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

Part IV: Moher Ui Ruis; Lehinch; Dooneeve; Cahers

Moher Ui Ruis
On the Hag’s Head (the ancient Kan Kalye of the sixteenth century topographers) stood a promontory fort named Moher which gives its name to the great cliffs at that place. It was unfortunately levelled as material for the telegraph tower, built in its ambit in 1808. It is probably commemorated on the modern name of Cahermoher Bridge, not far to the south - and is (so far as we know) the only promontory fort on the mainland coast between Donegal Head, near Beltard, and Dunnamoe, in Mayo. It was standing in 1780. John Lloyd, in quaintly inflated language, describes it in his Impartial Tour in Clare. ‘On this western cape or headland lies the famous old fort Ruan, called Moher. . . the summit of a very stupendous cliff surrounded with a stone wall, a part of which is up. Inside of it is a green plain. . . This wonderful promontory, almost encompassed by devouring seas, and the opposite wild coast, really affords a horrible and tremendous aspect, vastly more to be dreaded than accounted.’ If we consider the tower as made of the material of the fort, the masonry must have been very small. It commands a beautiful view of the coast from Connemara to Beltard. The forts of Dun Conor and Dun Oghil, and (unless we are mistaken) Dun Aenghus, in the Aran Isles, are visible from these cliffs; and beyond them, the furthest outpost of old Thomond towards America, the lofty lighthouse on the Brannock rock is clearly seen.

Lehinch (O.S. 23)
This little watering-place deserves its name as being on a peninsula between the sandy, stormy bay and the creeks behind the shattered many-windowed tower of Dough. To the north of the castle and creek is a furze-covered knoll in a marsh, which may be a crannoge. Some distance along the Dael river is an excellent example of a rath, with deep fosse and outer ring, near New Bridge. In the townland of Dough, near the railway, are two neat, green raths called Parknareliga and Parknalassa forts; each has a raised centre, a fosse, and an outer ring. South from Lehinch is the dolmen of Calluragh described by Miss Parkinson in the Journal for 1901.[10]

‘ Doonmeeve,’ as it is named on the maps, seems to have been a fort of considerable importance. It is called ‘Doon Ivagh’ and ‘Doonmihil’ by the country folk, and lies on the cliff near the Protestant church. Only two segments of fosse remain, cut deeply into the slope. The inner (western) is 10 feet deep, 9 feet broad at the bottom, and 30 feet at the top, cut into drift and shale rock. The second trench lies 46 feet away, and is from 6 feet at the bottom to 22 feet wide at the top, and 6 feet deep. The inner ditch is dry, but water runs down the outer. The greater part of these trenches has been so completely filled in as to leave hardly a trace. From the rapid inroads of the sea in our time [11] I find it hard to believe that they represent a promontory fort. The place has some interesting folk-lore attached to it, and is to some degree protected by its very repute. One man, at no distant date, attempted to till its garth, and was struck down as if dead. His wife, a ‘wise woman’ who ‘had witchcraft,’ on hearing the disaster, rushed to the nearest fairy spot and did charms. She then went to Dooneeva and ordered its unseen occupants to bring back her husband at once; the man, to the surprise of everyone, revived and recovered consciousness; while a stick was taken away as a substitute. Non-miraculous explanation seems very easy; but I believe all the ritual was done and said in perfect good faith. The traditions of this district are still to be harvested; I formerly attempted in these pages to give briefly those relating to the lost island of Kilstapheen or Kilstiffin,[12] still a reef (the sea breaking over it at low water) at the mouth of the bay, and, as such, marked on our charts. Near Moy is a battle legend, possibly an echo of that terrible frontal attack, up Bealanchip hill, in 1573, in a civil feud of the O’Briens. The legend, however, asserts that ‘a Dunbeg man’ took the cattle of ‘Stapheen,’ who set out in pursuit, and overtook the robber at Bohercrohaun. Both sides fought heroically, but in the excitement and struggle Stapheen lost the key of his island, and it at once sank under the sea. Once in seven years its golden domes rise over the green waves, but with ill omen to anyone who sees them, for the beholder must die before they reappear when seven more years have passed by.

Besides the forts we have examined in this barony in Killilagh, at Doon, and at Ballykinvarga, a few Caher names must be collected. In Kilmacreehy parish was Caherycahill, now levelled, and Cahergrillaun in Loslorkan; Caherbarnagh, now levelled; Kahernafurresha, a defaced fort on a low cliff cut entirely by the sea, and so to the west of Liscannor. In Killaspuglonane were Caherlassaleehan; and Caheraderry, the Cathridarum granted by King Donaldmore O’Brien to Clare Abbey in 1189. The Cathair in Doire of the 1390 rental; evidently an oak forest then sheltered the almost treeless slopes. Liscannor fort is said to have been on the site of the harbour, and a few insignificant ring-forts remain in the parish. In Kilshanny parish were Caheraphreegaun, now gone, Caherycoosaun, Caherlooscaun, and Caherreagh, already noted as in Caherkinallia; also the fine cairn of Cairn Connaughtagh, 12 feet to 14 feet high, near the river Dael, and, possibly, the inauguration place of Cairn mic Tail. In Clooney were Cahersherkin (Cathair seircin in 1390), Caherballagh, and Lisdereenacaheragh in Knockagraigue. It is much to be regretted that no one seems to have collected any description of the forts of this most interesting county till 1839; and then the writers of the Ordnance Survey letters lost an unrivalled opportunity. That we came almost too late to save the folk-lore, and too late to record some most interesting structures and features, must be our excuse that our survey is not richer that it is. For the disturbance of its original system and the out-of-place additions, and possible omissions, in its pages, we can only trust to the forbearance of our readers, and their recognition of the inevitable limitations of one who worked almost single handed in one of the most difficult but richest fields of the ‘prehistory’ of ancient Ireland.[13]