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

Part V: Gleninshen: Caher-Gleninshen; Garracloon Caher; Ballymihil

Gleninshen (O.S.5)
A dilapidated dolmen lies about half-way between the Corkscrew Hill schoolhouse and the dolmens of Berneens and Gleninshen, already described,[23] about a mile and a half to the north-east of Caheridoola, in Rathborney parish, near the trigonometrical mark ‘635’ feet. It is on so dangerous a crag, full of deep fissures, hidden by moss and mountain avens, that, when attempting to reach it from the west, I was completely baffled by a series of dangerous falls, while from the east I was more successful, but got two bad falls, one accompanied by a considerable reach of a lofty dry-stone wall. The monument did not repay the pain and risk; the north slab is 12 feet 3 inches long, sloping eastward from 4 feet to 2 feet 6 inches high, and only 3 to 4 inches thick. At 14 inches from its east end is a cross slab 4 feet 2 inches long, reaching a fragment of the broken south side. It is in a heathery hollow with no outlook.[24] Nearer to Gleninshen are two slabs set north and south in a low cairn, evidently once a small cist. They command a fine view down Glenarraga to Ballyvaughan and across the bay to Galway.

I find I have not yet described in these pages the eastern dolmen of this townland. It is only conventionally separated from the two in Gleninshen, with which it lies in line to the north. It is a fine structure; a simple cist, perfect but for the collapse of one of its southern slabs. The north slab is 12 feet 3 inches long, and from 3 to 6 inches thick; the western is 7 feet long; the cover, like the north slab, has split from its large size and unusual thinness; the cell so covered tapers eastward from 6 feet 6 inches to 1 foot 10 inches, and from 6 feet 2 inches to 1 foot 8 inches high, the north side lying E.N.E. and W.S.W. The dolmen was once covered by a cairn of which little trace remained in 1895.

Dolmens at Berneens and Gleninshen
Dolmens at Berneens and Gleninshen

East from the last-named dolmen (beyond a grassy depression, with a streamlet pouring with quick current from under a rock) lies a late, rude enclosure called ‘the caher.’ It is evidently a cattle bawn, roughly square, of badly built slab walls, with small filling, and 5 feet 4 inches to 6 feet thick. Only near the south-east angle are they even 5 feet high; it measures 120 feet square, and has no foundations in the garth; it closely resembles the dry-stone walls built about Lemeneagh by Sir Donat O’Brien at the end of the seventeenth century.

Garracloon Caher
South-east from the last, on a bold rock knoll, across a winding valley, is an apparently large fort. On climbing the ‘shoulders of sharp crags and windy shelves,’ we find only slight remains, the apparent wall being a low rock-ledge. The fort stands at the upper end of a long, narrow pass from Gleninshen up to the plateau, on the southern platform of the knoll. Its wall is 7 feet thick, of large blocks, evidently largely replaced at a later date by a wall of coarse, flat stones. The garth is oval, 105 feet E.N.E. and W.S.W. by 71 across; it had a side annexed to the south extending down to the pass. It is, I believe, the most silent and lonely place I have been in, even in the ‘silent places of the Burren’; no living thing, not even a bird, was to be seen or heard on either of my visits. It overlooks Poulgorm and Glensleade, already described, out to Elva, Callan, and Inchiquin Hill. Below it, on a rock-shelf to the south-west, is a low ring-wall; two similar ones, also featureless, 100 feet across, with walls 6 feet thick, lie to the west of the main valley. A third, better built ring, lies near the east dolmen of Gleninshen; its wall is only 4 to 5 feet high, and is levelled to the east. All four are evidently cattle bawns, but earlier than the Caher of Gleninshen. The fine ring-wall of Caheranardurrish, and its perfect gateway, lies not far from the southern.

Going south from Garracloon Caher we pass a fifth bawn of fine slab masonry; this is marked (but not as ancient) on the new survey. I re-examined the remains from it to Cragballyconoal,[25] but little need be added to the former notes, save that the great square cathair near the Mackee’s house proves to have had a slab set in the middle of the side wall of the entrance, with its edge out like those in Moheraroon caher, Dunbeg, near Fahan in Kerry, and the Scottish brochs. The cover of the north dolmen had, since my first visit, been pushed out of place, and was ready to fall, so usually is wanton mischief at work in Clare. The slabs set in the rock-crevices near Ballymihil dolmen are very curious, resembling crosses, animals, birds and dragons; they were probably set up to fill the endless leisure of herdsmen, and are usually formed by nature alone. The apparently modern cattle-pen to the north of the ‘White Labba’ of Cragballyconoal is on the foundations of another well-built ring-wall.