Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 23

Account of towers, castles, &c. or places remarkable for any historical event

THE round towers, that have given rise to so many curious conjectures and disquisitions, are those of:

1. Scattery Island — This tower is about 120 feet high, and, though split almost from the top to the bottom by lightning, is still standing, and is a very beautiful object, and an useful land-mark to seamen. There are also in this island the ruins of a castle, several churches, and a monastery, said to be founded by St. Patrick, who placed St. Senan over it; altogether they make a delightful landscape, viewed from Revenue-hill near Kilrush. This island is about three miles from the shore, and contains about 180 acres of choice land; it was formerly the see of a bishop, and part of Thomond called Clare, but in the 12th century was united to the see of Limerick. A priory was founded here by St. Senan in the 6th century, the monks of which were said to have been so chaste, that they never even looked at a woman, nor did they even suffer one to land in the island. It is recorded in St. Senan’s life, that during his residence in the island, (which was then called Inis Cathay,) a ship arrived there, bringing fifty monks, Romans by birth, who were drawn into Ireland by the desire of a more holy life and a knowledge of the scriptures. This island, called also Inisgatha or Inisga, the island in the sea, situated in the mouth of the Shannon, one of the most convenient harbours for the Danish and Norwegian invaders, who generally came north about round Scotland, was for a long time a bone of contention between them and the Irish, and from the multitude of those round forts, said to be thrown up by the Danes(*1) in the adjoining parishes in the west of Clare, it is likely, that the Danes were very strong in this quarter.

From the Annals of Munster, Act. 55. p. 542, we learn, that in the year 975 Brien Boroimhe king of Munster, at the head of twelve hundred Dalgais troops, assisted by Domnhall king of Joamhuein, recovered the island of Iniscattery from the Danes, by defeating Iomhar,(*2) the Norman, and his two sons Amhlaib and Duibheann. Eight hundred of the Danes, who fled thither for safety some time before, were slain in this battle. From this and other battles in Scattery, together with its containing formerly eleven churches and the priory, all with church-yards, some of which are popular burial-places to this day, the entire soil of this island is strewed with fragments of human bones. In some places, where the sea has worn away the cliff perpendicularly, a stratum of bones is visible, six or seven feet from the surface of the soil. The monument of St. Senan is still shewn here, and in the stone, that closes the top of the altar window of the largest church, is the head of the saint, with his mitre; it is somewhat defaced.

There is also a holy well in this island, resorted to by great numbers of devotees, who, as they term it, take their rounds about it annually on their bare knees, and it is a frequent practice for those, who cannot conveniently perform this penance, to pay at this and other holy wells a trifling gratuity to some person to perform this ceremony for them; I have known a woman to make a trade of this mummery. 

The common people have a great veneration for this island and its ruins; they carry pebbles taken from it as preservatives against shipwreck, and the boatmen will not navigate a boat, that has not taken a round about Scattery in a course opposite the sun. They believe, that St. Senan or Shannon, as they call him, killed a desperate monster in this island, the stone image of which is still (to the disgrace of the priest and well informed Catholics) preserved in the gable of the Roman Catholic chapel of Kilrush over the altar.

2. Drumkleeve, in the barony of Islands, and parish of Drumkleeve, (omitted in Ledwich’s Epitome of the Antiquities of Ireland.) About fifty feet remain at present; it is, as usual with all those towers, situated to the N. W. of the church; there is a moulding round the door, which is about twenty feet from the ground; the mortar quite worn away on the west side, but perfectly good on the east; on the west side about twenty-four feet from the ground there is a window, and about ten feet higher is a larger one; there is another window on the east side. 

3. Dysert; called Dysert O’Dea, (from being in the ancient territory of the O’Dea’s,) in the barony of Inchiquin, and parish of Dysert: about thirty feet of this tower remain; about twenty feet from the ground there is a door, and about ten feet higher the remains of another, at each of which the dimensions of the tower diminished. Remains of windows at different heigths are seen, by which it seems to be quite different from some other towers, that have windows only at or near the summit, as that of Kildare, and many other places; the workmanship also seems to be different from that of many others. It must be evident, that these towers were built at different periods, and for perhaps very different purposes; the most rude at remote, and those, in which ornaments have been attempted, many centuries after: that at Dysert has on the outside of the second story the remains of a projecting flag, like our modern belting course, running round the building, and about eight inches broad; it also appears to have had battlements.

4. Kilnaboy, in the barony of Inchiquin, and parish of Kilnaboy; about ten feet only remain; consequently, according to the general mode of building them, neither door nor window appears;(*3) it stands to the north-west of the old church of Kilnaboy. 

5. Iniscailtre.—This tower stands in Loughdeirgeart, a part of the Shannon, near Skarriff, in the barony of Tullagh, sometimes called Holy-island, and frequently the island of the seven churches: this was formerly celebrated as a burial-place, and for performing certain religious ceremonies, in so much that, so late as forty years ago, 10l. were annually paid, as rent for the ferry, to an ancestor of Mr. Wood of Mount Shannon; it contains twenty-four acres, at present rented by Mr. O’Callaghan at 39l. per annum. Red-island near it contains four acres, and Bushy-island six acres. 


