Burren Landscape and Settlement (NUIG)

Burren Landscape and Settlement (NUIG)
An INSTAR Project
This project was supported by the Heritage Council under the Irish National Strategic
Archaeological Research (INSTAR) Programme 2008
List of Figures
I Introduction (Michelle Comber and Carleton Jones – NUI, Galway)
II The Technology of the Burren INSTAR Project
(Ronan Hennessy – Burren project IT specialist)
IIIA Surveying Turlough Hill (Stefan Bergh – NUI, Galway)
IIIB Hill top cairns and associated features in the Burren
(Frank Coyne – Aegis Archaeology Ltd.)
IVA Roughan Hill prehistoric landscape (Carleton Jones – NUI, Galway)
IVB Coolnatullagh – A Final Neolithic/Early Bronze Age secular and
ritual landscape in the eastern Burren (Olive Carey – NUI, Galway)
IVC The Late Bronze Age settlement landscape of the Burren
(Claire Hennigar – NUI, Galway)
IVD The prehistoric megalith building society of the Burren: ethnographic
insights from the Khasi people of Meghalaya (Danny Burke – NUI, Galway)
V The Role of Research in Issues of Management and Conservation:
Prehistoric Landscape of the North Central Burren a Case Study
(Christine Grant – National Monuments Service)
VIA Ringforts and the Settlement Landscape of the Burren in the
First Millennium AD (Michelle Comber – NUI, Galway)
VIB Excavations in Caherconnell townland
(Graham Hull – TVAS Ireland and Michelle Comber – NUI, Galway)
VIIA Cahermacnaghten: investigating Gaelic estates
(Elizabeth FitzPatrick – NUI, Galway)
VIIB Cahermacnaghten: routeways and movement in a native landholding
(Richard Clutterbuck – consultant archaeologist)
VIIC Lislarheen: a transplantation settlement (Eve Campbell – NUI, Galway)
VIII Conclusion (Carleton Jones and Michelle Comber – NUI, Galway)
Fig. I.1 Location of the five lead studies.
Fig. II.1 Digital Terrain Model showing Cahermacnaghten townland.
Fig. II.2 Aerial view of Turlough Hill (Ordnance Survey of Ireland 1:40000 Airphoto).
Fig. II.3 4cm-resolution orthophoto showing the large enclosure on Turlough Hill.
Fig. II.4 10cm-resolution orthophoto showing Cathair Mhic Neachtain cashel, and proximal valley fields lying to the south.
Fig. II.5 10cm-resolution orthophoto showing the location of Cabhail Tighe Breac.
Fig. II.6 Digital Terrain Model showing the major geological units around the Cahermacnaghten townland.
Fig. II.7 Hillshade model (vertical exaggeration factor 2) showing the southwest summit of Turlough Hill.
Fig. II.8 Oblique perspective of the enclosure on Turlough Hill, viewed from the east (vertical exaggeration factor 2).
Fig. II.9 Slope analysis grid image (vertical exaggeration factor 2) showing the conglomeration of hut sites on Turlough Hill.
Fig. II.10 3D models of the hut sites on Turlough Hill (extruded by 0.5m) looking northwest over the summit.
Fig. II.11 High resolution TIN generated from a 10cm DTM showing hut sites on Turlough Hill.
Fig. IIIa.1 Turlough Hill from the southwest.
Fig. IIIa.2 Turlough Hill, western summit. Digital terrain model on which the circular hut sites are clearly identifiable.
Fig. IIIa.3 Turlough Hill. Hut sites indicated by yellow dot
Fig. IIIa.4 Digital elevation model of hut sites. Note entrance in e.g. large hut in upper part of image.
Fig. IIIa.5 Hillshade showing multivallate enclosure in eastern part of summit.
Fig. IIIb.1 Field survey in progress.
Fig. IIIb.2 Plan of features near Turlough Hill and Slieve Carran.
Fig. IIIb.3 Plan of features on top, and to the north, of Slieve Carran.
Fig. IIIb.4 Plan of features on Turloughmore ridge.
Fig. IIIb.5 Enclosures along rock face between Oughtmama and Turlough Hill.
Fig. IIIb.6 Hut and enclosure on Turloughmore mountain range.
Fig. IIIb.7 Enclosures along rock face to north of Slieve Carran.
Fig. IIIb.8 Long cairn to east of Turlough Hill.
Fig. IIIb.9 Long cairn between Turloughmore and Slieve Carran mountains.
Fig. IIIb.10 Cairn between Turlough Hill and Oughtmama mountains.
Fig. IIIb.11 Long cairn between Knockanes and Slieve Rua mountains.
Fig. IIIb.12 Hut on east side of Turloughmore mountain ridge.
Fig. IVa.1 Beaker and Early Bronze Age farmsteads, field walls, and monuments on Roughan Hill.
Fig. IVa.2 Post-Early Bronze Age farmsteads and field walls.
Fig. IVa.3 Beaker sherds from Farmstead 1.
Fig. IVa.4 Sub-circular convex scrapers from Farmstead 1.
Fig. IVa.5 Comparison of field wall layouts (all shown at approximately the same scale).
Fig. IVa.6 Hypothetical social structure of the Burren’s population in the Neolithic.
Fig. IVa.7 Location of the Ballycasheen portal tomb (marked by the star) at the ‘entrance’ to the Burren between Roughan
Hill and the River Fergus.
Fig. IVa.8 A wedge tomb on Roughan Hill.
Fig. IVb.1 The extent of the survey area.
Fig. IVb.2 Ritual Monuments in the survey area.
Fig. IVb.3 Settlement locales in the survey area.
Fig. IVb.4 Prehistoric walls in the survey area.
Fig. IVb.5 Terrace wall on slope of Doomore Hill.
Fig. IVc.1 Enclosure at Ballyconry (marked with blue circle in centre of the image) from 1842 6-Inch OS Map.
Fig. IVc.2 View of Ballyconry enclosure.
Fig. IVc.3. The morphology of the walls of Mooghaun hillforts, Co. Clare, note the box construction (Grogan 2005).
Fig. IVc.4. The plateau to the west of Carron, enclosures are identified along with some related features.
Fig. IVc.5 Enclosure 2, townland of Sladoo, vertical stones on the internal and external faces with rubble packing.
Fig. V.1 Study Area.
Fig. V.2 Terrain model of the Burren showing the distribution of hills, plateau and lowland.
Fig. V.3 The general distribution pattern of prehistoric monuments on the Burren.
Fig. V.4 Distribution of Cairns.
Fig. V.5 Distribution of Cists.
Fig. V.6 Distribution of Wedge Tombs.
Fig. V.7 Distribution of Fulachta Fiadh.
Fig. V.8 Preliminary survey of banks on Ceapaigh an Bháile hill.
Fig. V.9 Distribution of Neolithic Monuments.
Fig. V.10 Eastern cairn on Ceapaigh an Bháile and its relationship to the bank.
Fig. V.11 Southern Cairn on Ceapaigh an Bháile and its relationship to the bank.
Fig. V.12 Survey of hilltop cairn at south-western end of Aillwee Hill.
Fig. V.13 Location of new cairn group on Aillwee Hill.
Fig. VIa.1 Location of study area(s).
Fig. VIa.2 Settlement zones, Phase 1.
Fig. VIa.3 Cahercommaun, Cashlaungarr, and CL10-59.02.
Fig. VIa.4 Phase 2 surveyed walls.
Fig. VIa.5 Phase 2 surveyed fields.
Fig. VIa.6 Phase 2 surveyed features.
Fig. VIa.7 Phase 2 surveyed trackways.
Fig. VIa.8 Phase 2 multi-period remains.
Fig. VIa.9 Caherconnell settlement cluster.
Fig. VIa.10 Phase 3 survey.
Fig. VIa.11 Cashel-enclosed wedge tomb.
Fig. VIa.12 Survey of cashels and wedge tomb.
Fig. VIb.1 Location of Caherconnell cashel and townland.
Fig. VIb.2 Plan of cashel and location of trench (survey by Liam Hickey).
Fig. VIb.3 Internal wall, internal ledge, possible souterrain, Structure B, and cashel from northwest.
Fig. VIb.4 Plan of trench.
Fig. VIb.5 East-facing section of trench.
Fig. VIb.6 Trench during excavation.
Fig. VIb.7 Quern fragment, bone comb, stone mould/whetstone, and iron arrowhead.
Table VIb.1 Catalogue of timber.
Table VIb.2. Radiocarbon dates.
Fig. VIb.8 Caherconnell and environs.
Fig. VIb.9 Drystone chamber pre-excavation.
Fig. VIb.10 Niches.
Fig. VIb.11 Entrance.
Fig. VIb.12 Human remains in entrance passage.
Fig. VIb.13 Chamber interior.
Fig. VIb.14 A selection of lithics (chert) of probable Early Bronze Age date.
Fig. Vib.15 Sherd of decorated Early Bronze Age pottery (photo: Anna Brindley).
Fig. VIb.16 Silver penny and half-penny of Edward III, minted in Canterbury and Durham, fourteenth century.
Fig. VIIa.1 Cahermacnaghten in the tuáth matrix.
Fig. VIIa.2 The topographical geometry of Monaghan townlands (Duffy 2001) and the irregular townlands of the Burren
(Hennessy 2008).
Fig. VIIa.3 The half-quarter holding of Giolla na naomh óg O’Davoren before 1606 (Hennessy).
Fig. VIIa.4 The division of the half-quarter holding, 1606 (Hennessy 2008).
Fig. VIIa.5 Changing pattern of landownership 1641 (Hennessy).
Fig. VIIa.6 The modern townland outline and the topography that it frames.
Fig. VIIa.7 Cathair Mhic Neachtain (Bruton).
Fig. VIIa.8 Westropp’s view of Cathair Mhic Neachtain taken in 1902 (MN-CL696582, Clare County Council).
Fig. VIIa.9 3-D laser scan of Cabhail Tighe Breac (Discovery Programme & Cahermacnaghten Project 2007).
Fig. VIIb.1 Trackways, routes and movement.
Fig. VIIb.2 The Green Road.
Fig. VIIb.3 Farm Track (A).
Fig. VIIb.4 Farm Track (B).
Fig. VIIc.1 First edition OS map (1840) showing Lislarheen House and the cluster of cottages to the east.
Fig. VIIc.2 South-facing north wall of Lislarheen House.
Fig. VIIc.3 East-facing east wall of Lislarheen House.
Fig. VIIc.4 West-facing wall of enclosure A. 4A North-facing top of eastern wall of enclosure A.
This project was supported by the Heritage Council under the Irish National Strategic Archaeological Research
(INSTAR) Programme 2008.
Thanks are also due to the Department of Archaeology, NUI, Galway, the National Monuments Service, TVAS
Ireland Ltd., and Aegis Archaeology Ltd. for their support.
Particular thanks also to all of the landowners and inhabitants of the Burren who generously granted access to
their lands and supported the work in numerous ways.
Michelle Comber and Carleton Jones
History of Project
The Burren Landscape and Settlement Project was established under INSTAR (Irish National Strategic
Archaeological Research) funding in Spring 2008. It was designed as a mechanism for the exploration of Burren
archaeology and the creation of a research framework for future archaeological study in the region.
The Project has brought together a number of archaeologists and researchers currently working in the Burren,
including academics, a state archaeologist, consultant archaeologists, and postgraduate students. These
comprise two principal investigators, Carleton Jones and Michelle Comber, four associate investigators, Elizabeth
FitzPatrick, Christine Grant, Stefan Bergh and Graham Hull, six participants, Frank Coyne, Richard Clutterbuck,
Danny Burke, Eve Campbell, Clare Hennigar and Olive Carey, a project surveyor, Cormac Bruton, and GIS
specialist, Ronan Hennessy.
Composition of Project
Five lead landscape studies (Fig. I.1, summarized below) and seven supplementary studies provide the content
of the Burren Landscape and Settlement Project. All of these studies are at different stages in their development,
with commencement dates from the 1990s to 2008. All have a different focus, yet all are landscape studies. A
research framework was required to allow the comparison and compilation of data from the disparate participating
Surveying Turlough Hill (Stefan Bergh – NUI, Galway).
The hundred or so hut sites, cairn and enclosure on the exposed summit of Turlough Hill form an enigmatic group
of remains without direct parallels in the Burren, or anywhere else in Ireland. Their dramatic and strategic location
at the eastern extremity of the Burren, together with the complexity of the remains, indicates that this summit, and
any associated activities, possibly had a significance for the entire upland of the Burren. The location at the edge
of the Burren, facing the lowlands to north and east raises important questions relating to identity and landscape.
The very large number of hut sites on the summit near the large cairn raises further issues relating to settlement,
and the interaction between ritual and secular. In a wider perspective, the interpretation of Turlough Hill is central
to our understanding of the meaning, role and use of exposed high ground in prehistoric Ireland.
The remains on the summit are undated. The only site in Ireland comparable to Turlough Hill is the plateau of
Mullaghfarna in the Bricklieve Mountains, Co. Sligo. This site has produced dates from the Neolithic/Bronze Age,
and a similar date for Turlough Hill is a strong possibility. Since the complex has not previously been surveyed,
this study is the first critical step towards our understanding of its role and function.
Supplementary Study:
Hill top cairns and associated features in the Burren - Frank Coyne (Aegis Ltd.).
Fig. I.1 Location of the five lead studies.
Roughan Hill prehistoric landscape (Carleton Jones – NUI, Galway).
The Roughan Hill study is now at analysis stage. Data collected by the project consists of both survey and
excavation data. The former comprises a detailed survey of approximately 650 acres (containing prehistoric field
walls, farmsteads and megalithic tombs), the latter excavated material from some of the farmsteads and field
walls, and one of the megalithic tombs. This work was undertaken and funded in three separate components. The
original survey of 370 acres, excavation of Farmstead 1, small trenches in Farmstead 2, and trenches across
numerous field walls were undertaken as part of PhD research in 1994–5 and did not receive any funding beyond
the small grants that student volunteers brought with them from their universities. The second component saw an
expansion of the survey to 650 acres in 2000, funded by a Heritage Council Archaeology grant. The third phase
of work saw the excavation of a megalithic tomb between 1998 and 2001 (Cl 153). This work was part-funded by
the Royal Irish Academy.
The current INSTAR study sees the completion of some of these components and the assessment of data in the
wider context.
Supplementary Studies:
Coolnatullagh – A Final Neolithic/Early Bronze Age secular and ritual landscape in the eastern Burren – Olive
Carey (M.Litt., NUI, Galway).
The Late Bronze Age settlement landscape of the Burren – Clare Hennigar (M.Litt., NUI, Galway).
The prehistoric megalith building society of the Burren: ethnographic insights from the Khasi people of Meghalaya
– Danny Burke (M.Litt., NUI, Galway).
The Role of Research in Issues of Management and Conservation: Prehistoric Landscape of the North Central
Burren a Case Study (Christine Grant – National Monuments Service).
A number of monuments have recently come to light in the north central Burren that dramatically alter our
understanding of the significance of this area in prehistory. This includes a large hilltop enclosure on Ceapaigh
Bháile Hill with its associated cairns and hut sites, a second group of cairns on Aillwee Hill and a newly recorded
wedge tomb at Berneens. This highlights the issue of the number of unrecorded monuments on the Burren, how
these can significantly alter research and how best to deal with this gap in the record.
This study looks at the monuments in terms of understanding how people used the landscape in prehistory, and
the challenges faced in protecting the archaeological resource from the pressures of modern land use. These
challenges include the regeneration of scrub, current farming practice, damage caused through land clearance
and the impact of tourism.
Ringforts and the Settlement Landscape of the Burren in the First Millennium AD (Michelle Comber – NUI,
This project studies preserved field systems and their relationship with settlement enclosures. The first year of the
project (2005) comprised a general landscape analysis and statistical study of settlement indicators within an
area of the Burren, stretching from Kilfenora in the southwest to Carran in the northeast. This revealed that many
of these settlements were deliberately sited to best exploit the most fertile farmland, while others may have been
strategically positioned with regard to territorial politics. Phase 1 fieldwork consisted of detailed digital ground
surveys (using a Total Station), and employed a course of field-walking, descriptive survey and photography
(ground and aerial). Phase 2 (2006) saw the detailed digital survey (using a Total Station) of a preserved
archaeological landscape located between the cashel of Ballykinvarga to the west and Leamaneh castle to the
east. Oblique and vertical aerial photography supplemented and expanded the area surveyed on the ground.
Extensive field systems and enclosures were recorded in this stretch of land. A number of settlement ‘clusters’ or
farms were tentatively identified. Phase 3 (2008) saw a continuation of this detailed mapping in an area
immediately surrounding the cashel of Caherconnell on the northern edge of the study area (using Total Station
and GPS). This third year was specifically aimed at tying detailed digital surveying to excavated evidence – that
recovered from Caherconnell cashel and a drystone chamber to the southeast of the cashel (in conjunction with
Graham Hull and TVAS Ireland Ltd. in 2007 and 2008, respectively).
Supplementary excavations:
Caherconnell townland – Graham Hull (TVAS Ireland Ltd.).
Cahermacnaghten: investigating Gaelic estates
(Elizabeth FitzPatrick – NUI, Galway).
The Cahermacnaghten field project is a social archaeology of the estate lands of a Gaelic family in Medieval and
Early Modern Burren. By focussing on a particularly well-preserved estate landscape, the INSTAR project
objective is to establish a methodological approach to, and a blueprint for, future investigations of land
denominations and prevailing settlement patterns, settlement arrangements and settlement forms within the
Burren in the period c.1300 to 1650. Since the Gaelic occupiers of Medieval and Early Modern landholdings
inherited a lived-in landscape that carried cultural accretions of past societies, and because their estates were
products of relentless shaping and re-shaping of landholdings through time, an understanding of the influence of
earlier settlement footprints on later developments is an allied aim of this study.
To date, the project through close study of the modern townland of Cahermacnaghten, has determined that the
Burren townlands are not reliable representatives of the landholding matrix in use in this region in the Medieval
and Early Modern periods and perhaps earlier still. Named denominations in the Burren included the seisre, leith
sheisre, ceathrú mír and sessiagh. For the field archaeologist these property divisions can to a greater or lesser
degree be identified on the ground. Furthermore, cashels and raths, denoted as cathair and lios in the Burren,
frequently occur within known leith sheisre and smaller divisions and may be interpreted as the centres of
individual landholdings.
In addition to work on land denominations and their physical boundaries at Cahermacnaghten, elements of the
settlement and farming landscape of the townland have been recorded using a combination of walk-over survey
(funded by the Royal Irish Academy 2005, 2006), photogrammetric aerial survey and 3D laser scanning (funded
by the IRCHSS 2006–7), and excavation (funded by the Royal Irish Academy 2007). To take this knowledge to a
level at which it can be usefully applied to reading and interpreting Medieval and Early Modern Burren generally,
the realisation of the Cahermacnaghten data through digital mapping and terrain modelling is now being
Supplementary Studies:
Lislarheen: a transplantation settlement – Eve Campbell (PhD, NUI, Galway).
Cahermacnaghten: routeways and movement in a native landholding – Richard Clutterbuck (consultant
archaeologist, IAI and IPMAG).
Burren Archaeological Studies
To date, individual scholars have explored and published on disparate aspects of the Burren’s archaeology from
Westropp’s and MacNamara’s antiquarian investigations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to
the early excavations of Hencken at Poulawack (1935) and Cahercommaun (1938), to modern archaeological
scholarship such as Plunkett-Dillon’s study of field walls (1983, 1985), Gibson’s work on the late prehistoric and
early historic landscape (1988, 1990, 1995, 2007), Ní Ghabhláin’s studies of Burren churches (1995, 1996, 2006),
Jones’s work on the prehistoric landscape (1996, 1998, 2003), Brindley and Lanting’s (1992) radiocarbon-based
reassessment of Poulawack, the reassessment of Cahercommaun carried by the Discovery Programme (1999),
Fitzpatrick’s excavations at Cahermore (1999, 2001), and Eogan’s excavations at Coolnatullagh (2002). More
popular syntheses have also been produced by O’Connell and Korff (eds.) (1991) and Jones (2004).
State-sponsored work has included the first volume of the Megalithic Survey by de Valera and Ó Nualláin (1961),
the excavation of Poulnabrone by Lynch (1988), and the ‘Assessment of Landscape Change and Effects on
Archaeology and an Assessment of Habitat Survey in the Burren, Co. Clare’ recently commissioned by the
Heritage Council (ERA Maptec et al. 2006).
The Burren INSTAR project proposes to engage with this canon of Burren archaeological literature and to
develop a cohesive research framework for Burren archaeology into which past, current and future field projects
can fit.
Aims and Objectives
The primary aim of the Burren Landscape and Settlement project has been the establishment of a research
framework for Burren archaeology, a framework that allows the examination of varied strands of research in a
wider context. This facilitates, amongst other things, the identification and definition of major gaps in our
understanding of the cultural landscape of the Burren, and the tracing of long-term trends in land-use and
A number of associated objectives are involved in achieving this goal. The data from the five lead studies is being
collated and brought closer to publication. Issues related to the future management of the archaeological
resource are being identified, whilst making the research data available to a wide audience has lead to the
creation of a healthy research forum for Burren archaeology.
Central Research Themes
This project has identified six key themes relevant to the Burren cultural landscape. These can be applied to
remains from every period, and in every part of the Burren. They provide the necessary framework for
investigating Burren archaeology as a whole, and initially emerged from work undertaken by the lead studies.
One of the central themes that this project aims to address is the spatial relationships and interactions between
secular and ritual/ceremonial activities in the Burren landscape, from prehistory into the early modern period. This
can occur both within chronological periods, and between periods. Another core question concerns the rich
survival of boundaries and land divisions in the Burren and how those remains can be used to advance an
understanding of past land-use and social organisation through time.
In a landscape which, from the modern onlooker’s view, seems remarkably inaccessible, a third central research
topic examines how people in the past moved in and out of the Burren as well as within that region. Like the land
divisions and borders, the inhabitants of the region were far from static and isolated. An additional concern
explores how Burren archaeology reflects social organisation in different time periods, and how this may have
changed through time. The wealth of Burren archaeology from many different periods also prompts an
investigation of the extent to which early cultural landscapes influenced later settlement developments. The
modern view of the Burren sees it as a marginal place. This project’s sixth central theme studies the position of
the Burren in relation to wider exchange and contact networks.
The current report, compiled towards the end of the first phase of this project, contains an account of all the
individual studies. These are presented in rough chronological order, with a certain element of overlap reflecting
the nature of landscape studies in the Burren. Each section presents a summary of the relevant study and ends
by addressing any or all of the overall Project’s central research themes, thereby fitting each work into the
overarching research framework. This has allowed the development and initial testing of the proposed framework,
a topic addressed in the concluding section.
Ronan Hennessy
Brief Background to Aerial Archaeology
Aerial photography for supporting archaeological investigation has been in use since camera systems were first
mounted in hot-air balloons in the middle of the nineteenth century. The ability to observe the surface of the Earth
from a perspective not-readily accessible provides a new and alternative mechanism to discover and decipher
surface signatures and features in the landscape. Aerial photography serves as an extremely important research
and investigative tool, providing a means by which we can visualise known archaeological sites in both planar
and oblique view. More significantly, aerial photographs provide a medium through which subtle surface
signatures, not easily recognisable on the ground, can be identified and interpreted. Lambrick (in Heritage
Council 2008) gives a comprehensive review of the use of aerial photography in Irish archaeology over the past
hundred years.
Fig. II.1 Digital Terrain Model showing Cahermacnaghten townland. The topographic information used to create the terrain
model was generated from aerial photographs captured during an aerial survey of Cahermacnaghten.
The Aerial Survey
An aerial photogrammetric survey was carried out over two of the principal study areas (Cahermacnaghten and
Turlough Hill) within the Burren Landscape and Settlement Project survey region. The objective of the aerial
survey was to collate a detailed geospatial dataset of aerial photographs and digital topographic models of the
areas of Cahermacnaghten and Turlough Hill. The aerial survey was flown by Fugro-BKS Ltd. on March 22nd
2007 at a flying height of approximately 550m. Five passes were completed over Cahermacnaghten, three from
east to west and two from west to east. A total of sixty-seven photographs were captured over Cahermacnaghten.
The Turlough Hill survey was carried out on a southwest to northeast pass over the hill, with seven photographs
captured during the flight. The photographs were captured on photographic film and later scanned to TIFF digital
image format. Each scanned photograph comprised a file size of approximately 836Mb. A ground survey distance
(GSD) of 10cm was acquired, such that each individual pixel of the scanned images corresponded to 10cm2. A
subsequent survey of the greater Turlough Hill area, carried out by Fugro-BKS in October 2008, produced a
dataset with a GSD of 4cm (e.g. Fig. II.3).
Fig. II.2 Aerial view of Turlough Hill (Ordnance Survey of Ireland 1:40000 Airphoto).
Processing the Photogrammetric Data
Processing of the aerial photography was carried out using the PCI Geomatica 10.1 photogrammetric software
application OrthoEngine. Through the application of sophisticated mathematical algorithms within OrthoEngine, a
complex process of pixel matching between adjacent digital aerial photographs enabled the extraction of
topographic information from the images. This process is based upon the fundamental principles of stereopsis, or
stereoscopy. Stereoscopic images are pairs of images that represent the same scene, the only difference being
that each image is taken from a slightly different angle. This is the same principle by which humans process
binocular visual imagery. Two slightly different projections of the same scene are projected onto the retina, with
the brain then extracting the three-dimensional aspect of the scene from the overlapping projections. The same
phenomenon applies to stereophotogrammetry.
Fig. II.3 4cm-resolution orthophoto showing the large enclosure on Turlough Hill.
A three-dimensional digital terrain model (DTM) was extracted from each pair of overlapping aerial photographs.
Twelve DTMs were generated for each pass, with a total of sixty DTMs produced from the entire
Cahermacnaghten area. Each DTM was subsequently referenced to the Irish National Grid coordinate system,
and the sixty georeferenced DTMs were merged to generate one large DTM comprising over 21km2. The
resultant Cahermacnaghten DTM provides a detailed perspective of the surface morphology of the townland of
Cahermacnaghten and the bordering areas. The presence of forestry in the northwest and southwest upland
areas is evident from the model. The final DTM was exported as an ASCII file, comprising of several million x,y,z
Irish National Grid coordinate values. The generation of a raw ASCII file allows the dataset to be easily
manipulated for viewing in a variety of GIS, CAD and photorealistic software applications.
Fig. II.4 10cm-resolution orthophoto showing Cathair Mhic Neachtain cashel, and proximal valley fields lying to the south.
Following the generation of the terrain model, the raw aerial photographs were geometrically corrected. Owing to
the inherent distortions in raw aerial photographs caused by topographic relief, camera lens distortion and tilt, as
well as the roll/pitch/yaw of the survey aeroplane, raw aerial photographs cannot be used as maps for measuring
features. However, raw aerial photographs can be corrected, or orthorectified by using the georeferenced DTM
generated from the aerial photographs. A set of fifty-four orthophotos were produced for the Cahermacnaghten
region. Each orthophoto was rendered in GeoTIFF format as a 500m2 image tile. GeoTIFF files allow
georeferencing information to be embedded with a single TIFF file. The above process was also used to generate
orthophotos and DTMs from the Turlough Hill survey data.
Fig. II.5 10cm-resolution orthophoto showing the location of Cabhail Tighe Breac.
