Clare County Library
Clare Archaeology
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | OS Maps | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

Archaeology of the Burren: Prehistoric Forts and Dolmens in North Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Part IV: Glasha Group: Cahermaccrusheen; Cahermaclancy; Glashamore; Glashbeg; Caherglasha; Ballyvoe; Ballycahan; Teergonean; Other Forts

Beginning in this townland we find the remains of two cahers, nearly levelled; the more southern one, at the old bohereen, from Shanbally, gave its name to the place. At the boundary wall, next Cahermaclanchy, is a heap of blocks which marks a dolmen. It fell, or, as some say, was ‘struck by a thunderbolt,’ after 1890; and was a cist of the usual type of four slabs and a cover, embedded in a cairn. The sides are each about 10 feet by 4 feet, and lie side by side; over the north one lies the cover, 10 feet by 8 feet 2 inches wide to the west, and 6 feet to the east, being a slab from 7 inches to 9 inches thick. The west end is 5 feet, and the east 4 feet, which shows that there was the usual eastward taper. It is, as usual, named ‘Labba ’iermuth,’ [6] and probably fell when the supporting cairn was removed.

This fort stands on the highest point of the ridge, 302 feet above the sea. From it we look over a wild view, consisting of chasms and crags, to the cliffs of Oughtdarra and Ballynahown. Ballinalacken rises on its lofty crag to the north, amid clustering trees. Southward, we see the remains of several forts, the green hills of Killilagh, the round castle of Doonegore, and the cliffs of Moher, black precipices, the noblest, but only gloomy feature in that bright view; and to the west, the sea out to Aran. The caher is sadly dilapidated; much of the wall hardly rises a yard above the nettle-pestered heaps of debris. It was of fine masonry, the blocks 3 feet and 4 feet long; a few even 5 feet long. A gap in the south probably marks the gateway. An old herdman told me that there was a souterrain in the garth which ended in a deep pit, ‘down into water’; the entrance is now visible, but filled up with stones. The fort is nearly circular; it measures 110 feet over all; the wall being from 9 feet to 10 feet thick. Some 300 yards away to the east is a nearly effaced square ‘moher.’ The maps show also two ring-walls northward towards the sea; these I did not visit, but the site is commanded from the chief caher.

Glasha fort, a circular mound, has been swept away since 1878. About 300 yards to the west of Cahirmaclancy fort, in a field on the border of Glashamore, are the foundations of a small ring-wall, 73 feet internally; the wall is 12 feet thick, of good blocks 2 feet 6 inches square, with small filling; it also has the entrance of a ‘cave’ in the garth. No gap for the gate is visible. The ribbed crags around it are full of the long crimped fronds of the hartstongue fern; and when I last saw it, the fort was like a saucer filled with wild thyme, magenta cranesbill, and golden bedstraw.

Another circular foundation lies in an adjoining field farther to the south-west. Near it is a remarkable cattle shelter, earlier than 1839, thick-walled, and so well built of good blocks as to suggest old work, especially at a semicircular portion with large foundation blocks. It is probably modern, but may have been built out of the material of some levelled forts.

To the south of the ‘cow-park’ are the foundations of two more cahers. About two courses of good masonry and low green mounds mark their sites. They are nearly the same size, 86 feet over all. The more western is featureless, save for a very small cist or slab enclosure, 3 feet wide, and, apparently, once embedded in the wall. Its age is doubtful, but it suggests such cists or ambreys as occur in Kerry huts and (if the restorers were right) at Cloghanmore, in Donegal. Near this fort in the rock are very curious hollows, the shape and size of human footprints.

Caherglasha, the more eastern of these forts, is interesting, though much levelled. It measures also 86 feet across the garth; the wall being 8 feet thick, and in places nearly straight. A gap to the north leads into a souterrain lying north and south for 15 feet; thence for 21 feet further it has fallen, forming a deep, grassy trench; then we meet a lintel 5 feet long, beyond which the passage is intact for 27 feet, and is said to have several small lateral chambers. At the end is a cross-wall 24 feet from the south segment of the wall. The souterrain is thus 63 feet long. The ruin of the northern end resulted from an attempt made many years ago to evict and exterminate a family of badgers which had established itself within the ‘dark and covered way.’

Near these forts are some remains of a massive old straight wall of large blocks, some 4 feet long, and 3 feet high. It runs north-west and south-east.

In the next field, to the south-west, lie the low foundations of a small ring, 40 feet over all. In another field, to the south, is an oval enclosure, 60 feet north and south, 76 feet east and west; near it is a large boulder, resting on several small stones, and the fort walls embody some rough rocks in situ, 4 feet to 6 feet long, and 3 feet high. There is a cross-wall 54 feet from the east across the garth; and to the north an arrangement of rocks, a few feet apart, with a space tapering eastward, suggests a dolmen, but may be natural. Between this and the sea is a huge tower-like rock, called Leagwee, looking like a castle from the lower slopes near Doolin.

