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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: Newmarket Townland

6” O.S. Sheet number : 42 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 0.8 cm South; 49.0 cm East
Height : c. 40’ O.D.
Shape : circular

Description of site:
“… In the field behind the picturesque old house and garden of Newmarket we find the remains of a typical caher (i.e. stonefort). It has been planted and a side enclosure with a pointed arched gateway to the south built on it. The northern segment on a crag overhanging a marsh is fairly preserved… The wall was 13 ft. (3.74 metres) to 18 ft. (5.18 metres) thick; the gateway of large blocks faced the north; another less certain gate may have been at a gap to the south. The garth (i.e. interior) is 99 ft. (29 metres) across and the whole diameter 117 ft. (34 metres); the wall in places is over 6 ft. (1.73 metres) high…” Westropp, 1908, page 229.

In the introduction to Section 1 of the thesis reference was made to the procedure followed when dealing with archaeological sites. In this I stated that each site in the 90-plus square mile Barony was first visited at an early stage to note, in general terms, its principal features. At a later stage the site was revisited and much more detailed measurements and descriptions taken. (The purpose for this double visit has been stated previously in the introduction).

My file on this site shows that I first examined it, in quite general terms, on the evening of 31-7-1977. On the record card the following is written:-

“…This site has been described in some detail by Westropp (see above) and much of his descriptions still holds true…”

On this record card I have made some references to the general condition of the site, particularly relating to the single impressive stone wall and interesting entrance area to the north-west.
The weak point about my Section 1 procedure was the fact that the initial visit only generally noted the features of the site under study. It was always recognised that the site would be revisited within a short period and, if of sufficient interest, would be photographed. The chances of a site being badly damaged or levelled in the meantime were taken as being very slight. Unfortunately this happened at Newmarket Stonefort A, and at no other site in the 219 townland Barony. This is very unfortunate as the now damaged site was formerly (1977) so impressive.

When I revisited this stonefort on 15-7-1978, less than 1 year after my initial visit, I found that areas of the site had been either damaged or levelled, in the meantime. The following description records the site as I noted it in 1977, along with its present (damaged) condition. Photographs are provided to illustrate this all the more. Further damage is quite possible here, hence the nature of the description of the stonefort now (1980).

Newmarket Stonefort A:
In Westropp’s 1908 article reference is made to a gap in the single stone wall, to the south. While this may have been a second entrance area (main one is to the north-west) the nature of his reference to it does suggest it to be a much later insertion. By the time of my initial visit (1977) this gap had been quite considerably enlarged. Here I found an area, covering part of the site’s south interior and the immediate surrounding field surface, covered by silage. The local farmer had decided to use some of the fort as a silage pit, stones from the impressive stone wall being used as a foundation to this. This damaged much of the southern area of the fort but fortunately still left the other parts largely untouched. One could enter the site via a nineteenth century pointed arched gateway to the south-east, and enter the actual interior through a small gap in the wall. However the most impressive entrance area was from the north-west. This was only 1 metre wide but was defined by cut stone along the 3 ½ metre wide entrance area. The limestone wall here averaged 1 ½ metres in width along this narrow entrance passage. Certainly quite an impressive area.

The interior, in 1977 (first visit) certainly had been heavily churned by the cattle that were moving through it to get at the silage. However such churning was really concentrated near the centre and south, and did not really affect the northern half. Nor was there field evidence to show cattle movement through the main, north-west, gap in the site’s impressive 2 metre high by 2 to 3 metre wide single stonewall.

By 1978 things had changed quite markedly and for the worse.
(See photographs):-

  1. Silage Pit: This has, unfortunately, been extended more into the site’s interior. Further damage has been caused by the lowering of the fort wall to the south-west, obviously to provide further foundation to the pit (Photo 1). Associated with this extension has been the barb wiring of the full site so that cattle can be kept here for periods and be fed from the silage. Such wiring surrounds the site on the outside, 2 ½ metres out from the fort wall. Cattle now move over this full area and have caused considerable damage to the interior and immediate surrounding area.
  2. South-East Entrance: On my first visit to the site (1977) I had noted the presence of an arched gateway to the south-east. This led into a small orchard and then, via a narrow gap, into the site’s interior. By mid-1978 this arch had completely disappeared, along with the orchard. The gap had been considerably enlarged and it is now extensively used by cattle. What was 2 metres wide now averages 7 metres in width.
  3. North-West (Original) Entrance: I have previously described the main features of this narrow, stone defined, entrance area as it survived to 1977. One can only agree that it was quite interesting. All has now changed. Field work in 1978 found that the original entrance had been completely removed and in its place is a wider (4 metre) entrance. Cattle now extensively use this gap and they have been responsible for the churned nature of the ground in the area (Photo 2).
  4. Stonewall: Though this can still be traced over much of the site it is no longer in as good a condition as noted in 1977. Certainly in areas to the north it reaches 2 metres in height and 2 ½ metres in width. However the wall has been further damaged to the south-east, south-west and north-west.
  5. Interior: This is, as stated previously, partly covered by a large silage pit. The silage-free area has been heavily churned by cattle in turn. Based on Westropp’s reference (1908) this circular area has an internal diameter of some 29 metres

The differences in condition of this site over a short twelve month period underlines the importance of regional surveys in archaeology. Without any doubt the folklore that ensured the survival of so many sites formerly is dying out, and associated with such is a marked increase in the rate of site destruction. Archaeological – historical surveys need to be undertaken now.

Photo 1: Newmarket A. Interior photograph of the western part of this stonefort, from the wall to the north. Note the damaged nature of the area
Photo 1: Newmarket A. Interior photograph of the western part of this
stonefort, from the wall to the north. Note the damaged nature of the area

Photo 2: Newmarket A. This photo shows the present condition of what was formerly a most impressive north-western entrance area
Photo 2: Newmarket A. This photo shows the present condition of
what was formerly a most impressive north-western entrance area