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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 2: Chapter 18: Tomfinlough Parish: Mooghaun South Townland
Description of site:
During the course of this description reference will be made to:
In describing the above site as it survives (1980) I propose to deal
In spite of the latter being deemed of sufficient archaeological interest to be made a national monument one can only, on visiting it, be very disappointed. Certainly it was formerly a very impressive structure with its three high and wide walls enclosing an area of 45 acres. Now, while traces of such an impressive structure are quite clearly to be seen in isolated areas generally speaking it is very difficult to note the original shape and features of the site. Why is this the case? Due entirely to the depth of the vegetation cover. Here we are not only faced with the problems of briars and bushes, which were encountered at so many other sites during the fieldwork associated with the thesis, but also many young and mature trees. Their presence has made a thorough examination of the site impossible. Certainly one can follow sections of the stone walls associated with the site but not one of the three main walls can be followed along its full course. Such a covering is not a recent feature of the hillfort as we read:-
“…Parts of the wall can only be examined by creeping through thickets of sloe and other bushes; and the luxuriant bracken, if a less painful, is still an even more concealing obstacle to our labours…” Westropp, 1908, page 221.
During the 1960’s attempts were made to reduce, if not fully clear, the depth of the vegetation covering over this site. Various chemicals were spread and these certainly killed off the lighter covering. For a time, it would appear, the three walls could be followed along their full course. The aerial photograph provided in the thesis (below) dates to this time. In it one will see a very light covering over most of the site, with traces of the walls and two later stoneforts quite plainly visible. Such a photograph is useful in collaboration with various plans prepared by the O.S. and Westropp (1893, 1901). Unfortunately when the covering recommenced its vigorous growth over the past 15 years no further attempts were made to stop it. The site is now, as stated previously, quite heavily overgrown.
Should one intend visiting the site I would suggest February, before the seasonal (heavy) vegetation has had an opportunity to grow. Certainly visits at the height of summer are almost useless, in relation to a detailed examination of the hillfort.
Mooghaun Hillfort (Revised 1901 plan)
Outer Wall and Fosse:
Southern Part of Outer Wall:
Standing at the point where the forest trail cuts the outer wall one will notice some evidence of such a wall to the east and west.
Evidence of Outer Wall, to the West (left) of main Forest Trail:
As stated previously continued movement along this area was rendered impossible because of the vegetation covering (refer to Photo 1, below).
Evidence of the Outer wall to the right (east) of the main Forest Trail:
Measurements for the outer wall in this area are similar to those in the nearby area to the west. The foundations average 4 to 5 metres in width, ½ to 1 metre high (upslope) and 2 to 3 metres high (downslope). Such measurements suggest quite impressive wall foundations but because of the stated moss and general vegetation covering this was anything but the case.
Reference has been made previously to the existence of a “fosse”. Such a feature seems out of place at a site of this nature, built as it is around a craggy hill. However certainly a fosse and outer wall existed and trace of this is quite clear immediately below that section of the outer wall described previously. Here along a 16 metre stretch to the south is a fosse, cut in the limestone. Its measurements centred on 3 ½ metres in width by 1 to 1 ½ metres in depth. The outer wall could also be traced along part of this area and averaged ½ metre high by 1 metre wide. Though now overgrown this outer wall was presumably built of stone which was so readily available in this craggy outcropping area.
Unfortunately further field work in the vegetation covered eastern and western areas failed to find further evidence of either the fosse or outer wall.
Eastern Part of Outer Wall:
Western Area of the Outer Wall:
The Outer Wall – A Conclusion:
Though many young trees grow to the right (east) of this trail it is still possible to follow the middle wall for quite a long distance (refer to Photo 3, below). At a point 50 metres east of the trail, for example, one finds that the wall is 6 to 7 metres wide, due to its crumbled state, and 1 to 1 ½ metres high on average. Because of the sloping nature of the ground the wall foundations are only ½ to 1 metre high upslope by 1 to 2 metres high downslope. Though the terrain slopes it is not as marked as that to the south-east, by the outer wall area.
After the 50 metre break one can follow this middle wall eastwards for a further long distance until one is some 120 metres from the forest trail. Up to this point the stonewall has been easy to follow and it is partly free of moss, unlike the wall below it at a lower level (outer wall). At this 120 metre point the vegetation covering gets quite heavy and this, along with collapsed trees, makes further movement very difficult. One cannot examine the features of the middle wall in any detail along this 30 metre stretch. Fortunately the covering gets lighter and one can again examine the wall foundations in some detail. The most interesting point about this next 45 metre long section is the nature of the downslope drop. There is a sharp drop of some 20 metres downslope at an angle of, at least, 60º. Many of the stones from the middle wall have collapsed and can be easily followed down this slope (refer to Photo 4, below).
Continued movement along this stretch of the middle wall is impossible because of the vegetation covering. However at this point, see the revised 1901 plan, one can see traces of the upper wall, at a distance of only 25 metres upslope. Climbing up and over this top wall one can find further evidence of the Middle wall to the north-east. However for continued study of this centre wall of the hillfort one should follow the recently opened minor forest trail to the north-west of the trig. point. After cutting across trace of the upper wall this trail reaches the impressive grey limestone foundation blocks of the middle wall (see revised 1902 site plan). At a gap in the wall (modern?) one can follow this middle wall to the north-east or south.