On completion of the photogrammetric phase of the project, the final datasets were compiled in a GIS. ArcGIS 9.2
was used for further processing of the datasets. The DTM dataset was rendered as a triangulated irregular
network (TIN). Further processing of the TIN in ArcGIS produced a series of detailed hillshade models and
surface slope grids. Following the generation of the terrain TINs, the models were rendered in 3D ArcGIS
application ArcScene. 3D visualisation in ArcScene allows models to be viewed from a multitude of perspectives,
both planar and oblique. Additionally, fly-over animations were generated within ArcScene, with the output movies
rendered in .avi (Audio Video Interleave) format.
Fig. II.6 Digital Terrain Model showing the major geological units around the Cahermacnaghten townland.
The townland of Cahermacnaghten is located approximately 9km south-southwest of Ballyvaughan. Although
perched in the central Burren uplands at a height of between 150m and 200m, the landscape surrounding
Cahermacnaghten is relatively flat-lying. On observing the landscape from within the townland, one could be
forgiven for thinking the area was close to sea-level. One of the most striking features in the landscape, as seen
in the detailed terrain model of Cahermacnaghten, is an east-west trending depression that varies between 30m
and 45m in width. This depression lies between 2m and 4m below the adjacent terrain, scouring through the
Lower Carboniferous limestones (Lissylisheen Member) that comprises the central Cahermacnaghten townland.
Flanking this central area to the north and south is the higher ground comprised of the mudstones of the Clare
Shale Formation. The area of Caheridoula on the northeast of the townland is underlain by limestones and cherts
of the Ballyelly Member. In consideration of the bedrock geology and geomorphology, we can attempt to unravel
some of the factors that govern the general distribution of the more significant archaeological sites within the
Fig. II.7 Hillshade model (vertical exaggeration factor 2) showing the southwest summit of Turlough Hill. The cairn, hut sites
and multivallate structure are visible on the model.
The high-resolution orthophotos produced from the photogrammetric survey have served as an extremely
valuable tool for visualising specific areas within the Cahermacnaghten area. Analysis of the orthophotos has
proven useful for viewing locations where access is difficult. Likewise, examination of the orthophotos following
field-studies provides a means of supporting or negating our initial field interpretations. Furthermore, the ability to
identify important features in the landscape from the orthophotos demonstrates how effective the images are in
preparing for field work. Geographic reference information for important features can be extracted from the
orthophotos when viewed in GIS. This information can then be displayed within a standard GPS device, allowing
a field surveyor to quickly locate specific features, ultimately saving time and effort when on site.
Fig. II.8 Oblique perspective of the enclosure on Turlough Hill, viewed from the east (vertical exaggeration factor 2). A 10m
diameter hut site is visible in the central region of the enclosure, proximal to the large depression that intersects the
boundary wall.
This identification of important features from the digital survey data proved very important in surveying the
features on the summit of Turlough Hill, albeit the DTM that revealed the hidden features rather than the
orthophotos. Access to the summit of Turlough Hill is less facile than at Cahermacnaghten. Firstly, one must
ascend to over 250m to reach the major enclosure on the northeast of the Hill, with a further 30m to reach the
southwest footprint-shaped summit where the cairn and hut sites are found. However, remote observation of both
summits using a detailed 20cm-resolution DTM allowed accurate interpretation of the various features found
there. The generation of a hillshade model from the 20cm DTM, with a vertical exaggeration factor of 2, revealed
a detailed perspective of the surface morphology of the summits. It was realised that some surface features could
not be identified when using only one hillshade model. However, by using a series of hillshade models, each with
a different illumination angle, an arguably complete record of hut site distribution was acquired. This approach
allowed the identification of some 156 hut sites, many of which were previously unknown. Most significantly, the
hillshade model revealed the presence of a c.35m-diameter multivallate structure on the south-western summit. A
20cm DTM of the large enclosure reveals the extent of the large depression in its eastern part. This depression is
approximately 100m long, with 70m located within the enclosure boundary. A number of hut sites can be
identified from the DTM. A series of 4cm-resolution 500m2 orthophoto tiles have been generated for the Turlough
Hill area. This detailed dataset will serve as a beneficial resource in extracting both qualitative and quantitative
information from features identified on the surface.
Fig. II.9 Slope analysis grid image (vertical exaggeration factor 2) showing the conglomeration of hut sites on Turlough Hill.
The multivallate structure is subtly visible in the centre of the image. Notice the absence of hut sites proximal to the
multivallate structure.
A slope analysis image, generated from the 20cm DTM, revealed the extant morphology of the hut sites on
Turlough Hill. The slope image shows near-vertical slopes in red, gradual slopes in yellow, and near-horizontal in
green (Fig. II.9). From this image, the entrances to the hut sites can be identified, with most oriented to the east.
These structural signatures were subsequently digitised as polygons, and later extruded in ArcScene to produce
a 3D representation of how the hut walls may have looked in the past.
Fig. II.10 3D models of the hut sites on Turlough Hill (extruded by 0.5m) looking northwest over the summit.
Final Remarks
It is evident from the results of the photogrammetric surveys carried out over Cahermacnaghten and Turlough Hill
that this approach to archaeological surveying, and landscape observation and interpretation is of extreme benefit
to the archaeological community. However, we must continually strive to consider those outside of the wider
archaeological community who do not have ready access to the results of our surveys. The ability to produce
highly informative images and animations of landscapes and archaeological features, in a format that can be
viewed on any standard personal computer or over the Web, presents the significant potential of spreading the
fascinating story of the Burren’s archaeological heritage. With much of the nation’s population being tele-visually
literate, we should not shy away from the opportunity to communicate to and excite our wider audience through
the means of dynamic visual imagery.
Fig. II.11 High resolution TIN generated from a 10cm DTM showing hut sites on Turlough Hill.
The results of the aerial surveys described herein have provided valuable insights into the mutual associations of
the natural and cultural landscapes of the Burren. The final datasets allow the analysis and interpretation of
individual sites and monuments within the wider context of the Burren landscape. More significantly, the aerial
photographs provide a true and unbiased perspective of the distribution of archaeological sites and monuments.
With continual pressures on safeguarding our archaeological heritage, the results of photogrammetric surveys
such as those described above can help to provide a realistic insight into how the Burren landscape may once
have been; how it presently is; and how it will remain - if we continue to preserve and archive the essential
elements of our cultural heritage. It is envisaged that this survey will serve as an important contribution to a
greater archive of archaeological information relating to the Burren, currently being collated under the INSTAR
Burren Landscape and Settlement Project.
Stefan Bergh
The exposed summit of Turlough Hill in northeast Burren, with its spectacular summit cairn adjacent to a large
number of hut sites, and at some distance to the east, a large stone built enclosure, is indisputably one of the
most enigmatic places in the prehistoric landscape of the Burren, Co. Clare.
Turlough Hill forms an integral part of the very dramatic range of mountains which stretches from Galway Bay in
the north down to Mullaghmore some 15km to the south. This mountain range, which rises abruptly from the
lowlands to the east, is a truly conspicuous feature in this landscape as it creates a dramatic barrier between the
gentle lowlands of south Galway/northeast Clare and the mountainous Burren uplands of northwest Clare.
Turlough Hill has two summits, one to the west (282masl) and the other to the east (251masl). The western
summit is a more or less level area measuring c.300m by 100m with ground consisting of bare fissured limestone
pavement, as well as grass-covered areas. The eastern summit is sub-circular with a diameter of c.230m, and
consists nearly exclusively of bare fissured limestone pavement.
Fig. IIIa.1 Turlough Hill from the southwest. The main summit is the “foot-shaped” summit just left of centre, while the eastern
summit with its enclosure is visible just right and slightly above centre.
The cairn and the large number of hut sites are located on the eastern summit, while the stone enclosure is on
the eastern summit, c.700m to the east.
The eastern summit with its large stone enclosure offers extensive views of the lowlands of south Galway and
northeast Clare towards the east, while the western summit with its cairn and hut sites, mainly offers open vistas
of Poulnaclogh Bay and Galway Bay to the northwest. Views to the south are blocked by the higher Sliabh
Carran, with a large cairn on its flat summit.
Background to survey
Extensive surveys and excavations of Neolithic hut sites and walls on Knocknarea Mountain, Co. Sligo have
drawn attention to the close relationship between circular hut sites and passage tombs in upland locations (Bergh
2002). Further work to develop our understanding of this relationship has been undertaken at the large cluster of
hut sites on Mullaghfarna, Bricklieve Mountains, Co. Sligo. Finds from excavations indicate that the hut sites had
been in use from the Mid Neolithic and into the Bronze Age.
A high resolution survey of the entire plateau of Mullaghfarna, funded by the Heritage Council, showed that there
are some 153 circular hut sites/enclosures on this rather inaccessible limestone plateau. Even though circular hut
sites are a common feature in Irish archaeology, the extraordinary number of hut sites on the exposed and
inaccessible karst limestone of Mullaghfarna represents something beyond the ordinary. Its social and ritual
context cannot be understood in a straight-forward domestic context, especially considering its topographical
location, the clustering and number of hut sites.
This large cluster of prehistoric hut sites, with its characteristic upland, exposed location has only one known
counterpart in Irish archaeology, and that is the cluster of hut sites on Turlough Hill, the Burren, Co. Clare. In the
light of the results from the work on Mullaghfarna, and to further our understanding of the role and function of
these, the only two large upland clusters of hut sites recorded in Ireland, a comprehensive survey of the remains
on Turlough Hill was a natural step in this research.
Besides the survey and description of the large enclosure on the eastern summit by Westropp (reprint 1999), no
dedicated research had been undertaken on Turlough Hill. This is rather surprising since Turlough Hill and its rich
archaeological remains is a well known site in Irish archaeology, and the enclosure has figured in a number of
discussions on upland prehistoric enclosures (e.g. Cooney 2002; Sheridan 2001). Considering its morphology it
has been suggested that it may be of prehistoric date. The extraordinary cluster of hut sites has, however, only
been briefly mentioned, without any further discussion. Preliminary surveys of the enclosure and the hut sites
have been undertaken by the author during the period 2003–5.
The overall aim of the present study is to understand the role that Turlough Hill played in the social and ritual
landscape of the Burren. The main aim of the present, and initial phase of the project, is to create a more detailed
understanding of the character of the remains, and thereby create a platform for further research. This stage of
the project has mainly focused on the hut sites, since they constitute the least known part of the archaeology on
the hill.
The main aims in relation to the hut sites were
to establish their number
to establish their overall distribution
to get a preliminary understanding of the range of their morphology
On a more detailed level, another aim was to further the understanding of their distribution through variables such
as size, proximity and morphology.
Concerning the large enclosure on the eastern summit the aim in this phase was limited to the creation of a
detailed record of the enclosure and related features.
This initial stage of the project has been entirely focused on creating an accurate record of the remains. This has
been done by GIS analysis of photogrammetrical data captured from aerial photography.
This work has involved four main phases
Capturing high resolution aerial photographs of the summit and its surroundings
Photogrammetrical processing of the digitally scanned images to produce three-dimensional imagery
Creation of digital terrain models
Analysis of digital terrain models using various visualization techniques
Field visits to validate recorded sites
The aerial photography was captured and processed by BKS Ltd, Coleraine, while the GIS work was undertaken
by GIS specialist Ronan Hennessy. Fieldwork was undertaken by the author and Ronan Hennessy.
Hut site distribution
The survey work relating to the western summit has revealed that there are 156 hut sites within the flat area
constituting the summit. The distribution of the hut sites, which was previously considered to be restricted to the
east of the cairn, has proven to be more extensive, since hut sites have also been confirmed on the western side
of the cairn. This has important implications for the interpretation of the use of the summit, since it is now obvious
that hut sites where built over the full length of the summit, and not restricted to one particular area.
Fig. IIIa.2 Turlough Hill, western summit. Digital terrain model on which the circular hut sites are clearly identifiable. The white
circular area to the left is the cairn on the actual summit. Multivallate enclosure is visible in upper right hand of image.
The hut sites, however, are not evenly distributed over the c.500m long and c.100m wide summit, as the survey
reflects some intriguing patterns in their placement within the given space (Fig. IIIa.3). About half way along the
summit there are two large natural depressions orientated northeast-southwest. These depressions spatially
divide the otherwise flat summit into two nearly equally sized sections. Of the 156 hut sites, 73 are located in the
eastern section, 79 in the western section, while four hut sites are located on the narrow ridge separating the two
centrally placed depressions.
This even distribution of hut sites within the two sections of the summit may be accidental, but a conscious
strategy regarding placement cannot be ruled out. An additional observation regarding their general distribution is
that the largest number of hut sites seems to be in the areas closest to the central depressions, and along the
northern sides of the summit. Small groups of hut sites are also present at the extreme ends of the summit. On a
general level the distribution of the hut sites in the western section seems to be reversed in the eastern section,
creating similar patterns.
A final observation related to the general distribution is that there are two large areas in the central and southern
parts of the western and eastern sections, respectively, that the hut sites very clearly seem to avoid. In the
western section this may be explained by the presence of the large cairn located on the highest point of the
summit, which is in the centre of the area lacking hut sites. The reason for the lack of hut sites in the
corresponding area in the eastern section was however less obvious, until it was noticed that an earlier unrecorded multivallate enclosure-like site existed in the centre of this area.
Regarding the distribution and number of hut sites, it is not likely that the general trends will change in any
dramatic way, since the high resolution terrain models that have been used to identify the individual sites have
been an extraordinarily efficient tool in identifying any constructed features on the summit. The fieldwalking
planned for the next stage of the project will probably dismiss features that have been misinterpreted as hut sites,
rather than add new sites.
Fig. IIIa.3 Turlough Hill. Hut sites indicated by yellow dot. Note low profile multivallate enclosure in lower part of right hand
side, which lacks hut sites.
Hut sites
Regarding the more detailed observations relating to the hut sites in this phase of the project, it must be stressed
that all analysis has been made by studying on-screen imagery using various GIS visualization tools. Some
confirmation by field visit has been undertaken, but not on a systematic basis.
The majority of the hut sites consist of circular wall foundations with a width of c.1m and a height less than 0.5m.
A few of the hut sites have, however, been dug into the bedrock, and feature as circular depressions rather than
upstanding circular walls. Without having undertaken any detailed work on the morphology of the hut sites, they
seem to range in diameter between 6m and 11m, with most of them having a diameter of c.7m. Most of them are
circular, but isolated oval and sub-circular examples exist. An entrance gap can be identified in most. Some of
them are conjoined, however the overall trend is that they occur in small groups of three or four.
Fig. IIIa.4 Digital elevation model of hut sites. Note entrance in e.g. large hut in upper part of image.
Multivallate enclosure
The discovery of this low-profile monument, which seems to be a multivallate site, is of great significance to the
understanding and interpretation of the activity on Turlough Hill. This rather complex site seems to consist of at
least four low, partly concentric, banks of gravel and slabs. The banks, which are c.1m wide and c.0.2m high, are
in certain parts very fragmentary and poorly defined, while in other parts they are relatively well defined. Some of
the banks seem to overlap, possibly indicating different building phases, and in certain sections they seem to be
deliberately segmented.
The overall diameter of the site is c.35m. In construction, size and layout it deviates entirely from the nearby hut
sites. There is nothing to support an interpretation of this site as a domestic feature.
Fig. IIIa.5 Hillshade showing multivallate enclosure in eastern part of summit.
Enclosure on eastern summit
The work relating to this large enclosure has thus far been confined to the production of a high-resolution
photogrammetrical image. This has formed the basis for an initial assessment of the monument and related
features. Besides a number of often semi-circular hut sites abutting the inside of the enclosure at various
locations (which was noted and recorded by Westropp), a relatively large hut site has been noted just south of the
natural depression that runs into the enclosure from the east. This is of great interest as it seems to be the only
hut site noted in the interior of this very large enclosure.
Long cairn
In addition to the range of archaeological remains on the actual summit of Turlough Hill, an intriguing discovery
has been made in the saddle between Turlough Hill and Slieve Carran. At this location, c.700m southeast of the
eastern summit, an earlier unnoticed long cairn has been recorded. The cairn has an overall length of c.95m and
a width of c.6m. It consists of often large slabs which, in a rather unstructured way, make up this extraordinary
long cairn.
The cairn is placed some thirty metres uphill from the lowest point of the saddle, towards the Turlough Hill side. It
is located on the eastern slope, and has a very clear exposure towards the east and the lowlands of south
Galway and northeast Clare. The uphill end of the cairn has been partly destroyed as stones have been removed
to build the nearby wall. The cairn is not straight, but rather slightly snaking downhill to the east. The cairn ends
after a rather pronounced swing to the left, and at the terminus there are some large boulders indicating a formal
end to the structure in this direction.
Two-thirds along the length of the long cairn, looking east, there are the remains of what seems to have been a
megalithic chamber, indicated by a number of slabs set on edge in the centre of the cairn. The chamber-like
structure measures c.5m by 2m and is orientated along the long axis of the cairn. No remains of a passage or
entrance can be identified.
The result of the work carried out so far has significantly increased the complexity of the picture of the
archaeological remains on Turlough Hill. The actual number of hut sites on the summit has been established and
indicates an activity and undertaking with very few counterparts in Ireland. The way that the distribution of the hut
sites on the summit fall into two, in many respects, identical halves may indicate that the hut sites reflect a
social/ritual dualism, or maybe two socially/ritually contrasting entities.
Linked to this is the discovery of the multivallate enclosure on the eastern half, which makes it obvious that there
are two major ritual monuments on this summit, and that their existence has had a strong influence on the way
the hut sites have been placed. The existence of the extraordinary long cairn in the saddle just southeast of
Turlough Hill, is a further indication of the very special significance this hill must have had to the prehistoric
people in the Burren.
On a methodological note, it must be stressed that the very positive results from the work carried out during this
phase of the survey of Turlough Hill have shown that the methodology chosen for the work was the correct one.
The extreme topographical detail that has been extracted from the photogrammetrical data proved to be critical to
the success of the analysis and survey.
Considering the results from this first phase of the survey of Turlough Hill, it may be suggested that the c.156 hut
sites on the hill represent one concerted phase of activity in one very specific context. Even though the hut sites,
in a morphological sense, are domestic in character, it is very hard to see their role and function as primarily
domestic, considering their location on this inaccessible and exposed hilltop. The activity that required the
building of about 150 hut sites on this inaccessible and extremely windy summit, consisting mainly of bare
bedrock, was most likely of a strong social and/or ritual character, with few direct links to secular way of life.
According to the distribution of the hut sites, it is likely that they are contemporary with the large cairn on the
summit, or at least used in a context when the role of the cairn was still revered. The manner in which the space
on the summit has been used for the location of the hut sites, as well as their relationship with the only two “non29
domestic” sites, the cairn and the multi-vallate enclosure, further suggests that the hut sites were probably linked
to ritual activity.
The way the distribution of the hut sites seems to form similar western and eastern layouts may be of critical
importance to the understanding of the role of the hill. It is possible to see this pattern as a reflection of a
social/ritual dualism or maybe of two socially/ritually contrasting groups of people. In this context it is important to
remember the location of Turlough Hill, as it is situated on the north-eastern edge of the topographically very
distinct Burren, overlooking the lowlands of south Galway and northeast Clare. This liminal location may have had
a strong impact on the role and significance of the hill, and also on the activity carried out at this place.
The character and complexity of the archaeological remains on Turlough Hill are without counterpart in the
prehistoric landscape of the Burren, and show that this hill had very special significance, possibly acting as the
central place for gatherings involving people from the entire Burren landscape, and possibly from beyond.
Towards a wider understanding
So how will the results from Turlough Hill contribute to the central research questions formulated by the Burren
Landscape and Settlement Project? Perhaps the most important input relates to the understanding of the
relationships and interactions between secular and ritual activities. The remains so far identified on the hill
strongly indicate that the hill was most likely a highly significant place where the secular and ritual spheres of
prehistoric life in Burren met and developed.
The strategic location of Turlough Hill, in conjunction with the character of the remains uncovered, have serious
potential to shed light on contacts and movements in and out of the Burren. Regarding the very strong social and
ritual implications from the archaeological remains uncovered on Turlough Hill, the results will feed directly into
the understanding of social organisation in prehistoric Burren.
Another important contribution that the Turlough Hill project will be able to make to the central research questions
is in relation to long distance contacts and exchange networks. The only parallel to the large cluster of hut sites
on Turlough Hill is, as initially outlined, the 153 hut sites on the exposed limestone ridge of Mullaghfarna, in the
Bricklieve Mountains, south Co. Sligo. The link between these two clusters has been reinforced by the results so
far, and a comparative analysis of the two may shed important light on long-distance contacts related to the
prehistoric people of the Burren.
Frank Coyne and Bernard O’Mahony
Fig. IIIb.1 Field survey in progress.
Scope of Study
Cairns in the Burren occur both on hilltops and on low-lying ground. The hilltop cairns seem to vary greatly in size
and shape, but also in location. Some are located on natural terraces while others crown the exposed summits of
this dramatic landscape. In view of the remains on Turlough Hill, this study aims to investigate the cairns in the
Burren with a special view to recording the occurrence of associated features such as hut sites, enclosures or
other constructions. An important aspect is to investigate to what degree features such as hut sites, walls or
enclosures are recurrent features that can be linked to the cairns, or whether the cairns de facto represent
isolated features on the hills.
The aim is to see if Turlough Hill is as unique as it seems, or if other hill tops have similar, but maybe more
discrete arrangements of prehistoric remains. The study aims to create a database of hill-top cairns in the Burren
and a basic record of associated features related to the cairns.
Method of Study
The method of study for this work comprised three components – desktop survey, fieldwork and post-fieldwork
processing of survey data. The processes employed in each component are described below.
Mapping was used to establish the extents of the survey area and plan routes to, and across, the ranges included
in the survey. This involved the viewing of paper maps including various editions of Ordnance Survey maps and
the Discovery maps for east Co. Clare and the accessing of aerial imagery such as the Ordnance Survey Public
Viewer aerial imagery and Google Earth high-resolution satellite imagery, available via the internet. Information
on previously recorded sites – site type, general location and national grid reference – was obtained from the
online Archaeological Survey of Ireland Sites and Monuments database. Potential previously unrecorded sites
were located using the Ordnance Survey Public Viewer aerial imagery and Google Earth satellite imagery. The
NGR for each potential site was recorded to enable accurate locating in the field.
Previously unrecorded sites, identified using aerial and satellite imagery, and previously recorded sites were
located to NGR location with a Trimble Handheld GPS/GIS datalogger. Where the presence of an archaeological
feature was confirmed, the locations and ground plans of these sites were recorded to sub-metre accuracy with
the Trimble Handheld GPS/GIS datalogger. Further information regarding morphology, site type and the possible
dating of individual features was recorded by traditional survey methods – written description, measurement and
photograph. The area surrounding each discovered site was surveyed for associated features. The context of
each site in the wider landscape was also considered.
Post-fieldwork Processing
The data gathered with the Trimble Handheld GPS/GIS datalogger was downloaded and displayed on
background mapping of the survey area utilising GIS software. This approach presented an opportunity to study
the place of each site in the wider context and establish relationships between sites. The data gathered in the
field was collated to produce a survey database and a gazetteer of sites.
The main benefit of the approach taken in the survey for the Burren project is that it has added a further layer to
the record of field monuments and sites. A detailed database is now available and can be accessed for survey
information on all newly discovered sites. The information contained in the database provides the basis for
interpretation of the newly discovered sites within the framework of the central research questions of the INSTAR
Burren project. In addition, if required, all new sites can be easily located in the future as the recorded sub-metre
co-ordinates will allow a return to the exact location of any particular monument or site.
Results of Fieldwork
The Recorded Sites
Fieldwork was carried out intermittently over three months in 2008. It was decided that the work would be
concentrated on the mountaintop cairns and associated features along the eastern side of the Burren. The
mountains which form this side of the Burren were field-walked. They are, from north to south; Abbey Hill,
Oughtmama mountain, Turlough Hill, Slieve Carran, Turloughmore mountain (which contains several peaks),
Knockanes mountain, Sliabh Rua and Mullaghmore mountain. The cairns which crown these peaks have already
been recorded. The purpose of the site visits was to record these cairns, and field-walk the immediate area to
ascertain if other previously unrecorded features exist in the area.
In most of the areas visited, new sites were recorded. These varied from small, possibly modern, cairns to the
large long cairns, enclosures of varying sizes, huts and walls. Particular attention was paid to the saddles
between mountains, and also to the ridges and shelfs immediately below the crest of mountains. Here, on the
eastern side of the Turloughmore ridge, walls, enclosures and huts were noted, and also on the north-facing ridge
on Slieve Carran, and a west-facing ridge between Turlough Hill and Oughtmama.
Synthesis of Data Gathered
The preliminary results of the field work indicate that there are clusters of possible settlement/secular activity
along many of the ridges below the crest of the mountains. Abbey Hill and Mullaghmore mountain did not appear
to contain much settlement activity. However, to the north of the Turloughmore ridge, settlement activity was
noted along the sheltered eastern side of the mountain, where mound walls, huts and enclosures were recorded.
A cluster of settlement activity was also noted on the northern slopes of Slieve Carran, where a variety of
enclosures, walls and huts were noted. Also, on a level west-facing shelf between Turlough Hill and Oughtmama
mountain, a series of semi-circular enclosures built against the rock face were recorded. Four hut sites were also
associated with these enclosures.
It was also noted in the study that the saddle between mountains was a favoured location for cairns, when facing
into the lowlands to the east. The most notable example is the large hog-back cairn between Knockanes and
Sliabh Rua, and also a smaller (probably denuded) example between Oughtmama mountain and the northeast
side of Turlough Hill. This cairn appears to have been robbed out, exposing a possible cist in its centre.
One of the most remarkable findings of the survey is the long cairns, located on the lower eastern slopes of
Turlough Hill. The first of these sites was noted by Stefan Bergh, a substantial linear cairn with what appears to
be a robbed out internal cist-like feature. This runs in an east-west direction downslope for a distance of
approximately 90m. A second north-south example was noted during the survey, meandering for a distance of
150m. This example contains stretches of drystone walling, and several breaks in the structure. Other shorter
examples were noted in the sharp V-shaped valley between Slieve Carran and Turloughmore mountains.
Fig. IIIb.2 Plan of features near Turlough Hill and Slieve Carran.
Fig. IIIb.3 Plan of features on top, and to the north, of Slieve Carran.
Fig. IIIb.4 Plan of features on Turloughmore ridge.
Fig. IIIb.5 Enclosures along rock face between Oughtmama and Turlough Hill.
Fig. IIIb.6 Hut and enclosure on Turloughmore mountain range.
Fig. IIIb.7 Enclosures along rock face to north of Slieve Carran.
Fig. IIIb.8 Long cairn to east of Turlough Hill.
Fig. IIIb.9 Long cairn between Turloughmore and Slieve Carran mountains.
Fig. IIIb.10 Cairn between Turlough Hill and Oughtmama mountains.
Fig. IIIb.11 Long cairn between Knockanes and Slieve Rua mountains.
Fig. IIIb.12 Hut on east side of Turloughmore mountain ridge.
Central Research Questions
The main project identified six key questions in relation to the Burren cultural landscape. These questions are
applicable to all studies and supplementary studies within the project. This study has attempted to address each
one of these research questions in turn.
One of the central questions which this project aims to address is the spatial relationships and interactions
between secular and ritual/ceremonial activities in the Burren landscape from prehistory into the early modern
period. Turlough Hill, central to this supplementary study with its enclosure, cairn and newly recorded multivallate
enclosure is of undoubted ritual/ceremonial importance. Newly discovered hut sites and enclosures on a ridge to
the northeast of Turlough Hill, near the saddle with Oughtmama, and on the nearby northern side of Slieve
Carran, appear to be of a more functional, secular nature. Further work is needed to establish their exact function,
and if a temporal relationship between the secular and ceremonial can be established.
