. The inner face is everywhere gone; the wall was about 10 feet thick, and, though gapped here and there, is for the most part from 5 to over 6 feet high. The highest reach, next the road, is so ivy-capped that I could not measure it. The fort is oval, about 125 feet north-west and south-east, and 100 feet in the other axis, over all. The name, and even the fact of its being a cathair, seems forgotten. It has a fine view of the Aran Isles.

Aghaglinny (O.S. 2)
Ascending the old zigzag horse track behind Gleninagh peel tower and church, leading over the mountain to Feenagh, and now rarely used, we reach the summit to the west of the pass, in Aghaglinny South. There I was amazed to find a large earthen fort on the bare crags. One recalled the legend of the Firbolg serfs in Greece, toiling up the bare hills with their bags of earth. Who conceived the idea of such a fort, if fort, it were? The most gigantic cathair could have been raised more easily there from the loose slabs. I hardly venture to suggest that it was a temple;[12] the gods could repay such a work, but for human ends it was labour lost. A stone wall had been a better shelter and defence than it. Perhaps it was for some ceremonial purpose, like the mound of Magh Adhair or the great marsh-carn of Carnconnachtach, probably the inauguration place of the Corcamodruadh. If so, was it where the Eoghanacht chiefs were installed?

Leaving these unanswerable speculations, we turn to facts. The fort rests on the bald summit of the hill, 1,045 feet above sea. It overlooks nearly all Galway Bay, with its shores and the Aran Isles, the nearer of which look strangely near from our lofty standpoint. The ‘fort’ is a long oval platform of earth 6 to 10 feet high and exactly twice as long as wide, being 246 feet east and west, and 123 feet north and south. It is revetted with a facing of dry stone for the most part thrown down by the pressure of the earth.

The carn of Doughbranneen is seen lower down, but Caherdooneerish is hidden below the cliff. Descending into the wide valley towards Feenagh we reach in a lonely, utterly secluded spot, a fine ring wall, lying south-east from the summit. It is 240 feet inside and 260 feet over all, an unusual size in this district. The wall is of large blocks, well fitted, and usually from 2 feet 6 inches to 3 feet long and high: it is from 6 to 7 feet high and 10 feet thick, rarely less than 5 feet; the batter varies from 1 in 4½ to 1 in 7. The gateway faces the south (by compass), its passage is 7 feet wide, but the ope is defaced. There are traces of enclosures in the garth, but I could get no general view, as on my visit in 1906, the whole was filled with most luxuriant meadow-sweet in full flower, and often 4 feet high. The fine crescent fort of Lismacsheedy, already described in this series of articles,[13] lies at the end of this valley.

Ballyallaban Rath
Ballyallaban Rath

Ballyallaban Rath (O.S. 5). - This fort, as being an earthwork, was only slightly noted by me in 1901.[14] It is one of the finest in the county, next to Bealboruma and Liscroneen; it stands beside the road in the bottom of Glenarraga, just below the great Cathair,[15] in a pleasant spot, well planted and well watered, girt on all sides, save the north, by the impressive terraced hills of grey and dove-coloured limestone. The outer ring was a drystone wall. The fort, with its stone-faced inner mound, once closely resembled one of the two ringed ‘cahers’ of the district; but when an enemy scaled the outer wall he was confronted by a deep fosse and swept by showers of stones from the high inner rampart. The outer defence was removed, probably when the road was made, and only the foundations, and here and there large blocks remain; it was 12 to, perhaps, 18 feet thick. Inside this is the fosse, fed by several springs, and 6 to 10 feet deep: it is 9 to 14 feet wide in the bottom. The inner ring is nearly perpendicular, so I presume that the revetment was removed in fairly recent days. It rises 8 to 9 feet over the garth, and 13 to 15 feet over the fosse, being 23 to 27 feet thick below and 6 feet on top, well preserved, and 430 feet in circumference. The garth is oval, 90 feet across north and south, by 111 feet east and west. It is planted with beech and sycamore, the ring being closely overgrown with hawthorn and hazel. The gateway, with a gangway, faces east; apparently the revetment continued so as to form built gate piers, and, I presume, a lintelled entrance at the gap,[16] probably reached by a trunk or plank across the ditch, like Doon fort. There is no local name save ‘the Rath.’

 

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