Going along the middle wall foundations to the north-east one has an impressive view of Mooghaun Tower House to the west, along with the gently undulating lands of Dromoland estate. Along this stretch movement is easy as the wall is vegetation free. On average the foundations, now in a crumbled state, are 6 to 8 metres wide and 1 ½ metres above the immediate upslope level while 2 ½ metres above the downslope level. As one reaches the northern area of the site continued movement becomes impossible due to the nature of the vegetation covering. The foundation blocks, which were formerly vegetation clear, are now heavily covered by moss.
What about this middle stonewall to the south of the previously mentioned gap? This wall can fortunately be followed along its full stretch until one reaches again the forest trail at Point B (see revised 1901 site plan).
The first 30 metres section of this middle wall is very impressive and clear of vegetation. It averages 8 to 10 metres in width by 1 ½ metres high upslope and 2 to 3 metres high immediately downslope, due to the sloping nature of the terrain. From here one has an impressive view towards the Fergus estuary, to the west. The next 40 metre stretch has a very steep drop, downslope. Here there is an immediate sharp drop of 10 to 15 metres, with much wall collapse along this slope.
The next section is now quite unimpressive after the previously described area. In the place of wide crumbling walls we have a 30 metre gap with little trace existing of this middle wall. What foundation stones occur are very low and moss covered. At first it seems unclear why this section of the wall should be so poorly represented, that is until one comes to the nearby stonefort (Site C). Obviously the readily available stones were removed at a later stage and used in the erection of this stonefort which, as we shall note later, is in quite a good condition. That short section of the middle wall between the stonefort and forest trail, at Point B, is short and poorly defined.
The Middle Wall – A Conclusion:
Inner or Top Wall:
That section of the inner wall to the south-west of the above mentioned gap (c. on revised site plan) can be clearly traced for a 25 metre stretch. Along here the wall foundations are quite impressive with an average width of some 7 metres though the original would have been closer to 4 metres. The grey limestone foundation blocks are clear of all vegetation (unfortunately seasonal growth covers much of it during the summer) and the steep nature of the slope down to the previously described middle wall is quite impressive here. Much of this slope is in fact covered by collapse from the inner wall (refer to Photo 5).
Unfortunately this section of the inner wall can not be followed to the point where it meets the main forest trail at Point C (revised 1901 plan). This is due to the nature of the permanent vegetation cover which completely restricts movement along a 35 – 40 metre stretch. This in fact is the only part of the inner wall that can not be examined.
What are the features of this inner wall to the north-west of the previously mentioned eastern gap (Point D on revised site plan)? The first section of this is partly covered by light vegetation, with a moss covering over many of the stones. Fortunately this is a short section and one can again examine the wall foundations in adequate detail to the north. Here the inner wall foundations average 7 to 8 metres in width by ½ to 1 metre high (upslope) and 2 to 2 ½ metres high downslope. The vegetation covering to the north of this wall is quite heavy and such a covering has hindered examination of the two lower walls to the north. As one moves to the north-west this inner wall again becomes more difficult to follow, with the vegetation and moss covering getting heavier. Fortunately this stretch only lasts for 20 metres after which one comes to an open, largely vegetation free, area. This section stretches for some 50 metres and from it one has a clear view of the middle wall below one with Mooghaun Tower House in the distance (west) (refer to Photo 6, below). In this area the top wall of the hillfort averages 6 to 7 metres in width by c. 1 metre high (upslope) and 2 to 2 ½ metres high downslope.
The final part of the inner wall, heading south-east towards the forest trail at C (revised 1902 plan), is quite difficult to follow. It is quite heavily covered by vegetation and movement through it is very slow and quite difficult. In places the visible wall foundation is only 2 metres wide and covered by moss. The drop in slope is quite marked here and below one – between the trees – is later stonefort C. A short distance beyond this is the forest trail.
The Inner Wall – A Conclusion:
Mooghaun Hillfort – A Conclusion:
How would one define a hillfort? The usual type of definition says that it is a hill site, the defences of which followed the contour lines. An examination of the relevant 6” O.S. sheet will show that, allowing for slight variations due to steep slopes, the site on Mooghaun Hill can rightly be regarded as a probable Iron Age hillfort. The actual erection of such an impressive structure was a truly tremendous achievement.
Consider the organisation required to quarry, transport and erect the three lines of defensive walls. Without doubt the group involved must have had considerable wealth and power to support such an undertaking. Consider the work involved now to erect a 4 to 5 metre wide, perhaps 3 to 4 metre high and, in all, 2,262 metre long dry stone wall. Indeed it would be a most difficult job – but such work was done perhaps over 2,000 years ago without the use of modern technology and equipment. Mooghaun Hillfort is truly a magnificent monument to, and achievement of, a long past people.
REFERENCES TO MOOGHAUN HILLFORT