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

Part IV: The Eastern Border: Keentlea; Cahermore Killeen; Gortlecka; Toormore; Templenaraha

The great wooded ridge of Keentlea, or Ceanntsleibhe, over the lake round which we have passed, is known in the older records as Ceann Nathrach, ‘adder’s’ or ‘serpent’s head.’ An ancestor of the O’Quins is called Aenghus Cennathrach, and may have either given to, or derived from, the hill his strange surname. Strange as is the name, it is not without an equivalent in a Celtic, but not snakeless, land. A ‘serpent’s hill’ is named in Gaul in the fifth century as even then bearing an ancient name, ‘Ad montem quem colubrarium . . . vocavit antiquitas.’[12] On the other slopes of this large ridge we may notice a couple of defaced cahers. I can hear of no trace of any fort on the top where stood the legendary ‘House of Conan’; but Cahergal stood on a knoll in Maghera, and is levelled almost to the field.

Cahermackateer is called Caherwickyter in a ‘Fiant’ of 1601; Caher mac Teire in the Act of Settlement Confirmation to Murrough, Earl of Inchiquin, in 1676; and Cahermacdirigg in the Survey of 1675.[13] Only a low fragment of its wall, built with large, shapeless blocks, remains, embedded in a fence; the rest was cleared away for a cottage and garden. It lies behind the house to the south-west of the bench mark 316.5 on the O.S. map 16.

Cahermore Killeen (O.S. 17)
The old name of this fort was ‘Caher-drumassan, or Cahragheeduva, in Killeen,’ 1655.[14] It is a fairly preserved but featureless ring-wall, surrounded by thick groves of hazels. It is slightly oval, 135 feet to 136 feet internally. The wall is 11 feet thick for most of its circuit, but widens to 12 feet 9 inches near the gateway, as is often the case. Only the north jamb of the gate remains; the outer opening cannot be measured; the inner passage is 6 feet 9 inches wide. The wall is of fairly large blocks - some 4 feet 6 inches by 2 feet; it consists of an outer section 8 feet thick, and a terrace 3 feet thick; the height varies from 6 feet to 8 feet or 9 feet; the batter is 1 in 4. It stands on a low crag with no outlook.

Gortlecka (O.S. 10, 17)
Two dolmens remain near the foot of the strangely-terraced hill of Mullachmoyle, but in a delightfully retired grassy plain. Of the western dolmen, only the west stone is standing, and measures 8 feet long, 4 feet 6 inches high, and 9 inches thick. Some stones and broken slabs lie about among the hawthorns and brambles.

The eastern dolmen (O.S. 17)[15] was inhabited till recent times, like the dolmens of Parknabinnia, Commons, Slievenaglasha, and Cappaghkennedy. The theory that they were slab huts is, however, rendered very improbable by the fact that most show traces of mounds or cairns; and one was within human memory buried in a cairn. The Gortlecka dolmen formed the bedroom of a small cabin, and stood in a now nearly levelled cairn; it was of the usual type, tapering and sloping eastward. It was 12 feet long; the east end complete; the north 9 feet by 4 feet 2 inches to 5 feet high; the east 3 feet 6 inches long and the south 4 feet 3 inches. The irregular cover is over 7 feet wide, and 11 feet long, overhanging the end by 2 feet. The west end has fallen inwards, and leans against the north side; the dolmen being 5½ feet high. The top of each side is hammered, as is common in Clare; but in this case the inner faces of the sides have been picked to a smooth surface which I hardly ever noted elsewhere, even to a much lesser degree. The cover has curious ‘footmarks’ and other depressions.

Toormore (O.S. 25)
In the parish of Ruan, Dr. George U. Macnamara called my attention to a defaced dolmen,[16] unmarked even on the new maps. It lies to the south-west of Ruan, and not far from that village. It had been thrown down by a former tenant of the farm who met with some misfortunes which he attributed to his rash act. Strange to say, his successor, who broke up one of the blocks, hurt his hand soon afterwards, which may secure the preservation of the poor remains. It was a cist lying N.N.W. and S.S.E.; at the east ‘end’ is a stone 2 feet 5 inches wide, and 11 feet thick, and 4½ feet high; beside it is the base of a broken slab 34 feet long; the bases of other blocks to the west and north show that the chamber was 7 feet 3 inches long internally, and, perhaps, 4 feet 3 inches wide. A side slab 4 feet 6 inches by 6 feet lies in the enclosure.

Templenaraha (O.S. 25)
Westward, down the same road, is found the venerable little oratory of Templenaraha in Ballymacrogan West. It lies in Parcnakilla fort; the church is of fine ‘cyclopean’ masonry (like that in the Round Tower of Dysert O’Dea), and measures 24 feet by 16 feet 10 inches externally; the walls being 3 feet thick. The ring wall in which the church stands is nearly levelled; it measures 151 feet across the garth, or about 170 feet over all. The wall has two faces of large blocks with large filling; and was 8 or 10 feet thick. The history and dedication of the oratory would be of the greatest interest; but it is apparently nameless and unrecorded. The usage of ‘rath’ in the place-name for a stone fort coincides with several passages in our older literature.