Another core question concerns the rich survival of boundaries and land divisions in the Burren and how those
remains can be used to advance an understanding of past land-use and social organisation through time. In this
supplementary study, survey data gathered in the field could be downloaded on top of 6-inch maps, and may
reveal previously unknown patterns of land use and therefore social organisation. Central to this however would
be excavation and dating of archaeological sites.
In a landscape which, from the modern onlooker’s view, seems remarkably inaccessible, a third research
question asks how people in the past moved in and out of the Burren as well as within that region. Movement of
people may be related to cairns, routeways and intervisibility of monuments. It is worth noting the intervisibility of
the cairns, and also their placement. This supplementary study has noted the selection of cairn location in
saddles between mountains. These may have been used as routeways in the past.
An additional concern is how Burren archaeology reflects social organisation in different time periods. The data
collected in the supplementary study is not expansive enough to allow interrogation as to social organisation,
without excavation.
The wealth of Burren archaeology from many different periods also prompts an investigation of the extent to
which early cultural landscapes influenced later settlements. We may have an opportunity to compare and
contrast results of excavation on top of Turlough Hill with the sites on the terraces surrounding the hill, and also
similarly located sites on nearby mountains.
The modern view of the Burren sees its as a marginal place. The project questions the position of the Burren in
relation to wider exchange and contact networks. The cairns, which were the focus of this supplementary study
dominate the skyline along the eastern side of the Burren. They were obviously meant to be seen from the
lowlands to the east. The wealth of archaeological data and monuments in the Burren would argue against the
region being a marginal place.
Initial Conclusions
The preliminary findings of the supplementary study demonstrates that there are previously unrecorded
archaeological sites just below the mountain tops along the eastern side of the Burren, although the quantity of
hut sites does not compare with those on Turlough Hill. Turlough Hill, central to this supplementary study with its
enclosure, cairn and newly recorded multi-vallate enclosure is of undoubted ritual/ceremonial importance. The
newly discovered huts sites and enclosures on a ridge to the northeast of Turlough Hill, near the saddle with
Oughtmama, and on the nearby northern side of Slieve Carran, appear to be of a more functional, secular nature.
Future work will undoubtedly shed more light on any possible relationship between Turlough Hill and the
monuments recorded in the supplementary study.
Carleton Jones
Roughan Hill
Research has been carried out on Roughan Hill since the mid-1990s. This began with an initial season of survey
in 1994, the excavation of Farmstead 1 as well as trenches through various mound walls (ancient field walls) in
1995, four seasons of excavations at the Parknabinnia chambered tomb between 1998–2001 as well as the
expansion of the survey and the excavation of additional sections through mound walls over the same seasons, a
significant expansion of the survey in 2000 with a Heritage Council grant, and finally in 2008 as part of the Burren
Landscape and Settlement INSTAR project – various specialist analyses (lithics, pottery, C14, etc.), drafting of
plans, and other tasks to bring the project towards final publication.
All this survey and excavation work has revealed a very detailed picture of a prehistoric landscape occupied for a
very long span of time. The earliest evidence for occupation of Roughan Hill comes from the excavation of the Cl
153 chambered tomb where radiocarbon dates suggest that it was constructed fairly early in the Neolithic,
possibly as early as 3600 BC. This monument was used for successive burials over the course of the Neolithic. At
least two other, and possibly three, similar monuments occur in the southern Burren and it seems likely that these
monuments were the ritual foci of fairly modest-sized social divisions such as lineages. Some other difficult-toclassify monuments on the hill may also be Neolithic and some of the mound walls where excavation revealed
particularly high underlying bedrock pedestals may also be Neolithic (Jones and Walsh 1996, Jones 1998, Jones
It is in the Beaker (c.2400–2000 BC) and Early Bronze Age (c.2000–1500 BC) periods, however, when Roughan
Hill witnessed what seems to have been its busiest period. This is most visibly evidenced by the very dense
concentration of wedge tombs on the hill and probably also by the many cairns on the hill and immediate
surroundings which may date to this period as well. Set amongst these ritual monuments, survey has revealed a
cluster of at least four contemporary farmsteads and a network of mound walls that divide the hill into small fields.
Excavation of Farmstead 1 produced Beaker pottery and one sherd of Bowl Tradition pottery, while very limited
excavations at Farmstead 2 produced Vase Tradition pottery (more on the pottery from both sites below). Lithic
finds from two other farmsteads (5 and 7) suggest that they are contemporary as well (more on all the lithics
below). The mound walls were dated by excavating trenches through them and measuring the underlying bedrock
pedestals. This method relies on the fact that the bedrock of the Burren is soft limestone that erodes and lowers
over the centuries, but where the bedrock is sheltered by something such as a collapsed wall, the erosion is
slower. The result is the formation of a ‘pedestal’ of bedrock under the ancient wall that is higher than the
surrounding bedrock. In general, the higher the pedestal, the older the wall although there are various caveats
and statistical ranges of variation that must be considered (Jones 1998).
In the later stages of the Bronze Age, it is unclear what role Roughan Hill played. It is possible that over-grazing
and soil loss in the earlier Bronze Age led to a change in the strategies of the Burren’s farmers (Jones 1997), and
this is something that is being addressed by Clare Hennigar’s study of Late Bronze Age hillslope enclosures on
the Burren. On Roughan Hill, there is a post-Early Bronze Age phase of wall building and habitation with field
walls of this period generally fitting the description of ‘slab walls’ or ‘standing/slab walls’ which divide the hill into
long, narrow north-south and northeast-southwest trending fields completely different from the fields of the
Beaker/Early Bronze Age period. The stratigraphic position of these walls crossing over mound walls and
sometimes running on top of mound walls as well as their lower underlying bedrock pedestals revealed through
excavation, show that these walls are younger than the mound walls. On Roughan Hill, these field walls are
associated with two farmsteads (Farmsteads 3 and 6). The masonry of some of the enclosure walls of these
farmsteads is very like that seen on cashels and Farmstead 3 also contains a souterrain. Their plans, however,
are nothing like cashels with Farmstead 3 being rectilinear and Farmstead 6 having both straight and curving
sections of enclosure wall.
Seemingly contemporary with this post-Early Bronze Age phase, the site of the Beaker-period Farmstead 1 was
re-used, possibly as a workshop area for the not-too-distant Farmstead 3. At the time of excavation, it was
postulated that this re-use of the site had occurred in the Early Medieval period. Now, however, a radiocarbon
date obtained in the present INSTAR phase of research (see below) suggests that this phase of activity dates to
the Iron Age rather than the Early medieval period.
plan views, a small amount of in-the-field GPS survey to tie up loose ends from previous surveys, digitising
farmstead plans and combining with GPS elevation data to produce complete plans.
Pottery Analysis
To get a holistic view of the pottery from Roughan Hill, a single expert (Anna Brindley) was contracted to look at
all the pottery (including a re-analysis of the Beaker sherds originally analysed by Helen Roche). Brindley’s recent
work on Irish prehistoric pottery (Brindley 2007) has been providing a very tight typochronology of Early Bronze
Age pottery and this aspect of her expertise also provided interesting results. Brindley’s analysis of the Roughan
Hill sherds has suggested that the Beaker pottery from Farmstead 1 resulted from a relatively short, one or two
generation occupation. Furthermore, her analysis suggests that this occupation is unlikely to have occurred in the
earlier stages of the Beaker period and probably occurred between 2000 and 1900 BC. The single sherd of Bowl
Tradition pottery recovered from Farmstead 1 has been identified by Brindley as being decorated in the style of
Stage 2 bowls and therefore dating to between 2080 and 1980 BC. Taken in conjunction with the Beaker sherds,
this suggests a date for Farmstead 1 of c.2000 BC.
Brindley also analysed the pottery from Farmstead 2 on Roughan Hill. These sherds she identified as belonging
to the earlier stages of the Vase Tradition and probably dating to 2020/1990 – 1920 BC or slightly later. This
means that Farmsteads 1 and 2 were occupied either simultaneously or within a very short interval (Brindley
2008). These new pottery analyses, therefore, give confirmation to the picture of a cluster of contemporaneously,
or nearly contemporaneously, occupied farmsteads on Roughan Hill. Furthermore, Brindley’s analyses place the
occupation of at least two of the farmsteads (1 and 2) very closely around 2000 BC.
Fig. IVa.3 Beaker sherds from Farmstead 1.
Lithic Analysis
The lithics recovered from Roughan Hill were analysed by Maria O’Hare. O’Hare had previously incorporated the
Farmstead 1 lithics into her PhD thesis (O’Hare 2005); for the INSTAR phase of research she was contracted to
author a definitive report on the Roughan Hill lithics that included not only the Farmstead 1 lithics but also lithics
recovered from Farmsteads 2, 5, 7, and a few scattered surface finds away from the farmsteads. Most of the
lithics were from Farmsteads 1 and 2 with only small numbers coming from Farmstead 5 (very limited
excavation), Farmstead 7 (surface collected only), and other surface finds. The lithics recovered from Roughan
Hill are almost entirely chert which ranged from fine-grained glossy black chert to poor-quality grey chert not too
distinct from limestone. All the chert was presumably obtained from somewhere within the limestone of the
Burren, although it’s exact source has yet to be found.
O’Hare has described the Roughan Hill lithic collection as highly expedient and characterised by the reduction
strategy that formed it which is best described as a ‘bipolar-on-anvil’ strategy. This is very distinct from earlier
lithic technologies (Neolithic and Mesolithic) which relied on the careful shaping of a core with a platform prior to
removing fairly uniform blades or flakes. With the bipolar-on-anvil strategy, a suitable piece of chert seems to
have been to broken into pieces by resting it on a hard stone (the anvil) and hitting it from above. Doing this
several times may produce more than one bipolar ‘core’ along with several scalar flakes. These bipolar cores and
scalar flakes are then either left unmodified and used as tools as they are, or are minimally modified before use.
Taken together, utilised bipolar cores and utilised scalar flakes make up 80% of the lithic tools on Roughan Hill.
Another important tool type on Roughan Hill is the sub-circular convex scraper; 203 of these fairly standardised,
formal tools were recovered. Interestingly, these scrapers tended to be made out of the best chert which suggests
that the higher quality stone was desired for these more formal tools. Similarly, the two arrowheads recovered
were also made from the higher quality chert. The recovery of unpolished axe flakes, hammer stones, smoothing
stones, and a portion of a flaked axe that may have been broken during manufacture all suggest that stone axes
were being manufactured at Farmstead 1 even though metal axes were well established in Ireland by this time.
Looking at the all the lithics together, O’Hare concluded that the assemblage represented a fully functional
domestic assemblage whose users may have had only minimal access to, or use for metal. This, it must be
remembered, is several centuries after the introduction of metal to Ireland.
Fig. IVa.4 Sub-circular convex scrapers from Farmstead 1.
Of chronological significance is the fact that O’Hare found no significant variation between the lithic material from
the various farmsteads and other find spots on Roughan Hill. This ties in well with Brindley’s pottery analysis
which suggests the contemporary or near-contemporary occupation of at least Farmsteads 1 and 2 around 2000
BC and the relatively short duration of the occupation of Farmstead 1 (only one or two generations).
Radiocarbon Analysis
Another analysis undertaken as part of the INSTAR phase of research was the submission of multiple samples of
animal bone from both Farmsteads 1 and 2 and a single sample of carbonized hazel nut shell from Farmstead 1
for radiocarbon dating. At the time of writing, however, the dates from the animal bone samples have not yet been
returned. The stratigraphy at Farmsteads 1 and 2 suggests that the animal bone samples will prove to be
contemporary with the pottery and it will be interesting to see if the radiocarbon dates lend further support to the
short occupation scenario or if they suggest additional or longer occupations not reflected in the pottery
assemblages. Because of the different turn-around times at the Chrono lab in Belfast for different materials,
however, a date obtained on a carbonized fragment of hazelnut shell has been reported already.
This carbonized hazel nut shell fragment was recovered from a large pit dug into the Beaker period deposits at
Farmstead 1. The stratigraphy on the site suggests that this pit relates to a re-use of the Farmstead 1 site at a
later date, perhaps as a workshop and the hazel nut shell fragment was chosen to shed light on the date of this
re-use of the site. The re-use seems to have involved the construction of a rectangular structure on the site with
the large pit in its interior. Finds from this re-use of Farmstead 1 include iron finds, a large grooved sandstone
block probably used for shaping either metal or bone artefacts, and some very small blue glass beads.
Interestingly, two slab walls that have been shown by their underlying bedrock pedestals to be much younger
than the Beaker/Early Bronze Age period enclosure wall around Farmstead 1 butt up against the enclosure wall
and there are also nearby faint traces of walls showing where walls have been removed (perhaps to construct the
slab walls?). These later slab walls form part of a field system that appears to relate to Farmstead 3 (500 metres
distant). Because the slab walls butt up against the earlier Farmstead 1 enclosure wall rather than run over it, it is
possible that they are contemporary with the re-use of the Farmstead 1 site evidenced by the rectangular
structure, its internal pit and the various finds which do not date to the Beaker period.
At the time of excavation it was postulated that this re-use of the Farmstead 1 site dated to the Early Medieval
period because it was thought likely that it was contemporary with Farmstead 3 which has a rectilinear plan,
contains some walls with cashel-like masonry, and has a souterrain in its interior. The date from the carbonized
hazel nut shell, however, was firmly in the Iron Age at 193–54 BC (calibrated at 2 sigma).
This may be very significant for our understanding of the archaeology of the Burren because it opens up the
possibility that the post-Early Bronze Age phase of slab and slab/standing field wall construction on Roughan Hill
and the associated farmsteads may be Iron Age. The slab and slab/standing walls on Roughan Hill form a pattern
of long north-south trending fields that are very distinct from the irregular Beaker/Early Bronze Age fields while
the farmsteads associated with this later field system (Farmsteads 3 and 6) are both distinguished by containing
some walls with cashel-like masonry, as well as a souterrain and a rectilinear plan in the case of Farmstead 3.
Although the link between the Iron Age re-use of Farmstead 1 and the construction and use of the slab and
slab/standing wall field system and its associated farmsteads is by no means certain, it is possible. If in fact these
other elements on Roughan Hill do date to the Iron Age, it means that other sites such as the ‘rectangular
cashels’ that occur on the Burren may also date to the Iron Age and further research may reveal an entire Iron
Age landscape on the Burren. This would certainly be a very significant contribution to Irish archaeology as the
Iron Age is a notoriously elusive period and the revelation of an entire landscape dating to this period would be
Roughan Hill and the six central themes of the Burren Landscape and Settlement INSTAR project
Various strands of evidence from the Roughan Hill data can be used to explore the central themes of the Burren
Landscape and Settlement INSTAR project. These strands of evidence will be explored in more detail during the
final, interpretation phase of the project, but some preliminary comments are offered below.
Spatial relationships and interactions between secular and ritual/ceremonial activities
Probably the richest source of data on this topic is the Beaker/Early Bronze Age landscape of Roughan Hill (Fig.
IVa.1). During this period, Roughan Hill is characterised by the contemporary or near-contemporary occupation of
at least two, and probably four, farmsteads. These farmsteads are set within a landscape of contemporary fields
and scattered amongst these fields are at least sixteen contemporary wedge tombs as well as several cairns
which may be contemporary as well. Survey, excavation and dating of this landscape have resulted in a very rich
data set. In this landscape, it is apparent that secular and ritual/ceremonial activities were carried out in close
proximity with perhaps only very minimal divisions between secular and ritual space.
This pattern of very close association between secular and ritual activities seems to have also been present in the
preceding Neolithic period. Although the data from this period is mainly ritual monuments, the pattern of Neolithic
monuments on Roughan Hill and farther afield in the Burren does suggest that Roughan Hill and Ballyganner
(located a few kilometres west of Roughan Hill), formed the core area of settlement on the Burren during this
period. Within this Neolithic settlement core are at least three, and possibly four, chambered tombs (including the
excavated Cl 153), while at the apparent edges of the settlement core are two portal tombs (Poulnabrone and
Relationship of boundaries and land divisions to past land-use and social organisation
The Beaker/Early Bronze Age pattern of field walls on Roughan Hill is one of small and irregular fields. This
pattern contrasts quite markedly with some other well known prehistoric field systems such as the Neolithic fields
at Céide and the Bronze Age fields of Dartmoor (Caulfield 1983, Fleming 1988). The well-organised and regularly
shaped fields of Céide and Dartmoor suggest an economically rational planning process. In contrast, the irregular
shapes, and particularly the very small size of many of the Roughan Hill fields suggests a landscape that has
been subdivided to the point of being uneconomical (Fig. IVa.5).
Evidence from farther afield on the Burren is beginning to show that this apparent over-competition for limited
land on Roughan Hill was accompanied by a concurrent movement of some families away from Roughan Hill and
onto other parts of the Burren. These ‘newly colonised’ areas seem to be characterised by more regularly shaped
fields. The best example of this pattern documented so far on the Burren is in the Coolnatullagh area which is the
focus of Olive Carey’s study (see IVb).
Fig. IVa.5 Comparison of field wall layouts (all shown at approximately the same scale). Upper left = Céide, Upper right =
Dartmoor, Bottom = Roughan Hill.
Social organisation
The evidence from Roughan Hill gives us insights into the social organisation of the area in both the Neolithic and
the Beaker/Early Bronze Age periods. In the Neolithic, the excavated chambered tomb (Cl 153) and the two or
three other monuments of the same type in the Roughan Hill/Ballyganner area seem to have functioned as
ancestral monuments used over many centuries. These monuments were probably the ritual foci of social subgroups such as lineages and these three or four lineages were probably grouped together to form a tribe whose
territory was centred on the southeast Burren (Fig. IVa.6). Based on ethnographic analogy, this was probably a
‘segmentary society’, that is, a society that was not strongly ranked internally and one that was not incorporated
into any larger polity beyond its boundaries.
Fig. IVa.6 Hypothetical social structure of the Burren’s population in the Neolithic.
In the Beaker/Early Bronze Age period, the cluster of similarly sized farmsteads on Roughan Hill also suggest a
fairly small-scale segmentary society. The wedge tombs, however, which are the ritual monuments of the this
period show a large variation in size which seems to indicate some social differentiation. It is not immediately
apparent how to reconcile these two contrasting lines of evidence but perhaps what we are seeing during this
period are the initial stages of the emergence of ranking within the society.
Extent to which early cultural landscapes influenced later settlement developments
The evidence suggests that Roughan Hill was a core area of settlement in both the Neolithic and Beaker/Early
Bronze Age periods. It is unclear at present, however, whether occupation of the hill was continuous between
these periods or whether there was a break.
The post-Early Bronze Age occupation of Roughan Hill re-used some of the earlier farmsteads. A rectangular
structure was constructed on the Farmstead 1 site and used perhaps as a workshop while the enclosure walls of
Farmstead 2 were substantially altered and re-used, probably as an animal corral. A new system of fields (mainly
defined by slab walls) was also laid out across the hill at this time which for the most part ignored the earlier
mound wall fields of the Beaker/Early Bronze Age. Two new farmsteads were constructed at this time to the north
of the earlier farmsteads and seemingly on sites that had not been previously occupied (Fig. IVa.2). It was
originally thought that the cashel-like masonry of some of the walls in these new farmsteads and the presence of
a souterrain in one of them that this post-Early Bronze Age occupation of Roughan Hill dated to the Early
Medieval period, but the Iron Age date obtained as part of the present research (see above), opens up the
possibility that this occupation may date to the Iron Age.
Movement in and out of the Burren as well as within the Burren
The cluster of farmsteads on Roughan Hill is located on the north-west slope of the hill and when viewed within
the wider prehistoric landscape, it appears to be a core area of settlement not directly on an important routeway.
Roughan Hill itself, however, but not the farmsteads, overlooks a very important ‘entrance’ into the Burren at the
base of its southern slope. In the Neolithic, the construction of the Balycasheen portal tomb here suggests that
this may have been a tribal boundary. The status of this area in the Beaker/Early Bronze Age period is unclear
but the position of several historic-period monuments (Caher Mór, the Tau cross, and the gates of Leamaneh
castle) in the same area all indicate that the strategic importance of this gap between Roughan Hill and the River
Fergus was appreciated over the millennia (Fig. IVa.7).
Fig. IVa.7 Location of the Ballycasheen portal tomb (marked by the star) at the ‘entrance’ to the Burren between Roughan
Hill and the River Fergus.
Position of the Burren in relation to wider exchange and contact networks
The best lines of evidence for exploring this topic are the pottery types and the monument types present on
Roughan Hill. Starting in the Neolithic, the pottery from the chambered tomb (Cl 153) can be characterised as
Western Neolithic and can be most closely paralleled by pottery found in the southern half of Ireland. In particular,
there are some decorated sherds from the tomb of a type that are often found in Linkardstown tombs, a tomb type
restricted to the southern half of the island. The morphology of the Cl 153 chambered tomb may also be a
southern type (characterised by a very narrow forecourt and a short cairn). It seems to be one of three or four
very similar monuments located on the southern Burren but there may also be links to the Shanballyedmund
court tomb in Co. Tipperary.
Moving into the Beaker/Early Bronze Age period, the wedge tombs on Roughan Hill show that the hill was
incorporated into contact networks that extended up and down the western half of the island (Fig. IVa.8). The
Beaker sherds show that Roughan Hill was incorporated into even wider-ranging exchange networks extending
ultimately right across Europe. Within Ireland, questions that can be explored regarding the Beaker sherds
include: What was the relationship of the Roughan Hill community to the Beaker-using and copper-mining
community at Ross Island? (which was nearing the end of its production at this time), and what is the significance
of the close association of Beaker pottery and wedge tombs on Roughan Hill which seems to contrast with areas
such as west Cork where wedge tombs and Beaker pottery do not seem to be associated?
Fig. IVa.8 A wedge tomb on Roughan Hill.
Olive Carey
This field survey examines the prehistoric archaeology of the eastern Burren with particular emphasis on the
Beaker Period and Early Bronze Age monuments and field systems in the Coolnatullagh valley and surrounding
Damage to a cairn in 1996 in Coolnatullagh townland resulted in the partial excavation and reinstatement of the
cairn in the summer of 1997 (Eogan 2002). It was found to be a burial monument and radiocarbon dates indicated
a primary use phase between 2460–2140 BC with subsequent re-use c.1880–1660 BC. A mound wall field
system in close proximity was also investigated and the excavator concluded that the cairn and field system were
contemporary. As these dates are similar to those obtained from excavation of settlements and mound walls on
Roughan Hill (Jones 1998) it was decided that intensive field survey in Coolnatullagh would significantly
contribute to the knowledge of settlement, land use patterns and ritual activity in an area removed from early core
areas of human occupation in the Burren.
Survey Area
Coolnatullagh is situated on the north-eastern Burren at the head of a valley that extends in a northeast direction
from Carron to Cappaghmore. The valley is overlooked from the northeast by Slieve Carran, from the west and
north by Gortaclare Mountain and by Doomore to the southeast and south.
Field Survey
A survey transect was chosen that included an area from the valley floor to the top of Gortaclare Mountain. While
the majority of the fieldwork was conducted on the slopes of Gortaclare Mountain, for comparison purposes I
decided to extend the survey to Doomore Hill, which defines the south-eastern and southern side of the valley.
The survey area encloses an area of approximately two square kilometres.
The previously recorded archaeological monuments in the survey area include a wedge tomb, three cairns
(including the partially excavated example) an enclosure, a cillín, a hut-site complex, six fulacht fiadh and a field
system. The field survey revealed a further sixteen cairns or possible cairns, seven cists or possible cists, four or
five prehistoric enclosures, at least six hut sites as well as historic period enclosures and dwellings, a souterrain
and a myriad of field walls dating from the prehistoric period through to modern times.
Fig. IVb.1 The extent of the survey area.
Ritual Monuments
Wedge Tomb
A single wedge tomb representing the most northerly distribution of wedge tombs in the north-eastern Burren is
located on a plateau in the centre of the study area. Its location stands in marked contrast to the cairns and cists
that are distributed around the periphery.
A total of eleven definite and seven more possible cairns (labelled as mounds on the map) were identified during
the survey. They range in size from the smallest at 3 or 4 metres diameter to the largest at c.17 metres diameter.
They appear as low grass covered mounds and only very occasionally were any structural elements observable.
The excavation of cairn 1 by Eogan (2002) revealed a complex structure consisting of an internal circle of
kerbstones set on edge supported by an external revetment of drystone walling. One of the damaged cairns
shows a similar revetment although no kerbstones were visible.
Two of the largest cairns in the study area are located sloping from the summits of two low glacial hills at the
western end of the study area. Both of these large cairns are located in the most fertile area of the entire study
area. Cairn 8 is located in the field marked on the Ordnance Survey maps as Kinatulla Children’s Burial Ground.
It is oval in shape and has a maximum diameter of 18 metres. It has been severely robbed out and a large oval
shaped depression has been dug into the cairn. Cairn 10 is unusual being trapezoidal in shape. Like Cairn 8,
which is situated on an adjacent hill 260 metres to the east, it has been severely robbed out. The cairn has a
maximum length of 17 metres.
Fig. IVb.2 Ritual Monuments in the survey area.
In general the cairns, even these two large ones, are inconspicuous within the landscape and are difficult to spot
from even very short distances away. However, most are sited in locations from where there are panoramic views
over the surrounding countryside both into and out of the study area. An interesting feature of a great many of the
cairns is that that are constructed on the edge of small terraces or sloping ground so that they appear to be more
substantial when observed from one side than the other. Invariably the sloping side of the cairn overlooked one of
the access routes into or through the valley.
A number of cists or cist like structures were identified during the course of the survey. Most of these structures
were identified as individual monuments but at least one cist was identified in the body of a cairn. Within the
excavated Cairn 1, a central cist contained the Beaker Period inhumed remains of an adult and child together
with the cremated bones of a single adult (Eogan 2002).
Fulacht Fiadh
Of six fulacht fiadh that were recorded on the RMP within the study area, only two could be identified with any
certainty. The others were either not located or were found to have been misidentified. Both were located on the
valley bottom within 20 metres of each other.
The survey has identified a number of settlement locales within the study area. With the exception of Settlement
1, where there was no obvious re-occupation of the site, the other settlement areas were also the focus of later
settlement probably dating to the Early Medieval Period. Enclosures 1–4 are directly associated with or are
situated close to mound walls.
Enclosure 1 – Located at the south-western end of the valley, this settlement appears to be contemporary with
the Beaker Period/ Early Bronze Age Cairn 1 located within the field system surrounding it. The main focus of the
settlement is a C-shaped enclosure, c.30 metres diameter defined by the most substantial mound walls. It is
difficult to assess the wall morphology but the tops of occasional uprights are visible through the mound wall.
Enclosure 2 – Located at the eastern extremity of the valley this settlement consists of a circular enclosure c.50
metres diameter whose enclosing element is defined on the west by the line of the modern field boundary, on the
north and east by a low curving mound wall and on the south by the exposed footing of a wall having some of its
internal facing stones set on edge. Cairn 5 is located in the northwest quadrant of this enclosure.
Enclosure 3 – Located beside a trackway that leads to the top of Sliabh Carron. An historic period/modern
enclosure overlies a prehistoric enclosure of c.80 metres diameter. Along a short section of wall on the southwestern side it was possible to see that the wall had internal and external facing stones.
Fig. IVb.3 Settlement locales in the survey area.
Enclosure 4 – Lies approximately 130 metres to the east of Enclosure 3. It surrounds a natural depression of
approximately 28 metres diameter. A later slab wall enclosure is attached to the eastern side of this site and there
are some slab wall divisions within the enclosure.
Enclosure 5 – This is an oval enclosure of boulder wall construction having a maximum diameter of 15 metres. It
is located at the base of a steep terrace on the western slope of Doomore Hill. A second, smaller enclosure of
similar construction is located close by. Neither enclosure is associated with mound walls and it is possible that
these are historic period enclosures.
