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A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan

Part 1: Commentary: Prehistoric and early Christian sites: Ringforts and Stoneforts

One hundred and sixty five ringforts and sixty four stoneforts are known from the Barony of Bunratty Lower.

A ringfort may be defined as “a space most frequently circular, surrounded by a bank and fosse (i.e. ditch)… The bank is generally built up by piling up inside the fosse the material obtained by digging the latter…”        O’Riordain, 1979, 28.

A stonefort has, as the name suggests, a stone-built wall instead of an enclosing bank and there is normally no ditch in such cases. This type of fort tends to be confined to stony districts.

As O’Kelly has stated (1970, 50) the term ringfort or stonefort is a misnomer as some of the sites so described are not circular and the vast majority are not military sites, even in a very mild sense. Perhaps, in time, with further research a more suitable term will be found. Until that time it is as well to continue using the present terminology, rather than adopt a new one (Proudfoot, 1970, 37).

When I commenced work on this thesis in 1975 I spent some time in familiarising myself with the Barony, in particular by examining a representative sample of archaeological and historical sites. As a result of this fieldwork all the 165 ringforts could be classified as being one of three types:-

Type 1 : Those which follow the natural slope of the ground (116 sites).
Type 2 : Those of a platform or elevated nature, mostly built in marshy areas (21
Type 3 : Ringforts of a terraced nature, built in areas of undulating relief (28 sites).

Within each of these types three subdivisions were noted:-

  A = Site having a single bank only (118 sites)
  B = Site having two banks and a ditch (39 sites)
  C = Site having a single bank and a fosse (8 sites)

Thus in Section 1 of the site catalogue when, for example, “Ringfort, classification type 3B” appears, it means a terraced ringfort (i.e. type 3) with double banks and a fosse (i.e. B).

Note: When referring to the various types and subdivisions we have, of course, to bear in mind the effect of weathering over the centuries. Some double banked sites may now exist in the field as single banked ringforts, perhaps even with the ditch infilled. This has to be borne in mind when we refer to the numbers of the various types and subdivisions.

Figs. 4, 5 & 6 show the main features of the three ringfort types. All the stoneforts in the Barony were of the one type, with no subdivisions.

Classification type 1
Classification type 1

Classification type 2
Classification type 2

Classification type 3
Classification type 3

All of the ringforts in the Barony were visited and by local descriptions, nature of terrain, map work and, in cases, descriptions in periodicals, it was possible to group all such sites into their probable type and subdivision. I had difficulty with a few sites, and such problems – where they arose – are mentioned in the relevant parts of the site catalogue, Section 1.

A second problem encountered during fieldwork was the very poor condition of some sites. In a few cases it was very difficult to decide if the site being examined was a ringfort or stonefort. All possible care was used in reaching a decision, and all available sources used, including local information. In the case of the sites where such a problem arose reference is made to them in the relevant parts of site catalogue, Section 1.

Site Catalogue, Section 1, deals with 165 ringforts, of which 63 have been levelled (1979), along with 64 stoneforts, 18 of which are now (1979) destroyed. As has been previously stated, in Chapter 1, the rate of destruction of ringforts and stoneforts has shown a marked increase in the past decade (1970-’80).