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

Part V: Caheridoola; Cahermacnaughten

From this section onward I hope to begin a series of notes completing the description of several more of the interesting forts round Lisdoonvarna. The first of these is Caheridoola, which I may claim to have first identified in 1896. There is great difficulty in getting a satisfactory phonetic form of the name, and its Irish original is absolutely uncertain. Dr. George U. Macnamara at first inclined to believe that it meant fort of the O’Dooloughtys, but, finding that there was a tribe named ‘O’Doolan’ connected with the Corcomroe district, he modified the former view. The Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh describes one of them in 1313 as ‘Donal O’Dulin, he being of the seed of Mogh Ruith, forbear of the noble Fergus’ (Mac Roich, the tribal ancestor of the Corcamodruadh), who in the frontal attack on the steep ridge near Tulach (O’Dea most probably) ‘first hurled his javelin to the opposing line’ of Clan Brian. ‘He then handed a spear’ to Prince Murchad O’Brien ‘to throw when the battle opened,’ which ended in the latter’s complete victory. In the song of his chief bard (still preserved), sung when the king ‘stood over that bent-sworded, broken-speared carnage of noble bodies,’ we find mention of ‘O’Dulin of the able horses.’ They do not seem to make any mark in the later history of Thomond. There is no evidence, however, to show that they held the townland; so, accordingly I prefer to leave the name an open question as regards the original form, and give the best attested later phonetic form here, with a record of its variants.


It was once a separate townland, like Kilbract, but, like the latter, has been now merged into Cahermacnaughten. I do not find any earlier record of the name than its occurrence in 1624 in the Inquisition post mortem of Donough, Earl of Thomond. It is there called Caher Idula. It appears as Caherwooly in 1641, held by John O’Davoren, Caherahoula or Caheridoula in the Book of Distribution, 1655; and Caherigoola in the Edenvale Survey of 1675.[39] In a deed of 20 December, 1712, John Walcott, of Croagh, county Limerick, conveyed to John Kennedy the lands of Lisaliseen, Cahermacnaughty, Keillibruck, Caheridoula or Caheradoula, Lismactiegue, Ballyganner, Mohernacloughbristy, Deelin, and Slieve Carran (all in Burren), for certain trusts - a valuable light on the fort names in the barony.[40]

I was ignorant of the latter deed, and was not searching for the lost fort, when I got casually from some people in Cahermacnaughten, in 1896, a name which I copied as Caherywoola, Caheryhoolan, Caheryhoolagh, Caheryhoolagha, and Caherywhoolaha from my various informants. I soon after, on going over the Surveys, recognized its identity with Caheridoola or Caherwooly, and adopt the first as probably the least misleading form.[41]

The cathair occupies a low knoll of limestone crag about 800 yards to the north-east of Cahermacnaughten.[42] It is marked, but nameless, on the 1839 maps and the recent survey of 1899. The knoll is at the end of a long ridge, and is about 10 feet high to the west. The fort is well built, with large regular slabs of limestone in even courses. The wall is of two sections. The inner varies from 7 feet 2 inches to 8 feet thick, the outer from 3 feet 3 inches to 4 feet. It seems to be an afterthought, as it conforms to the rock faces, whence its irregularities, for the inner runs in a fairly regular curve. Each has two faces and filling, and their united breadth usually approximates to 11 feet. The wall has been levelled to the garth, and therefore rarely exceeds 4 feet or 5 feet high. The fort is 92 feet overall, and about 70 feet inside. It has no definite hut sites or foundations in the garth. The gateway faces S.S.W., and had side slabs set on end through both sections, the outer being 5 feet, the inner about 6 feet, at the passage, which is 3 feet 10 inches wide and 11 feet deep. It had two lintels, now fallen, measuring - the outer, 5 feet 8 inches by 16 inches by 9 inches; the inner, 6 feet 2 inches by 9 inches by 12 inches; so that it was of the normal type, with coursed jambs.

In the field below is a confused mass of old-looking enclosures and hut-sites. The cathair, therefore, was evidently the centre of a hamlet. Only one hut was rectangular. Despite its inconspicuous position, it has a wide outlook to the south and east over the ridges of Baur and the valley of Kilcorney to the cairn of Poulawack and the castle mound of Lissylisheen, while the faint blue hills of Slieve Bernagh in the far east of the county rise over the hills along the borders of Burren to the south-east.

Between it and Cahermacnaughten is an ancient dwelling, a ‘horse-shoe wall,’ the enclosure divided into two compartments, evidently a house and forecourt, with an outer yard. The Distribution mentions two stone forts near Caheridoola, named Kaheriskebohell and Kahirballyungane. They may have been the defaced ring-walls of Doonyvardan to the north, or two others in equal decay to the south.

