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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 4: Castles and tower houses c.1500
Chapter 37: Kilconry Parish

FEENISH CASTLE (TOWER HOUSE?)

Nat. Grid Ref. R346622; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: Skyline shot of Feenish Castle Ruins
Photo 1: Skyline shot of Feenish Castle Ruins

R.C. Parish : Newmarket-on-Fergus
Townland : Feenish (Island)
6” O.S. Sheet number : 50 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 7.7 cm East; 3.4 cm South
Height (G.L.) : c. 80’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 143 (Limerick)

For information on this site refer to: a) site plan b) site description c) series of photographs

Site Plan of Surviving Part of Feenish Castle:

FEENISH CASTLE

On checking the reference for this site, see over, one will notice that the castle was built on an island, in the Fergus estuary.

In spite of being constructed on a now, uninhabited island and some distance off the coast (almost 1 ½ miles due west of Kilconry Church) field examination found this site to be in a very poor condition (see site plan above). To make matters worse what existed was covered, in part, by vegetation and collapse.

The main approach to this island site is from the small quay at Ballycally, on the mainland. One goes by boat along that narrow channel between Inishmacnaghtan (Island) and the mainland by Kilconry (see 1” O.S. Sheet; number 143) to reach the Fergus Estuary at Knockacurraun Point. This is opposite Feenish Island though it is necessary to continue by boat to the small sheltered bay in the north central part of the island.

Field examination suggested that people going to the castle would have landed to the west of the bay, at a point below (i.e. south-east) the castle. On landing it is necessary to first cross an area of seaweed covered rocks. These mark the high water line.

Beyond this is an 8 metre wide rising area of grass leading to outcropping rock. The castle was constructed on this outcrop, above the high water mark but with a commanding view over the Fergus estuary.

The site itself, as stated previously, is now in a very poor condition (see Photo 1 and site plan). Field examination, beneath a fairly heavy vegetation cover, found traces of the west wall, with short sections of the north and south walls visible in areas (Photo 2). However most interest was directed at this west wall as it contained traces of a window. This averaged 1.70 m in width, 1 metre in depth and the top of it is 0.90 metres above present ground level. The whole feature was defined by rough stone, all cut-stone having been removed, probably, to construct the outhouse on the island as well as the farm house on nearby Deenish Island.

There are a number of interesting points about this window. Firstly as the site plan shows, it has an inside recess. The far, now damaged, west part of the space suggested it was formerly of the long narrow slitted type. Presumably this space provided some light for the cellar area of the site. Reference has already been made to the fact that the top of this opening is now only 90 cm above present ground level. Emphasis is put on the word “present” as field examination found it to consist of collapse. In most sites the upper part of the window tended to be 3 – 3 ½ metres above floor level. This suggests that there is some 2 metres of collapse on the former floor of the site.

Small traces of the north and south walls survive at this site (see site plan). These 2 – 3 metre long sections consist of uncut-stone the facing having been removed.

Associated Village Site? (Photo 3)
To the south of the castle, in craggy ground, a number of rectangular shaped areas, defined by low banks of earth and stone, survive. Field examination found quite a variation in size – the largest being 19 metres east-west by 12 metres north-south. Smaller enclosures centre on 8 metres (E. /W.) by 5 metres (N. /S.).

What were these? I feel, based on field examination, that here we have the site of a village, in all probability connected with the castle. There is no tradition, or map evidence, of a village here during the nineteenth or twentieth century. Nor does such tradition exist locally. Therefore this cluster of rectangular shaped houses may date to the fifteenth-sixteenth century, the probable time for the construction of this tower house. People in this village would have farmed the fertile drumlin to the east.

Date:
There is no evidence available as to when this tower house was constructed. Westropp makes no reference to it in his 1899 article nor does O’Lionain. The west-wall window type, described previously, is similar to windows from other sites dating to the c. 1470 period. The site on Feenish may have a similar date.

The College List, 1580, makes reference to this site. However there is some slight divergence of opinion as to what exactly it says. O’Donovan (1839, page 142, volume 2) says the site belonged to Brian na Foirry (from “Foraire” meaning of the ambushes). He suggests he may have been an O’Brien.

Frost, (1893, page 189) while agreeing he was known as Brian na Foraire says he belonged to the MacMahon and not the O’Brien family.

REFERENCES (As cited previously)

O’Donovan, 1893, volume 2, page 142
Frost, 1893, pages 189 - 190

Photo 2: Window in west wall of Feenish Castle
Photo 2: Window in west wall of Feenish Castle

Photo 3: Medieval village site, south of Feenish Castle?
Photo 3: Medieval village site, south of Feenish Castle?

 

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