Hut / House sites - Seven possible prehistoric hut or house sites or other similar structures were identified during
the course of the survey. With one exception all the sites were located within or close to the enclosures. Some
survived only as faint mound wall outlines while others had walls defined by inner and outer facing stones with a
rubble infill. Most had a diameter of c.6–8metres. Three were built against the base of a terrace and two were
located in such close proximity to springs that their use for habitation would have been impossible. It is probable
that these structures were special use sites that required the ready availability of water.
Fig. IVb.4 Prehistoric walls in the survey area.
Prehistoric Walls
All of the wall types identified by Plunkett/Dillon in her study on the field walls of the Burren are present in the
study area (1985). These include the prehistoric mound walls, early medieval slab walls as well as modern field
boundaries. In addition some variations on those categories were observed including boulder walls, mound/slab
walls and mound/boulder walls. The mound walls varied in height and width with some of the most substantial
reaching 0.75 metre high and 1 metre wide and others that were only faintly visible as low mounds that became
increasingly difficult to see as the grass grew over the summer months.
Mound Walls
Two patterns were noted in the layout of the mound walls. In close proximity to the settlements the walls enclosed
small irregular shaped fields while on the mountain side the fields are larger and more uniform in their size and
shape. The field divisions on the top terraces of Gortaclare Mountain are particularly uniform and recall the
regular layouts such as those seen at Céide Fields in Mayo or Dartmoor in England. The field layout is consistent
with the use of these fields for grazing purposes, while the smaller, irregular fields closer to the farmsteads may
have been used as garden plots for cultivating crops. Many of the walls enclose natural depressions that contain
a good depth of soil and may have been suitable for arable cultivation.
Terrace Wall on Doomore (shown as boulder wall in light blue on Fig. IVb.4).
In expanding the study area to include the slopes of Doomore Hill that defined the south-eastern end of the
valley, I had expected that the field wall pattern on Gortaclare Mountain might be replicated but this was not the
case. To the east, west and south Doomore rises in steep terraces from the valley floor but the ascent on the
northern side is much gentler and more gradual. At the 240 metre contour on this northern side a large wall is
constructed across the access route to the mountain summit. It follows the contour for approximately 130 metres
before tapering off on either side. It ends as the natural access becomes more difficult owing to the steeper
nature of the terracing on either side. At its most substantial the wall is up to 3 metres wide and is constructed of
large slabs of limestone that are generally stacked in an inward leaning pattern.
Fig. IVb.5 Terrace wall on slope of Doomore Hill.
Other features on Doomore
The only feature of possible prehistoric date to be observed on the summit of the hill is an enclosing wall around a
large oval depression measuring 45 metres maximum diameter located at the southern end of the hilltop.
Although well mounded over the wall appears to be constructed of internal and external uprights with a rubble
core. At the base of the hill, a low terrace has to be negotiated before one can begin to ascend. A large boulder
wall and a substantial mound wall define wide arcs that narrow to a funnel-shaped small gap no more than a few
metres wide at the point where the terrace is easiest to ascend.
The large terrace wall on Doomore and the funnelling walls at its base appear to be directing and controlling the
access route to the summit. It is possible that these features are related to other monuments located on Burren
hilltops, which appear to have been the focus of much prehistoric ritual activity.
Central Research Questions
The data collected in the course of this field survey can be used to address some of the central research
questions posed by the Burren Research Framework.
1. Spatial Relationships between ritual and secular monuments.
A locational feature of the cairns is that many are located close to or even directly within the settlements. Cairns
1, 2 and 3 are embedded within the mound wall field system surrounding settlement 1, while 4 and 6 are located
adjacent to enclosure 2 with cairn 5 being actually within the enclosure. The wedge tomb has no direct
association with the prehistoric settlements but occupies a central position within the study area.
2. Survival of land boundaries.
There is a rich survival of boundaries and land divisions from all periods within the study area. From the
prehistoric period two patterns emerge. That of small, irregular shaped fields in close proximity to the settlement
areas and a more regular layout of fields on the slopes and summit of the mountain. The large, terrace wall on the
slope of Doomore and the walls at the base of the hill seem to have had a role in directing and controlling the
approach to the summit.
3. Movement through the Burren.
The modern road from Cappaghmore to Carron follows the most obvious routeway through these east Burren
hills. The route must always have been an important conduit from the Gort lowlands to the east and Galway Bay
to the north into the heart of the Burren. Two trackways, one at either end of the study area, provide access to the
upland areas. Again both these trackways follow the easiest routeway into these upland areas. As the field study
progressed it became clear that both the prehistoric secular and ritual monuments clustered in the vicinity of or
immediately overlooking these routeways through the valley and uplands
4. Social organisation in prehistory.
The picture emerging from the data collected is one of fairly small-scale family groups farming this valley and
uplands. The spacing of the farmsteads and layout of the fields suggests that these groups were individually
farming the small fields in close proximity to their settlements but may have been collectively responsible for the
layout and use of the larger scale upland field system. The scale of the burial monuments and their proximity to
the settlement areas further enhances this view of a small-scale society.
The picture however, is not one of an isolated farming community. The construction of the large hill top cairn on
Slieve Carron, located approximately 2.5 kilometres to the northeast of the study area suggests that these family
units were part of a much larger social grouping that could mobilise the labour force required for such an
5. Early cultural landscapes influencing later settlement developments.
The study has revealed at least two direct instances where prehistoric settlements continued to be the focus of
settlement into the historic period. Settlement 2 at the eastern end of the study area is defined by modern field
wall to the west, mound wall to the northeast and east and by exposed inner and outer slab construction to the
southeast and south. A short extent (1 metre) of coursed wall survives to a height of 1 metre on the south side of
the enclosure and may represent a later re-use of the site.
Settlement 3 is located beneath an historic period enclosure that has both internal slab wall divisions and modern
standing walls that define the outer enclosure. A sub-rectangular house site, dating to within the last few hundred
years, is located within the historic period enclosure and testifies to the continued occupation of this site into the
modern period.
The general pattern that may be observed on the Burren where the areas that were the focus of prehistoric
settlement were also the focus of later settlement is supported by the results of the survey in the Coolnatullagh
valley and uplands.
Clare Hennigar
The focus of this study is a particular settlement type that has only recently been identified on the Burren – hillslope enclosures. Excavation carried out on one of these enclosures has returned radiocarbon dates from the
later Bronze Age, a period in prehistory that until now has not been adequately recognised in the archaeological
record of the Burren.
Fig. IVc.1 Enclosure at Ballyconry (marked with blue circle in centre of the image) from 1842 6-Inch OS Map.
The recognition and dating of these hill-slope enclosures provides a unique opportunity to look for additional
examples of these sites, to explore the pattern of their distribution across the Burren, and from this to investigate
the extent and nature of settlement on the Burren in the later Bronze Age.
Fig. IVc.2 View of Ballyconry enclosure, note the line of vertical facing stones (later Bronze Age date) underneath the
modern wall.
Blair Gibson carried out test excavations in 1985, as part of the Cahercommaun Project, on parts of the ramparts
of a hill-slope enclosure at Ballyconry (Fig. IVc.1) (Gibson 2007). Gibson was not expressly interested in the later
Bronze Age; the Cahercommaun Project was concerned with the proto-historic settlement around
Cahercommaun fort, but the excavation did produce radiocarbon dates from the later Bronze Age (c.1000 BC)
(ibid.). Gibson particularly emphasised the morphology of the ramparts as indicative of a later Bronze Age
enclosure. The ramparts were erected using compartments of large slabs placed at right angles to the course of
the wall and along the external face, the box then being filled with smaller slabs and stones (Fig. IVc.2). This type
of wall morphology can also be seen at the Late Bronze Age hillfort of Mooghuan (Fig. IVc.3). Based on the
excavations at Ballyconry, similarities with Mooghuan, and Jones’ research in identifying ‘settlement enclosure
walls’ at Roughan Hill, Gibson has used this distinctive morphology to identify other contemporary sites in the
locality. Sites which were identified by Gibson are located on the townland boundaries of Cloncoose and
Teeskagh and also in Tullycommon (ibid.). Investigation of Gibson’s sites showed several similarities with the hillslope enclosure at Ballyconry. These included the identification of contemporary field walls leading off the
enclosures and internal divisions; positioning and aspect of the enclosures: south-facing with a clear relationship
between upland and lowland areas.
Fig. IVc.3. The morphology of the walls of Mooghaun hillforts, Co. Clare, note the box construction (Grogan 2005).
The Present Study
It is these characteristics that I have used in identifying further later Bronze Age enclosures in the landscape.
This has been carried out with the aid of GoogleEarth (Fig. IVc.4), the Register of Monuments and Places and the
6" OS maps and extensive field surveying using a GPS device to plot enclosures, field systems and other related
features onto a map. Through these means I have identified several sites which exhibit certain elements of
Gibson’s characteristics. As can be seen from the images (Fig. IVc.5) internal and external facing stones are
evident on some, while external facing stones alone are visible on others. Rubble cores can also be seen, but
due to the badly eroded nature of many of the enclosures the ‘box’ construction (internal divisions) are difficult to
distinguish. The dimensions of the enclosures are also similar to the site at Ballyconry. Most of these sites are
associated with a series of mound walls making up several field systems.
Fig. IVc.4. The plateau to the west of Carron, enclosures are identified along with some related features (image from
A particular landscape of interest has been identified to the west of Carron, it occupies the townlands of
Ballyconry, Meggagh, Sladoo and Rannagh West. Five enclosures have been investigated to date (including
Gibson’s enclosure at Ballyconry), which are arranged along the edge of long, low plateau. These are located on
the south-eastern end of the plateau (Gibson’s enclosure), another two are at opposing east and western edges
of the plateau, while the final two are located to the northwest in close proximity to each other. Unlike the hillslope enclosures in Britain and Europe, these sites are not confined to the south-facing slopes, but seem to be
purposely arranged along the edge of the plateau, occupying some of the best viewing points over their
respective valleys. Some of the enclosures have associated mound walls, pens and hut sites, while the
relationship of other enclosures with these aspects of Gibson’s characteristics is difficult to ascertain due to later
disturbance through clearance, the erection of slab walls on top of the enclosure walls and growth of vegetation,
particularly hazel. One aspect that has helped in the identification of further enclosures has been the recognition
of enclosure walls having a different construction to the associated field walls. The enclosure walls as already
mentioned have facing stones with rubble packing, while the field walls are generally mound walls.
Fig. IVc.5 Image of Enclosure 2, townland of Sladoo, vertical stones can be seen on the internal and external faces with
rubble packing.
It is hoped with further field survey to investigate the relationship between the enclosures on this plateau.
Questions to be investigated include: Are the enclosures contemporary? Is there evidence of any field boundaries
or divisions on the landscape like those identified on Dartmoor by Fleming in the 1970s and 1980s (Fleming
1988)? Is there evidence for territorial boundaries and a hierarchical society similar to that proposed by Grogan
and Condit for Mooghuan hillfort and its environs (Grogan 2005)? These investigations will incorporate other sites
identified on the RMP, such as fulacht fiadhs and cairns. Future survey will include a transect between two or
more of the enclosures to carry out a more detailed and constant survey to ascertain whether or not there are
mound walls between these enclosures that would indicate contemporary settlements and to identify other
monuments not already identified on the RMP on the plateau. This transect will also be useful in identifying any
earlier divisions of the plateau and will also help to highlight if earlier monuments had an influence on the later
Bronze Age landscape.
Studies by Aileen Fox, on the hill-slope enclosures of Britain, have shown all these sites are near water, have
noticeable hollows made by the passage of cattle and are located overlooking good pasture lands or on the
between areas suitable to cereal growth (upper) and pasture (lower) (Fox 1952). Though excavations on some of
these enclosures have returned dates from the Iron Age, they are nevertheless important for a comparative
analogy of sites for the Burren enclosures. The Burren is not suitable to the growth of cereal today, but the
tradition of transhumance, cattle grazed on the lowland in summer and lead to the uplands for the winter, has
long been established there. The Burren has particularly good grazing for cattle with grass growing throughout
the winter on the rich soils, providing sheltered valleys and open pastures (Watts 1984). These enclosures,
perched on the edge of hills could have provided ideal intermediary locations for a pastoral society, while also
providing good elevation to survey the surrounding landscape.
Other sites in Britain will also be used to provide comparative analogy settlement in the Burren, such as Bracken
Rigg in Co. Durham, where a single house was identified surrounded by a series of enclosures. This was
interpreted as the residence of an extended family and the type of enclosure would imply an economy based on
livestock rearing, with additional members of the family using the dwelling as a base during winter or summer
(Audouze and Buchsenschutz 1992). It is this comparative study that will advance my interpretation of later
Bronze Age land-use and social organisation on the Burren.
Concordances with the six central themes of the Burren Landscape and Settlement INSTAR project
At least three of the central themes will be addressed by this project: boundaries and land divisions, social
organisation, and the influence of earlier landscapes on later landscapes. Particularly of interest will be the
survival of land divisions and boundaries. The study of contemporary mound walls associated with these
enclosures may indicate the division of the plateau during the later Bronze Age, and I will be investigating
whether these divisions can be used to suggest social divisions and organisations. Comparisons will be made
with other Bronze Age land divisions such as the Dartmoor Reaves system in Devon, where extensive surveying
has identified approximately ten territories.
It is obvious from the position of slab walls on top of the earlier mound walls and the existence of two cashels on
the plateau that the landscape has been altered in more recent times, but in terms of different periods of use, I
will be concentrating on investigating the extent to which the later Bronze Age landscape of the Burren was
influenced by earlier Bronze Age and Neolithic societies in the Burren, and the interaction between the later
Bronze Age communities and the earlier monuments on the landscape.
Finally, investigations into social organisation will not be limited to the field survey evidence but will also take into
account recently emerging data on the later Bronze Age use of caves on the Burren and isolated finds such as
the Gleninsheen gorget.
Danny Burke
Work undertaken to date
Since the commencement of this project in September 2007 I have been approaching the project from two
angles: the archaeology of the Burren and the ethnology of the Khasi people of Meghalaya in the northeast of
The Burren
I have been consolidating my knowledge and attempting to gain an overview of the range of megalithic structures
in the Burren and their distribution. To this end I have been locating and visiting all the known megalithic
monuments of the Burren, of which there are approximately 100. I have at this stage visited the majority of them
with only some of the more isolated and difficult to locate remaining to be visited. I spent time also in the archives
of the National Museum extracting all the records of finds from Burren townlands to obtain a picture of the nature
of the artefactual record form the area. I have also been reviewing all the records of earlier workers on the Burren
from the antiquarian authors of the nineteenth century up to the most recent surveys and excavations. In this
review I have also included the work of geographers and palaeoecologists where it seemed relevant.
My principle reasons for choosing the Khasi people of Meghalaya as a source of ethnographic analogy are as
follows: geographically Meghalaya is an isolated separated upland in the wider northeast Indian landscape in
much the same way that the Burren is in its wider landscape; in terms of its monuments it also differs
substantially from neighbouring areas, as does the Burren; the scale and type of its megalithic monuments are
similar to those of the Burren; Khasi society is tribal and clan based, as quite probably was the prehistoric Burren;
the Khasi traditional economy is one of simple mixed agriculture with grazing on the uplands and tillage in the
fertile valleys; in some areas of the state the megalithic monuments have continued to be used by the adherents
to the traditional Khasi religion, which allows us insight into the relationship between the monuments and the
social structure of the people using them, the positioning and relationships of monuments relative to secular
structures, numbers of people associated with groups of monuments and the connection between the monuments
and the cosmology of the Khasis.
On my first trip to India for this project, in November and December 2007 I spent time in various Indian
institutions: the National Museum in Delhi, the Indian Museum, the National Library of India, and the library of the
Asiatic society of Bengal in Kolkata, state museums and libraries in Assam and Meghalaya and the library of the
North East Hills University in Shillong, Meghalaya. In doing this I wanted to establish if there was information
available which I could build upon in this study. I also travelled extensively throughout Meghalaya looking at the
range of structures there, both in Christianized areas where the monuments are largely unused and in areas
where the traditional religion remains vibrant and the monuments remain in use. My purpose here was twofold: to
locate suitable study areas, and to establish the attitude of the local people towards research on their
I am currently in Meghalaya undertaking the second stage of my field research here. This year I have chosen a
number of areas which I think will be most productive for this research in terms both of ongoing use of
monuments and the simple logistics of being able to get to sites and undertake research there feasibly. I am
based in Shillong but I have rented transport which gives me the independence of movement needed to enable
me to get to outlying areas in the Jaintia Hills and the West Khasi Hills where I will survey monuments, landscape
features, settlements and clan land ownership boundaries using GPS. While here I am also best placed to study
the ethnology of the Khasi people and their cosmology, both through the available literature and directly through
interaction with the people as I live among them.
Preliminary results
From the Burren side of my research it is becoming clear that a great many of the megalithic monuments there
are grouped in clusters. It is also clear from the excavation evidence that at least some cairns date to the
Neolithic period and are also often spatially connected with other structures and therefore need to be considered
in conjunction with the portal dolmens, chambered tombs and other megalithic monuments if we are to obtain as
full as possible a view of the mortuary/ritual practices pertaining at the time. Furthermore the scant few
radiocarbon dates obtained from material excavated from Burren megalithic monuments and cairns show these
diverse structures to often have had overlapping and synchronous use over considerable periods of time.
The clusters of monuments appear to be positioned above or adjacent to the pockets of rich land which are
mainly in the valleys. This bears a striking resemblance to the situation which pertains in Meghalaya, where
villages are usually positioned on hillsides above the fertile land, and where the monuments are usually
associated with the villages. The Khasi people likewise use a whole range of funerary and other monuments
synchronously, the choice of structure used apparently depending on diverse social and cultural circumstances,
but ultimately it would be the aim that all the cremated remains of traditional members of an extended Khasi clan
would end up in the clan mawbah, or bone repository, along with their ancestors.
Insights relevant to the six central research questions of the Burren INSTAR project
While this research is still in its early stages there are some promising areas of relevance to the central research
questions of the INSTAR project; in particular to questions regarding the spatial relationship between secular and
ritual activities, questions of social organization, and questions of movement within the Burren. We may need to
start seeing the diversity of monument type in the Burren less in terms of successive time periods and more in
terms of an ongoing diversity of use over a considerable time period with the monument clusters referred to
above possibly representing the ritual areas associated with as yet undefined secular settlements. This will have
relevance to both our understanding of the spatial relationships between secular and ritual activities as well as
our understanding of the prehistoric social organization of the Burren.
In Meghalaya the landscape is quite similar to that of the Burren, and in many areas the only means of getting
around are by trackways which are still only usable by those travelling on foot. These trackways both within
Meghalaya and from its hills into the neighbouring plains offer relevant insights into the prehistoric situation in the
The similarity of scale and often of type of the Khasi monuments to those found in the Burren suggests to me that
we are looking at similarly scaled if not structured societies. Therefore the demographics of the villages
associated with monuments in Meghalaya may offer insights into the nature and scale of the prehistoric
communities of the Burren.
Christine Grant
This project focuses on a particular study area while looking at research issues relating to the prehistoric period
and its application to management and conservation issues. In order to do this it was decided to use a study area
where there is ongoing research by the author, and one that would allow for a broad scale assessment of the
archaeological record and recurrent management issues.
Fig. V.1 Study Area.
A number of monuments have recently come to light in the north central Burren that dramatically alter our
understanding of the significance of this area in prehistory. This includes a large hilltop enclosure on Ceapaigh an
Bháile hill and associated cairns. A second group of newly recorded monuments on Aillwee Hill, including a
number of cairns and enclosures, represents another hill with significant prehistoric material that alters our
perspective of this area. This also highlights the issue of the number of unrecorded monuments on the Burren,
how these can significantly alter research, and how best to deal with this gap in the record.
This study will look at the monuments in terms of understanding how people used the landscape in prehistory,
and the challenges that we face in protecting the archaeological resource from the pressures of modern land use.
These challenges include the regeneration of scrub, inappropriate grazing and feeding regimes, damage caused
through land clearance and the impact of tourism. The expected results will highlight and quantify the relevant
issues. These long term results will have an application to the larger question of how to approach the protection
of archaeological landscapes.
The methodology being employed in this study includes:
a) Field walking.
b) Production of distribution maps of prehistoric monuments for the study area.
c) liaison with National Parks and Wildlife Service.
d) liaison with BurrenLife in looking at the link between conservation of the natural environment and the
archaeological heritage and how both are tied to effective management of the land by farmers.
e) liaison with the Burren Connect project from Clare County Council in examining issues relating to the impact of
tourism on archaeology.
f) Photographic archive of monuments and areas of impact.
Prehistoric Landscape
The prehistoric monuments are assessed against a terrain model of the Burren Uplands to show their distribution
in relation to landforms. The hills are a distinct feature of the northern half of the Burren, as well as its eastern
edge, with the land falling away more gradually to the south. The plateau is characterised by a large number of
closed depressions with significant cave systems and numerous turloughs.
Fig. V.2 Terrain model of the Burren showing the distribution of hills, plateau and lowland (lighter shades indicate
increasingly higher ground).
It can be seen from a distribution of the main prehistoric monument types (Fig. V.3) that there is a clear trend
toward monument location in the central and eastern areas of the region, indicating a deliberate preference for
these areas. This raises a whole suite of questions that is too large a brief for this particular study. However, it
does focus attention on connections with the Gort lowlands to the east and the southeast region of Clare.
Fig. V.3 The general distribution pattern of prehistoric monuments on the Burren.
In looking at the distribution pattern in the study area, it is possible to assess more local trends in monument
location (distribution maps are based on the RMP). The distribution of cairns (Fig. V.4) highlights a preference for
hilltops and the upland plateau area, with none noted in the lowland area. All of the hilltop cairns are located on
the side of the hill that overlooks the lowland corridor from the coast and harbour area. All but two of the cists
(Fig. V.5) are found within the recorded cairns. Of the two isolated cists, only one shows a location against the
main trend, being located on the lowland area near Ballyvaughan.
The wedge tombs (Fig. V.6) show a similar distribution showing a clear preference for the plateau area. It has
been noted that there is a strong coincidence in the location of wedge tombs and cairns in particular. The
distribution of fulachta fiadh (Fig. V.7) again shows a similar preference in location to the above monuments. So,
what we are seeing is continuity in the choice of location of certain monument types in the prehistoric period.
Fig. V.4 Distribution of Cairns.
Fig. V.5 Distribution of Cists.
Fig. V.6 Distribution of Wedge Tombs.
Fig. V.7 Distribution of Fulachta Fiadh.
There are, however, significant gaps in the record for certain periods of prehistory that have to be considered.
The monuments noted above are relevant to the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods. One of the new
sites in this area is starting to fill in one of the gaps – a large hilltop enclosure on Ceapaigh an Bháile hill to the
west of Ballyvaughan.
Hilltop Enclosure at Ceapaigh an Bháile, Ballyvaughan
The enclosure runs around the circuit of the hill at Ceapaigh an Bháile in a series of discontinuous banks. It
crosses through several townlands, including Gleninagh South, Lismacsheedy, Newtown, Feenagh and
Fig. V.8 Preliminary survey of banks (in orange) on Ceapaigh an Bháile hill.
The long axis of the hill runs roughly northwest to southeast. The banks occur on at least three different levels on
the hill, related to natural terrace levels. For the most part, the banks run between the 260m and 270m contours.
There is an elaboration of the enclosure at the south-eastern end of the hill. Here, the banks break between
different terrace levels on the hill, and at one point there is a short concentric run of banks. It is also at this end of
the hill that two cairns are directly associated with the bank at its highest level. At this end of the hill the bank is
more substantial than elsewhere. The uppermost bank is built on a natural terrace between the 270m and 280m
contour, this terrace lies below the south-eastern summit of the hill, c.290m OD. This summit at this end of the hill
is lower than the north-western summit, which peaks at 310m. It is interesting that the more elaborate part of the
enclosure was not focused around the highest summit of the hill. Two summit peaks is a common feature of the
hills of the Burren. There are no large monuments on either summit/peak of the hill.
There are a large number of gaps along the circuit of the enclosure. Some of these gaps are short, while others
are particularly wide, running up to 100m. Some of the gaps appear to be related to natural topographic features,
such as depressions in the bedrock, while other gaps occur where the hill terraces are naturally steep. However,
there are no clear-cut patterns in the locations of gaps, as in places the bank runs across natural depressions and
can exist for short lengths on natural terraces that are otherwise not built on. At certain points it is evident that the
gaps are deliberately defined by kerbing at the terminals of the banks. This is clear at a number of locations and
partially evident at others.
In many places the bank has been deliberately placed so as to sit on the edge of a natural terrace where the
exterior slopes away quite steeply. In this way the builders have used the natural topography to align the banks.
At times this gives the bank the appearance of having much greater volume when viewed from the exterior. This
may, however, have looked very different when the bank was first constructed. It appears, from initial exploratory
excavation, that the bank was a well-defined wall when originally constructed. Its bank-like appearance today is a
product of wall slippage and successive grass growth over much of the stones. A wall built on these terrace
edges would have been that much more visible when viewed from below. It would seem at present that the walls
would never have been very high, and so it would seem that defence was not the reason for construction. The
number and width of the gaps would also indicate a use other than defence.
The location of this monument in the landscape is interesting for a number of reasons. It encloses a large hilltop
area, up to 150 hectares, making it one of the largest prehistoric enclosures in the country. It overlooks the coast
and Galway bay to the north, with good harbourage at either end of the hill at Ballyvaughan and Gleninagh. It also
overlooks the lowland corridor from the coast that gives access up onto the plateau to the southeast. To the south
it gives way to the fertile valley of Rathborney with one of only two over-ground rivers in the Burren, the
Rathborney River. This is also the only river that does not dry out completely during the summer as it is fed by
various springs along its course. It would appear, then, that this monument is located in a very strategic position
that reflects a routeway connecting the coastal sea waters to the upland grazing areas.
This hill is one of a series of conjoined hills that includes Gleninagh Mountain and Black Head. The hill formations
of the Burren are such that they tend to have multiple peaks, often with three hills to each formation, for example
the conjoined hills at Mullagh Mor, Slieve Rua and Knockauns, at Greim Chailli, Turlough Hill and Slievecarran,
and the three peaks at Turloughmore Mountain. It is worth taking this into consideration when looking at the
placement of monuments on hilltop locations, as the people who built the monuments may have seen these
places as connected rather than as separate hills. It is interesting to see, for example, that the Ceapaigh an
Bhaile enclosure is placed at the eastern end of the three hills, while there is a large cairn at the western end of
the hills on the peak at Black Head. These different monument types may be related by their position on the
different peaks of the conjoined hills.
The monument that best compares to the enclosure on Ceapaigh an Bhaile is the hilltop enclosure on
Knocknarea, Co. Sligo. The Knocknarea enclosure is also formed by a series of discontinuous banks and it also
has kerbing at bank terminals beside deliberate gaps. The dimensions of the banks at both monuments are
generally similar. So, based on the preliminary survey undertaken to date, it is clear that the best indication of a
date can be based on a comparison with the Knocknarea enclosure. Excavations by Bergh have concluded that
the Knocknarea monument dates to the Neolithic period (Bergh 2002), thereby making a Neolithic date the most
likely for the Burren enclosure. The location of both of these enclosures is similar, being located along the Atlantic
coastline, and implies a strong network of communications via the sea. This ties in with the idea of a distinct
biogeographical region along the Atlantic Fringe (Cooney 2000, 220) that may have influenced how people
socialised the landscape.
Fig. V.9 Distribution of Neolithic Monuments.
