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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: Features of Ringforts/Stoneforts of the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare

1. Shape:

“It must not be thought that all the forts are circular though this is true of the majority. Square, rectangular, D-shaped and other outlines occur…” O’Riordain, 1979, 44.

Of the 130 traceable ringforts in the Barony 85 (65%) had a circular shape while 43 (33%) were oval. A few irregular shapes were also noted, e.g. at the double-site in Mooghaun North townland, and the somewhat rectangular site G in Clenagh townland.

Of the 42 stoneforts that could be examined 22 were of a circular shape with the remaining 20 being oval. Three sites had annexes – i.e. Lisconor A, Ballysallagh West C and Ballynacragga A.

2. Presence of Ditch or Fosse:

“…It must be realised that these defences as they exist today are much less imposing than they were in their original state. In the course of time the height of the bank has been considerably reduced by slip and the material from it has fallen into, and to a large extent filled up, the fosse…” O’Riordain, 1979, 38.

A ditch was found in association with 46 (28.5%) of the 165 ringforts. It is quite possible that ditches were associated with other ringforts, but these may, as O’Riordain has said, have been infilled.

As they survive in the Barony (1980) the ditches show a considerable variation in condition. Ringfort A, Leamaneigh Beg Townland, (Site catalogue 1.92) has a very impressive ditch up to 10 metres wide and 3-4 metres deep. On the other hand the neighbouring Ringfort B, also Leamaneigh Beg Townland (Site catalogue 1.95) had a 3 metre wide by only ½ metre deep fosse (destroyed by ploughing in 1978).

Generally speaking ditches average 2-3 metres in width and 1 metre in depth throughout the Barony.

No ditches were found in association with any of the 64 stoneforts in the area.

3. Banks and Walls:

Of the 165 ringforts that were formerly in the Barony of Bunratty Lower (1840) a single bank was found in association with 127 of these (77%) while 38 sites (23%) had two banks. There was no evidence of triple banked sites.

It is quite possible that there were further examples of double banked sites but due to agricultural activity the outer banks may have been levelled, as at Killulla A (Site 1) and Leamaneigh Beg B.

All of the 64 stoneforts were of the single walled type.

As they survive in the field (1979) the banks and walls are now only a trace of their former selves. They average 2 metres in width by 1 metre in height, though there is quite a variation throughout the Barony. Firgrove B, for example, has a bank less than ½ metre high by 2 ½ metres wide. At the nearby site of Drumline C we find a bank 1 ½ metres high by 2 ½ metres in width.

The single walls about the stoneforts also show a wide variation. Newmarket A has a very impressive wall which reaches a height of 2.20 metres, to the north, and a width of 2 ½ metres. On the other hand much of the stone wall around Caherscooby B has been levelled and the stones carted away and used in wall erection, as road foundation, etc.

Throughout the Barony the stone walls average 1 to 1 ½ metres in height by 2 to 2 ½ metres in width.

4. Entrances to Ringforts/Stoneforts:

Only 68 ringforts (41%) yielded clear evidence as to the position of the original entrance. In other cases there were a number of entrances and it was not clear as to which of these may have been the original one. At other sites the partial destruction of the bank meant it was impossible to state with certainty the position of the actual entrance. A third group had a very heavy, full or partial, vegetation cover which restricted movement and made it impossible to locate, with certainty, the original entrance.

Concerning the actual direction, or orientation, of the 68 known ringfort entrances it was interesting to note that while there were some examples over the 8 compass bearings a majority 40 - (60%) – were in the south-east quadrant (i.e. east, south-east or south). A further 19 entrances were in the north-west quadrant, while the remaining 9 were to the north-east (5) and south-west (4).

The south-eastern area may have been chosen as the openings were sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds.

Single entrances were found in association with 22 (34%) of the stoneforts. Again we find a variation in entrance directions, or orientations, though again the majority – 12 – occur in the south-east quadrant. Of the remaining 10 examples 7 are in the north-west quadrant, 2 to the north east and a single example to the south-west. The prevailing wind, again, would seem to have been the dominant influence on the entrance location.

As they survive in the field the entrances now consist of simple openings in the banks or walls of the ringforts/stoneforts. The average width was about 1 ½ metres though there was quite a variation.

There was no field evidence to suggest the existence of elaborate entrance-types similar to those found at such excavated sites as Garranes and Ballycatteen, Co. Cork. Excavation may, of course, yield evidence of such entrance-types.

