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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


Lisnaleagaun (O.S. 56).—This and the following forts lie in Kilfieragh parish, and are good typical examples of their class. Lisnaleagaun lies behind Kilkee, and is well seen from the railway as we run into that little town. The fort was first described by Mrs. Knott. [4] She writes that the moat was 22 feet wide, the centre ring rising 16 to 20 feet; the top was 300 feet, and the ring 700 feet in circuit. She tells a story about the souterrain, how a humorous ventriloquist caused much terror by making sounds of distress and anguish resound from its vaults. This has been copied from one guide book to another down to the present century. The next independent observer, John Windele, in 1854, [5] only notes that the fort was 100 feet across, and had a ditch 25 feet wide; so the need of fuller description, with plans and a section, still exists.

Lisnaleagaun, the fort of the pillar-stone, is of the mote type found all over Ireland and the Continent, only differing in height from the great motes found in such abundance in eastern Ireland. The type rarely occurs in County Clare. There is a good example in Lisnagree, in the heart of the Slieve Bernagh Mountains, and a lower, but similar, fort at Lugalassa, near Bodyke; both of these we hope soon to describe in a paper, of which the first part has appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. There are, however, not a few still lower forts, with flat tops; and it is very probable that the raising of the platforms was gradual, layers being added from time to time. Indeed, if the forts, with a high inner ring, such as Bealaha, or Lissanuala, were filled up inside, they would closely resemble the Kilkee fort. The “liagaun,” or pillar, that gave it the present name has disappeared. The earthwork is pleasantly situated in a low field, and before the crowd of houses sprang up, it overlooked the beautiful bay of “Cill caoi, of the jewels, of the smooth strand,” as John Hore sang in 1770. The fort is oval; the flat platform has only very slight traces of a fence round the top; such traces probably arose from the decay of a palisaded fence, plastered with clay, as a protection against fire. It is, of course, possible that, in some cases, a dry-stone ring-wall crowned the top, and that even the steep sides were faced with stones set in clay mortar. The platform rises 14½ to 16 feet above the fosse, and is 105 feet across north and south, and 120 feet east and west, being 350 feet in circuit round the edge, and 540 feet round the foot of the mound. The sides are very steep; the fosse varies from 20 feet to 25 feet wide, and is marshy; probably, when deeper, it was flooded, and then crossed by a plank. We have noted a fine example of the flat-topped fort at Doon, near Kilfenora, [6] where the fosse being cut in soft shale, piers of the natural rock were left for the support of some sort of drawbridge. The outer ring is 10 feet high, and 16 to 20 feet thick to the north and west, for 70 feet after which it has been obliterated down to the level of the field, and is only 14 feet thick.

Lisnaleagaun, Plan and Section
Lisnaleagaun, Plan and Section
(Click on the image for a larger version)

The central mote has been dug into and defaced to the north-east, but elsewhere it is well preserved, and is covered with beautiful greensward, stepped into small ridges and terraces. There are no traces of any outworks in the field, or of any house-sites.

There is a “cave” or souterrain in the garth opening on the south edge. The axis of this passage lies E. N. E. and W. S. W. by compass. It is too much filled to allow one to explore the main passage. The present passage is through a cut in the bank, but is partly ancient, and probably resembled such souterrains as Mortyclough, &c., where the ope in the outer bank was closed by a slab. Indeed, at Lisnaleagaun, as at Mortyclough, a thin “plank” of stone lies in the fosse below the opening. We enter and find a neat chamber roofed with flagstones; it is oval, 5 feet 4 inches north and south, and 8 feet 8 inches east and west; the walls are neatly built to the curve with small slabs of gritstone. As the floor is covered with loose stones, and very filthy, we were unable to ascertain the height, which was probably nearly 7 feet. In the north and south sides were neat opes a couple of feet above the present floor; the northern one is 19 inches high, 15 inches wide, and 3 feet deep, leading into the main passage. This gallery is about 12 feet long; the roof has been broken in for about 9 feet; and the whole is so thickly overgrown with brambles that it is at present impossible to explore, though it can be examined at the entrances. At the northern end is another little opening 3 feet deep, with double lintels of flagstones; in its west jamb is a recess, 19 inches wide and 3 feet deep, partly filled, which may lead into a side cell. The most northern chamber is unroofed, being 9 feet long; the sides and end wall are complete, without entrances, so it was probably entered by a trap-door in the roof from a wooden and clay house now entirely lost. The high level of this souterrain above the field and fosse seems convincing evidence that the fort was raised at different periods, and that the cells belong to the last “stratum.”