Adding this monument to the other known Neolithic monuments on the Burren shows an interesting distribution
(Fig. V.9) with an emphasis on the southeast, through the centre, and up to the northern coast, implying a distinct
line of movement, and one which connects with a major prehistoric routeway highlighted in Grogan’s North
Munster Study (2005, 27).
The hill at Ceapaigh an Bháile forms a natural boundary at the northern portal into the Burren where there is a
transition from the sea to dry land, and from the lowland to the upland plateau. Unlike Knocknarea there are no
other large scale prehistoric monuments on the hill summit. However there is obviously some relationship
between the banks and the cairns located on the upper terrace on Ceapaigh an Bháile. In order to begin to
assess this relationship a detailed contour survey was undertaken along the area where the banks meet the
cairns, see Figs V.10 and V.11.
It is clear from the survey that, at the location of each cairn, the bank material stops short of the cairn itself.
There is, however, an obvious platform in the bedrock that continues the line of the banks. This may imply that
originally the bank was continuous at these locations. If this is the case, then the construction of the cairns may
have occurred later, and the cairn builders may have used material from the banks to construct the cairns,
thereby interrupting the line of the bank but leaving behind a pedestal of rock.
What the survey also highlights is the alignment of the cairns in relation to the bank. The eastern cairn appears to
have been centrally located in relation to the line of the bank (Fig. V.10) while the southern cairn is offline with the
bank and sitting more on the exterior in relation to the line of the bank (Fig. V.11).
At this point the chronological relationship between the monuments can only be a matter of conjecture, but some
interesting questions are raised. If the enclosure was built before the cairns, then it may have been built without
reference to any pre-existing monument. Is the enclosure itself, then, the precursor to all other prehistoric activity
on the hill? If so, what was its function? Given its scale, it obviously had a regional significance that has
implications for social organisation in this area during the Neolithic. Grogan has highlighted the Burren as a
principle area of Neolithic activity in Clare (2005). What this means for the general Munster region is a matter for
further study.
There is an interesting connection to be made between this enclosure and the hillfort on Turlough hill. Part of the
bank of this enclosure is more substantial than the rest, and stands apart as it is the only section of bank that runs
between the upper and lower portions of the enclosure. It is located on the southern side of the hill and runs for a
length of about 130m. It has always appeared to be different from the rest of the banks as it is better preserved
and appears to be more elaborately constructed. It would appear to be later than the rest, or at least be a later
augmentation of the original bank. It is this portion of the bank that can be most closely compared to the
enclosure on Turlough Hill. It has a series of flagstones set at a slight angle on both its inner and outer face. In
places these present as a double line of flags, very similar to those on Turlough Hill. There may have been a
point in time when there was contemporary activity on both hills.
Fig. V.10 Eastern cairn on Ceapaigh an Bháile and its relationship to the bank.
Fig. V.11 Southern Cairn on Ceapaigh an Bháile and its relationship to the bank.
Prehistoric Enclosures at Dangan/Kilweelran
It had been noted while standing on the south-eastern peak of Ceapaigh an Bháile hill that the cairns on Turlough
Hill and Slieve Carran could be clearly seen through the gap between Aillwee Hill and Moneen Hill. A glance at
Google Earth satellite imagery confirmed the presence of an enclosure and other possible features of interest in
the saddle between the two hills. Robinson’s map also has an enclosure marked at this point. The shape and
form of the enclosure and the other wall features suggested they may be of prehistoric origin. A visit to the site
confirmed this.
There are, in fact, two enclosures located at the northern end of Aillwee Hill, on the southern side of the natural
pass between Aillwee Hill and Moneen Mountain.
Enclosure I
The first site forms an amorphous enclosure laid out for the most part on a natural terrace. Along its north-eastern
circuit, however, it runs off the terrace level onto lower ground, at a point where a modern right of way runs
immediately adjacent to the site. The enclosing element is, for the most part, composed of a series of large flags
set vertically on their long axes on both the inner and outer faces of the enclosing circuit, with a rubble infill. This
is on average 1.2m to 1.4m wide. Where the enclosing wall runs onto lower ground on the north-eastern side the
construction appears to be different. While upright flags are visible on the interior, the rest of this stretch is more
substantial, being on average 3.5m wide and up to 5.4m wide if slippage is measured. It has the appearance of
dump construction but this probably masks the original elements of the construction. Elsewhere there is a survival
of dry-stone built sections of wall that are evidently later. It may be that what we see today is the result of several
episodes of construction at this site, from the prehistoric period through to the medieval period.
There are three old trackways associated with this enclosure, though their dates are uncertain. One runs
immediately south of the enclosure and lies between the enclosure and the cliff face behind it. This track appears
to have originally continued to the east and uphill coinciding with the exterior of Enclosure 2. Two other tracks run
to the eastern side of the enclosure, one heading east along the contour of the hill while the other heads downhill.
There is also a modern bulldozed track running along the contour from one enclosure to the other, and a modern
farm road running uphill between the two enclosures.
Enclosure 2
This enclosure is built on a steeply sloping area of the hillside, and is roughly D-shaped. It also has large flags set
on their long axes. However, there are not as many flags evident in this enclosure and it doesn’t appear to have
the same regularity of construction as Enclosure I.
There is also an old track associated with this enclosure, running downhill on the north-western side of the
enclosure. This trackway appears to be a continuation of the southern trackway associated with Enclosure I.
It is hardly a coincidence that these enclosures are located at a natural geographic boundary between two areas
of fertile lowland, and at a junction between the lowland and upland pastures. The fact that they are built on the
more sheltered side of the pass and that they each command extensive views over the respective adjacent
lowland areas, makes it clear that there is a deliberate strategy to their location. Although we do not know how
they relate to each other or to the other prehistoric monuments chronologically, there is no doubt that the spatial
relationship to both Ceapaigh an Bháile and Turlough Hill is striking. Elements of their construction can be
paralleled, in part at least, in the enclosures on both of the above hills. At the very least they link the northern and
north-eastern routes into the Burren. This area has been used as a routeway from Ballyvaughan to Turlough in
living memory, indeed a right of way is marked on the Ordnance Survey maps. The presence of these enclosures
and the convergence of old trackways, evident on the ground and on maps, support the hypothesis that this was
also a routeway in the prehistoric period.
It is interesting that the modern townland boundary runs between these two enclosures. As at other locations,
prehistoric monuments seem to denote a significant boundary area in the landscape that often coincides with
natural geographic boundaries and modern townland boundaries. It is quite plausible that some modern townland
boundaries reflect a continuity of use of ancient prehistoric boundary areas. Above these enclosures on the top of
Aillwee hill there is also a hilltop cairn and associated prehistoric enclosures.
At the far end of Aillwee Hill is a significant group of newly recorded cairns, one being located on the hilltop (Fig.
V.12). This group of cairns at the south-western end of Aillwee Hill is associated with a recorded cluster of wedge
tombs at Gleninsheen and Berneens. The linear alignment of the cairns mirrors a linear alignment of the wedge
tombs within this cluster. The emphasis on movement at this location may be reflective of movement between the
lowland and upland areas and also of movement along a main routeway through the Burren, as mentioned before
and reflected in the distribution of Neolithic monuments. Again we may be seeing continuity of use of the
landscape throughout different periods of prehistory.
During a casual walkover of land at Lisgoogan townland, adjacent to Gleninsheen, a mound-wall field system, a
slab-wall field system and three new cairns were identified. Possible prehistoric enclosures have also been
pinpointed at Gleninsheen. The scope for further research in this area will be explored during the next phase of
this project.
Fig. V.12 Survey of hilltop cairn at south-western end of Aillwee Hill.
Fig. V.13 Location of new cairn group on Aillwee Hill.
Summary and Significance to Central Research Questions
This study ties into most of the central research topics laid out for this project. Identifying prehistoric enclosures
and their relationship to funerary/ritual monuments in the study area links strongly into the first central research
question of this project.
Identification of routeways highlighted by monument distribution and associated landforms links to the question of
how people moved in and out of the Burren as well as within the area.
The hilltop Enclosure at Ceapaigh an Bháile shows a cohesive prehistoric building project on a scale that implies
some form of centralized social organization. The fact that this may be a Neolithic monument supports Grogan’s
view (2005) that the Burren had a significant Neolithic population. Whatever period of prehistory it belongs to, it
would certainly have created a central reference point in the landscape. If this is the case, it will be possible to
see how other monuments, either contemporary or later, relate to it.
Construction of such a large-scale monument in the Neolithic is only paralleled at Knocknarea in Co. Sligo,
implying wider connections along the Atlantic sea coast.
Conservation and Management
We are faced today with several issues relating to management of the archaeological resource on the Burren
Uplands. The Burren represents a unique geographic region in Ireland and one of the best developed karst
landscapes in Europe. The scale of preservation of archaeological material is unparalleled elsewhere in the
country. So the question is, how is the uniqueness of this area reflected in terms of archaeological management
and conservation policy both at a national and a local level? The simple answer is that there is no special policy in
place to manage this area in any specific way. Is this a satisfactory situation? Will the proposed designation as a
World Heritage Site address the issue adequately for the region as a whole? Details of this have not yet been
announced so it is premature to comment.
As there is currently a review of policy and practice within the National Monuments Service it is sufficient at this
point to highlight the issues that need to be addressed.
It is known from previous studies that wherever detailed archaeological survey is undertaken on the Burren there
is inevitably a large body of previously unrecorded monuments identified. Several of the studies within the current
project ably demonstrate the quantity and quality of the unrecorded monuments on the Burren. At present there is
no statutory protection for newly recorded monuments. This is an issue that will hopefully be addressed in the
proposed new legislation on archaeological heritage. Therefore, the first and most obvious issue is the gap in the
current record of monuments for the Burren. In order to effectively manage a landscape as important as the
Burren it should be considered a priority of any management policy to have a complete baseline survey of the
An initial assessment of the record of damage to Recorded Monuments on the Burren in recent years has
highlighted the question of the effectiveness of the implementation of legislation and policy. It is clear that
landowners who participate in agri-environment schemes such as REPS and BurrenLife, or who are within SAC
areas, are receiving the information necessary to achieve effective protection and, in the main, this is satisfactory.
The construction of farm tracks is increasing for a number of reasons. These include the creation of pathways
through scrub to facilitate access to pasture for animals and to allow the landowners to manage their livestock.
On open ground the trackways are necessary to allow easier access and transport of fodder onto upland
winterages. Allied to this is the issue of proper location of feeding stations to minimize impacts on archaeological
However, the main damage to archaeological remains continues to be large-scale clearance of land. This is being
undertaken for two basic reasons, firstly to clear areas of scrub in order to reclaim pastureland and, secondly, to
improve existing open pasture. It appears that damage to protected archaeological areas is continuing to occur
because the relevant information relating to protection of such areas is not reaching the landowners. Of those
incidents recorded in the last few years, this type of clearance is happening where landowners are not
participating in any of the above schemes. What this shows is that there is a serious communication gap between
the relevant agencies and the landowners in relation to archaeological areas.
The issue of continued regeneration of scrub on the Burren has been the subject of a recent study; “Assessment
of Landscape Change and Effects on Archaeology and an Assessment of Habitat Survey in the Burren, Co.
Clare” (Heritage Council 2005). This continues to be a problem on the Burren. The BurrenLife project has been
assessing this issue from an environmental point of view for the last four years. It is only in recent months,
however, that there has been an archaeological component running alongside this project. This is being
conducted by the Fields Monuments Advisor working through Clare County Council on foot of funding from the
Heritage Council. The outcome of this will be to map a sample number of the BurrenLife monitor farms from an
archaeological point of view in order to include this information in any future farm plans.
In order to facilitate that process, this study has also been mapping archaeological features on a number of the
monitor farms within the study area. Remote mapping has been undertaken, and the next phase will ground truth
the identified features and assess their archaeological significance. This work is currently ongoing. On foot of
assessing the issues relating to farming practice and its impacts on archaeology, a set of archaeological
guidelines for farming on the Burren has been compiled. These will be issued for consultation before being
There are many different strands of management in operation for the Burren, from different agencies with varying
degrees of effectiveness and co-operation from landowners. There have been numerous reports commissioned
over a long number of years to address the future of the Burren.
It is clear that there needs to be an integrated management strategy for the Burren where the needs of all areas
of interest are catered for with full reference to each other and undertaken in mutual co-operation. This has to be
done with the ultimate aim of encouraging landowners to participate in the management of the area as a whole
and, in particular, to the management and conservation of the archaeological resource. With regard to
archaeology, a management plan should begin with a solid information base. This will necessitate a
comprehensive survey of the archaeological remains on the Burren. The management plan should also clearly
define the issues affecting archaeological protection and define the scale of the issues and impacts. It should
outline the measures needed to negate or minimise the impacts, implement measures and monitor the
effectiveness of the implementation process.
Towards a research Framework
This study has identified some issues relating to research needs for the prehistoric period on the Burren that need
to be addressed in the future.
1. Need to look at the location of monuments and land-use potential in more detail, e.g. the association between
monuments and pastures / winterages.
2. Relationship to routeways for access to upland pastures, travel and trade. The density of monuments on the
Buren demonstrates a sustained population base at different periods. Identification of routeways will demonstrate
ties with other regions.
3. More study required on landforms of the Burren and environmental conditions in the prehistoric period. This will
necessitate cross-disciplinary research, including geological assessment of archaeological monuments and their
context, soil analyses, and speleothem analysis and dating for use as indicators of environmental change, and
how it has influenced the archaeological record.
4. There is a gap in the settlement record for sites related to the Early and Middle Neolithic periods, the Middle
Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
5. There is a need for more survey and excavation programmes to explore the relationship and dating of
prehistoric enclosures in order to understand the development of social organization throughout the prehistoric
6. Comparison of monument types shows up certain location preferences and overlaps. There is a need for more
detailed studies of small land units to assess this in detail.
Michelle Comber
This project largely comprises three phases of field survey and research funded by Archaeology Grants from the
Heritage Council. This has recently been supplemented by voluntary small-scale excavations, and by
investigations funded by the Burren INSTAR project.
Amongst the most numerous of the field monuments preserved on the Burren are several hundred ringfort
enclosures of the first millennium AD, many with associated field systems. The relative lack of modern intensive
agricultural activities has facilitated the fossilization of many of these field systems in today’s landscape. Whilst
settlement of the first millennium AD has been studied elsewhere in Ireland, nowhere does such a concentration
of settlement occur in conjunction with such large expanses of preserved fields and farms. A rectangular study
area of over 70km2 was designed to incorporate a number of features, both geographical and archaeological (Fig.
Fig. VIa.1 Location of study area(s).
Geographically, the chosen area is situated just south of the Burren mountains, incorporating the uplands or
lower slopes of these mountains, and the northern reaches of the lowlands to the south. The north-eastern corner
of the study area is marked by the closed depression and turlough at Carran. Archaeologically, the area covers a
dense concentration of relevant remains, including in the southwest the important ecclesiastical centre of
Kilfenora and the adjacent high status secular settlement of Caherballykinvarga, the well-preserved cashel of
Caherconnell on the north, the excavated high status site of Cahercommaun to the east, and the recently mapped
ancient field systems on Roughan Hill to the southeast.
Phase 1
Early Medieval activity in the study area is represented by over two hundred extant relevant sites, as recorded by
the RMP/Record of Monuments and Places (though there are many more in reality). This results in a minimum of
almost three sites per square kilometre, well above the national average of 0.55 sites per km2. Such a high
density of occupation (one of the highest in the country) must reflect the agricultural potential of the land in the
area, including the rich winter grazing of the uplands.
Fig. VIa.2 Settlement zones, Phase 1.
Assuming that the majority of enclosed sites within the study area represent some form of settlement, it is clear
that some parts of the area were more attractive than others for habitation (Fig. VIa.2). There is a band of more
dense activity along a line running east from Kilfenora to Caherfadda townland. A second line of concentrated
settlement stretches north from this, through Noughaval and towards Kilcorney. Two other concentrations are
evident – the first around the Poulacarran valley, and the second to the east around Castletown / Tullycommon
and Teaskagh. Settlement evidence elsewhere is spread more thinly, perhaps marking areas of widespread bare
limestone, less conducive to occupation.
The southern band and Poulacarran concentration are most readily explicable in terms of agriculture. Here, in the
lowland zone and green valley (respectively), deeper more fertile soils existed. The southern band of settlement
may also reflect the use of this lowland zone as a routeway, probably the main approach to the Burren from the
southeast. The band running north from here through Noughaval may represent another routeway, especially
when viewed in an ecclesiastical light. This band links Kilfenora with Noughaval and Kilcorney, skirting the edge
of the uplands to the northwest.
The concentration of settlement activity around the Tullycommon / Castletown area does not seem to have a
primary agricultural focus. Many of the sites here are built on bare limestone with, at most, a thin soil cover.
Farming cannot have been as productive here as in other parts of the area (although the winter grazing is very
good), so perhaps an alternative reason should be sought. The political situation may provide an answer. It is
possible that, from as early as the seventh century AD, this area may have been inhabited by a group not of
native Corcu Mruad origin. The relatively ‘empty’ stretch of land visible on the distribution map, running roughly
southwest-northeast may have formed something of a buffer zone between Corcu Mruad and whoever occupied
the Tullycommon area, possibly Uí Chormaic or Dál Cais.
In this light, the trivallate enclosure of Cahercommaun in Tullycommon townland might be viewed as a chiefdom
or territorial capital, perhaps in imitation of, or competition with, Caherballykinvarga in Corcu Mruad. Access to
Cahercommaun may have been controlled by the bivallate 10-59.02 to its north, situated as it is between
Cahercommaun and the Corker Pass providing access between the north coast and southern lowlands (Fig.
VIa.3). To the east, access to Cahercommaun could have been easily controlled from Cashlaungarr, a stronglybuilt cashel in a very defensive position atop a pinnacle of rock, and situated at the western end of the gorge
leading to Cahercommaun. The builders / occupants of Cahercommaun clearly had defence in mind when
choosing the location for their cashel, and in incorporating such features as a very thick inner wall, a guard
chamber, and a souterrain with a probable escape-route function (Hencken 1938). The excavated remains point
to a wealthy settlement of powerful cattle lords, though an occupation not concerned with the high-status activities
of precious metalworking or foreign trade. The primary concerns of the inhabitants may have been more local and
more political.
Fig. VIa.3 Cahercommaun, Cashlaungarr, and CL10-59.02 circled.
The suggested border zone between Corcu Mruad and Uí Chormaic / Dál Cais is largely devoid of settlement,
with one obvious exception. The probable early monastic foundation of Templeline is located in Ballyline townland
between the two territories (Fig. VIa.2). This may substantiate the idea of a border zone existing here, as early
monasteries were often given land along the borders of territories. This area also marks the general border
between the later baronies of Burren and Corcomroe, with baronies often thought to follow the layout of earlier
chiefdoms or land divisions.
The chosen study area within the Burren, Co. Clare, is an area of relatively dense settlement of the first
millennium AD. Occupied by the Corcu Mruad, the region saw shifting political trends, and was often ruled over
by kings from outside its borders. These borders may also have changed through time, with various groups
actively pressurizing the Corcu Mruad and encroaching on their territory. Despite any political upheaval that may
have occurred, settlement within the area appears to have been relatively stable, with agriculture providing the
back-bone of the economy. Cattle farming was particularly suited to the geology and soils of the study area, and
was probably the main agricultural activity.
Phase 2
Phase 2 of the study was designed to examine settlement and agricultural practices on a more local level. Phase
1 fieldwork had identified several areas of well-preserved settlement enclosures and associated field walls. A
stretch of particularly dense remains was located running east from the large cashel of Ballykinvarga, through
townlands including Ballybaun and Ballyganner, almost to the medieval castle of Leamaneh to the east. It quickly
became clear that the only way to examine this palimpsest of remains, to search for any settlement patterns, was
through the creation of a detailed digital map of all extant features. Approximately 44 hectares or 100 acres were
A total of 329 sections of walling were surveyed, ranging in length from one metre to three hundred metres (Fig.
VIa.4). At least ten different types of wall are visible in the surveyed area today, only two of which are modern in
date. The stone walls of the Burren, so visible on its often bare karst surface, have attracted study in recent times.
Plunkett-Dillon’s 1985 thesis identified three distinct wall types in the Burren, each of which she ascribed to a
different period of the past.
She interpreted mound walls as dating from the Early Bronze Age, slab-built walls from the Late Bronze Age and
Iron Age (up to, perhaps the seventh century AD), and tumble walls from the second half of the first millennium
AD. More recent work by D’Arcy (2006) elaborates a little on this classification. He attributes the mound walls
primarily to the Neolithic/Early Bronze Age, and dates both the slab walls (constructed of slabs set on edge) and
tumble walls (collapsed walls, originally one course wide, of large vertical orthostats set at intervals and the
intervening spaces filled with smaller stones packed in a roughly vertical position) to the Early Medieval period.
Many of the wall types found in the surveyed area, however, do not match the aforementioned categories very
The majority of walls now appear as largely grassed-over mounds, with occasional visible stone (Type 1). Without
excavation it is impossible to identify their original method of construction. The walls hidden within may have been
mounded up, or they may constitute collapsed forms of any of the following ancient types. Related to this type of
wall is Type 2, walls with a grassed-over base and a jumble of exposed stone along their top. It is possible that
such walls were built as loose tumbles of stone, or that their original form has been lost through, or hidden by,
collapse and vegetation encroachment.
The third type of wall identifiable in the surveyed area is two stone courses wide at the base, narrowing to just
one along its top. The stones along the top are often set transversely, i.e. at right angles to the long axis of the
wall. A wider version of these are the double-faced walls, with a facing of large stones on either side and a core of
smaller stone between. The construction of these Type 4 walls often resemble that of the large stone enclosures
or cashels. Wall Type 5 is constructed of a single row (in width) of large stones set transversely and horizontally,
often several courses in height. Related to these walls are those of Type 6. Here the transverse stones are set
vertically and are normally just one course high, often using very large stones or slabs. These resemble most
closely Plunkett-Dillon’s and D’Arcy’s slab and tumble walls.
In several other cases, walls are composed of a contiguous line of boulders, rather than large stones or slabs
(Type 7). Long stretches of wall often display a mixture of the aforementioned types of construction (Type 8). This
may be due to the re-use of such walls over time, necessitating additions and repairs in whichever building style
was then current and most appropriate to the function of the wall. The final two wall types (Type 9 and Type 10)
are recent or modern.
In total, then, there are five types of ancient wall with visible original structures; the double base with single top
(Type 3), the double-faced (Type 4), the transverse horizontal (Type 5), the transverse vertical (Type 6), and the
boulder row (Type 7).
Determining the chronology of wall types in the surveyed area is almost impossible without excavation. Surviving
literary evidence from the Early Medieval period reflects the types of boundary used during the first millennium
AD. The main law tract that deals with farming, Bretha Comaithchesa, names four main types of field boundary;
the stone corae, the earthen bank and ditch or clas, the bare wattle fence or nochtaile, and the oak fence or
dairimhe (Kelly 1997, 372). Clearly, the stone wall is the only one of the four relevant to this discussion, as there
are no obvious surviving earthworks or timber fences. The stone wall was supposed to measure three feet thick
at the base, and be four feet high (ibid. 374). D’Arcy writes
Under Brehon law also, the wall must be two feet thick half way up and one foot thick at the top. The
dimensions suggest a double (base course) to single (top) construction using big stones: it is difficult to find
Burren walls answering, even vaguely, to this description today. It is doubtful, therefore, whether ‘classical’
corae were constructed in the Burren in this period.
(2006, 13)
The current survey disagrees with this, as both Type 3 and Type 4 walls might be described as corae, especially
if allowances are made for their current heights. The latter also closely resemble the walls of the large enclosures
or cashels, the characteristic form of Early Medieval settlement in the region.
Wall Type 5 and wall Type 6 most closely resemble the slab and tumble walls dated to the first millennium AD by
other writers, though the early literature makes no mention of such walls. If, however, they do date to this period,
and are roughly contemporary with types 3 and 4, then perhaps they served other purposes, as suggested by
their very different forms. Of course, wall types 5 and 6 might date to the start of the first millennium AD, the late
Iron Age, and thereby pre-date the surviving literary evidence. The remaining wall types, the boulder rows, the
grassed-over stony mounds, and the partially grassed-over stone tumbles, may date to any period. It is not
possible to definitely identify any of these walls as classic prehistoric ‘mound walls’, however it seems likely that
at least some of them may fit into this category.
For the later period ‘it is difficult to ascribe particular systems of walls to the Gaelic nobility, [and] it has been
suggested that they simply continued with the forms and settlement boundaries of earlier times, moving from
cashel to castle in the period from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, when most of the towerhouses were
constructed’ (ibid. 16). Indeed, this suggested continuity can be seen in the continued use or re-use of cashel
Feature 96 for the construction of a towerhouse. It seems quite plausible that, in the absence of any obviously
new wall types, pre-existing walls were still used, or re-used, during medieval times.
Many of the surviving field walls combine to form enclosed fields of varying sizes (Fig. VIa.5). Four main types of
field have been identified in the surveyed area; small, medium and large irregular fields, and large sub-linear
fields. In the surveyed area the small and medium irregular fields tend to be found closest to the large settlement
enclosures or cashels of the Early Medieval period. The larger fields, both irregular and regular, are generally
found at a greater distance from these sites.
Early Irish literature tells us a little about the layout and organisation of farms in the Early Medieval period. The
space within a settlement enclosure, and in an area just outside of it called the airlise, held small structures and
enclosures intended for housing animals and growing certain foodstuffs. Inside the settlement enclosure, for
example, a bóaire (i.e. strong farmer) was expected to have a sheep pen, a calf pen and a pig-sty (Kelly 1997,
364). The airlise, which spread the distance of a spear-cast on all sides of the enclosure (ibid. 368), held
enclosures for grazing, milking, cultivation (including a vegetable garden), a kiln, a barn and, in the case of a king,
an assembly area. The rest of the farm was divided into fields used either for crop cultivation or animal pasture.
Tilled fields are often described as rectangular (ibid. 372), with small examples used for minor crops such as
woad, and larger examples for cereals (mostly barley and oats during this period, wheat on a much smaller scale;
Comber 2008, chapter 3). There is also mention in the literature of enclosed pasture for animal grazing (Kelly
1997, 370). Some very large fields may have been co-owned by neighbours or kinsfolk, used for shared grazing
or cultivation. This might suggest that the small and medium irregularly-shaped fields close to the cashels were
used as animal pens, milking enclosures, storage areas, orchards and vegetable gardens. Of the larger fields,
narrow rectangular examples may have been used to grow crops, the more square enclosures used for animal
internal dimension less than 20m), and large enclosures. Corner Enclosures are features enclosing or cutting-off
of a corner of an ancient field. The term ‘small enclosure’ can be used to describe the largest group of enclosures
found during the digital survey. Approximately fifty sites fall into this category, however this is not to suggest that
they are all contemporary or built for the same purpose. There are eight definite large enclosures in the surveyed
area, and two other possible examples.
Small enclosures located in the corners of fields, and partially formed by the field walls, are physically associated
with the field system and may, therefore, have had a more agricultural role. They could have been used as animal
pens, in the same way that modern pens tend to be built in the corners of modern fields.
In the surveyed area, small enclosures can be found both in the vicinity of, and some distance from, the larger
settlement enclosures. Those found close to the cashels, if contemporary with them, may have functioned as
additional domestic dwellings or small animal pens. Of course, small enclosures need not be located very near
large settlement enclosures, particularly if their function related to animal management. In this case, animal pens
for night-time or temporary protection, and accompanying huts for herdsmen, would both be needed. Early
Medieval literature tells us of the existence of both structures, and there is no reason to believe that they did not
exist in other periods also. There is also the possibility, in the Early Medieval period at least, that unenclosed
houses or huts were the permanent homes of the lower classes.