Another fort of large blocks, but much broken, adjoins a ruined cottage; a fourth is square about 60 feet each way of large but late-looking masonry, and, probably, an old cattle-bawn. A cave or souterrain lies in the next field to the south-east.

In this townland, which lies between Killilagh church and the sea, are the foundations of three circular cahers; they were only a few feet high even in 1878, when, at the suggestion of the late Dr. William H. Stacpoole Westropp, of Lisdoonvarna, I first went over the ground here.

Teergonean has also got the foundations of three cahers, nearly levelled before 1878; one may have been the Cahergunine of the records. Those and the forts I saw in Doolin are of small very regular masonry; the blocks 2 feet or 3 feet long, 18 inches to 20 inches high, and 2 feet thick, with two faces and small filling. The latter quality probably brought about their collapse, and facilitated their removal. The maps mark another site in Doolin, near the old silver mine. There is a defaced fort in Doonmacfelim; from its position evidently the chief fort of the place. It is named Caheradoon, and lies on rising ground. It is 108 feet across; the wall was removed fifty years ago to make the new road near the school. It may be the Cahergaline (suggesting Bealaghaline), as being near that townland, which boasts yet one more nearly levelled caher. Caheragaline or Cahergaltech, in Killylagh, was granted by Sarsfield to Mr. Foard.[7]

Caherkeily, Carhuekeily or Corkelly, is also named as near this place in the same deed and in the Book of Distribution. Between Caherdoon and the shore road we find two other cahers on a sheet of crag near the sea. The northern measures about 60 feet across, all its facing having been removed. The southern retains its wall, which is 7 feet thick, well built, with two faces, and 4 to 6 feet high, with a batter of 1 in 3. The large lintel of its gate is 7 feet 2 inches long, embodied in a ruined cottage in the garth. The garth is 65 feet across.

Farther to the east are numerous foundations in a field, called, as so frequently, Parc na Caheragh; a ring-wall, 50 feet across; a square moher, 30 feet by 36 feet at 28 feet from the last; and several other old-looking enclosures with large blocks. The sandhills near these have yielded flint implements, and traces of early settlement.[8]

To complete the lists of forts, between the road and the sea, we return past the wrecked peel-tower of Doonmacfelim to Killilagh church. This is a neat structure of the late fifteenth century, but with earlier records. I regret to say that since my brief description [9] was published in 1900, the east gable and window have fallen in the great gale of 1903, which also wrecked Clooney church in the Barony. Near the west end lies a flat-topped, circular mound, the resort, on all occasions on which I saw it, of a crowd of cattle enjoying the breeze on its summit. The top had been dug into deeply; it may be a burial-mound, and is only 90 feet in diameter. A low rath is on the rise to the east of the church.

The conspicuous earthen fort of Knockastoolery is on the hillside above Roadford, on a spur, and, I think, was partly carved out of the hill. It is over 12 feet high, girt by a deep fosse, with a high outer ring; and the narrow summit is crowned by two limestone pillars. The standing one is 6 feet 3 inches high, widening to the top; one edge has corrugations and flutings, to my thinking mere weather-marks, which some have supposed to be ogmic scores. I am satisfied that the other alleged ogams at Cloghanairgid, near Bohneil, and Lismulbreeda cave are mere idle and meaningless scores. The three scores on the slab at Temple Senan on Scattery may or may not be ogmic; and the Callan slab is probably a mediæval scholastic, though evidently far older than the late eighteenth century. The caher near the interesting round castle of Doonegore had been nearly entirely levelled by 1838; only a trace of its northern segment is now to be found.

The little stream which probably gave its name to Glasha, runs southward and sinks near Killilagh church, probably meeting a larger stream past Roadford, which runs over level sheets of rock, losing itself in the shingle and golden sands of the bay near Fisher-street. Above its mouth, on a high knoll, at Neadanea, an extensive and pleasing view is obtainable over the whole site, back to Cahermaclanchy and the cliffs at Ballynahown. On the main branch, called the Aille river, not far from St. Brecan’s church, at Toomullin, are several large earthen forts - Knocknaraha, in Toomullin, Moanbeg, and an adjoining ring, and Aughavinna fort, near the stream. There are few other forts in the parish, only a small one in Gortaclob, near St. Catherine’s; Knockalassa fort, near Lisdoonvarna; and some few sites and defaced earth-rings at Lurraga, Glasha House, and Tonwaun.