The barony of Burrin contains the castles of










Newtown—a round castle


On a square base.



Comcoroe contains















Inchiquin contains







Lemenagh,—a girl fell


from the top of this castle;


she killed a pig, on


which she fell, and was


herself not hurt.








Two at Rath, one not no-


ticed by Mr. Pelham in


his map.

Islands contains




Clounderalaw contains









Bunratty contains





Fergus,—inhabited, and


lately white-washed!


Cnapoge—the masonry of


the stairs of black marble,


uncommonly neat.


















Tullagh contains























Moyferta contains





Ibrickan contains







Of these 118 castles, tradition says, the family of Macnamara built 57. It will not be expected, that a description be given of every petty castle, which the feuds of ancient days made necessary to protect usurpations and robberies, or of those numerous small castellated houses, dignified with the name of the castle, which were built by the English settlers in Queen Elizabeth’s and other reigns, to defend them against the just resentment of the natives; and though some individuals may be anxious, that an account of them should be detailed, it is probable few of the accounts would tend to the credit of the former possessors, and that they would hurt the feelings of the present ones; besides, as much of the information is traditional, little dependance can be placed on any account handed down by those, who were necessarily partial.(*5)

Near Raheens, built in the water, may be seen the castle, into which some ruffians conveyed a young lady, with intent to force her to marry one of them; she was immediately rescued by Henry Brady, Esq. of Raheens, and restored to her friends in perfect safety. A tender-hearted jury acquitted them of the felony.

Bunratty castle, anciently the seat of the Earls of Thomond, is one of the largest in the county, and is inhabited by Thomas Studdert, Esq.; it was built in 1277, and was either rebuilt or added to by Sir Thomas de Clare in 1597; it was besieged in 1305 but not taken; marks of cannon-shot are very visible in different parts of the wall, and several cannon balls have been found, one of which weighed 39lbs.; there was a small town here formerly; it was burned in 1314.


These abound in every part of the county; they are generally of a round form, and are composed of either large stones without mortar, or earth thrown up and surrounded by one or more ditches, on which was formerly placed a stake hedge; they are usually ascribed to the Danes, but it is highly probable many of them are of much more ancient origin, and that they have only been made use of by the Danes in their predatory incursions into this country, who, finding their usefulness, may have imitated them; for, as they were easily formed, they answered the purposes of free-booters, who only came for the purpose of plunder. In General Vallancey’s Prospectus of an Irish Dictionary the following explanation occurs: "The word rath signifies security, surety; see mal, riches, and maladair, a landholder. We find by the Breitham laws, when a man was worth a certain number of cattle to be security to the chief for payment of the rent of a large tract of land, which might be set to others, he was obliged to erect a circular entrenchment of earth or stone, or partly of both, in token of his holding under the chief; this entrenchment was called rath, that is, security. The law allows the rath to be used as a sheep-fold, and for the better security of the sheep stakes were driven into the top of the entrenchment, and interwoven with bushes, brambles, &c.(*6) When a maladair died, he was sometimes interred in the middle of the rath, and a moat was dug around (the outside commonly) to furnish earth for the feart or tumulus, and then it had the appearance of a moat. Some of these in the counties of Meath and Westmeath are planted with trees, and make a beautiful appearance. These raths remain at this day, and are most injudiciously called Danes forts. The Danes probably made a post of some, when situated in a rising ground, as we did in the last rebellion; but when these injudicious antiquaries, that name them forts, find three or four together with the peripheries of their circles not half a stone’s throw from each other, as in Salisbury plain, and in many parts of Ireland, or when they find a rath situated at the foot of a hill, which commands the rath, can these antiquaries say they were erected for offence or defence? These puny antiquaries may rest assured that, until they study the oriental languages, and can translate the old laws of lreland, they can know little or nothing of the antiquities of this country." 

Many of these raths have been formerly planted entirely with firs, which are now, from want of thinning, grown naked at the bottom, and are become very disagreeable objects. One of these formal looking groupes occupies the place, that formerly contained the palace or castle of Brian Boroimdhe, called Ceanchora.(*7) In this castle, after he became sole monarch of Ireland in 1022, he received annually, as a tribute from the princes dependant on him, for maintaining his state, 2670 beeves, 1370 hogs, 420 loads or tons of iron, 500 mantles, 365 tons of claret from the Danes of Limerick, and from those of Dublin 150 pipes or butts of other wine: this tax was called Boroimdhe, and was received at the time of All Saints and sent to Ceanchora; to this place was also brought the fine of 1000 of each kind of cattle, which he exacted from the Leganians, as a punishment for having joined the Danes. This place was destroyed by Domnhall Mac Ardgail prince of Tyrconnel, during the absence of Murtogh the grandson of Brien.(*8) The king of Cashel received annually from Corcabhaiscin 200 beeves and 200 cows; from Corcomruadh 200 beeves and 200 cows, 200 mantles, with a fleet always ready; and when the king had occasion for the forces of his tributaries, or to wait on him at any of his general assemblies, he sent, amongst others, to the prince of Corcomruadh ten untamed horses, and a silk garment. Domnhall prince of Corcabhaiscin was killed at the battle of Clontarf on Good Friday 22d April 1034.