Three of the small enclosures stand apart from the others in terms of shape. These three, features 48, 57 and 84,
are relatively large and rectangular in plan while most of the others are curvilinear in shape. These differences
may suggest varying dates of construction. Rectangular structures were used in Ireland during the Neolithic and
Bronze Age, and again after roughly the ninth century AD. The substantial form of the wall types (being doublefaced in places) points towards the latter, i.e. sometime after the ninth century, perhaps Medieval in date.
All of the larger enclosures in the survey area appear to be drystone circular cashels of the Early Medieval period.
There are a number of features in the survey area that may have acted as tracks or roads at some time in the
past, though are no longer used as such (Fig. VIa.7). In the central survey area, two main routes can be
identified, both running roughly southwest to northeast, as well as other shorter stretches. It is very difficult to date
such roads and tracks without excavation as they are probably multi-period in use if not construction.
Such routes and tracks facilitated the movement of both humans and animals. People travelled between sites for
various reasons; social, economic, military, religious etc. They also needed to be able to move about farmland,
and move their animals from one part of their land to another.
mind. It would be very easy to erect a short stretch of crossing wall on a length of track or road to guide animals
to the desired location or field along said track. Such crossing walls have been identified in the surveyed area.
Early Medieval literary evidence reveals that roads and tracks added to the value of land. Different categories of
road existed, many of them controlled by the local king, with his clients responsible for their maintenance. The
largest class of road had to be wide enough to allow two chariots to pass, the smallest had to allow tow cows to
pass. Some roads could be privately owned, and tolls could be charged for their use (ibid. 391). A road and track
network was clearly recognised as very important during the second half of the first millennium AD.
Phases of Activity
The electronically surveyed and traced area represents an archaeological palimpsest, with surviving pre-, early
and late historic remains (Fig. VIa.8). As a landscape survey, all extant features were mapped and recorded,
regardless of their possible date. An examination of the surveyed remains, however, identifies the main phase of
activity as most likely in the Early Medieval period (see below).
Earlier, prehistoric, remains are scattered across the surveyed area, mostly confined to its northern third along
the edges of the extensive preserved field systems. Either the best farmland (represented by the field system)
was deliberately avoided by these monuments, or later farming activity has destroyed or concealed the evidence.
The general lack of archaeological remains, of any period, in the southern third of the studied area reflects more
intensive modern agriculture and land improvements. The prehistoric monuments can be roughly ascribed to
three broad periods; the Neolithic, the Bronze Age, and the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age. Most of the remains
represent prehistoric ritual activity, activity that was probably accompanied by settlement (as suggested by the
presence of fulachta fiadh). It is, of course, possible that some of the digitally mapped walls, enclosures and
tracks may originate in this period. Prehistoric candidates might include some of the largely grassed-over moundlike walls, some of the boulder walls, and some of the small enclosures. Part of the difficulty involved in identifying
prehistoric field walls and enclosures in the area could be due to their re-use and alteration in later periods.
The second millennium AD is also represented in the surveyed area), most visibly in the remains of a towerhouse
within cashel Feature 96. It is uncertain who built this structure, but we do know that it was in the ownership of the
O’Loughlins in 1580 (Frost 1893, Chapter 3). It utilises the earlier cashel as a bawn wall, and perhaps as an
ancestral link or claim to power in the area. The associated fields and structures may also have Early Medieval
origins, and have been altered or re-used during Medieval times. A second towerhouse once stood on the
western edge of the studied area. Caherminnaun Castle (CL016-20.02/03) is now completely ruined, but in 1580
was the property of Teige MacMurrogh O’Brien, Lord of Caherminnaun (Frost 1893, Chapter 7). The fifteenth
century towerhouse and seventeenth century fortified house at Leamaneh lie just outside the surveyed area to
the east. Within the central survey area, some of the recorded walls and features may date to the medieval
period, such as the three rectangular enclosures or house sites. The routeways and some of the field systems
Most of the datable evidence recorded in this survey appears to belong to the Early Medieval period and is
secular in appearance; walls, fields, tracks, small enclosures and cashels. Unfortunately, in the absence of
accurate dating, it is not possible to identify individual farm size or boundaries, or say for definite which fields and
features are contemporary. Within the central survey area it is possible to suggest the existence of a number of
settlement clusters or foci, based on the spatial distribution of settlement indicators. These clusters contain at
least two large settlement enclosures, with surrounding field systems and features. Although interpretation of the
landscape is hampered by the varying degrees of preservation from field to field, and the lack of scientific dates,
the surviving remains do suggest a farming landscape organised around settlement clusters, with larger
expanses of farmland attached to each one.
From at least the Early Medieval period, occupation and agriculture in this region have been intense, with
subsequent generations of inhabitants re-using and altering earlier structures. This makes it very difficult, in the
absence of obvious intrusions or departures, to peel back the chronological layers, to distinguish different phases
of activity. Perhaps this should promote the examination of all landscapes as chronological wholes, as areas of
continuous and gradual change and evolution, with no one period of use separate from those that went before or
those that followed after. This is certainly true of the inhabitants of the survey area during the first millennium AD
who built upon the landscape of prehistory and formed a foundation for the occupants of the second millennium
Fig. VIa.9 Caherconnell settlement cluster.
Phase 3
Phase 3 of this project focused on the townland of Caherconnell in the heart of the Burren, north of the Phase 2
study area. This location was chosen for a number of reasons. A wealth of archaeological remains are visible in
this area (including a tight cluster of three cashels, resembling the settlement clusters identified in the previous
phase of the project, Fig. VIa.9), an area that borders both the fertile green valley of Kilcorney to the south and
the exposed karst uplands of the west and north. Another important factor in selecting this area, at this stage of
the project, was the opportunity to undertake excavations across this landscape, with the strong support and
interest of the landowner, John Davoren. This would allow the incorporation of excavated functional and
chronological evidence into the analysis of the digitally mapped remains, and may facilitate extrapolation of data
for other mapped zones in the Burren.
Phase 3 of this project saw the detailed digital mapping of all extant archaeological features in the townland of
Caherconnell (Fig. VIa.10). Two-dimensional mapping of the landscape was undertaken with an EDM or Total
Station. Supplementary three-dimensional mapping of Caherconnell cashel and its immediate environs was
provided by the Burren Landscape and Settlement INSTAR project (surveyor Cormac Bruton).
A number of new sites have been identified by the survey. These include two boulder burials, a barrow, field walls
and several small enclosures. Of the ten wall types identified, types 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 correspond with the same
numbered types from Phase 2. The survey also contains four large, cashel-like, enclosures. The surviving Early
Medieval remains, as in Phase 2, suggest a farming landscape organised around a settlement cluster.
The acquisition of excavated evidence from this landscape is the logical next step in the analysis of the Burren
landscape. This work has now commenced (see Section VIb), with a trench opened within Caherconnell cashel in
2007, and across a semi-subterranean drystone structure adjacent to the cashel in 2008. These were volunteer
excavations undertaken by a group of experienced archaeologists from both the academic and commercial
sectors, organised around Heritage Week. It is hoped to continue this series of small-scale excavations in 2009.
In addition, it is hoped to commence a larger-scale research excavation in the near future.
This project has evolved from a purely Early Medieval study to a multi-period landscape assessment.
relationship between secular Early Medieval activity and much earlier prehistoric ritual remains. A site surveyed in
Creevagh townland in 2005 (CL10-95.01), for example, comprised a Bronze Age wedge tomb deliberately
enclosed at a later date by conjoined cashel-like enclosures (Fig. VIa.11, see below for more). Recent
excavations in Caherconnell townland suggest the deliberate association of the cashels there with an earlier
prehistoric ritual structure. It is hoped that further targeted excavations in this landscape will reveal more about
the secular/ritual relationship, both within periods and between periods.
Fig. VIa.11 Cashel-enclosed wedge tomb.
Boundaries and Land Use
The detailed digital mapping of field walls and land divisions by the Early Medieval project has revealed much
about the possible agricultural and social organisation of the landscape. Small clusters of two or three cashels
tend to be surrounded by fields of different shapes and sizes and scattered, unenclosed house sites. Smaller
fields are generally located close to the cashel settlements, with larger fields at a greater distance from them. A
somewhat similar pattern is emerging around Caheridoula in Elizabeth FitzPatrick’s Cahermacnaghten study
area. The social implications of these patterns awaits confirmation and further study after the provision of a
chronological framework through excavation. Examination of large-scale territorial boundaries has just begun to
reveal links with patterns of settlement distribution and ritual activity, providing a target for future studies.
Examination of Early Medieval settlement patterns, in conjunction with topographical assessment, has identified a
number of major routeways running into, and through, the Burren uplands. Settlement indicators, primarily
cashels and early ecclesiastical remains, have been noted forming linear patterns that often correspond with
natural routeways through upland regions or along the edges of valleys. Some of these routeways may also
correspond with territorial boundaries. Caherconnell, for example, is located near the junction of two routeways,
one running north-south from Ballyvaughan to Leamaneh, the other running east-west from Carran towards
Cahermacnaghten (where Richard Clutterbuck has been tracing routeways and patterns of movement). On a
smaller scale, detailed digital mapping has identified a number of roads or routes that facilitated the movement of
people and livestock at a local level. Mapping the major and minor routeways discovered in all of the INSTAR
study areas would be a useful undertaking in 2009.
Social Organisation
The Early Medieval archaeological remains clearly reflect social organisation. A range of settlement types and
sizes have been recognised, suggesting the existence of a social hierarchy. It is hoped that ongoing excavations
will provide additional evidence of this. The 2007 excavations at Caherconnell cashel identified it as a high-status
settlement. The proposed excavations at an small, adjacent, cashel will explore the relationships between these
different cashel types and their inhabitants (see below).
An Evolving Landscape
It has become very clear during the course of the Early Medieval project that no ‘phase’ of activity ignored that
which preceded it. The Early Medieval cashels and farms, for example, re-used earlier field walls, often repairing
or altering them to suit their own needs. Later Medieval settlements, in turn, re-used or continued to use, a
number of the earlier cashels, e.g. the O’Loughlin towerhouse within a cashel in Ballyganner townland (CL1620.64). It appears that high-status Early Medieval settlements attracted continued use, or later re-use.
Earlier, prehistoric, remains are scattered across the Phase 3 surveyed area, closely associated with the later
cashel settlement cluster. These remains include an excavated ritual structure (section VIb), a couple of boulder
burials and a barrow – all ritual elements of a prehistoric landscape. The construction of the later cashels
amongst these features may reflect a deliberate desire on behalf of the cashel-builders to be associated with the
important places of their ancestors. It is clear that occupants of the area in the second millennium AD also wanted
to be associated with their ancestors, living as they did within the settlement enclosures of previous generations.
The second millennium AD is also clearly represented in the surveyed area. The most definite evidence comes
from the excavations within Caherconnell cashel, and from the secondary use of the adjacent prehistoric structure
(see section VIb for details). The former produced evidence of settlement possibly into the seventeenth century,
while the latter revealed non-traditional burials of the fifteenth/sixteenth century. The routeways and some of the
field systems may also date to this period, perhaps utilising pre-existing structures from the first millennium AD.
The current Burren landscape is very much a palimpsest of remains from various periods of the Irish past.
Something similar was true in the first millennium AD when earlier monuments were also very visible on the
landscape, and may have been re-used during this period. One example of this can be seen at site CL10-95.01,
where a Bronze Age wedge tomb was enclosed by a stone cashel, probably during the second half of the first
millennium AD (Fig. VIa.12). Of course, the cashel has not been excavated or scientifically dated, however its
construction style utilizing large slabs laid horizontally is identical to that of the Christian era cashels. Why this
earlier burial monument was enclosed in this period is uncertain. Perhaps the cashel-builders were unaware of
the monument’s original function and significance and merely re-used it as a shelter, or perhaps they had a more
symbolic reason for enclosing it.
Fig. VIa.12 Survey of cashels and wedge tomb.
The enclosure surrounding the site is unusual in that it consists of a pair of conjoined enclosures or cashels, the
tomb situated in the more northerly of the two (Fig. VIa.12). Foundations of probable houses or huts are visible
within this northerly enclosure, and abutting its exterior to the north. The remains of an external fosse can be
traced on the south side of the enclosures, perhaps exploiting a natural weakness in the underlying limestone.
The southerly enclosure may also have utilised such natural features of the limestone, with its interior dominated
by a sub-circular, flat-bottomed depression, at least partially formed by the natural limestone pavement, though
perhaps artificially enhanced. The same can be said of the probable entrance to the northern enclosure (on the
northwest), from which a sunken passage leads off to the northwest, for a length of approximately 10m before it
gradually peters out to join the surrounding ground level. The enclosure walls are now quite grassed-over, with
only occasional lengths of original wall-facing visible. The walls originally measured roughly 1.5–2m in width, and
today the maximum height reaches 0.8m.
This site typifies the chronological difficulties encountered in any study of the Burren landscape. The constant reuse of the landscape often confuses the identification of separate phases of activity, with excavation usually the
only reliable method of untangling the chronological puzzle. This has been shown quite clearly by Jones’ work on
Roughan Hill in the southern part of the study area. Excavations of a prehistoric farmstead revealed evidence of
re-use during the Iron Age/Early Medieval period. The thread of re-use, and the form that it took, has the potential
to reveal much about the continuity of population in the area (or lack thereof).
The Wider Context
Early Medieval settlement forms in the Burren display many similarities to those found outside the region,
particularly the stone cashels of the western seaboard. The larger Burren examples closely resemble those found
on the Aran Island and the peninsulas of the southwest. The church remains also form part of the wider
ecclesiastical assemblage along the western seaboard. Some local variations are visible, for example the subsquare cashels found only in the Burren, however it is obvious that the region was not isolated from the rest of the
island. The limited excavation evidence from cashels in the Burren also points to the area being part of a wider
contact network. The artefact assemblage from Cahercommaun, especially its metal brooches and pins, is
consistent with that found throughout Ireland. In fact, an iron penannular brooch from the site has comparisons in
Britain and possibly Spain (Ó Floinn 1999, 73). Slightly later evidence from Caherconnell townland reflects
contact with the world outside the Burren in the fifteenth/sixteenth/seventeenth centuries, in the form of three
silver coins of Edward and Elizabeth, minted in Britain, and a sherd of North Devon pottery.
Graham Hull and Michelle Comber
Excavations in Caherconnell Cashel, 2007
Caherconnell cashel is a well-preserved example of a large Burren cashel that had seen neither detailed study
nor excavation prior to this work. It is located in Caherconnell townland, Kilcorney parish, Burren barony, Co.
Clare (NGR 123600 199500) (Fig. VIb.1). The landscape in the immediate vicinity is part of the ‘High Burren’ and
consists of karst limestone, currently under pasture. The cashel lies at approximately 130m above Ordnance
Datum and is located to the immediate west of the R480 road that links Leamaneh and Ballyvaughan.
Fig. VIb.1 Location of Caherconnell cashel and townland.
A hand-dug trench was targeted at the vestigial remains of a rectangular stone-built structure in the northern
quadrant of the cashel (Fig. VIb.2). The excavation produced evidence of a wall, door and floor associated with
the rectangular structure. Beneath the floor, stratigraphically earlier archaeological deposits were located. These
deposits were rich in faunal and floral remains and a number of artefacts were also recovered. The artefacts
included an iron arrowhead, pieces of two rotary quernstones, a stone-mould for the manufacture of dress-pins
from precious metal, iron slag, a possible metalworking anvil, a number of nail like objects, a conical iron object, a
bone comb, the point of a bone pin, whetstones, a poor quality chert tool and pieces of flint.
Radiocarbon dating indicates that the cashel was constructed between the early tenth and mid-twelfth centuries
AD. Occupation deposits indicate use of the cashel between the early tenth and early thirteenth centuries. The
rectangular structure was probably built and used between the early fifteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries.
Fig. VIb.2 Plan of cashel and location of trench (survey by Liam Hickey).
The Cashel
The enclosure at Caherconnell is a circular, drystone ringfort or ‘cashel’. It measures 42m in external diameter,
with walls up to 3m wide at the base and up to 3m high externally (Fig. VIb.2). The quantity of stone tumbled from
the walls suggests at least another metre in original height.
Fig. VIb.3 Internal wall, internal ledge, possible souterrain, Structure B, and cashel from northwest (scales 1m).
The walls are composed of rough horizontal courses of local limestone blocks and slabs, with smaller stones
used to fill the gaps between them. Occasional vertical seams are visible along the external face of the wall. The
inner face of the wall has been rebuilt in several places – as evident in the vertical and angled setting of the
replaced stones. Although Westropp noted the lack of any internal wall terraces or steps, it is possible that some
of the rebuilding and tumble may mask such features. A narrow ledge does run along the inner face of the wall to
the south. This is approximately 0.5m wide (Fig. VIb.3). The entrance gap is situated on the east of the site, with
Westropp recording vertical jamb-stones defining its external edges at the end of the nineteenth century. A
modern timber access stairs currently fills this gap and few, if any, traces of the original entrance can be
The modern interior of the cashel is clearly raised on average 0.9m above that of the external ground surface.
Excavation has proven that this is due to a build-up of occupation material within the enclosure. The interior
surface is now somewhat uneven, marked by relatively frequent grassed-over stones and other features. The
interior is divided in two by the remains of a partly grassed-over drystone wall running roughly east – west across
the site in a slightly curving fashion. The eastern end of the dividing wall does not run cleanly up to the cashel
wall. Rather, roughly 5m from the cashel wall there is a gap followed by the apparent splitting of the wall into two
raised ‘banks’ with a sunken area between (Fig. VIb.3). The hollow between them may represent a possible
souterrain or an area of collapse from the adjacent cashel wall.
Structure A is one of two visible internal structures, and is situated just inside the north wall of the cashel.
Rectangular in plan (its long axis running east–west), it is defined by a partly grassed-over drystone wall still
visible to the west and south, but hidden by cashel tumble to the north, and almost completely denuded to the
east. Stretches of original, in situ, walling are visible amongst the collapse, particularly along the south side wall.
Here, the wall has an internal and external facing of contiguous limestone slabs set on edge. The original width of
the wall reaches a maximum of 1.2m. Internally, Structure A measures roughly 10m by 5m. Prior to excavation its
relationship with the cashel wall was uncertain. A possible entrance was identified in the collapsed stone near the
eastern end of the south side wall. Structure B is built up against the west wall of the cashel (Fig. VIb.3). It is subrectangular in plan, with its interior divided in two by a rather flimsy drystone wall.
The Excavation
A small trench (5m x 1m, Figs VIb.4, VIb.5 and VIb.6) was decided to best fulfil the excavation aims, targeting the
interior and exterior of the rectangular structure. The trench was orientated north – south, was perpendicular to
the northern long wall of the structure and abutted the cashel wall. Four archaeological and one geological phase
were identified. These are described below in chronological order.
Phase 0: Geological
The limestone bedrock (66) was strongly karstified and was characterised by clints and grykes with fissures
orientated approximately north to south (Fig. VIb.6). The surface of the bedrock was essentially level and sloped
very gradually downwards from south to north. The fissures in the bedrock were filled by a silty clay (65,
described below) that was fully excavated.
Phase I: Post-geological
Immediately above and within the bedrock a silty clay was excavated (65). This deposit contained infrequent
bone and charcoal and was probably partly natural and partly archaeological. Deposit 65 continued beneath the
cashel wall and therefore pre-dates the construction of the cashel.
Phase II: Medieval
The large drystone limestone blocks of the cashel wall (70) were placed directly onto the limestone bedrock.
Abutting the inside face of the cashel and overlying deposit 65, a rich dark brown clayey silt was recorded (up to
0.3m thick). This deposit (62/69) included large pieces of limestone (0.5m x 0.3m x 0.15m) and was darker in the
northern part of the trench probably due to differences caused by the absence/presence of an overlying floor
surface (53 – see Phase III). Two conjoining pieces of a sandstone mould/whetstone probably for making nonferrous dress pins were recovered from deposit 62.
Immediately above deposit 62/69 was deposit 55 (up to 0.3m thick), a fairly loose, silty clay of dark brown colour.
Frequent charcoal pieces were noted within, and recovered from, deposit 55. Archaeological artefacts and
considerable quantities of animal bone were recovered from deposit 55. These included parts of two rotary
quernstones, an iron arrowhead, a conical iron object, iron slag, a bone comb and a possible bone pin fragment.
Deposits 62 and 55 were perhaps in situ archaeological layers relating to early occupation of the cashel or may
have derived from other parts of the monument and been used as levelling material for the construction of the
overlying Phase III structure. The relatively small and ‘keyhole’ nature of the single excavation trench did not
allow the origin of deposits 62 and 55 to be ascertained.
Phase III: Mid-fifteenth to mid-seventeenth century
The excavation examined the northern wall (54) of Structure A and located a doorway through it and a floor
surface (53) within (Fig. VIb.6). The removal of cashel tumble (51) and further excavation demonstrated that
Structure A was free-standing. It was not keyed into the cashel wall, nor built up against it, rather a 1m-wide gap
separated the two.
Fig. VIb.4 Plan of trench.
Fig. VIb.5 East-facing section of trench.
Entrance (scale 0.5m)
Deposit 52 tumble (scales 1m)
East-facing section (scale 0.5m)
Floor surface 53
Bedrock surface 66 (scales 2m, 2m, 0.5m)
Fig. VIb.6 Trench during excavation.
The foundation (68) for the north wall of Structure A comprised large limestone pieces that measured up to 0.5m
by 0.2m by 0.2m. These slab-like stones were placed horizontally and formed a level and secure surface on top
of which wall 54 was constructed. The north wall (54) of Structure A was of drystone construction, oriented
roughly east–west, and parallel to the cashel wall. It was defined on either side by large limestone slabs set on
edge. The space between these reveting slabs was filled by smaller limestone slabs and pieces laid in horizontal
courses. The wall was typically 0.95m wide.
The doorway in the north wall of Structure A was 0.98m wide and was situated across from a possible doorway
noted on the modern ground surface in the south wall, though not directly opposite. Deposit 63 comprised paving
slabs within the doorway of the north wall of
Structure A, laid level with the internal floor surface (53). A piece of fragmentary and poorly preserved timber (61)
ran across the inner edge of the doorway. The location of this piece of timber suggests its use as part of a
wooden door or door frame. A firm but friable, pale cream-coloured, sandy mortar floor surface (53) was recorded
inside Structure A (Fig. VIb.6). This floor was patchy and had a maximum thickness of 0.05m.
Phase IV: Post-medieval/modern
Overlying Structure A, both internally (52) and externally (58) was a layer of tumble (Fig.VIb.6). The limestone
pieces had maximum dimensions of 0.4m by 0.2m by 0.1m. It is likely that deposit 52/58 represents collapse of
Structure A. At the north end of the trench and adjacent to the cashel wall, a deposit of limestone tumble (51)
from the cashel was recorded. This deposit was up to 0.9m thick at the north and was 1.1m wide. The large
stones were in the size range of 0.5m by 0.35m by 0.15m. This tumble, in part, filled the gap between the north
wall of Structure A and the inner face of the cashel wall.
Finds of stone included a small collection of lithics (mostly chert), a couple of whetstones, a possible stone anvil,
fragments of two upper rotary quernstones (one with multiple handle holes and carved decoration), and a
fragment of a probable pin mould (Fig. VIb.7). Bone artefacts comprised a fragment of a dress-pin, a single-sided
bone comb of ninth to thirteenth-century date, and a worked piece of sheep rib. Metal items included a finelymade barbed and tanged iron arrowhead, a conical iron socketed point, fragments of nails and a few
unidentifiable corroded pieces.
Fig. VIb.7 Quern fragment, bone comb, stone mould/whetstone, and iron arrowhead.
Animal bone by Emily Murray
A total of 15,685 grammes of bone was recovered from thirteen contexts. The animal bone assemblage from
Caherconnell indicates that the occupants ate beef mutton and pork and presumably farmed these animals in the
vicinity of the cashel. This pattern of exploitation is similar to other secular sites of the medieval period. Other
animals kept included horses, dogs and cats, possibly just one of each at any time along with a small number of
domestic fowl. Hunting was of a low priority and with the exception of one fragment of scallop shell and possibly a
fish bone, it would seem that the resources of the shore and sea, less than ten kilometres away to the north at
Ballyvaughan bay, were otherwise ignored. Indeed the single scallop shell may have been kept as a souvenir and
therefore not represent food debris. The butchery evidence and range of elements represented suggest that the
main meat animals were butchered within in the vicinity of the cashel, and that most if not all parts of the carcass
were utilised. Hides and pelts were also either part processed or at least stored on the site and included skins of
cat and cattle, and probably also the occasional goat and deer hide. Horn was also utilised although there is no
direct evidence for bone or antler working.
Slag by Lynne Keys
Iron slag was recovered from contexts 55, 62 and 55/62, thought to be Early Medieval in date. A tiny assemblage
weighing 52g was examined by eye and tested with a magnet. Most was iron slag except for the fuel slag from
55/62 which is not indicative of any specific industrial activity and may have originated from domestic activity or the
accidental burning down of huts. The pieces from 55 and 62 are slightly magnetic. The iron slag fragments were
too small and abraded to reveal whether they were produced by smelting (primary production of iron from ore in a
furnace) or smithing.
Timber by Susan Lyons
Three waterlogged wood pieces were submitted for wood species identification (Table VIb.1). Wood
identifications were made using wood reference slides and wood keys devised by Schweingruber (1978) and the
IAWA wood identification manuals (Wheeler, Bass and Gasson 1989).
Context Number
Sample Number
Wood Identification
Taxus baccata (yew)
Taxus baccata (yew)
Taxus baccata (yew)
Table VIb.1 Catalogue of timber.
Carbonised plant remains and charcoal by Lucy Cramp
Eighteen environmental samples were obtained. Twelve samples, consisting of nine bulk soil samples measuring
between seven and 425 litres, and three samples of hand-picked charcoal, were considered worthy of further
analysis. The material which could be identified mainly comprised wood charcoal; however, carbonised cereal
grains and nutshell were also recovered from five deposits.
Cereal grains were recovered in low quantities from five deposits. The cereals comprised wheat, including freethreshing bread or rivet wheat (Triticum aestivum or turgidum) and barley (Hordeum sp.). Oats (Avena sp.) were
also identified, although these could not be confirmed as the cultivated species and they are known to grow as
wild contaminants amongst other cereal crops. The frequency of cereal grains was relatively low (<0.3 grains/litre)
and there is no evidence from cereal chaff or arable weed seeds to indicate the processing or storage of
uncleaned grain or ears/spikelets.
Fragments of carbonised hazel nutshell (Corylus avellana) were relatively common in the environmental samples
and a single hazelnut was also recovered. As an edible nut, these remains may derive from the disposal of waste
resulting from the consumption of the nuts. However, it is alternatively equally likely that the burnt shell and nut
are simply by-products from the burning of hazel wood as a fuel-type and indeed, hazel charcoal was common in
all of the deposits from which hazel nutshell was recovered. A very small number of weed seeds, including
bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) and an unidentifiable grass seed, were also found.
A mixture of shrubs and trees were identified in the wood charcoal from Caherconnell deposits. The most
abundant types were hazel (Corylus sp.), ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and hawthorn-type wood (Pomoideae).
Blackthorn/cherry type charcoal (Prunus sp.) was recovered from two samples taken from deposit (55), whilst a
single fragment of birch (Betula sp.) was also identified from deposit (60), deriving from the internal threshold of
the doorway of structure A.
