Ancient Forts around Quin

Fig. 1.0 Out from Quin village lie 35 stone forts

By the records of the National Monuments Services there are 940 stone ringforts (cashel’s) in Clare. Perhaps this is understandable as so many of them are on the karst limestone pavements of the Burren, where the predominant building material is stone. If that seems a lot, consider earthen forts or liss’s (liosanna) that are more familiar to us. These number in the thousands. They are so numerous in the landscape that it’s difficult to show them all in a regular map of the county.

Living around Quin, the earthen ringforts declare their presence each spring when the trees on their circular banks take on a fresh raiment of leaves, to outline the forts’ presence and shape. In May some forts develop a nimbus-like circle of white blossoms from their whitethorns/sceach geal, signalling that they are indeed fairy property for the month. They herald the coming summer and are as welcome as the returning swallows.

The Quin area has an abundance of ancient habitation types. 

The first and oldest habitations used by our ancestors were caves. In the limestone terrain around the parish are many caverns (homes to the tiny Lesser Horseshoe bats). They have not yet had deep archaeological surveys but are very precious in maintaining the protected wildlife. 

Professor Seán Ó Riordáin in 1979 wrote of Mooghaun hillfort “The great stone-built multivallate hillfort…is one of the most remarkable of our antiquities…” 

Elsewhere, in the shallow lakes east of Quin is found another unique native habitation – the crannóg. This is a manmade island containing domestic quarters, used for protection and possibly isolation in times of plague. Most famous of these is Knocknalappa. ‘The crannóg took the form of a slight oval shaped projection into Rosroe Lake… in fact an artificial island, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel.’ Excavated in 1937, pottery, bronze rings, a bronze sunflower pin, amber beads and a bone knife were discovered. Crannógs were in use from the Bronze Age to early modern times.  

In the fields around Quin are many sites deemed ‘enclosures’ or ‘earthworks’. Some are very ancient spaces and may have served as Bronze Age assembly or ceremonial sites. We know the large open circle in Coogaun, with its inner sunken floor was a henge.

Fig. 2.0 Late Bronze Age Henge, Coogaun* (Photo R. Maxted)*

Back on Mooghaun Hill, the remains of circular stone huts, from both the Bronze and Iron Ages are to be found. After these came the earthen ringforts and cashel’s of the medieval period. These were followed by the ‘Peel Towers’ or Tower houses of the rich, a building type introduced by the Anglo-Normans. 

We are very fortunate to have such a variety of domicile types in our parish.

Back to ringforts:

Described as: ‘An enclosure defined by a penannular bank of earth with a ditch immediately outside’ (Lynn 1975:29). Occasionally the internal space contains a souterrain (a manufactured tunnel beneath the floor of the fort). Estimates of their number vary, but there are thought to be at least 45,000 nationally… Despite their abundance, surprisingly little is known about them. Once widely referred to as Dane forts, because of the belief that they were built by Vikings (Crofton Croker 1835: 351),they are in fact Irish structures, as suggested by the many Irish place-names containing lios or ráth, which refer to ring-forts. Although some forts may plausibly date to the Iron Age, the vast majority are medieval structures. In terms of function, it is thought that most ring-forts were simple farmsteads, used to house people and their livestock, with the ditch and bank built primarily for defence against cattle-raids (McCormick 1995: 33). Some ring-forts have two or even three concentric banks and ditches: extra rings which were built to enhance status, not defence. 

In this article, the focus is on cashels and forts with stone walls rather than the liss-ringforts. Much of the following detail is drawn from the writings of Clare’s great antiquarian TJ Westropp. .The caiseal is essentially a stone fort, mostly from medieval times (600-1000AD). Although termed ‘forts’ they were not intended to withstand a sustained assault. 

