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Letters on the Antiquities of County Clare, 1835 by Eugene O’Curry
transcribed and edited by Brían Ó Dálaigh

Letter V: Forts of Loop Head along the Shannon

Letter from Eugene Curry to George Smith, 21 College Green, Dublin

Lunatic Asylum Limerick,

21 August 1835.

My dear Sir,

The intervention of a wet day enables me to take up my list of forts &c. and as I intend to confine myself to the right bank of the lower Shannon. I will commence by observing that from two miles below Kilrush to Loop Head, a distance of twenty miles, tapering from four miles in breadth to a point; the country is very thickly studded with these primitive remains. This triangular tract is almost equally divided by a line of bog running its whole length, and on the other side of this bog, towards the ocean and the Shannon, the old forts are very numerous, and point out very distinctly by their positions, the divisions of territories among the ancient chiefs and clans of this district at least. Commencing where my last letter stopped, Cill-Fhinídeach, a line of the old forts runs across from Ráth Úna on the Shannon to Lios Mac an Dágha on the ocean, a distance about two miles. Another line runs (east of this nearly a mile) from Carriagholt through Belleh to Cnoc na cCearthamhan on the ocean (from this to near Kilrush the bog makes a decided division of the land). From Carrigaholt east about a mile and a half, a line of seven forts runs from Lios Mhac-Fhinn on the river to Lios Fhinn on the very edge of the bog, distance about one mile. They are all in one townland named Lios Fhinn and have nothing remarkable about them.

About one mile east of this another line of eight forts runs from the river to the bog very close to one another. The sixth only, from the river up, has a name Dún Athaicc, or Lios na Fuadh, and surely it still retains evidence of the political if not physical dimensions of the personages whose names it bears. It occupies the extreme edge of a moderate ridge, which terminates here pretty abruptly, skirted west, south and east by a noisy little stream. The extreme edge of the acclivity is topped by the remains of an earthen mound, circular and very low. Within this circle and at a radius of about three hundred feet, another circular mound, rising to a height of about eight feet on the outside and about thirteen on the inside; say, mean breadth eight feet. Between this and the dún is a fosse of about twenty feet inside, which I believe was kept full of water, though now it is partly choked up with the earth crumbling from the stupendous banks on both sides of it. Within rises the dún, about two hundred feet in diameter, the bank or wall about seven feet high on the inside and about twenty on the outside. There is one large gap or entrance on the east side. There are some appearances of remains of ruins inside, and I am inclined to think that there are some subterranean chambers in it too. I know this spot well, being born and reared within forty paces of it. There are many spots about the place traditionally known as the graves of persons slain in combat by Fuaid na h-Adhairce, such as Tuama Thadhaig Uí Laoghaire, Tuama Cheatharnaicc an Chuíbhrin, and Fuaid na h-Adhairce still maintains a respectable and prominent place in the numerous legends of this neighbourhood, as my bare shins and toes could well attest on many a hard winter night some twenty years ago.

About half a mile east of this runs another line of four forts from the river to the bog; they are inconsiderable and nameless. About a mile east from this another line of four or five forts runs from the river to the bog; they are inconsiderable and nameless, except the lowest which is called Cór Lios from its occupying a little angle made by a small but handsome creek with the river. From this to the Ferry within two miles of Kilrush, the lines at the same distances are quite distinct, though the number of forts is considerably less. Now, after fourteen years’ absence, my recollection (I write from recollection) touching the forts on the north of the bog is not so distinct; however, I am, rather was, very well acquainted with the most remarkable of them. Taking your departure from a point of one mile east of Cór Lios and proceeding due north two miles, you cross the bog and on its northern verge you meet a handsome looking fort. Ráth an Uisge or Lios na Falainge. It is a clean single enclosure, the wall about ten feet high. It is the principal abode of the “good people” of this quarter, and various stories of their good and evil acts are on current record in the surrounding district.

Passing over many others we come to Kilkee where we find a fort worth looking after. It is called Lios an Chairn. It is a plain lios, the wall about nine feet high on the outside, the floor inside on a level with the top of the wall. This striking circumstance passed un-noticed for ages, until about seventeen years ago, a cow got into it and remained there till after her companions made their way home in the evening without her. The owner, on missing her, made his way at once to the field and seeing her up on the fort, apparently resting on her haunches, he approached and was surprised to find one of her hind legs stuck in the ground to the ham; all his exertions to make her pulled it up did not avail, so calling some of the neighbours they proceeded to dig, and after sinking about sixteen inches, they came to a flagged floor and found the cow’s leg firmly jammed between two of the flags; they removed them, released the cow and discovered a narrow passage, raised at the sides with stones and flagged over; they descended with lights and found the whole area composed of narrow passages crossing one another in various directions. They found nothing but some shells and bones. I have not heard that it has been visited since and I am sure it was not fully explored at that time. Convenient to this are Lios Luinneacháin, Lios Duinn, with many others. I will leave you to draw your own inferences from the positions of the forts on the banks of the Shannon, but from what I have shown, you will perceive that ráth, dún and lios are synonymous.

I will not write again till I hear from you.

I remain, my dear Sir, very truly yours,

Eugene Curry.

The hand that writes this has held intimate acquaintance with a spade during the last fortnight.

Taken from RIA, Ordnance Survey Letters of Co. Clare, Ms 14 B 23/24.

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