In addition, a low number of fragments of an unidentifiable charcoal-type were recovered from three different
deposits. These fragments carried the majority of characteristics of Pomoideae charcoal but only uniseriate rays
were found, without any bi- or triseriate rays which would be expected for wood from this family. The most likely
explanation is that these charcoal fragments derive from very young Pomoideae wood.
Twelve samples taken from deposits that were excavated in the trench investigating structure A at Caherconnell
cashel produced identifiable plant macrofossils and charcoal. The low number of wheat, barley and oat grains is
consistent with expectations for a background scatter deriving from a site that is Medieval in date. The charcoal
species that were identified demonstrate a mixed fuel economy utilising scrub and trees such as hazel, hawthorn,
blackthorn, ash and birch that were likely to have been growing nearby.
Radiocarbon determinations
Five samples were submitted to Queen’s University, Belfast for radiocarbon determinations and the results are
shown in Table VIb.2. These dates indicate that the cashel was probably constructed sometime between the
early tenth century and the mid-twelfth century. There is evidence of occupation material that dates to between
the early tenth century and the early thirteenth century. There is a hiatus in the excavation record between the
early thirteenth century and the end of the fourteenth century. The rectangular structure within the cashel was
built and occupied sometime between the early fifteenth century and the mid-seventeenth century.
The two charred hazelnut shell samples avoid the ‘old wood effect’ as the organism is very short-lived. Deposit 62
is likely to derive from occupation material that was laid down in the period between the early eleventh century
AD and the early thirteenth century AD. Deposit 55 probably represents a later episode of dumping of settlement
material in the period between the early fifteenth century AD and the first half of the seventeenth century.
Lab Code
Yrs BP
Calibrated date ranges
Sheep bone 3rd phalange
384 ± 33
AD 1449-15 13 and 1600-1617 one sigma
deposit 57
Charred hazelnut (Corylus
AD 1442-1525 and 1556-1632 two sigma
944 ± 44
avellana) deposit 62
AD 1017-1188 and 1199-1206 two sigma
Animal bone vertebra
fragment deposit 65
1021 ± 32
Charred hazelnut (Corylus
447 ± 51
avellana) deposit 55
Cattle femur deposit 55
AD 1029-1054 and 1077-1154 one sigma
AD 989-1027 one sigma
AD 901-9 16, 967-1046, 1090-1121 and
1139-1149 two sigma
AD 1415-1485 one sigma
AD 1400-1524 and 1558-163 1 two sigma
898 ± 18
AD 1050-1083, 1124-36 and 1151-1173
AD 1044-1099, 1119-1142 and 11471210 two sigma
Table VIb.2. Radiocarbon dates. The data was calibrated using Calib Rev 5.0.2 (Reimer et al. 2004).
The archaeological excavation of a small trench within Caherconnell Cashel has demonstrated that stratified
deposits representing Early Medieval and medieval occupation are present. The high quality artefacts such as the
arrowhead, pin-making mould, bone comb and quernstones recovered from deposits 55 and 62 indicate that
relatively high-status activity was taking place within the cashel, and dating almost certainly from the very end of
the first millennium AD to the first half of the second millennium AD. It is not apparent if these deposits represent in
situ occupation layers or are derived from elsewhere within the cashel. The inhabitants of Caherconnell cashel
were not only consuming high status artefacts, but were also manufacturing them. The pin-making mould
suggests that precious metal was worked on site and the iron slag and possible anvil indicate heavier
metalworking processes including ironworking. The stratigraphically later Structure A, with its doorway in the north
side wall, an in situ floor and fifteenth – seventeenth century radiocarbon dates, represents medieval occupation
within the cashel.
Several factors indicate that this site, and its occupants, were of relatively high status. The imposing morphology
of the site, its walls and diameter, sets it apart from the vast majority of cashels in the Burren (Fig. VIb.8). The
aforementioned well-made artefacts also raise the inhabitants above the standard subsistence farmer. Strategic
positioning along a routeway possibly contributed to the importance and wealth of the family at Caherconnell. It is
safe to presume that no ordinary farming family would have been in a position to control such a potentiallyimportant routeway. The significance of the site is also reflected in its continued use. The place was clearly of a
high-enough status to warrant a desire to be associated with it many years after its initial construction and use.
The results of this excavation are important as they suggest that the cashel was probably built later than
previously thought. An analysis of the radiocarbon and dendrochronological dates from excavated ringforts and
cashels has shown that the majority were constructed and occupied from the beginning of the seventh century
AD through to the end of the ninth century AD (Stout 1997, 24). This work at Caherconnell proposes a
construction date sometime between the early tenth century and the mid-twelfth century (right at the end of the
Early Medieval period), and continued occupation until, perhaps, the middle of the seventeenth century.
The late dates for the cashel’s construction and use are not unique, but are significant. O’Conor, in his study of
medieval rural settlement in Ireland (1998, 89–94), posed the question ‘The medieval ringfort – fact or fiction?’, a
topic of much debate amongst archaeologists. Very few excavated ringforts (of which there are at least 200) were
constructed between the tenth and thirteenth centuries (according to the dates published by their excavators).
Ballyegan, Co. Kerry (Byrne 1991) and Scholarstown, Co. Dublin (Keeley 1985–1987) were built in the tenth
century, Shaneen Park (Evans 1950, Proudfoot 1958) and Dunsilly, Co. Antrim (McNeill 1991–2) in the eleventh
century, Ballyfounder, Co. Down (Waterman 1958) and Dromore, Co. Antrim (Collins 1968) in the twelfth century,
and Castleskreen (Dickinson and Waterman 1959) and Seafin, Co. Down (Waterman 1955) in the thirteenth
century. Of these, only the first four are definitely pre-Norman and, therefore, of probable native construction. The
later four are all in areas of intense Anglo-Norman activity and may, at the very least, have been influenced by the
Whilst other sites continued in use during the tenth to thirteenth centuries, most of the occupation evidence dies
out in the tenth century. Only a few ringforts see continued use into the twelfth/thirteenth century; Killanully (Mount
1995) and Lisnagun, Co. Cork (O’Sullivan et al. 1998), and Seacash, Co. Antrim (Lynn 1978). Of the remaining
sites with habitation evidence dated to these centuries, most are in areas of intense Anglo-Norman activity and
may represent Norman take-over and alteration of native settlements.
It is clear from this cursory glance at the excavated evidence that the use of ringforts (earthen raths or stone
cashels) after the tenth century is rare, and the building of ringforts even more so. The construction of
Caherconnell in the tenth century, then, and its use into the seventeenth century, marks something of a break
from this pattern. This may, in part, be due to its location in a Gaelic-controlled area, and not an Anglo-Norman
one. There have been few excavations of this monument type in the western parts of Ireland that were controlled
by Gaelic lords in the medieval period. Caherconnell, with its adjacent smaller cashels and enclosures, offers the
potential to study continued use of native economic, political and social systems, perhaps from the Early Medieval
period through into the seventeenth century, with the general lifestyle unaffected by direct Anglo-Norman
Fig. VIb.8 Caherconnell and environs.
Excavation of a Drystone Chamber, 2008
Remains of a drystone structure (just over 2m in internal diameter), partly visible before excavation in 2008 (Fig.
VIb.9). (excavation summary presented)
The remains are located in the northern half of a sub-oval depression in the limestone pavement, 0.8m–1m below
ground level. This is possibly a natural swallow-hole, perhaps with some human alteration, or a wholly artificial
ancient quarry. Either way, the location is remarkably sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly wind. The
structure is situated roughly mid-way between two stone cashels – the large main cashel of Caherconnell, and a
smaller, poorly-preserved circular cashel in the same townland.
Fig. VIb.9 Drystone chamber pre-excavation (scales 1m).
The structural remains comprise a substantial drystone wall enclosing a sub-circular chamber. The walls are over
1m thick and run into the bedrock sides of the depression on the west, north and northeast. The outer face of the
wall along the south is composed of large limestone slabs set on edge, in line with the long axis of the wall. The
outer face of the wall is not visible elsewhere, except immediately either side of the entrance. Here, horizontal
coursing is evident. The inner face of the wall (defining the edge of the chamber) is composed of horizontal
courses of limestone, with up to six courses intact in places. The upper courses of the wall had collapsed into the
interior, most noticeably from the north side. The space between the wall faces is filled with loosely tumbled
drystone rubble, with similar material used as packing between the inner wall face and the bedrock side of the
depression where the structure backs onto it.
The remains of three adjoining niches are visible along the inner face of the chamber, to the southwest and west
(Fig. VIb.10). The central niche, Niche 2, is intact, while the outer niches, Niches 1 and 3, are partially collapsed.
The niches are formed of upright side stones, horizontal coursing to the rear, and oversailing horizontal coursing
along the top. The outermost uprights of niches 1 and 3 appear to have collapsed, causing the overhanging
courses to slip downwards. The rear wall of the niches is simply a continuation of the lower courses of the
chamber. At the level of the niche tops, the wall courses extend inwards forming an overhang up to 0.4m deep.
The upright stones were used to support this overhang. The uprights do not, however, connect with the rear wall
of the niches. A gap exists between the uprights and rear wall, effectively joining all three niches into one
continuous feature.
Fig. VIb.10 Niches (scale 1m).
An entrance is located on the northeast side of the structure (Fig. VIb.11). This comprises a splayed passageway
through the wall. It is defined on both sides by two slabs set on edge, horizontally. These form part of the
structure of the wall, bonded into the surrounding horizontal courses behind and above them. The passageway
runs from exposed bedrock outside the structure, into the interior. It is relatively flat and level. Access to the
depression may have been from the north where a shallower depression exists (just beyond the modern wall
around the depression), providing an intermediate drop in ground level between the modern surface and the base
of the depression. The passageway is narrower internally than externally, i.e. it splays outwards slightly. There
are signs of in situ burning on the floor of the passage. The partial remains of at least two human skeletons were
found above this, placed between a few deliberately set slabs on edge (Fig. VIb.12). These burials, or re-burials,
are secondary, and sealed/blocked the entrance to the structure.
Fig. VIb.11 Entrance (scale 1m).
Fig. VIb.12 Human remains in entrance passage.
The western half of the interior is composed of a bedrock surface (Fig. VIb.13). This is relatively flat and level,
with two narrow fissures or grikes at right angles to each other. This bedrock forms the base of the niche feature.
It is uncertain if the small stones found in the top of the fissures were deliberately placed there to fill them, or
ended up there accidentally. Much of the eastern half of the interior is taken up by a pit. This has gradual, 45°,
earth-cut sides, except on the west. The western side is formed by a vertical bedrock face. The base is gently
rounded, and a continuation of the earthen sides. The pit is located immediately inside the entrance passageway.
The pit contained large quantities of animal bone, and was at least partly covered by several flat slabs.
The floor of the chamber was covered with a thin layer of redeposited/trampled natural, with occasional charcoal
flecking. This was slightly thicker within the niches, up to 6cm thick. Within the niches, it covered some
deliberately placed small, flat stones. These were used to cover a fissure/grike running mostly through Niche 2.
Fig. VIb.13 Chamber interior.
Finds from the chamber interior included a general spread of animal bone fragments, and pieces of struck chert,
including some scrapers and other pieces of Early Bronze Age type (Fig. VIb.14). A water-rolled cobble was
recovered from behind the upright between niches 1 and 2, probably deliberately placed there. The pit produced
large quantities of animal bone, including pig bone from a non-modern breed. It also produced a small number of
lithics and a very small fragment of possible metalworking slag (yet to be confirmed).
Fig. VIb.14 A selection of lithics (chert) of probable Early Bronze Age date.
The upper levels of the chamber fill contained stones/slabs collapsed from the walls, and material slipped in from
above at a date after the wall collapsed (including early modern glass bottle fragments and a leather shoe). A
sherd of very coarse, soft prehistoric pottery was found in the lower levels of the slip (Fig. VIb.15).
Fig. Vib.15 Sherd of decorated Early Bronze Age pottery (photo: Anna Brindley).
Artefacts recovered from outside the chamber, but within the depression, included a sherd of prehistoric pottery
and fragments of three stone axe-heads. Surface finds within the depression included three silver medieval coins
(Fig. VIb.16) and the iron blade of a medieval knife.
Fig. VIb.16 Silver penny and half-penny of Edward III, minted in Canterbury and Durham, fourteenth century.
Some of the tumbled stone in the interior may have come from a corbelled stone roof. There are no in situ traces
of roofing, however stone corbelling seems most likely. The roof stones/slabs may have been removed for re-use
at any date, possibly during the construction of the nearby cashels, or later during the building of the modern wall
that partially surrounds the depression in which the structure is set. Several large slabs, ideal for corbelling, are
present in this wall.
External Features
A large stone/boulder lay just outside the entrance, clearly not in its original location. It may have formed part of
the external wall face, possibly set next to a similarly sized boulder in the wall face on the north side of the
entrance. Alternatively, it may have been a standing stone marking the location of the entrance to the structure, or
perhaps even used as a door-stone at some point.
Fragments of three stone axe-heads, a sherd of prehistoric pottery, and a small number of scattered shallow pits,
post- and stake-holes outside the structure, but within the depression, suggest associated activities.
The lithics and pot sherds associated with the drystone structure point to Early Bronze Age activity. The
disarticulated re-/burials have been radiocarbon dated to the fifteenth/sixteenth century AD and are, therefore,
probably roughly contemporary with the coins and knife blade discovered in the depression.
The lack of an internal hearth, small internal diameter, the location of the pit across the inner edge of the
entrance, and the very wide entrance, all argue against a domestic function for the early structure. The secondary
burials represent a possible ritual association at the time of their deposition in the fifteenth/sixteenth century AD.
High-status Early Medieval settlements often display a deliberate spatial association with earlier, prehistoric
burial/ritual sites, as a territorial/political statement, however it is very unusual to find disarticulated partial human
remains treated in this fashion at such a late date.
Elizabeth FitzPatrick, Richard Clutterbuck, Eve Campbell
Project Brief
The aim of this project in the first year of INSTAR was to explore denomination boundaries, routes and settlement
change in relation to the Cahermacnaghten and Lislarheen landholdings of the O’Davoren family in the later
medieval and early modern periods. The findings suggest that the methodology used to explore the O’Davoren
family landholdings can be applied to the estates of other Burren Gaelic gentry families in this period and that it
may also prove useful to understanding Gaelic settlement in the West of Ireland generally. Somewhat ironically,
given the extraordinary survival of that past in the Burren, the archaeology of medieval and early modern Burren
has for the most part been under-researched and therefore largely excluded from the conclusions drawn in
general works on the archaeology of those periods in Ireland.
Linking a family to settlement change is not always possible but, again, the Burren provides several opportunities.
The brehon line of the O’Davoren kindred were hereditary lawyers to the O’Loughlin chiefs of the lordship of
Burren and they kept a school in the classical Gaelic tradition which had its golden age during the sixteenth
century (Kelly 1991, 257–9). The holdings of this family were chosen for research because of the remarkable
survival of the archaeology of their settlements, and because they represent a unique opportunity to explore
minor elite below the level of lords and afford an interesting case study in social adaptation after members of the
family were transplanted in the second half of the seventeenth century (see VIIc Lislarheen).
Elizabeth FitzPatrick
The estate lands of the O’Davoren kindred were for the most part non-contiguous, scattered throughout the
parishes of Noughaval, Drumcreehy and Rathbourney in the territory of Tuath Eannuigh in the central and
southern Burren uplands (Fig. VIIa.1). Tuath Eannuigh, noted in the Indenture of Thomond (1585) as ‘Toeonagh’
consisting of c.25 quarters of land (Freeman 1936, 14,21; Nugent 2007, 164–5), was one of a mosaic of nine
tuáth territories that comprised the lordship of Burren. Before the confiscations of the 1650s twelve members of
the O’Davoren kindred held approximately four quarters of land within Tuath Eannuigh amounting to c.1,500 Irish
acres (Nugent 2007, 200).The scattered nature of the O’Davoren landholdings is a general feature of Burren
landownership among traditional minor elites.
Fig. VIIa.1 Cahermacnaghten in the tuáth matrix.
Cahermacnaghten (Fig. VIIa.1), together with the neighbouring townland of Lissylisheen, constituted the core
land-holdings of the O’Davoren lawyers from perhaps as early as the fifteenth century until the mid-seventeenth
century (BSD). Cahermacnaghten is now within the parish of Rathborney but originally lay in the parish of
Noughaval. The close association of the principal family of the name with Noughaval is confirmed by their burial
place at Noughaval parish church.
Denomination Boundaries
One of the significant findings of this project is that the modern townland of Cahermacnaghten (734 statute acres)
as indicated on the first- and second-edition OS maps is not representative of the original O’Davoren landholding
(Fig. VIIa.5). This finding is important because it challenges received opinion about the immutability of the Irish
townland. McErlean’s (1983, 315) seminal work on the Irish townland system suggested that for the most part
townland units have passed down to us in an unaltered state constituting ‘fossilised land units of a formal system
of past organisation’. The Burren findings, however, suggest that McErlean’s hypothesis is perhaps more
reflective of the Ulster situation than Gaelic landholding units in general. In the Burren Gaelic land denominations
were much more dynamic and their boundaries bear, at best, partial resemblance to the limits of modern
townlands. This fact was earlier observed by Plunkett-Dillon (1985, 136) when she concluded from her study of
Burren field boundaries that ‘there is no evidence that the boundaries of present-day townlands follow the exact
boundaries of Gaelic land divisions’ but that ‘elements of the Gaelic pattern of land organisation may be preserved
in the townland pattern’. She noted that the realignment of townland boundaries ‘probably occurred when new field
layouts were set out’. One of the reasons for the dynamism and fluidity of Burren townland boundaries lies in the
fact that unlike the townlands of Co. Monaghan, for instance, the Burren townlands lack obvious natural
topographical constraints. In his important study of the Gaelic landholding system in Monaghan, Duffy (2001,
126–7) demonstrated that Monaghan townlands had a ‘topographical geometry’ provided by the streams and
drumlins that characterise the Monaghan landscape. In most cases Monaghan townland boundaries follow the
course of streams and enclose one or two drumlins within their bounds, but in the Burren no such neat geometry
lends itself to boundary formation.
Fig. VIIa.2 The topographical geometry of Monaghan townlands (after Duffy 2001) and the irregular townlands of the Burren
(Hennessy 2008).
Burren landholding limits tend to incorporate man-made walls, occasionally ditches, landmarks such as
prehistoric megaliths, and karst terraces, glacial depressions and upland.
A study of Cahermacnaghten townland and its relationship to the O’Davoren landholding of Cahermacnaghten
between the late medieval period and 1641 demonstrates the fluidity of Gaelic landholding denominations in the
Burren. Gaelic landholding units in the Burren were formalised in a downward system of baile, which were the
largest denominations, leith-bhaile or half-ballys, seisre or quarters, leith-sheisre or half-quarters, and sessiagh or
sixths, and ever-decreasing fractions of the seisre or quarter. A series of four maps are presented here to show
how the O’Davoren Cahermacnaghten landholding changed over time and to demonstrate its relationship to the
modern townland. The original Cahermacnaghten holding of the family, as recorded in a land-division deed of
1606 (Macnamara 1912–13), was a half-quarter or leith sheisre amounting to c.150 Irish acres or c.242 statute
acres (Fig. VIIa.3).
Fig. VIIa.3 The half-quarter holding of Giolla na naomh óg O’Davoren before 1606 (Hennessy).
Before 1606 it was the property of the brehon Giolla na naomh óg O’Davoren who resided at Lissylisheen (Fiants
1601) to the southeast of Cahermacnaghten. Sometime during the later sixteenth or turn of the seventeenth
century his son, Hugh, described as a yeoman in 1601, lived at Cahermacnaghten (Fiants 1601) and probably in
the cashel of Cathair Mhic Neachtain which gave its name to the O’Davoren landholding. The cashel was the
ceann áit (head place) of the half-quarter of Cahermacnaghten. Ceann áit was a term used in medieval Gaelic
society to describe the main residence and significant properties on a family’s land-holding. Each residential
landholding in the Burren had a ceann áit. At Cahermacnaghten it included the well of the homestead, a boggy
stream called the sruthán dubh which formed the southern boundary of the half-quarter, a series of gardens, a
road, a milking area or booley and a place called the house of the graves or relics, in addition to the cashel of
Cathair Mhic Neachtain. In 1606 (Macnamara 1912–13) the half-quarter holding was formally sub-divided
between Hugh and Cosney O’Davoren, the sons of the brehon, Giolla na naomh óg (Fig. VIIa.4). Hugh received
the western half of the holding while Cosney was given the eastern extent.
Fig. VIIa.4 The division of the half-quarter holding, 1606 (Hennessy 2008).
Elements of the ceann áit, such as the houses within the cashel, were split between the two brothers while the
water supply, the road and the booley were shared between them. By 1641 (Fig. VIIa.5) Cahermacnaghten had
been reduced to one-third of a quarter with the O’Davorens holding just one-sixth or c.25 Irish acres of that
denomination. The reduction in the size of their land-holding was the result of the sale of portions of their land to
two minor members of the O’Brien family (Donough and Turlough O’Brien), one of whom received a breakaway
portion of Cahermacnaghten which was subsequently named Kilbrack. Land-grabbing by the O’Briens escalated
in the sixteenth century and especially after the Composition of Connacht in 1585 and has been the subject of
recent commentary by Nugent (2007). That denomination appears to have been situated in the southwest end of
the half-quarter holding and was possibly the location of the ‘place of the house of the graves or relics’ [áit tighe
na reilge] mentioned in the land division deed of 1606. Kilbrack is cited for the first time as a denomination in the
seventeenth-century Books of Survey and Distribution and the name survived well into the eighteenth century
appearing on the Grand Jury map of County Clare.
The modern Cahermacnaghten townland outline (Fig. VIIa.6) incorporates an area greater in extent than the
original half-quarter Cahermacnaghten holding. The eastern end of the townland, for instance, incorporates the
former Gaelic denomination of Caheridoula which was the property of John Davoren c.1641. There is no evidence
that Caheridoula ever constituted part of pre-modern Cahermacnaghten. With a cashel lying within that
denomination it is likely that Caheridoula is a cashel-based land-holding that had its origins in the early medieval
period and survived intact into the seventeenth century.
Fig. VIIa.5 Changing pattern of landownership 1641 (Hennessy). Note the presence of the O’Briens.
Identifying the features that constituted stretches or points of the boundaries of the ever-changing
Cahermacnaghten landholding is quite a detailed task. It can be confirmed that the southern boundary of the
modern townland of Cahermacnaghten represents the south boundary of the original half-quarter. The boundary
survives as a black boggy stream in a V-shaped deep-cut ditch, 1m deep, 2m wide, running through the peaty
upland and easily identified in spring and summer by a canopy of willow, in the southwest corner of the townland.
This boundary feature, probably maintained and improved through time, is the sruthán dubh noted in the land
division deed of 1606 (Macnamara 1912–13, 90, 91). A possible candidate for the northern boundary between the
Kilbrack holding of Turlough O’Brien and Cahermacnaghten in 1641 is the glacial depression that runs diagonally
from southwest to northeast through the greater part of the townland (Fig. VIIa.1; Fig VIIa.5). Where the boundary
between the denominations of Cahermacnaghten and Caheridoula are concerned, Westropp made an interesting
suggestion as to what that might have been. A substantial slab-wall runs north to south across the narrow neck of
the eastern end of the townland just where the glacial depression peters out west of Caheridoula cashel. This
notable slab-wall boundary was earlier observed by Westropp (Comber 1999, 156) who remarked that ‘the
mearing, between the townlands of Cahermacnaughten and “Caherwooly” [Caheridoula], 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’. It should also be noted that existing features in the landscape such as megalithic tombs
may have been used as reference points in boundary creation. One such reference point on the boundary
between Lissylisheen and the half-quarter holding of Cahermacnaghten is likely to have been the wedge tomb
that sits on high ground in Lissylisheen close to the dry-stone wall that now
Fig. VIIa.6 The modern townland outline and the topography that it frames.
forms the townland boundary between Cahermacnaghten and Lissylisheen. The identity of the northern boundary
of the original half-quarter has not yet been confirmed but it is probable that the half-quarter did not include the
area of upland, now planted with Coillte forestry, that lies within the northwest extent of the townland since it is
not mentioned at all in the land division deed of 1606 (Macnamara 1912–13). The deed, however, implies that a
feature called the urlá mór or ‘great floor’ did exist, which is possibly the broad, level area of karst extending
northward between the glacial depression and the northwest upland.
Settlement Change
Cahermacnaghten is an interesting case study of the influence of early settlements on later settlement
developments. What emerges is a picture of continuous occupation of major settlement nodes combined with, as
might be expected, a tendency to alter and augment existing settlements at different points in time.
Although the nature of the Burren landscape is unique in Ireland, that peculiarity does not necessarily predicate a
very specific building tradition distinct from that of other lordships in the west of Ireland (Iarchon nacht and Tír
Conaill for instance) where stone quarries were plentiful if not as conveniently accessible as the exposed
limestone of Burren. What makes the Burren an interesting case study is the sheer scale of the survival of drystone and mortared masonry buildings that have degenerated in large numbers elsewhere. What might be
considered an unusual building in Burren may in fact have been more commonplace in the West per se. It can
be stated with some justification that the surviving medieval and early modern built landscape of the Burren is a
show-case for what could have been a reality elsewhere.
Within the modern townland of Cahermacnaghten there are three major settlements associated with the former
Gaelic landholdings of the O’Davorens. These are the cashels of Cathair Mhic Neachtain and Caheridoula, and
the building known as Cabhail Tighe Breac.
Cathair Mhic Neachtain is a native enclosed settlement of cashel type which reflects episodes of change in its
fabric. It is situated to the west of a road, running in a north to south direction, which may have its origins in the
medieval period as several major sites such as Gragans Castle and Noughaval Church are on its route (see VIIb
Routeways and Movement). The presence of late medieval building fabric at Cahermacnaghten has largely been
interpreted as evidence of a somewhat anomalous survival of the ‘ring-fort’ tradition in the west of Ireland but the
possibility that it is but one indicator of a potentially more widespread practice of living in stone enclosures after
the early medieval period has not been pursued. Members of the O’Davoren family appear to have taken up
residence in the cashel sometime during the fifteenth century and it is to them that the major late medieval
refurbishment of the cashel must be attributed.
Cahermacnaghten (Fig. VIIa.7) is of standard Burren cashel size with an internal diameter of c.35m east–west.
Like most of the Burren cashel sites it is entered in the eastern spectrum of the perimeter. The main architectural
features of the cashel are focused on the entrance which was constructed in the thickness of the cashel wall
during the late medieval period. It consists of a small external lobby area that leads into the ground floor of what
was formerly a modest two-storey gate-house. The entrance can be securely dated to the late medieval period on
the basis of some surviving cut-stone features that are integral to the fabric of the gate-house walls. Two roughly
hewn, punch-dressed corbels project out from the north wall. These and two former correspondents on the
opposite south wall supported beams that carried a timber first floor. On entering the cashel, immediately on the
north side of the gate-house entrance, there are two cut stones projecting out from the side wall that are clearly
as one of the few non-contentious examples of later medieval occupation or reoccupation of an early medieval
‘ring-fort’ but the occurrence of other newly built gate entrances in the Burren suggests that the modifications
made at Cahermacnaghten in order to accommodate new needs and fashions was not exceptional.
In his Burren field work conducted between 1896 and 1915 Westropp revealed cashel wall construction to have
many different styles which he concluded must be a reflection of different periods of building (Comber 1999).