Referred to as cahers, Westropp wrote:  ‘…Clare cahers are manifestly of very different periods, many are residential rather than defensive, resembling our enclosed yards rather than castles; others are not the hurried entrenchments of a small and hunted tribe, but the deliberately built citadels of a settled and powerful nation, fearing assault rather than siege. Antiquities found in their enclosures may have lain there long before the fort was built. If a great caher were erected in our day from the crag blocks, it would look venerable and antique even in the lifetime of its builders…’ The cahers served as agencies against sudden brief attacks from belligerent neighbours and a means of preserving livestock (often against wolves who were present until 1786 – author). Their role was similar to the earthen ringforts seen all around East Clare. In structure they differed a bit from the conventional ringfort in that they seldom had a fosse or ditch outside and did not contain a wooden palisade on the walls. Their inner diameter also tended to be less in size than the earthen forts.

Fig. 3.0 Conjectural drawing of an occupied medieval stone fort.

Ringforts were often clustered around a family head or tribal leader. They were classified as ‘dispersed individual homesteads’, linked by blood and marriage. The main wealth of the group lay in cattle, which were well maintained and often had a separate enclosure for their use. Twin forts can be seen at Dangan. The fort of the tuath leader was at the centre of the group, often with the opening of the other forts facing his (or towards the east, out of the way of the prevailing winds). Being in sight of kin or neighbours (indivisibility) offered reassurance to the fort’s residents. An example of this can be seen in Creevagh Beg, where a stone fort and earthen fort lie within 200 metres of each other.

One hundred and sixty five ringforts and sixty four stone forts are known from the next-door barony of Bunratty Lower. 

Of 42 stone forts that were examined, 22 were of a circular shape with the remaining 20 were oval (Gerrard Ryan’s survey from 1979). There has been no recent survey of existing stone forts in (our) Bunratty Upper barony. However using Ryan’s data, we can assume similar concentrations and fort types in the Quin area). 

‘Throughout the Barony the intact stone walls are up to two metres in height by 2 to 2 ½ metres in width. As they survive in the landscape the entrances consist of simple openings in the banks or walls of the ringforts/stone forts. The average width was about 1 ½ metres though there was quite a variation. Many openings had a lintel stone over the opening, suggesting a door or a gate in the past. Twenty four possible house-sites were noted in ringforts and stone forts in the barony of Bunratty Lower.’ All local Quin stone forts are of the single-walled (univallate) type.

Utilising Westropp’s 1909 survey, we can check out a few of the cashels in the immediate Quin area: We need to be mindful that the information here was recorded over 110 years ago:

‘South of the late peel-tower of Ballymarkahan we find, on a crag busy with hazels, the remains of two cahers, well built, with the usual excellent masonry and small filling, but reduced to 3 or 4 feet in height, and featureless. 

Fig. 4.0 The group of forts around Cahercalla (Westropp)

On the crags to the north-east, partly in Knappogue and partly in Ballymarkahan, is a remarkable oblong stone fort. The wall is rarely more than 4 feet high to the south, having been used as a quarry when the boundary-wall was made between the townlands; it is 6 to 7 feet high to the north. It is of good, regular masonry, with two faces of blocks, many 3 feet 6 inches thick and 4 feet long. It varies a little in thickness, being 6 feet 8 inches to the south, 6 feet 4 inches to the sides, and 7 feet 4 inches to the north.’

We pass north-eastward through craggy fields, and find two ring-walls levelled to the ground. Near them is a shallow depression, fenced at its curved end by a considerable bank of stones. The foundation of a little circular hut-ring lies near the more southern caher in this field; the northern caher is barely traceable.

About 100 feet to the north of these is a fine and perfect rath. The garth is not raised, nor has it a fosse; but it consists of a steep ring of earth and stones 7 to 8 feet high, planted with hawthorns and 150 feet across. There are no foundations inside. It was once stone-faced; patches of the work still remain.

In Ballymacloon East, on a rising about half a mile from the last rath, is an even finer specimen. The banks are over 8 feet high, with a deep fosse 16 feet wide, to the south and west, but partly filled at the other points. In the garth, which is 108 feet across, are the foundations of a modern cottage and yards. Below this, in a pit about 6 feet deep, is the open of a souterrain or “cave.” Its sides, as usual, were of small stones, and sloped from 4 feet 4 inches at the floor to 2 feet 7 inches at the roof, being about 5½ feet high. The entrance has two strong lintels about it, each a foot thick

