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A Folklore Survey of County Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp


Earthworks and Buildings

Fairy forts and mounds have been dealt with in Section iv., haunted houses in Section viii., and foundation sacrifices in Section xi.

The ring walls and mounds in County Clare are probably residential, or, more rarely, sepulchral, but certainly not military. They consist of one or more walls (or banks), usually slightly oval, and the earthworks have fosses and traces of stone facing. They are named dun, lis, rath, and even caher (cathair), but the last name is usually reserved for the dry stone ring walls. Ooan (uamh) is used both for forts and for artificial caves in them, and also, for a fort-souterain, in 1317 in the ‘Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh’ (History of the Wars of the O’Briens and de Clares). The country people have no limited views as to the makers of the 2400 forts in Clare. Croaghateeaun near Ballinalacken is attributed to the ancient deities the Danánn, and one should cross oneself in entering its garth.[223] Mohernagartan and Mohernaglasha were made by the smith god Lon,—the latter for the grey ‘cloud and rain cow,’ the Glas. Oisin the poet lived in Caherussheen near Corofin, and the great stone fort on Turlough Hill probably belonged to the ‘Irish Militia’ (Finn’s warriors). Chonan, one of Finn’s men, dwelt in the now levelled fort on Keentlae (ceann tsleibh) on Inchiquin Hill.[224] Three contemporaries, Crochaun (lumped hill), Dahlin, and Sall (the brine), made the forts bearing their names at Loop Head, and one at Cahernaheanmná near them for their sister the beloved of the hero Dermot O’Duine.[225] Oircheannaigh ‘of the golden cap’ made the vast triple Moghane for his ‘fighting ring’.[226] A giant dwelt in the promontory fort of Doonaunmore at Ballinahown who lost his magic staff and was slain.[227] Another Fhir mór (or huge man) was hunted from Cahermurphy stone fort to Kiltumper, where he was slain and buried.[228] Caherdooneerish was in the tenth century reputed to have been made by Irgus, a Firbolg, at the beginning of our era; it was wrongly attributed by scholars to Fergus, son of Roigh, but the peasantry never abandoned the name of the brother of Aenghus of Dun Aengusa in Aran.

Unlike some old schools of antiquaries, the people did not overlook the later origin of some forts, for they attributed the Grianan and Bealboruma to King Brian Boru (c. 1000), the former to defend his horse-paddock (parc an each) on the shoulder of Craglea. The fort of Lisnagry, in the heart of the hills near Broadford, was reputed to be the hiding-place of the great king’s cattle from the Danes. King Croohoore (Conor) na Siudaine O’Brien (slain 1267) was said to have built Dunconor, the great stone fort in Inishere Aran which MacLiag’s poem (c. 1000) attributes to Conchraid the Firbolg. The same king, we may note, executed the latest earthworks of a fort recorded in Clare history, at Clonroad, completing the royal rath commenced by his father and left unfinished in 1241. Some rebuilding of Dun Conor may quite conceivably have been undertaken in his reign.

To the fairy forts previously mentioned should be added Lissateeaun, near Lisdoonvarna. The people of Tulla had an observance by which the instigator of the destruction of a fort assumed the blame and freed the workman.

The church of Clonlea once stood at the opposite side of the lake, near St. Senan’s well in Killaneena, whence one night it travelled down the old lane that runs into the lake, passed under the water, and reached its present site. King Conor na Siudaine built Corcomroe Abbey, and, as soon as his five skilled masons had completed the beautiful chancel and chapels, he put them to death lest they should build a rival masterpiece elsewhere. This legend is now being transferred through modern guide-books, the careless compilation of which is a great source of corruption of our legends, to Donald O’Brien, the actual, but not traditional, founder of the building, and is held to explain the rude and inferior work of parts of it. Quin ‘Abbey’ was built by the famous Master Mason Gobbán Saor, who twisted the spiral pillars of its beautiful cloister with his own hands. The builder of the south transept (1433) fell from its gable, and was killed where a tombstone with the scribed figure of an axe marks his grave. The north-west corner of Carran church overhangs, and is destined to fall on the wisest man that shall pass below it.

A belief similar to that about Carran church was attached to Ballymulcassel or Mountcashel castle. It is a peel tower, built by King Conor na Srona, about 1460, on a steep little knoll of rock beside the road from Sixmilebridge to Kilkishen. It was to fall on the handsomest person, and gossip told of a very ugly man who always took a longer road to avoid passing it. The same legend and gossip was attached to Newcastle peel tower, near Limerick and not far from the border of Clare. A wizard who lived in Shalee castle was so pestered by his wife that he flew away with half the tower, which remains as Glen castle near Ennistymon station. A guest praised Dysert castle to its owner, O’Dea, and wished that it were full of gold. ‘I’d rather have it full of O’Hiumhairs,’ replied O’Dea,[229] the family so complimented being a small but warlike clan, of which one member fought in the wars of 1313-8 and is reported to have slain Richard de Clare at Dysert in 1318. I heard in 1869 that the castles near Doonass were built by seven brothers, and that six came to an untimely end at the hands of the seventh, but the legend seems now forgotten at Clonlara.

Round Towers
The peasants seem never to have adopted the various druidic, Cuthite, phallic, and other theories of 1770 onwards from the so-called ‘educated classes.’ To them, as to our earlier writers, the towers are steeples built by saints. John Lloyd, in 1780,[230] calls that of Scattery ‘the loftiest old Steeple in the Kingdom.’ Michael O’Brannan, in 1794,[231] tells how St. Senan ‘built seven churches and a beautiful high belfry’ there, and how ‘St. Caimin, a vigorous chieftain, erected seven churches and a high belfry’ on Lough Derg. Legend told that St. Senan, while building his tower, was interrupted by a woman, and left it unfinished.[232] St. Blawfugh (Blathmac) built two towers at Rathblamac, one of which was stolen and brought to Dysert O’Dea by St. Manawla. Of the bells of Dromcliff and Kilnaboy towers I have already told.[233] Kilnaboy tower was broken down by ‘the bombardment of Cromwell.’ The round tower at Tomgraney was faintly remembered, in Petrie’s time, as like that on Iniscaltra, but it has long since been forgotten.

Crosses and Monuments
I have already mentioned the cross of Dysert O’Dea,[234] which was unusual in having portions of its carvings on separate pieces of stone, some of which are lost. The cross fell twice, and was re-erected by Conor Crone O’Dea in 1683 and by Col. Synge of Mount Callan in 1872; each benefactor died in the year following his restoration of the cross. The breaking off or fall of any portion of the monument of Sir Donal O’Brien, the first of the baronets of Dromoland, in Kilnasoolagh church, is fatal to his descendants, and so is any attempt to clean or repair it, tradition alleging that one of the O’Briens always dies in either case.[235] My own family believed that, if the family vault were opened, it had soon to be opened twice again to receive new occupants.

Underground Passages
One is said to lead from Cahercrochaun to Dundahlin on Loop Head, and another from the great promontory fort of Dundoillroe eastwards, where a brown track, probably an old road, still remains. A third ran through Barnagoskaigh to the Tuamnagoskaigh in Ballynahown, near Lisdoonvarna, where there is a roofed cleft of some length. A fourth went from Bealboruma fort under the Shannon; through it the angry Brian Boru sent soldiers to waylay and kill his slandered son-in-law the King of Leinster. Others connected Killone with Clare Abbey, and Quin Abbey with St. Finghin’s church at the other side of the ‘Rine.’


Chapter 18


Chapter 20