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Ring-Forts in the Barony of Moyarta, Co. Clare, and Their Legends
by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Part II.—Kilkee to Carrigaholt

Forts near Doonaha & its links with Irish Literature

In 1655 there was a considerable amount of wood at Doonaha, Kildimo, Clonecaran, and the neighbourhood of Doonaghboy; Balleonan itself had dwarf woods and heath; while westward from Kilcrony and Kilcasheen extended moorland, arable land, and heath, getting poorer and more valueless as it approaches Loop Head. The same still holds good, and even thickets of dwarf-wood are to-day found in the bogs beside this road.

Doonaha [8] (O.S. 66). So far as I have been able to examine the forts between the Doonaha Brook and Poulnishery Creek along the Shannon, the majority of the earthworks are of little individual interest. Of the three in Tullaroe, one has been levelled since 1839. There are four near Newtown House, and seventeen in Querrin, two of which are large, with wide fosses; one, near Templemeegh Graveyard on the shore of the Shannon, is named Corlis. There are seven, one large, most of the others defaced, in Doonaha East. Crossing the stream into Doonaha West we find six forts round the village; only the north-eastern portion of Lisfuadnaheirka remains near a bend of the brook. The name is said locally to commemorate a “horned ghost” seen at its remains.

The village of Doonaha is known to students of Irish literature as having been a centre of Irish literary men and learning in the darkest period and lowest ebb of such studies. It was part of the MacMahons’ tribal land, and as such free from imposts to the O’Briens; probably for this reason it is not mentioned in the ancient rental of those chiefs, usually dated about 1380-90. The MacMahons held it till late in the reign of Elizabeth. After their revolt against her Government, in the closing years of the sixteenth century, it was confiscated to the Crown, and granted to Sir Daniel O’Brien, ancestor of the Viscounts of Clare. It is called Downagh alias Downaghy in 1622. [9] The lands, with the there unusual feature of a dwarf wood, are duly recorded in the “Book of Distribution” [10] in 1655. In 1680 Doonaha East and West were held by Abraham Vanhogarten, a merchant, and one of the Dutch settlers who set their mark on the country. He built the old house of Querrin with Dutch tiles, [11] brought as ballast in his vessels, that bore Irish goods to Holland; but another family (of the old Irishry) is far more identified with Doonaha. Daniel, Lord Viscount Clare, in 1683 granted Doonaha, Lisheen, and other lands to Edmond Morony, of Kilmacduan and Poulavullin (Miltown Malbay) for the lives of the lessee, his wife Jane Morony, and their sons Pierce and John. Edmond was bound to erect a house 50 feet long, and 18 feet high, and to plant 2 acres of orchard. When Lord Clare, by his loyalty to James II, brought on himself the fate of his predecessors, the MacMahons, Margaret, widow of Pierce Morony, successfully claimed, and was confirmed in their rights, and the family held the land down to the last century. [12]

The “School of Doonaha” is especially noted for having produced the well-known scholar, “the Scaliger of Irish literature,” Eugene Curry or O’Curry, the colleague of John O’Donovan, and to whom we, his fellow-countrymen, are so deeply indebted in our history, topography, and archæology. The school, in some sense, can claim an unbroken descent from the professional historians of the tribal period, for John Hartney of Kilkee was in touch with Andrew and Hugh Mac Curtin, the last hereditary “ollaves of Thomond,” [13] who died respectively in 1749 and 1755. [14] Hartney’s contemporary, Seaghan do hÓrrda, John Hore, of Kilkee and Cloonena, a poet, lived till 1780, and Thomas Meehan, though a schoolmaster in Ennis till 1798, kept up connexion with the “guild” of the Corcovaskin poets. The Doonaha school, free from the penal laws, and beyond the suspicion of the authorities, flourished. Among them we may mention two other schoolmasters—Anthony O’Brien in 1780 and John Lloyd, na hAodh, who attempted the earliest of the English topographical and historical works on Clare, the quaint and bombastic, but very interesting, “Impartial Tour” in 1778, besides Irish poetry and prose. Like many of his class, he was a tolerated dependant of several of the gentry, with intervals of wandering. “Poor Lloyd’s weakness lay in potations; he was found dead on the road.” [15] He was well known to Owen O’Curry, Ui Chomraidhe, Eugene’s father. Malachi Curry, pupil of Peter Connell of Carna, was another poet, 1806-1818. Thomas Meehan of Ennis, who wrote some of the verses in the “Impartial Tour,” lived in touch with the Corcovaskin guild, from 1778. Conor O’Doherty, schoolmaster and poet, Thomas Madigan, Eugene O’Curry’s friend, and Michael Hanrahan, 1820-3, lived in Kilrush; while John Chambers, a schoolmaster, taught at Ross from 1776. Humble and obscure as they may seem to the outer world, their little work, a labour of love, is likely to outlive many a more pretentious and popular writer, and will always be respected and valued by Irish students. [16]

In the middle of this informal college, we find two low earthen ringforts—Doonáha, which gives its name to the village, and a second, near the Roman Catholic church. More curious is the very steep-banked little ring near the cross road to Liscrona. It was probably the base of a single circular house, and has neither fosse nor raised garth. Unless the stone facing, evidently not long removed, preserved it from early times, it was probably comparatively late. Such small rings are not uncommon in Clare and Kerry, and where the stonework remains, as in Burren, usually tell their own tale, for we cannot too often reiterate that the bulk of our so-called “forts” are residential, sepulchral, or both, and in no sense military, no more “castles” than certain modern houses so called.