Creevagh: Across the river an extent of rich meadow and tilled land surrounds a gently rising hill on which is a remarkable double fort. The fort on the summit is a circular ring-wall; the faces are nearly destroyed; but enough remains among the heaps of filling (15 to over 20 feet wide, and 3 or 4 feet high) to show that it was from 12 to 16 feet thick, and apparently in one piece, the double wall not, so far as I know, occurring in this group. The garth is 102 feet wide, and the whole ring about 130 feet across. In the southern segment 18 feet from the wall are steep mounds, evidently of a wooden and earthen house, somewhat oval, and enclosing a cave. It consists of a passage 8 feet 3 inches long and 2½ feet wide, now nearly unroofed; the next reach has lintels, the outer only 3 feet 6 inches long, and is nearly filled; the sides incline, and it runs southward. The wall is 21 feet thick, and 15 feet beyond it is another fort of earth on the slope of the hill.

(Both the stone fort and earthen fort) are planted thickly round the edges. An old woman assured us that to her knowledge “the fairies were never heard in that fort,” though the bothairín (lane) ran past it; so local belief is evidently dying out at Creevagh.

Fig. 5.0 Cahercalla high-status ringfort (Photo R.Maxted).*

Creevaghbeg: Besides the faint traces of two small forts at the Rine, there is another caher, thickly planted with hawthorns, near the great fort. It has a wall greatly dilapidated, nearly circular outside, evidently 12 feet thick; but the debris is heaped outside for 16 feet more; the garth is 78 feet across. It has a curious feature worth recording. The inner face of the wall is nearly intact, and is built in short straight lengths about 40 feet long, forming a fairly regular hexagon.

A caher lies at a short distance down a gentle slope to the south-east… It was a massive fort, 87 to 90 feet across the garth, and 114 feet over all. There are no signs of foundations inside, but the interior was evidently levelled. The wall is 12 feet thick, and 8 feet high, being best preserved to the N.E. Some has been removed since my first visit in 1892. The gateway faced E.N.E and is quite defaced; the masonry is good, with two faces, the outer, as usual, being built with the largest blocks…

There was a stone fort in Creevaghbeg in the later seventeenth century, called Caherumine in the “Book of Survey” in 1655; Cahermine, Cahermunigan, in a grant of 1660, Caherbane in 1675 and Cahermine in 1679.  If these forms give us Cahermeane, (cahir meán) “the middle fort,” they probably refer to the above caher, it being near the middle of the townland with other forts around it. Caherbane (cahir bán) would still be a very appropriate title, as, on a sunny day, its white limestone walls form a conspicuous object. 

Fig. 6.0 Creevagh Beg fort.*

There are three forts close together on the border of the townland near Dangan and Cahercalla. The southern is a caher very like the last, but better preserved; most of the inner facing and the larger facing and the larger outer facing to the N. and N.W. are intact. The wall is nearly uniform, 12 feet thick, with two facings of excellent masonry set with great skill to the curve, and to a straight batter varying from 1 in 3 to 1 in 6. It is from 6 feet to 7 feet 8 inches high, and has no terrace or steps; the gate facing the S.E., but quite defaced; the garth measures 118 feet through, and 140 feet over all.

Cragataska This townland, with Cahercalla, lies north of the Creevaghs. It has the foundations of a caher, evidently the “Cahercragataska” mentioned in 1729, in a deed of the Creaghs, and other records down to at least 1787.  It is a ring of filling with lines of facing-blocks, enough to show that the wall was 12 feet thick, and the garth 102 feet wide, with curved enclosures inside. Both the facing and filling were small, which accounts for its complete overthrow. It had a rounded annexe to the north, whence an ancient road ran across the crags towards Cahercalla triple fort to the north-east. It is on a craggy upland, with a wide view to Aughty and Tulla’.  

(TJW, 1913)

Cahercalla townland is most famous for the MacNamara triple-walled ringfort. This was a high-status fort and was occupied until quite late, perhaps the fifteenth century, by the ruling MacNamaras.