When Sitricus the Danish tyrant demanded tribute from one of the Irish kings, he applied for assistance to the other chiefs, and was furnished by Corcabhaiscin with ten ships, and by Corcomruadh and Burrin with twenty, with which they sailed to Dundalk to the relief of their prince taken prisoner there; in the battle, which ensued, two princes of Burrin and Corcumruadh, Connor and Loughlin,(*9) killed the two brothers of the tyrant, Tor and Magnus, but soon after died of their wounds.  


Are to be seen chiefly in the barony of Burrin, though there are a few in the other baronies. There is one at Ballygannor about forty feet long and ten feet broad, of one stone; the side stones of flags are upwards of six feet-deep, beside what is sunk in the ground. There is also one in the deer-park of Lemenagh, another on the commons of Kilnaboy, one at Tullynaglashin, one at Mount Callan called Altoir na Greine, (altar of the sun,) and one at Ballykisshen; this is a very remarkable one, and very capacious; it was covered formerly with two large flags twelve or fourteen feet long each; they were nearly shaped like the lid of a coffin, and were placed head to head; one of them remains but the other has been thrown down by a Protestant clergyman, who dreamed there was money buried under it.(*10)

The celebrated tomb of Conaan, on Mount Callan, still remains perfect; it was erected A.D. 259. Many laughable anecdotes are told of the efficacy of Darby and Grane’s bed, as they are called by the country people. If a woman proves barren, a visit with her husband to Darby and Grane’s bed certainly cures her. On enquiring, from some country girls near Ballygannor, where this celebrated cromlech was, I was heartily laughed at for asking one of them, about sixteen years of age, to shew me the way to it; after a long consultation with one somewhat older than herself, sometimes with very serious countenances and often with smiling ones, and the elder one using a good deal of persuasion, she agreed to go with me if she was certain I was a stranger, and she knew my name: as the conversation between themselves was in Irish, which I did not understand, and the evening was growing late, I became impatient, and very ungallantly rode away.(*11)

When I had rode a mile farther, I made the same enquiry from a herd’s wife, and at the same time told her how I had been laughed at by the girls; she said no wonder for them, for it was the custom that, if she went with a stranger to Darby and Grane’s bed, she was certainly to grant him every thing he asked.

Near this last mentioned cromlech, and to the N. E. , are two smaller ones, and remains of a stone rath, in which part of a covered passage is still visible.

These monuments of high antiquity are very erroneously called in Irish Leabha Diarmuid is Grane, or Darby and Granes’s bed or burial place; for, that they were used for the performance of some religious ceremony is evident from their having an inclination to the east or south-east; they were called altars from the Chaldee word lebah a flame. Certainly many were used as a place of sepulture, because bones have been frequently dug up from under them, but those, which have been used for this purpose, are entirely different in their construction, and betray, by their superior workmanship, their erection at a period long after those, which, by their simplicity of stile and materials, claim a title to a very high antiquity.(*12)

I have seen one, that had the sides and covering stone elegantly cut, and neatly joined, in which, I was informed, bones had been formerly found.

*1    They were erected long before the inroads of the Danes.

*2    The two words Joamhuein, and Iomhar, should have been Toamhuein, and Tomhar.

*3    This tower has not been noticed by Dr. Beaufort or Dr. Ledwich.

*4    The Duke of Ormond was entertained here by an ancestor of Boyle Vandeleur, Esq. : on an ancient chimney-piece there was " fear God, and remember the poor," in bas-relief.

*5    I understand a gentleman of the county intends shortly to favour the public with a history of them; I wish him a good deliverance. 

*6    It should be recollected that, as Ireland was almost all wood; it abounded with wolves and foxes; the former of which have been not very long extripated, and the latter very much thinned.

*7    Ceanchora signifies the head of the weirs, and the first weir near Killaloe is nearly opposite to this place.

*8    All traces of this palace are almost obliterated, by planting, levelling, and other improvements; thus one of the most interesting antiquities in Ireland has been spoiled by modern taste, that taste, which could permit hedges to be cut into different whimsical shapes, like those in the days of London and Wise.

*9    One of the family of O’ Loughlin now resides in Burrin, and is lineally descended from the ancient princes of that barony, and is stilled prince of Burrin; but he has too much sense to assume any airs in consequence of his high birth.

*10    It argues a most deplorable want of taste in the proprietors of land, where these antiquities are erected, to suffer them to be destroyed or mutilated.

*11   For a curious coincidence of custom see General Vallancey’s Prospectus, page 24.; and for which purpose only it is worth repeating.

*12    As it would have been very difficult to have found a sufficient quantity of earth in rocky ground to have formed a tumulus, perhaps this method of burying a maladair might have been substituted.

Back to Statistical Survey of the County of Clare - Chapter 5