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

Part V: Corofin District: Ruan Parish:
Cahernanoorane; Templenaraha; Caherlough Group; Lisnavulloge; Caherlough

This is a much-injured little ring-wall on a rising ground on the border of Ballymacrogan West. It is said to derive its name from the fairy songs heard in it.

Below the last (in 1897) I found a very interesting though defaced ruin; a little oratory in a large ring-wall. The latter was 151 feet across the garth, the wall of large blocks was overturned, and only in a few places was the well-laid facing visible, rarely 3 to 4 feet high. At 87 feet from the eastern curve lay the remains of a little oratory, the ‘Temple of the Rath’: it was of fine ‘cyclopean’ masonry, beautifully fitted together, and was 24 feet long by 16 feet 10 inches wide over all, the walls being 3 feet thick. The west door had inclined jambs formed of large slabs running through the wall; no part was much over 4 feet high, nor did any other feature remain. A neighbouring farmer had so little regard for antiquity or respect for church remains that he removed the ruin altogether in February 1906; poetic justice overtook him, as the calf-shed he built of the material collapsed, killing the animals in it not long afterwards. Strange to say, in Tooreen, not very far away, another outrage on our antiquities was avenged on the perpetrator. A man blew up a dolmen to clear his land, and in the explosion he was struck on his right hand by a splinter of stone, and was long crippled. A hope is left that such incidents may get known and may discourage such sordid, unpatriotic destruction of our early remains, a blot on the present inhabitants of Clare and elsewhere. I have noted and given a plan of the wrecked dolmen in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy.[9] Four small stones (one to the west and three to the east) remain, and part of the cover, one of the eastern stones being rather a low pillar, 4 feet 6 inches high.

Caherlough Group (O.S. 17)
This portion of the district lies between Ruan, Monanagh Lake (the Lough Cullaun of the maps), and Lough George. I can find no ancient name for these lakes. Near Kells (Cealla) on a low green ridge opposite Ballyportrea Castle, lies a large and, as usual, very low liss with a fosse, measuring about 250 feet over all, with two low rings; in its ambit lies the bossed stone cross described by Dr. G. U. Macnamara in these pages.[10] It is between Lough Cullaun and the lesser lakes of Knockaundoo and Toole’s Lough, and commands the approach from the ancient ford of Corravickburrin (Cora mhic Dhaboirean) at Kells Bridge.[11] The fort is about 200 feet across; inside the fosse is a souterrain, to the east side an oblong foundation and the venerated hawthorn called Sceach an bheannuighthe. The early church of Templemore or ‘Moor’ probably stood in a fort, as there is a souterrain near the graveyard, but I did not see any ring on either of my visits. It and a legendary church site at St. Catherine’s gave the name Cealla ‘churches,’ now ‘Kells.’ The St. Catherine’s site is now an orchard, and, strange to say, O’Daly’s biting satire in the early seventeenth century (A.D. 1617) lampoons the people of Cealla for ‘digging in the churchyard in the snow.’ Burials have been found deep below the surface.

The old bed of the Fergus is now dry, but is still crossed by Kells Bridge over water-fretted sheets of rock, the fissures of which perhaps contain valuable antiquities. Dr. Macnamara found from a very old woman (who did not survive very long afterwards) that this old ford was named Corravickburren. This identifies it with an important ford of the Fergus, crossed by the army of Prince Dermot O’Brien, in 1317, on his way to the battle at Corcomroe Abbey; it was then called Cora mhic Dhaboirean or MacDavoren’s weir. South of the river bed and of Kells rises a long rough ridge of crag sheeted with dense hazels and thorns largely in the townland of Caherlough. It lies about a mile from the townland of Tullyodea and the fort of Liscarhoonaglasha or Cahernamart.

Plan of Caherlough Group
Plan of Caherlough Group
Click on map for larger version

I think it probable that here and not at Tully the fierce little battle of Tulach (? Ui Deadhaid) was fought in 1313, when Prince Murchad O’Brien led his first attack on his opponents of the house of Brian Ruadh. He was aided by the O’Kellys of Aidhne, some of the Burkes, O’Maddens, Comyns, O’Loughlins, and Macraith O’Dea, with the men of Cineal Fermaic. O’Shanny brought them news that their opponents had mustered on Tulach’s slopes to the southward with the clan Mahon O’Brien, the O’Gradys, and the Ui Bloid of eastern Clare. The foe saw Murchad’s banners on the mountain moor, and soon he was leading his forces under a shower of missiles up a ‘steep-cut, rough, and seamy’ hill ‘steep hillside,’ ‘a projecting bluff,’[12] and with difficulty he got foothold on the table-land on top, and after a fierce, bloody fight, drove the enemy down into the wooded country; few could have escaped but that night fell, and Murchad’s force could not pursue through ‘the close and rugged country.’ With the morning the Prince proceeded to take pledges from Corcavaskin in the south-west of the County Clare, and soon had driven out the sons of Prince Domnall and Mahon O’Brien, who fled to Richard de Clare at Bunratty Castle.