There are remains of two little forts near Creevagh and of a larger caher, on a hill near a pool, towards Corbally and Toonagh… 

Cutteen/‘The little commonage’: There is a very fine ‘enclosure’ in Cutteen townland in good repair and clearly maintained by the landowners (see photo). It lies 5-10 minutes’ walk in from the local road through gated fields, all with animals. Here, as with all other farms, visitors must seek permission before entering

Fig. 7.0 ‘Enclosure’ in Cutteen townland (Photo J.Feeney)*

Sadly, some of the stone structures noted by Westropp that had stood for over one thousand years have been destroyed – some in recent times. To what end I don’t know. It is illegal to damage these structures and we should not hesitate to point this out.


We are privileged here in East Clare to have such an amazing crowded archaeological landscape.  It is something to be treasured. Perhaps next spring we can get a group together with a resolve to visit some of our local forts, both earthen and stone-built, and find out a little more about them.  

(*Thanks to Donie Hassett, Michael Neylon, John Power and Dermot Costello for allowing access to their land).


Michael Houlihan, 20/11/2022

Cuteen showing curvature of the walls

Creevagh Beg, showing thickness of the walls


[1]   O’Riordain, 1979, page 48.

[2] A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan, Knocknalappa townland.

[3] ‘The Fear of Fairy Forts: Archaeological Preservation by Plague and Superstition’,
Patrick McCafferty, University of Leipzig, Emania 2018

[4] ‘Archaeology of the Burren: Prehistoric Forts and Dolmens in North Clare’ by Thomas Johnson Westropp,
Part I: Foreign and Irish Forts.

[5] A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan.

[6] ‘Types of the Ring-forts and similar structures remaining in Eastern Clare (Quin, Tulla, and Bodyke)’ by Thomas Johnson Westropp, M.A.

Taken from Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. xxvii…sect. C, no. xvi, pp 371-391.
Read June 15. Ordered for Publication17 June. Published 19 August, 1909.

[7] The Western Stone Forts Project: Excavations at Dún Aonghasa and Dún Eoghanachta, Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Claire Cotter. Wordwell, Dublin. 2012. 739pp, 579 illustrations.

 Appendix 1:
The following is a list of some of the stone forts/cashels/enclosures in the general Quin Area, taken from the National Monuments database.

   RMP No.

CL042-067—- DROMOLAND CL034-157—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)
CL034-081003- MOYRIESK CL035-044—- CAHERLOGHAN
CL034-099001- TOONAGH (Bunratty Upper By.) CL035-050—- LISSOFIN
CL034-100—- TOONAGH (Bunratty Upper By.) CL035-082—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)
CL034-101—- TOONAGH (Bunratty Upper By.) CL035-083—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)
CL034-109—- KILLAWINNA CL035-088—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)
CL034-110—- MONANOE CL035-091—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)
CL034-111001- NOUGHAVAL (Bunratty Upper By.) CL035-092—- CRAGBWEE
CL034-114—- MONANOE CL035-093—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)
CL034-116—- FINANAGH CL035-098—- GORTEEN (Dangan ED)
CL034-118—- FINANAGH CL035-106—- GORTEEN (Dangan ED)
CL034-120—- BALLYGLASS (Bunratty Upper By.) CL035-107—- GORTEEN (Dangan ED)
CL034-123—- DRIM CL035-109—- GORTEEN (Dangan ED)
CL034-124001- KEEVAGH CL035-116—- GORTEEN (Dangan ED)
CL034-125—- KEEVAGH CL038-022—- CRAGGAUN
CL034-129001- DRIM CL040-013—- CAHERMORE
CL034-130001- RINNEEN (Bunratty Upper By.) CL041-001001- CAHERMORE
CL034-131—- MADARA CL034-160001- CRAGGATASKA
CL034-132002- MADARA CL034-210001- KILBRECKAN
CL034-147001- CAHERCALLA CL035-050—- LISSOFIN
CL034-148—- CAHERCALLA CL035-082—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)
CL034-149—- CREEVAGH BEG CL035-083—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)
CL034-150001- CAHERCALLA CL035-088—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)
CL034-150002- CAHERCALLA CL035-091—- DANGAN (Bunratty Upper By.)

 RMP No.     

CL035-109—- GORTEEN (Dangan ED)

CL035-116—- GORTEEN (Dangan ED)
CL038-022—- CRAGGAUN