Antiquities Near Miltown Malbay

Thomas Johnson Westropp
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Clare County Library

Cahermurphy, Kiltumper and the O'Gorman's
(O.S. Map 48)

Near the western end of the lake a very hilly road leads from Doolough house southwards. It passes over a high boggy ridge called Gortnaneera, which rises 581 feet above the sea and commands a wide view of the coast from Moher to Beltard, and on to the silver thread of Moyarta creek and the round hills of Rehy and Caher Crocaun, near Loop Head, and “two Invers,” Mutton Island and the Kerry mountains, and “a tumbled mass of heathery hills” being plainly visible.

Cahermurphy Castle and Earthworks, from S.W. - T.J. Westropp
Cahermurphy Castle and Earthworks, from S.W. -
T.J. Westropp

As we go down the southward slope we see below us to the right a large stone fort on a knoll, which proves to be no mean hill when we reach it.

The fort is circular, the wall for the most part well preserved, but levelled to the north-west, near the gateway of which hardly a trace remains. The interior garth is 110 feet in diameter. The wall (as so often) is built in two sections, the inner from 4 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 6 inches thick, the outer from 13 feet to 13 feet 3 inches, or, to give the entire thickness, 17 feet 6 inches to 19 feet 6 inches. The inner face is coarsely built in layers of flagstone, but the outer beautifully pieced together in polygonal masonry, small but closely fitted, with a regular curve and straight batter. This batter has the unusual slope of one in four, which was probably due to the builder’s desire to compensate for the weakness of the small material. The filling is large and the whole an unusual and excellent piece of dry stone masonry. There is an accumulation of debris over two feet deep round the base, over which the wall rises 6 feet 9 inches to the west, 9 feet 6 inches to the south and south-east, i.e., 11 feet 6 inches over the field and about 7 feet over the garth. To give some notion of the unusually small size of the stones, I found 24 courses in 9 feet 6 inches. Two small lakes lie at the foot of the hill, which latter, with the fort, forms a conspicuous object in the landscape even from Kilmihil.

Not far to the south is the earth fort of Lisduff (defaced by burials and a late wall), with an oratory-like vault on top. The remains at Kiltumper, lying about a mile east from the road to Kilmihil, are conspicuously marked on all the O. S. maps (even the key map) as “Tumper’s grave.” They have been treated as important by the authors of the O. S. Letters, and are given as a dolmen by Miss Stokes in her list [14]. They are only the base of a small cairn, with a kerbing of slabs never exceeding 3 ½ feet long and forming an enclosure 15 feet east and west by 11 feet north and south. Legend in 1839 said that it was the burial place of a Danish chief, chased from Cahermurroghoo or Cahermurphy by the Dalcassians, slain and buried on this ridge.

Plan of Kiltumper Dolmen -T.J. Westropp, 1902

Plan of Kiltumper Dolmen -T.J. Westropp, 1902

The castle of Cahermurphy lies on the edge of a marshy hollow, near a stream and lake south of the stone fort. Only one side remains, featureless and built of flagstones. It is only remarkable for the great earthworks. The enclosure consists of two great mounds, 10 or 12 feet high, with fosses between and outside. Thence slighter mounds enclose a shield-like enclosure with a rounded end, the longer axis lying east and west. There may have been a ring round the peel tower, but all is much overgrown, and I had little time for its examination. It measures about 355 feet east and west, and 200 feet north and south, being over 50 feet across the ditches.

The chief interest attaching to the place lies in its owners, the MacGormans, or, as they preferred to call themselves, O’Gormans. Of them was the chevalier O’Gorman, an indefatigable, if not infallible, antiquary and genealogist in the eighteenth century. This family, it will be remembered, were of the race of Cathaoir mor, and fled out of their old settlements in Leinster before the Norman settlers early in the thirteenth century. They were gladly received, and “planted” in Ibrickan by Donchad Cairbreach O’Brien. They were known as Ui Bairrché from Daire Barrach, son of Cathaoir mór, and had long dwelt in Slieve Mairgy in Queen’s County, and in the plain near Carlow. Mortough, son of Donchad MacGorman, probably harassed by Walter de Ridelesford, gathered the clan (as Maoilin oge Mac Brody sings) and consulted as to their prospects. They determined to divide and migrate, part to Ulster, part to Uaithné or Owney, in Limerick, and eventually to their settlement “on the edge of the world,” which was re-named Ui bracain from their tribal name. They took no prominent part in history, but lived in good repute for hospitality and trustworthiness among their neighbours, keeping for several centuries houses of free hospitality. Daniel MacGorman, for example, died in 1620, owning Cahermurchada and Drimelihy, which last he had conveyed to Daniel O’Brien in 1594. His sons Conor, Melaghlin and Caher succeeded. Melaghlin was succeeded by his son Dermot. In 1641 Sir Daniel O’Brien, Daniel MacGorman, and the latters sons held the lands. In 1688 they were held by Daniel O’Brien, Lord Clare, from whom they were confiscated, and passed in 1703 to Francis Burton, Charles McDonnell and Nicholas Westby.

As for the castle, if we can trust the “List of Castle Founders,” [15] it was built by Murrough MacFergus McCon. It is not named in the castle list of 1584, at least as published, and is named as Cathair Murchadha in 1600, when the great army of Hugh O’Donnell, encumbered with the spoils of Thomond, swept past its walls.

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