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

Part I.—From Loop Head to Carrigaholt

Types and Number of the Forts

The majority of the ring-mounds consists of a circular or slightly oval platform, 100 feet to 120 feet across, and little (if at all) higher than the field. Outside the raised mound round the garth, which may be 4 feet to 6 feet high, and 12 feet to 16 feet thick, is a fosse of equal width and depth; girt, as a rule, by an outer ring only a few feet high and thick. The presence of water depends on the nature of the ground, and was apparently neither sought after nor avoided by the fort-makers. The main bank was usually faced with dry-stone work, now mostly removed. This removal took place in very recent times, to judge from the steep pitch of the banks. In some cases a slight depression is found on top of the bank; if not a path made by goats or other animals, it may represent, as in the American forts (so closely similar to our motes, raths, and promontory forts), the position of a palisade. We have been told of decayed stakes having being found, but on no good authority; nor where the mounds have been recently cut have we seen such remains. There can be no question as to the houses and fences being of wood, both from early and late records; and this style of building continued down to Tudor and Stuart times, for we need only to allude to the “wooden castles” taken by the army of Philip and Mary in this very county in 1558, and to the sketch of the mote and bailey of Ballysonan, [32] taken by assault in 1642, to show how in late, as in remote times, such defences were made.

As to the age of the forts in this district of Clare, we are anxious not to dogmatize. Systematic excavations have never taken place, and finds, whether of stone or metal implements, are rare in the extreme in the forts of Clare. We have not only reliable record of an earthen ring-fort, with circles, being made before 1242, and completed and strengthened by King Conor O’Brien (1242-1269), but during the revolution of the autumn and winter (of 1317), after the battle of the Abbey, “the people [of Clare] kept quiet, chiefs abiding in their strongholds, . . . ollaves in their raths, . . . and every layman in his liss.” That they were made much later we cannot doubt. As to the scarcity of “finds,” we can only conclude that the bare trampled earth of the enclosures rendered losses in the forts comparatively easy of recovery.

As to the illustrations of this paper, we have nearly confined them to plans and sections; photographs of these forts are very unsatisfactory, even when the mounds are merely grassed. Not a tree, not even a bush, grows on the cliffs; but once we get lower than their crest, we find the rings ever more and more overgrown with furze and low bushes. Those who know such forts as Carrownaweelaun and Liscroneen, or who remember the mystery of the approach to Lismaguine, before the furze was burned, can realize how little can be done with camera or pencil. From the artist’s point of view, too, there is no attractiveness in the surroundings of most of these structures. Lying back from the sea we lose all the lovely views attainable from nearly every cliff-fort. The outlook from Cahercroghaun is, it is true, one of the widest and finest in the county, but (save Lisduff) we rarely find a fort with even a glimpse of the sea-coast, though many overlook the wide estuary of the Shannon, across which even the fine coast, from Leck to Ballybunnion, and from Browne’s Castle on to Kerry Head, is dwarfed out of all detail.

Omitting the cliff-forts, we may give the number of early earthworks marked on the map of 1838, or found at present on the ground as follows:—

In Killard (which belongs more naturally to Moyarta than to Ibrickan), 55 (now 41); in Moyarta, 115 (now 104); in Kilballyowen, 79 (now 68). In a triangle 20 miles long and 6 miles across the base, 280 ring-forts are known to have existed in 1839, of which some 250 still remain. Thirty have perished in sixty years.