5. Evidence of House Sites:

“Excavation is not always necessary to reveal the remains of the enclosed houses”.
O’Riordain, 1979, 41.

Twenty four possible house-sites were noted from ringforts and stoneforts in the Barony of Bunratty Lower (see lists A and B overleaf).

Some of the evidence was very clear and consisted of square or rectangular outlines in the site interior (e.g. Lisconor A, Ballycally C, Ballysheen More A). In other sites, however, the evidence was less clear and consisted of either irregular arrangements in stone (e.g. Rosroe B, Bunratty East A) or internal, full or partial, subdivisions (e.g. Ballycannan A).

Fifteen of the stoneforts and nine ringforts yielded evidence of possible house sites.
For possible house sites associated with stoneforts see List A (below).

Townland House Position
Bunratty East, A trace only N W Quadrant
Ballinooskny (Urlan), A 3m square Eastern area
Ballinooskny (Urlan), B 13m x 6 1/2m N E Quadrant
Lisconor, A (a) 11m x 7m N W Quadrant
Lisconor, A (b) Traces only S W Quadrant
Clenagh, A Traces only S W Quadrant
Cragroe, A 7m x 4m N E Quadrant
Cloonmunnia, B 5m x 4m N E Quadrant
Ballynacragga, A semi-circular South
Ballynacragga, C 15m x 9 1/2m West
Ballynacragga, E semi-circular S W Quadrant
Ballysallagh East, A 2 1/4m x 3m N W Quadrant
Ballysallagh West, C 13m x 9m East of fort
Caherscooby, A (a) 3m square S W Quadrant
Caherscooby, A (b) 4m x 3m S W Quadrant
Caherscooby, A (c) 6m square N W Quadrant
Langough, A Trace only Central
Mooghaun South, C Trace only S E Quadrant
List A: Stoneforts

List B (below) shows possible house sites associated with ringforts.

Townland House Position
Clonmoney West, B 2m square S E Quadrant
Killulla, A 9m x 4 1/2m Central
Killulla, D Trace only East
Ballycally, C 13m x 6m S W Quadrant
Ballysheen More, A Traces only N W Quadrant
Ballymacnevin, A 6m x 3m N W Quadrant
Urlan Beg, B 2m diameter Central
Rosroe, B Trace only West
Ballycannan, A Trace only Central
List B: Ringforts

6. Souterrains:

“The vast majority of Irish souterrains are found inside forts. Not every fort contains a souterrain, as is proven by excavation where the whole area of a fort has been investigated and no souterrain has been found”. O’Riordain, 1979, 65.

Five souterrains have been identified in the Barony of Bunratty Lower:

In association with Ringforts:

Clenagh, L. Site Catalogue 1.425-6
Rathfolan, B. Site Catalogue 1.562

In association with Stoneforts:

Lisconor, A. Site Catalogue 1.109
Ballynacragga, C. Site Catalogue 1.514
Caherscooby, B. Site Catalogue 1.643

The problem in relation to this type of feature is that usually there is no surface indication as to its existence. Thus possibly other souterrains exist in the Barony.

7. Associated Field Systems:

A combination of aerial photographs and field work failed, with the possible exception of Ballysallagh West C (1.527-1.531), to find any trace of field systems in association with the 165 ringforts and 64 stoneforts in the Barony. This was not surprising due to the intensity of land use in the area and the probability that trace of any such systems would have been destroyed over the centuries.

8. Evidence of date from excavated ringforts/stoneforts in the Barony of Bunratty Lower:

Only two ringforts in the Barony have been excavated and they both yielded a medieval date (Rynne, 1964):-

Ballycally, C. (Thady’s Hill). Site Catalogue 1.213-7
Garrynamona A. Site Catalogue 1.221-4

While the Garrynamona excavation result has been questioned (Proudfoot, 1970, 45; Barrett, 1975, 35) most writers would accept the important late medieval date for the Thady’s Hill site (O’Riordain, 1979, 32; Proudfoot, 1970, 45). The importance of such a result can be seen when one reads:-

“… The actual evidence for the construction of the rath (ringfort) during the medieval period is slight indeed”. Proudfoot, 1970, 45.

“On the archaeological evidence to date from excavation one might assess the possibility of occupation or use of any individual ringfort… continuing into the medieval times at 5 to 15% and for construction at 0 to 5%...”
                                                   Lynn, 1975 (b), 30.

The question of the date of Irish ringforts/stoneforts will be dealt with in more detail below.