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Archaeology of the Burren: Prehistoric Forts and Dolmens in North Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Part III: Ballyganner: Ballyganner Cromlechs; Clooneen Cromlech; Summary of Ballyganner Group

In giving here plans of all the more complete cromlechs of Ballyganner, we need only refer to the descriptions already published. The great cromlech of Ballyganner Hill, and the cromlech of Clooneen by the late William C. Borlase in Dolmens of Ireland, vol. i., p. 67, and p. 80. The eastern cromlech of Ballyganner South; the ‘caher-cromlech,’ the fallen cromlech, and the ‘pillared cromlech,’ near Caheraneden, in Ballyganner North, will be found described by me in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. iv., Series III., page 542, but with only one illustration of the ‘pillared cromlech.’

The Cromlechs of Ballyganner
The Cromlechs of Ballyganner

The cromlechs in Ballyganner North, of which one only has hitherto been illustrated, call for notice here. When the other papers were commenced, I had included the cromlechs along with the forts, but a wish to help Mr. Borlase in his work on The Dolmens of Ireland, altered my intention, although he was unable to use the material I sent him for the group north of Ballyganner Hill.

There are two doubtful specimens, one already mentioned as in a small tumulus, but only the west slab is in situ, and a second slab appears; it was possibly a small cist. The other is a small enclosure of slabs, set on end, but much defaced, lying in the centre of a ring wall of unusual rudeness, faced with waterworn slabs.

To the north-east of this, near Caheraneden, is the ‘pillared cromlech’ (C). I found traces nearly buried in moss and rubbish of a parallel kerbing of low stones, a few feet from the northern side. The main cromlech consisted of three compartments, 8 feet by 6 feet, with two pillars, 5 feet high, which rose about a foot over the roof slabs, the central chamber, 5½ feet by 6 feet, with pillars 6 feet high (2 feet above the roof); the third or ‘eastern’ compartment is defaced. A long lintel at the foot of the taller pillars probably rested on them, forming a trilithon, part of the top of the southern pillar having split off, as if from some superincumbent weight. The structure lies N.N.E. and S.S.W., and is of most unusual plan.

Another doubtful structure is the slab enclosure. It consists of an oblong enclosure of slabs, 4 feet high, the ‘eastern’ side and ends remaining; a small square chamber adjoins the ‘northern’ end; it lies N.N.E. and S.S.W.

South from the last are the blocks of a fallen cromlech of the usual type (A); the north side is standing; it and the top slab are each 9 feet 8 inches by 6 feet 8 inches. It lies east and west. A sort of road made by removing the top slabs of the crag (whose fissures lie nearly north and south), leads towards Caheraneden.

East from the last is the very remarkable ‘cromlech caher’ (B), a ring wall, within whose enclosure and partly embedded in the wall, is a large cromlech. It lies east and west, tapering eastward, from 7 feet to 4 feet, and consists of three side slabs, the southern 13 feet 8 inches long. The massive top slab is broken into five fragments, probably by fire. By the accident of using the interior as a ‘dark room,’ to change films in a camera, the curious fact became apparent that a small souterrain, 3 feet 8 inches wide, built of small masonry, roofed by slabs 4½ feet long, and nearly filled with small stones, ran through the rampart for about 3 feet into the cist itself. It in no place lay under the great side slabs.
In Ballyganner South, farther eastward, and beyond the group of forts in which the last cromlech stands, is a very perfect cist of five slabs (E) in the remains of a cairn. It lies W.N.W., and E.S.E. The north and south sides measure 11 feet 5 inches, and 12 feet 7 inches. It tapers eastward from 4 feet 8 inches to 4 feet 3 inches. The top slab has two curious channels, but manifestly water-worn, probably ages before the block was raised; it measures 13 feet long by 7 feet 8 inches wide.

The great cromlech (D) stands near the summit of the hill above the castle and caher of Ballyganner, and near two other ruined stone forts. It lies N.E. and S.W., the north and south sides being 17 feet 4 inches, and 18 feet 6 inches long,[55] and 7 feet 8 inches high at the western end. The edges of the side slabs, and the closing slab of the west end are hammer-dressed; the great top slab, once about 11 feet by 20 feet, and 12 inches to 16 inches thick, has broken into four parts; the eastern have fallen into the cist, and have little basins in the top as in Swedish dolmens. The interior narrows eastward, from 9 feet 7 inches to 6 feet 2 inches. It has been described and illustrated by Mr. Borlase, alone of the actual Ballyganner group.

In Clooneen is another nearly perfect dolmen towards the eastern end of the long ridge on which the last described monument stands, and on the southern slope. The south side is 15 feet 3 inches long, 4½ feet high, and about 1 foot thick. Three distorted slabs remain along the north side, and there are traces of an outer enclosure 3 feet outside the cist, the slabs over 4 feet high. It tapers eastwards, from 5 feet 6 inches to 3 feet 2 inches; the top is broken across the middle; it was about 15 feet long, and over 8 feet wide. It is described and illustrated by Mr. Borlase, who notes the resemblance of it and other cromlechs in Clare to those of Portugal.[56]

‘Thus the Ballyganner group of antiquities consists of Caherkyletaan, in Kyletaan; Cahercuttine, with two cromlechs, a cairn, a slab circle with a ‘cave’ and a small caher with an annexe; Caherwalsh, with a slab enclosure and two cairns; Lismoher; and the foundation of a caher in Noughaval; Cahernaspekee, with a cave, ‘moher,’ and cairn. Two ring walls, one with a slab hut; mound with a cist; earth mounds; the ‘pillared cromlech’; Caheraneden, with slab enclosure and rock cutting; fallen cromlech. Three huts of doubtful age; ancient enclosure near the great boulder; ring-wall and ‘walled cairn’ and another caher, with a cromlech and ‘cave’ - all in Ballyganner North. Cromlech in a cairn, caher, slab circle; Ballyganner Castle and caher; great cromlech; two cahers and slab circle on Ballyganner Hill; caher, with ‘cave’ and supposed cromlech - all in Ballyganner South. Caher in Lisket. Three cahers, tumulus, and cromlech, in Clooneen. Caher in Ballyhomulta. The great caher, abattis, pillars, cromlech, wells, and three lesser cahers in Ballykinvarga. Kilcameen fort, graveyard, and cist; Caherminaun; fort with hut hollows; Caherlahertagh; and two other cahers in Caherminaun. Two cahers near Kilfenora road; levelled cahers in Maryville; caher with ‘cave’; Ballyshanny Castle in a caher; caher in Ballyshanny. Knockacarn cairn and three forts on the bounds of Kiltennan and Ballyhomulta. While we must consider, as outliers of the group, the caher, two ‘mohers,’ and cromlech of Iskancullin, Cahermore, and Caheraclarig, in Sheshy; Caherscrebeen, and three other cahers, in Lemaneagh. In all - 52 cahers, 10 noteworthy cairns and mounds, 9, or perhaps 13, cromlechs, 5 ‘caves,’ and 5 slab rings and enclosures.’