The battle certainly did not take place on the ridge of Tully, a grassy, gently rising, broad-topped hillock. It was fought up a ‘steep, rough, and seamed ridge,’ on top of which there was hardly room to fight for the short space during which the issue hung doubtful. It commanded the approach from the important pass of Bealach Fhiodhail or Rockforest. All of these facts suit the Caherlough ridge; the only difficulty lies in the name, Tulach, and, the titles of battlefields are notoriously artificial. The ridge is most difficult to examine between the often impenetrable thickets and the dangerous fissures of the rock beneath, which is practically earthless. It has a curious group of late-looking forts which I purpose examining.

The first of the group lies just within the townland of Rinneen, divided by the side road from the end of Caherlough on its eastern edge. Caher-Rinneen is a nearly levelled but interesting ruin. The wall is from 10 feet to 11 feet 4 inches thick, the garth 73 feet across north-east and south-west along the axis of the souterrain. The ‘Ooan’ (uamha) is 6 feet 4 inches from the wall at the south-west, and is T-shaped on plan; the longer limb is 20 feet long and 4 feet 3 inches wide, its southern end is roofed with large limestone slabs for 12 feet. The cross-wing at the northern end is 13 feet 6 inches long and 4 feet 2 inches wide; only three of its lintels remain. It is 42 feet from the wall. North from the end is a trace of a hut-enclosure adjoining the rampart.

This lies due east from the last in Caherlough, a stone fort planted with hawthorns, and quite overthrown. Going up the lane as far as Thornville we pass two nearly levelled rings, and climb up the difficult crags to the north-east of the house. Cahernavillare lies on the summit; it is 63 feet over all, the stones so spread that its thickness cannot be measured. At 300 yards to its north-east lies Cahereen in a nearly impassable thicket; when I found it the fort was buried in bracken 6 feet high; the garth is 57 feet across the wall, as usual a tumbled ring of mossy stones. At 800 feet to the south-east lies Caherlough, almost exactly 1000 feet due east from Cahernavillare, and about 200 feet from Caherlough. Between the last two, but close to the last, is another small house ring of mossed blocks, barely 60 feet over all. The modern wall (apparently so unnecessary in this wilderness) curves round upon the old wall.

The chief fort is about 95 feet across, thickly overgrown, on a most dangerous fissured crag. The wall has large facing, well set, with a slight batter of about 1 in 10 and about 9 feet thick. The fort has a large, but evidently later, annexe to the east; it is 114 feet across inside. The wall is built of large, coarse blocks, and is only 6 feet thick and 5 feet high, without filling (a late indication), on the bare ribbed crags. Inside, near the south, is a house-enclosure of large, rough blocks.

To the south-east is another far smaller cathair, also with a side enclosure. The former has a wall of coarse, large blocks, with no batter, 5 feet high, and 7 feet 6 inches thick. There are two hut-sites in the garth, which is 93 feet to 95 feet across, also a rock-cutting (probably once roofed to form a souterrain). It has a lining wall, and lies east-south-east, and west-north-west, being partly buried in debris. The fort-wall embodies several large blocks, which evidently lay on the crag before it was built. The annexe (unlike that at Caherlough) is carefully bonded into the fort; it is 6 feet thick with a little filling, and it is evidently contemporary with the fort. The rough garth is 60 feet across north and south, and 75 feet east and west.

Another slight ring-wall, nearly levelled, lies some 700 feet northward from the last. Over the north edge of the townland, beyond the road from Teernea Cross to Ruan, and in Teernea, was a curious fort, 8-shaped in plan, of two equal rings, and excellent masonry with two faces and filling. It seems to have been built in one piece: the wall is usually 4 feet to 4 feet 6 inches high; so thick are the sloes and hazels everywhere (inside and outside) up to the wall, that I could not get any cross-measurements.

North from it, in an open field, is the last cathair of the group, also in Teernea. It is 102 feet wide inside, the wall 6 feet thick to the west, where it is only 3 feet high and 10 feet thick, and over 4 feet high to the east. The north and north-west parts are levelled to the foundations, which are of large blocks.[13] Of the other fort-names in Ruan, I note Rathcahaun, Rath-vergin, Lisronalta, Lisbeg, Lisnavooan, Lisduff, Lismuinga, Lissyline, Doonanoge, and Ooankeagh.