In connexion with the district I must add a few notes to those on the interesting partition deed relating to Cahermacnaughten.[43] The deed used by me in my previous work was found by O’Donovan in 1839, in possession of Michael Reilly, of Ennistymon. It was dated 3 April 1675, signed by Gilla-na-naev oge O’Davoren, and witnessed by James FitzGerald and Francis Sarsfield. ‘Be it known’ (it ran) ‘that the sons of Gilla-na-naev oge O’Davoren of Cahermacnaughten, in the parish of Rathbourney, viz., Hugh and Cosny, partitioned as follows’; it then recited the division of the lands of Cahermacnaghten, Lissmacteige, Lisduane, Lisnaloughran, and (Kil)Colman Baire in Kilcorney parish, giving the mears of Cahermacnaughten, viz., the stream of Sruhaunduff flowing from the mountain, the western ditch of Buaile Liaganach to Urlingmore and to the west side of the caher. The village of Cahermacnaghten included the sites ‘of the big house of the caher within,’ the ‘Kitchen House belonging to it,’ the ‘house of the churchyard on the west side of the caher’ and all the gardens extending westward from the road of the garden of Teige Roe, son of Giolla Feichin; ‘the house between the front of the big house and the door of the caher,’ the site of ‘another house within the caher at the north-west side, and the ‘large house, which is outside the door of the caher,’ from Bearnan Fanain-an-Tayaill, at the east, westward to the above road; also ‘the Fahy or green of the Booley,’ and the road from the green westward to Moher Turtanagh; the water of the village and of Shruhanduff and the well of the village are common and free to all.

There were two copies; one signed and sealed by Cosny was given to Hugh, and the other by Hugh to Cosny. This is not a puzzling document at first glance, save that our copy is signed neither by Hugh nor Cosny, but apparently by their father. However, Dr. George U. Macnamara has found (and I hope ere this paper is published may have given it to the antiquarian world [44]) another copy almost identical with this, but dated in the reign of James I, about 1606. Evidently then for some family reason it was recopied and signed, in 1675, by the later Gilla-na-naev oge O’Davoren, whom we find holding lands in the district at the time of the Down Survey. Dr. MacNamara adds that the garden-plots near the cathair, which even appear in the 1839 and 1899 maps, have disappeared, and that the students’ houses, mentioned by Frost, are only heaps of stones cleared off the land. There is a well 23 yards west from the cathair, and about 90 from the road wall. The field in which it lies is the ‘Parc na leacht,’ and the term ‘Park’ has an interest, for, in the note in O’Davoren’s Glossary, we read of one thus - ‘the park is my residence, Magnus for Donall (Ua Dubdáboirinn or Davoren), and he himself is travelling through Ireland, 1569. Finished at the Céissóic,[45] by Cormac son of the Cosnaidhe for Donall hua Dubdáboirinn.’

Cahermacnaughten was of course the chief seat of this learned clan of literary men and law teachers. In hopes of identifying the places in the deed, Dr. MacNamara and I went round the townland in 1902. The dark little brook, welling out of the bogs at the foot of the shale ridge, near Binroe, is unmistakably the ‘Sruhaunduff.’ Buaile liaganach is forgotten, but is probably some of the craggy pasture land at the west end of the townland full of the flat slabs, or liags. Urlingmore may be the rough long grassed urlan or lawn west of the cathair. The mearing, between the townlands of Cahermacnaughten and ‘Caherwooly,’ is very probably the well-marked line of old walls beginning 400 yards east of the road from Noughaval, continuing the line of the bounds of the former division and Lissylisheen, touching the ancient hut garth, and passing 500 feet west of Caheridoola northward. ‘Bernan Fanain an Tayail’ may be the gap or depression running north-eastward from Cahermacnaughten to the ridge of Caheridoola. ‘Moher Turtanagh’ lay westward from the green of Cahermacnaughten fort, and is probably some forgotten enclosure towards the so-called church or north from it. The main local difficulty is the reputed ‘church’; there was a townland of Kilbract, or Kilbrack, or Keillibruck at, and probably (like Caheridoola) merged in, Cahermacnaughten. If Kil implies a church, the ruin may represent it, but there is also a ‘house of the church-yard’ in the partition deed ‘on the west side of the caher.’ The ‘church’ ruin is unlike every other church known to me in Clare, save the burial chapel at Kilmoon Church. Both seem to date somewhere about 1600, so the ‘church’ may have stood when the partition deed was first made. It is true that it is named among several buildings certainly ‘within the cathair’ which led me to locate it as the large foundation in the south-west section of the garth. I now think it is much more probable that the two western foundations represent the great house and kitchen-house, and that the north-east site is the house in front of the latter, between it and the door of the cathair and the building west of it in the north-west sections, ‘another house within the caher at the north-west side.’

May I briefly describe the ‘church’ as an appurtenance of a ring-wall and early settlement, though very late in origin? The building is called a church since before 1839, but no burials have been made in it, though this is also true, or apparently true, of some undoubted church ruins in Clare. It is at latest of the early seventeenth century, and is externally oblong, 30 feet 7 inches by 61 feet 6 inches over all. The end walls are 4 feet 6 inches thick at the ends, but hardly 4 feet to the sides. In each of the ends is a row of corbels, but the gables above the height of the sides have vanished. There are three windows and a plain pointed door to each side; the former are defaced, save the most western of the south lights, an oblong chamfered ope with a plain hood with stepped ends. At 17 feet from the east wall is a cross wall with a recess in the middle, facing the western or main room. To the north, but in the east room, is a recess with a slab. There were slit lights in the gables; one door had a roll moulding; the ope of the southern is destroyed, but the flat inner lintel remained in 1902. Whatever the real nature of the building may be, I am more than doubtful that it ever was a church. If so, it must have been carefully designed to conceal its character from the outer world.