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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: Carrownakilly Townland

Site C: STONEFORT (Cahernacalla)
   
6” O.S. Sheet number : 42 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 3.5 cm South; 38.4 cm East
Height : c. 85’ O.D.
Shape : irregular (see site plans)

Carrownakilly C (Cahernacalla): inner enclosure, A, from the interior towards bank area to the south-west
Carrownakilly C (Cahernacalla): inner enclosure, A,
from the interior towards bank area to the south-west

Description of site:
“… The Caher (stonefort) may be described as “a cliff-fort without a cliff”, being of that characteristic plan – two rings, one entire, the other more or less crescent-shaped… However, instead of abutting on a precipice or steep slope, it runs down into the marshy edge of a shallow lake…”
Westropp, 1908, Pages 227 – 228.

Site plan number 1
Site plan number 1

During the course of his 1908 article Westropp makes reference to the above site plan. Concerning it he states:

“…The structure had a central circular enclosure (A, above)… From it radiate a series of earthworks, five (6?) in number (B, above). The whole is included in an irregular curved rampart, 13 feet 6 inches wide (3.88 metres) faced with large stones and filled with earth and small blocks (C, above); outside this is a fosse of the same width (D above) and traces of an outer mound (i.e. bank) (E above). The caher is 366 feet (44 metres) across at the lake between the horns of the rampart…”

Based on a combination of Westropp’s 1908 article and field work (1977-1979) what can be said about this interesting site? This is described as being a stonefort by Westropp though field examination failed to find any real evidence to support this. In a number of areas the “banks” (?) have been damaged by cattle and sheep and such damaged areas show these features consisted of essentially earth with some small stone. Westropp stated that the irregular curved rampart (C. on Site Plan No. 1) is “…faced with large stones and filled with earth and small blocks (stones)…” This may have been the case in 1908 but no trace now (1979) survives of a stone facing. In all probability the stones were removed and used in the erection of some of the stone boundary walls in the area about the site.

Thus while the outer “rampart” was stone faced what of other parts of the site? What are called the “irregular curved banks” (B. on Site Plan Number 1) are also referred to as “earthworks”. Beyond the fosse reference is made to an outer mound, i.e. an outer earthen bank (E. on Site Plan Number 1). What then of the small enclose. Westropp when he says stone in all probability, based on field work, meant stone faced (A, on Site Plan Number 1).

Thus based on the 1908 article plus field work we may suggest that this unusual site had earthen and stone defences. (See Site Plan Number 2).

The plan provided by Westropp (1908) is to scale and it gives one a good idea as to the features of Cahernacalla. However more detailed information is required to add to the few measurements previously given. (See Site Plan Number 3):-

The small enclosure (A. on Site Plan Number 1) can not now (1979) be examined to the extent suggested by the 1908 plan. The area between the centre of this enclosure and Ballycar Lake is covered by vegetation of a permanent and heavy nature. Thus only the north-western half of this enclosure area can be measured. The internal measurements here were 16 metres north-east to the area of the vegetation and 27 metres along the limit of this covering. The former stone faced bank defining this probable habitation area now averages only ½ metre in height (maximum ¾ m. to the west) by an average width of some 3 metres. The original entrance may have been from the south-west via a now 3 ½ metre wide gap. However we cannot be certain if this was in fact the original entrance as the remainder of the wall over the south-eastern part of the site is heavily covered by vegetation.

Radiating from this small enclosure are a series of 5 (6?) separate earthworks (B. on Site Plan Number 1). On Site Plan Number 3 I have numbered these, starting with the most southerly one. The original 1908 plan shows that this feature had two parts, i.e. the main earthwork and a smaller one running from it to the west. Now (1979), due to the nature of the vegetation covering, it was no longer possible to study the full length of the main earthwork (See Site Plan Number 3). Fortunately the smaller, attached, earthwork could be followed along it full 14 metre length. It only averaged ½ metre in height.

The second earthwork can be followed along its full 35 metre length, running from the enclosure to the rampart (stone faced bank). The height varies from ¼ to ¾ metre with the maximum towards the centre.

The third earthwork is no longer in as good a condition as suggested by the 1908 plan (See Site Plan Number 3). A 23 metre stretch is now missing leading from the small enclosure to the rampart to the west. The 30 metre stretch that survives averages only ½ metre in height though reaches almost 1 metre in the central area.

The fourth earthwork was found, on field examination, to be in a condition similar to that suggested by the 1908 plan. Part of this bank, against the so-called rampart, is now covered by vegetation.

The fifth earthwork can be followed along its full 33 metre length. The height varies from ¼ to ½ metre with the width centring on 2 metres.
A sixth earthwork, suggested by the 1908 plan, is in an area now heavily covered by vegetation.

What of the rampart (i.e. stone faced bank)? This, as Site Plan Number 3 shows, is now covered by heavy vegetation in areas, especially to the north-east. Generally speaking the feature is best represented to the south-west where it averages ½ to 1 metre in height and 3 metres in width. Where it can be traced to the north it only survives to a height of ½ metre and a width of 2 ½ metres.
Like the rampart the fosse is also covered by vegetation in areas (See Site Plan Number 3). However it tends to be fairly well preserved over much of the site. The average width centres on 5 metres while the depth is only ½ metre (3/4 metre maximum) below the surrounding field surface.

The outer bank can now be followed over a 153 metre stretch with some 50 metres extra covered by vegetation. This feature tends to be poorly represented with an average height of less than ½ metre and a width of 1 ½ metres.
The original entrance through the outer bank, fosse and “rampart” would seem to have been from the west. Field work noted a 3 metre gap here and no similar gap was noted over the rest of the site.

Certainly Cahernacalla must have been a very impressive site in its day and must have been constructed by a person of great wealth and power. The small enclosure was probably the habitation area while livestock could be kept between the rampart and the previously mentioned habitation area. Could the various earthworks have been lines of division, keeping animals in different areas? Presumably there were a number of house sites within such an area but field work could find no trace of these.

Site Plan Number 2
Site Plan Number 2

Site Plan Number 3
Site Plan Number 3

Carrownakilly C (Cahernacalla): Photo along the fosse, to the south-west, with traces of the inner stonefaced bank (to right) and outer bank (to left) visible
Carrownakilly C (Cahernacalla): Photo along the fosse,
to the south-west, with traces of the inner stonefaced
bank (to right) and outer bank (to left) visible

Carrownakilly C (Cahernacalla): Main entrance into the site, from the west. The metre stick marks the gap in the inner, stonefaced, bank
Carrownakilly C (Cahernacalla): Main entrance into the site, from the
west. The metre stick marks the gap in the inner, stonefaced, bank

 

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