Since Westropp’s time very little progress has been made in terms of systematically recording and analysing the
masonry styles of the Burren cashel sites (Gibson 1995). The enclosing dry-stone wall of Cathair Mhic Neachtain
is constructed of roughly squared, large blocks of limestone, some of which, towards the base of the wall, are
outwardly as large as 2m by 0.5m, arranged in rough courses. Block-work is confined to the inner and outer faces
of the cashel wall, the area between them filled with a substantial rubble core. The cashel wall survives to a
maximum height of 3m over surrounding ground level. A notable feature of the wall, especially on the external
face of the southern half, is the presence of two rows of very evenly coursed flat stones in the upper levels (Fig.
VIIa.8). This is an unusual feature which may relate to a later period (perhaps to the fifteenth or sixteenth century
at the time the gate-house was constructed) when the walls were raised in height in order to ensure that the
settlement within was adequately protected. The wall-footings of five stone buildings can be seen in the interior of
the cashel (Fig. VIIa.7). An accumulation of occupation debris to a height of c.3m, level in most places with the
top of the cashel wall, vividly demonstrates that the site was inhabited over a long period. The buildings range
around the inner face of the cashel wall leaving an open courtyard area at the centre. Their precise positions in
relation to each other and the enclosing wall of the cashel, are mentioned as part of the inheritance of the coheirs Hugh and Cosney O’Davoren in the land deed of 1606 (Macnamara 1912–13, 86–7, 90–91). Collectively,
the residential space afforded by each unit, inclusive of the gate-house, would have been comparable to a small
tower house that is of course if the buildings are contemporary with each other. The upstanding evidence points
to an innovative modular settlement of the late medieval period. Cahermacnaghten is not an exceptional site in
that regard but one of the better preserved examples of late medieval and early modern cashel living in the
Fig. VIIa.8 Westropp’s view of Cathair Mhic Neachtain taken in 1902 (MN-CL696582, Clare County Council).
The O’Davorens occupied the cashel throughout the sixteenth century and well into the seventeenth century.
Cathair Mhic Neachtain has also been traditionally regarded as the site of the O’Davoren law school but that role,
at least in the sixteenth century, may have been fulfilled by Cabhail Tighe Breac which lies in the southwest
corner of the townland.
The Burren is a landscape that preserves types of buildings which have not survived elsewhere. Cabhail Tighe
Breac is one such building. It is best reached from Cathair Mhic Neachtain, by following a flat-bottomed glacial
depression which forms a narrow corridor running diagonally through the O’Davoren half-quarter holding. The
glacial depression is divided into small fields or gardens and it was the spine of that land-holding, perhaps
coveted for arable farming and used as a general connecting route between the cashel and Cabhail Tighe Breac.
Cabhail Tighe Breac is the focus of a settlement that extends across an area of 1600m2 incorporating the wallfootings of four other rectangular buildings, a kiln, several pens and enclosures, a clochán, small plots and larger
fields variously enclosed by slab-walls and single-walls. The place-name Cabhail Tighe Breac alludes to the
denomination, Kilbrack, which was a break-away portion of the Cahermacnaghten landholding c.1641. While the
place-name Kilbrack might suggest that there was a church or some type of ecclesiastical building at this site,
there is no physical evidence of that on the landscape. It is quite possible that the late-formed denomination
name, Kilbrack, and its relict local name Cabhail Tighe Breac, both refer to the law school of the O’Davorens,
which may have reused the site of an ecclesiastical settlement. Cabhail Tighe Breac is also likely to be the ‘place
of the house of the graves or relics [áit tighe na reilge] cited as being west of Cathair Mhic Neachtain and part
of the ceann áit in the O’Davoren land division deed of 1606.
Fig. VIIa.9 3-D laser scan of Cabhail Tighe Breac (Discovery Programme & Cahermacnaghten Project 2007).
There are, of course, other possibilities for the building (Fig. VIIa.9). It could have been a dwelling for the yeoman
Hugh O’Davoren who held Cahermacnaghten, of his father Giolla na naomh óg, in 1601. Alternatively, it could
have been built by Hugh after the half-quarter of Cahermacnaghten was divided between himself and his brother
in 1606, or it may have been constructed as the residence of Turlough O’Brien who acquired the denomination of
Kilbrack sometime between 1606 and 1641. Burren archaeology is, however, seldom that simple. As early as
c.1900 the antiquaries, George U. Macnamara and Thomas J. Westropp, noted the singularity of Cabhail Tighe
Breac in the context of Burren medieval architecture and concluded that it could not be described as either a church
or a castle (Macnamara 1912–13). It was Macnamara who first made the suggestion that Cabhail Tighe Breac
might be associated with the O’Davoren law school. Cabhail Tighe Breac is sequestered and isolated, which are
attributes of the desired environment of the native school. It is perhaps also noteworthy that the golden age of the
O’Davoren school occurred during the period of the Tudor ban on the practice of Irish law when it would have
been more prudent to conceal a school building devoted to the transmission of Gaelic texts. The
Cahermacnaghten law school would have fallen out of use by c.1600 and it is likely that the abandoned building
would have been pressed into service as a dwelling. That building may have been Cabhail Tighe Breac.
Excavation funded by the Royal Irish Academy in 2008 revealed that the building had a tripartite plan in its final
phase of occupation and that a partition wall containing a hearth, at the east end of the building, is likely to have
been a later seventeenth-century addition, perhaps relating to the conversion of the building into a residence by
Turlough O’Brien. The architectural details of the building, namely the arch-stones of the former pointed doorway
with their half-roll and fillet moulding, and the Tudor late gothic flat-headed mullioned windows, suggest a
sixteenth-century origin. Excavation produced little in the way of material culture and still less domestic material. A
small fragment of inscribed slate recovered in the west end of the building is, however, potentially indicative of
scribal or school activity.
In the Burren, some cashels, like Cathair Mhic Neachtain, express long periods of use in modifications to their
wall fabric or in the addition of new dwellings to their garths, while others, although not showing any sign of late
medieval occupation, became the focus of later settlement endeavours. At the time the Strafford survey was
conducted 1632–6, one John O’Davoren was listed as the occupant of the denomination of Caheridoula. That
denomination derived its name from a cashel that is situated c.500m east-northeast of Cathair Mhic Neachtain.
Caheridoula is positioned at the southwest end of a rocky ridge. The builders took advantage of the headland and
used its precipitous southwest cliff-face to augment the defensibility of the cashel. The ridge may also have been
used as a quarry source for the fabric of the cashel. The cashel wall has a tripartite structure or three main
structural walls and two core-fills. In contrast to the wall fabric of Cathair Mhic Neachtain where the broader face
of the stone appears to be placed outward, in the enclosing wall of Caheridoula the broader faces of the karst
blocks are laid on top of each other so as to maximise the wall thickness. In its original form the entrance would
have presented itself as a long narrow passage leading through the thickness of the cashel wall. Small enclosed
plots are frequently attached to the walls of the more modest, less defensive Burren cashels. Whether these are
contemporary with the construction of the cashels or post-date their construction and occupation is not yet known.
At Caheridoula, a small triangular garden or plot is attached to the southwest tangent of the base of the headland
on which the cashel is sited. The garden is internally divided into two wedges by a slab wall aligned east-west
and it is entered through a gap defined by large upright blocks of limestone at the east end of its short south wall.
Westropp’s (Comber 1999, 154) description of Caheridoula c.1896 suggests that the condition of the cashel has
changed little since he recorded it at the end of the nineteenth century. This is primarily because it is very much
off the modern beaten track and because the land about it is only periodically used for livestock grazing. If
Caheridoula itself did not enjoy refurbishment and residency during the late medieval and early modern periods, it
certainly became a focus of a later nucleated settlement. Looking east and northeast over the immediate
landscape from the cashel interior, a tight cluster of irregularly shaped fields enclosed by slab walls, and
interspersed with the ruined walls and foundations of houses, can be seen. Neither the fields nor the houses are
recorded on the first edition OS map, and just two of the houses and three of the small fields at the northeast end
of the complex are marked on the edition of 1916. The first edition OS of 1839 omitted much detail from the
Burren maps and therefore it cannot be assumed that the absence of the field and house complex , or clachan, at
Caheridoula from the first edition implies that it post-dates 1839. The cashel itself was not named on the first
edition OS map of 1839 and it was only after Westropp’s and Macnamara’s (1912–13, 64) fieldwork that the
locally ascribed name Caheridoula was recorded for the cashel.
The investigation of denominations and settlement change in Cahermacnaghten has revealed the highly dynamic
and complex nature of land ownership and settlement norms in medieval and early modern Burren especially in
respect of the class of people below the level of lords. The patterns observed can be translated to other Gaelic
landholdings in the Burren. Modern townlands in the Burren are in general not representative of original Gaelic
landholdings but it is possible to work back through the layers of change to find, at least, the late medieval
denominations. These tended to be designated in quarter and half-quarter holdings for minor elites, like the
O’Davoren brehons and their kindred, and their lands were not contiguous but scattered throughout several
Burren parishes but generally within the same tuáth or territory. The ascendancy of the O’Briens in the late
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and their land-grabbing ventures throughout that period changed the
landownership dynamic among the traditional minor gentry families. In 1641, for example, two O’Briens held onethird of a quarter and one-sixth of a quarter of the O’Davoren Cahermacnaghten lands and they had also
acquired lands on the Lissylisheen holding of the family. The properties of minor elites were thereby dismantled
and fragmented into ever-decreasing and hopelessly unprofitable holdings. Transplantation, however, often
romantically viewed as the denouement of Gaelic families, sometimes afforded an opportunity to consolidate a
sizeable landholding in an otherwise fragmented land mosaic. The view of a waste and relict landscape, inhabited
only by tower house society, also becomes redundant after an investigation of the places where minor elites lived.
A vibrant cathair tradition that continued and modernised under minor elites, such as the O’Davorens, became a
signature for progressive early modern society rather than a statement of conservatism.
Richard Clutterbuck
This supplementary study seeks to investigate how people moved in the Burren and within and around the
O’Davoren estate, particularly between Cabhail Tighe Breac and Cahermacnaghten cashel in the late medieval and
early modern periods. It aims to contribute to an understanding of the economic, social and conceptual
organisation of Gaelic landholdings. The study was carried out at three scales of analysis: the Burren (for the
purpose of this study the baronies of Burren, Corcomroe and Inchiquin), the local level within
Cahermacnaghten townland, and inter-structural between and around the buildings of Cahermacnaghten cashel
and Cabhail Tighe Breac. The study drew extensively on previous research in 2005 to 2008 (FitzPatrick 2006,
2007 and 2008), photogrammetric survey and additional survey work relating to Cabhail Tighe Breac prepared by
Ronan Hennessy and Cormac Bruton of the Burren Landscape and Settlement INSTAR project. The report
concludes with a proposal for further research on the relationship of medieval and early modern settlement to
known roads and routeways, and a study of the relict field boundaries within Cahermacnaghten.
The root of this study lies in research carried out by the Cahermacnaghten team in 2005 and 2006. That stage of
the project aimed to construct a social archaeology of a Gaelic hereditary legal family, the O’Davorens, their
settlement and material culture from between 1350 to c.1650 (FitzPatrick 2006, 1). The Cahermacnaghten field
project drew upon both the physical evidence – fieldwork added an additional 193 sites and features to the
seventeen recorded archaeological monuments in the townland (FitzPatrick 2006, 12) – and contextual historical
histories to generate a framework for further research (FitzPatrick 2006, 67–8). This involved selected excavations
of structures in Cahermacnaghten: one out-building excavated in 2007 (FitzPatrick 2007), and the nearby Cabhail
Tighe Breac, which has been proposed as the O’Davoren schoolhouse at least in the sixteenth century,
excavated in 2008 (FitzPatrick 2008).
The current study of movement and routeways arose out of discussions during these excavations about the
landscape setting of Cabhail Tighe Breac, in particular movement over the karst in an area apparently remote from
Cahermacnaghten cashel, the residence and ceann áit of the O’Davorens. The nature of settlement in medieval
Gaelic Ireland is, compared to anglicised Ireland, relatively understudied (Nicholls 1972; Duffy, Edwards and
FitzPatrick 2001b). It is only in recent years that the history and archaeology of Gaelic settlement and landscape
organisation have been studied in detail (Duffy, Edwards and FitzPatrick 2001a; O’Conor 1998; Brady 2003;
Nugent 2007).
The Archaeology of Roads and Movement
The study of routeways, roads, paths and movement in medieval and early modern Ireland is rare, relative to
other landscape elements, in particular buildings and structures (O’Keeffe 2001; Doran 2004). Early Irish law
texts relate in some detail the legal status and types of roads, paths and access in seventh- and eighth-century
Ireland (Kelly 2000, 390–2) but it is difficult to say whether those particular attributes are applicable in later
medieval and early Modern Gaelic Ireland. There may be a number of reasons for the lack of information on
medieval and early modern roads. The Irish historic record as a whole, not to mention the record for Gaelic
Ireland, suffered considerable loss of material over the centuries and particularly in the early twentieth century.
Also, the lack of historic detail for Irish roads and paths reflects the recorder’s emphasis on people, events and
values rather than infrastructure. This is most readily apparent in the maps of early modern Ireland (Andrews
2001, 174–5): for example, Browne’s map of Connaught, made for Sir Richard Bingham in 1591 and including
modern Co. Clare, fails to depict roads at all (Andrews 2003). It was not until the eighteenth century that detailed
descriptions of Irish roads were made (Taylor and Skinner 1778; Pelham 1787; Andrews 1964). Finally, historic
routeways are hidden beneath modern roads used today. This is readily apparent where modern roads follow the
line of eskers which are known to have been used as routeways in the medieval period (Geissel 2006). Whilst
roads and routeways have been recognised in the archaeological record – the Record of Monuments and Places
(RMP) records 915 roads in the Republic of Ireland – the majority (76%) are toghers: bog trackways in Ireland’s
midland counties dating from the Neolithic to the medieval periods (Raftery 1996; Moore 2008, data for the Sites
and Monuments Record is available online at www.archaeology.ie). Fords, bridges, causeways, wayside crosses
and even inns provide further indirect evidence for roads and movement. In the majority of cases these may be
located on or adjacent to existing roads, but they are an indicator of the routes age.
Historical accounts of military campaigns also provide information on roads and movement in medieval and early
modern Ireland (Martin 1987; O’Keeffe 2001; Duffy 2002). Within the Burren, where the Sites and Monuments
Record (SMR) records ten battlefield sites, hosting and battles described in the Caithrém Thoirdhealbhaigh or
Triumphs of Turlough, prior to and immediately after the Battle of Corcumroe (1317), are particularly instructive
(Mac Craith 1929, 91–117). Following the battle, the able-bodied survivors made their way from Corcumroe
“through Burren’s uncouth ways, narrow gaps, crooked passes, rugged boulders and high sharp crests, and so
entered upon Boharnamacree” – the road between Kilnaboy and Corrofin (Mac Craith 1929, 115): a journey by
road today of some 25km, north to south, through the heart of the Burren.
Pilgrimage routes are also potential sources of information on routeways in the Burren. One potential route in the
Burren ran from Rath Blathmach/Dysert to Killinaboy to Kilfenora (Harbison 2000). Whereas pilgrimage was an
occasional event for visitors, church and ecclesiastical sites were frequently visited, the focus of regular worship
at the centre of their community, and as such are particularly important in understanding movement in the Burren
(101 in the SMR) and the medieval parish of Noughaval. Mass paths, an understudied feature in the rural
landscape, may be particularly significant in this regard. Less formal religious sites and features such as holy
wells (89 in the SMR), wayside crosses (two in the SMR) and bullaun stones (seventeen in the SMR), possibly
also associated with pilgrimage (Harbison 2000, 55), may also provide indirect evidence for routeways and
Tower houses and cashels are the most visible form of medieval and early modern secular settlement in Clare
and survive in large numbers in the Burren (58 towerhouses and 772 cashels in the RMP). The SMR records
twelve medieval and 43 sixteenth- to seventeenth-century houses in the Burren, one of which is Cabhail Tighe
Breac. Each of these structures, if not directly associated with other monuments such as in Cahermacnaghten
cashel, was connected in some form by paths, routeways and roads. Medieval and early modern settlement in
the Burren can be generally characterised as dispersed. Clare contained relatively few towns or villages during
this period: the SMR records three medieval towns, none of which were in the Burren, four deserted medieval
settlements, one of which is in the Burren, and seven undated settlement clusters, six of which are in the Burren.
At a more local scale of analysis relict field systems may contain evidence for redundant routeways and paths
fossilised in the disused field boundaries. Recent research in Roscommon for the Medieval Rural Settlement
Programme has studied medieval relict field boundaries, identifying routeways and boundary gaps designed, it
would appear, specifically to direct and channel animal movement and access to water (McNeary and Shanahan
2007). As such, these relict field boundaries may contain evidence for day-to-day movements which significantly
shaped the landscape and human behaviour. The Burren contains a large number of relict field systems: 56 or
78% of all recorded field systems in Co. Clare. At least some of these relict field boundaries are thought to be the
remains of the fields and plots described in a 1606 deed of partition for Cahermacnaghten: Bóthar gharrdha
Thaidhg Ruaidh or “road of the garden of Tadhg ruadh”, Fánann and tadhaill or “slope or hollow of the
visit/approach/contact” and “the road westwards [from the lawn of the ‘booley’] as far as Mother dtortanach”
(Macnamara 1912–13, 91; FitzPatrick 2006, 3). These features are, as yet, unidentified.
Field Survey in Cahermacnaghten
The aim of the field survey, carried out over three weekends in summer and autumn 2008, was to identify, at a
local and inter-structural scale, evidence for movement within Cahermacnaghten townland, from the medieval to
the early modern periods. This work concentrated on the known estate of the O’Davorens, and in particular the
area between Cahermacnaghten cashel, the O’Davoren residence, and Cabhail Tighe Breac, the probable school
house of the Cahermacnaghten brehon law school: an area of approximately 57 hectares. Field survey in 2005
and 2006 added 193 sites and features to the 17 already identified in the SMR (FitzPatrick 2006). Four of these
features were related to roads or tracks. The area of survey was mapped and plotted prior to field work, using the
Cahermacnaghten walk-over survey data, the SMR data and published maps such as the Ordnance Survey’s six
inch maps (1:10,560; surveyed 1840), 25-inch maps series (1:2500; surveyed 1895) and the modern Discovery
Series maps (1:50,000). Tim Robinson’s map of the Burren (two inches to one mile; second edition published 1999)
was also used. High resolution georeferenced aerial photographs produced by BKS Ltd and reproduced in GIS
format provided considerable assistance to the fieldwork. Google Earth’s high resolution satellite imagery of north
Clare was particularly useful when used in conjunction with the Magellan® eXplorist© hand-held GPS, capable of
recording the site locations and tracks to within ten meters accuracy, and downloading to Google Earth Plus.
Weather conditions during fieldwork were mostly poor.
Cahermacnaghten townland lies between two peat-covered uplands to the north and south, and can generally be
characterised as limestone karst pavement with rough pasture. The dominant topographical feature in the
townland is a long glacial valley approximately 1.5km long and between 20m and 40m wide; soil cover in this
glacial valley is relatively deep, and used for pasture and cultivation in the past. The road from Ballyvaughan to
Noughaval, which runs past Cahermacnaghten cashel, crosses this glacial valley at a 27m wide pinch-point. This
is the only public road running through the study area; it is likely to be the line of the road from Gragan, the seat of
the O’Loughlin lordship, approximately 8km south to the parish church and market at Noughaval.
Cahermacnaghten cashel overlooks this glacial valley; Cabhail Tighe Breac is located some 190m south of it.
The limestone pavement in Cahermacnaghten townland south of the glacial valley has the typical karst features
of bare limestone crossed by clint and gryke. Other features of note are a southwest to northeast limestone shelf
and a series of north to south linear channels, up to 460m long and five meters wide, which contain deeper
deposits of soil. These channels also expand into wider, oval, grass covered areas up to 230m² in extent. It is
difficult to say whether these expansions are natural or whether they were enhanced.
Field boundaries, both used and disused, are a significant presence on the limestone pavement and in the glacial
depression. The older relict field boundaries, mound, tumble or slab walls, have a different alignment to the
modern, generally following the orientation of grykes. The natural north-south channels are also, in some cases,
flanked by these relict walls; in other instances relict walls surround these channels were they expand, creating
enclosures. In other instances these channels are crossed by the relict walls. Over the centuries these relict
boundaries have lost stone to the later enclosures, degrading and reducing them to sometimes barely perceptible
mounds. Changes in land use, and particularly the advent of large scale cattle and sheep husbandry in the later
nineteenth century (Ó Cathaoir 2008), reduced the need for a dense network of field boundaries. Ordnance
Survey maps recorded a number of walls in 1895. Most of these remain upstanding today but have been overlain
by larger, straight stone walls built in the twentieth century, sometimes with post and barbed wire fence, and
cutting straight across relict field boundaries, grykes and channels.
Roads, paths and routeways in Cahermacnaghten consist of the following (Fig. VIIb.1):
1. Public road
2. The Green road
3. Mass-path
4. Farm track A.
part of the frame of a former lobby doorway. A punch-dressed hanging-eye that held the upper pintle of a door
hinge has collapsed from its original position and now lies at the foot of the entrance. Recent fieldwork has
uncovered additional fragments of the gate-house. A very large cut and punch-dressed bowed arch-stone,
perhaps one of a matching pair which originally formed the head of the exterior entrance to the gate-house lobby,
is incorporated into the modern dry-stone property boundary that runs west to east from the north side of the
cashel entrance. During clearance of topsoil from the field immediately west of the cashel, a pair of cut and
punch-dressed arch-stones from a semi-pointed doorway was also recovered. The wing-walls of the cashel
enclosure, either side of the entrance, appear to have been re-faced during construction of the gate-house. The
evidence for this consists of a vertical break-line in the cashel masonry that is visible in the wall south of the
entrance and there are also traces of lime mortar in the interstices of the masonry in that wall face as well as late
medieval punch-dressing on the quoins of the cashel wall flanking the south side of the entrance passage.
Fig. VIIa.7 Cathair Mhic Neachtain (Bruton).
If Cahermacnaghten cashel is early medieval in origin, the late medieval entrance may have replaced a typical
early medieval square-headed lintelled doorway and entrance passage. The elaboration of the cashel entrance in
the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries indicates the modernising instincts of the professional family who occupied
the site. Their decision to change the entrance may have been influenced by the gate-entrances in the bawns of
the tower houses that the O’Loughlin and O’Connor lords, and their O’Brien overlord, were constructing
throughout the Burren during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Cahermacnaghten has sometimes been cited
5. Farm track B.
6. Glacial valley
7. Farm track C
1. The public road, as been discussed above, is likely to correspond with a medieval road or route from Gragans
to Noughaval, crossing a relatively narrow and shallow section of the glacial valley.
2. The Green Road was constructed in the nineteenth century to reach the turf in Binn Rua, about 0.8km west of
the main road (Fig. VIIb.2). It follows the line of relatively dry ground between the elevated bog of Binn Rua and
the limestone pavement. This zone may have been used for cultivation and pasture; this road may have a
medieval or early modern predecessor.
3. The mass path first appears on the 25-inch maps, surveyed in 1895. It leads from the north Cahermaan
townland, approximately 1.4km east, to the public road beside Cahermacnaghten cashel.
Fig. VIIb.1 Trackways, routes and movement.
It partly runs along a recently enhanced farm track west of Cahermacnaghten, and may also continue as a
country lane west to the N67 road. This path may be an earlier feature not recorded on the first edition of the
Ordnance Survey’s six inch map.
4. Farm track (A) leads from a modern farmstead adjacent to the public road west for approximately 0.5km to the
glacial valley. It partially follows the line of a large modern stone field wall before striking west across the
limestone pavement, partially following a natural channel, descending the limestone shelf in a number of steps
before turning towards the glacial valley. Stone and soil appear to have been cleared along part of its length,
creating two parallel banks approximately 6m apart. This appears to be a modern track created to allow access
from the modern farmstead to the glacial valley, an important source of grazing, fodder and cultivation.
Fig. VIIb.2 The Green Road.
5. Farm Track B leads from the glacial valley to the limestone pavement, ascends by a rough track approximately
50m long and 4m wide. This continues to be used and is likely to be modern in date, although possibly with a
medieval predecessor. Two tracks noted in the 2006 walk-over survey are found to the north; these appear to be
part of a natural channel.
Fig. VIIb.3 Farm Track (A).
6. The glacial valley would appear to be a natural route east to west through Cahermacnaghten. It has been
speculated that this 1.5km-long feature may have provided concealed access from Cahermacnaghten cashel to
Cabhail Tighe Breac; it is also likely to have been the site of gardens and cultivation (FitzPatrick 2006,20–1).
Today, the glacial valley is enclosed and crossed by modern and relict walls and is used for pasture. Parts of the
valley base are relatively wet and covered in rushes. No remains of a path or relict route were identified in the
Fig. VIIb.4 Farm Track (B).
7. Farm track C appears to be a modern feature.
The natural channels on the limestone pavement would appear to provide routes for movement through the karst.
They continue to be used today by locals and by the Cahermacnaghten team. However, their southern extent
next to the Green Road (2) tends to become waterlogged in wet weather. Also, it was observed that relict field
walls crossed these channels, further suggesting that, when the walls were in use, these channels were not used
as routes. Other than the six routes detailed above, no formal paths or routes over the karst were identified during
this season’s fieldwork. This may change with a survey of the relict field boundaries.
Characteristics of movement can be inferred by the relative position and orientation of buildings and structures
such as Cahermacnaghten cashel, Cabhail Tighe Breac and their associated buildings. Cahermacnaghten
cashel’s entrance faces east towards the public road, suggesting that this feature was an important factor in
establishing the site and access to the cashel: the cashel faced public space. By contrast, Cabhail Tighe Breac,
which is located 0.8km from the public road, 190m south-southwest of the glacial valley and 150m north of the
Green Road, is sited in an isolated position. This isolation or privacy may reflect the builders’ concern with
protecting the school and students from the English authorities, or providing a suitably quite, environment for
students (FitzPatrick 2006, 40). In either case Cabhail Tighe Breac is a much more private environment than
Cahermacnaghten cashel. Its entrance orientation north, towards the glacial depression, suggests the builders
anticipated most people would approach from this direction. Cabhail Tighe Breac is, however, a rather anomalous
building: it is located in a private space yet it is architecturally impressive. It was a relatively low structure
compared to towerhouses, but is positioned on the edge of the limestone shelf to maximise its height. There is no
evidence for a formal approach to Cabhail Tighe Breac, although the limestone shelf does tend to funnel
movement north towards the building. It would appear that, in the late medieval and early modern periods, privacy
and a natural environment rather than formal design and public access were the primary concerns at Cabhail
Tighe Breac. Perhaps formal paths and routes were not used within the Cahermacnaghten landholding, reflecting
behaviour still apparent today: modern farmers and animals move with relative ease over the limestone pavement
without the need for paths. The excavation team in 2007 and 2008 were guided to the site by a series of bamboo
sticks, creating in a short time a well-trodden path. In fact upright marker stones noted during the 2006 townland
survey and a pile of limestone boulders next to the Farm Track may have served a similar function.
Roads and routeways are an understudied aspect of Ireland’s landscape. Understanding roads and movement at
various scales of analysis – national, regional, and local, down to movement between and around settlements
and buildings – can provide valuable insights into behaviour, settlement and social organisation. Ireland’s dense
network of roads and lanes reuse older routeways. Compared to the UK, Ireland has relatively few public paths –
perhaps reflecting the precedence of land’s economic value over any social or traditional rights-of-way in early
modern colonial Ireland. Structures and sites such as ringforts, towerhouses and churches were influenced, or
influenced, movement in the medieval period. A greater understanding is needed of these and other monuments
and settlements position relative to known roads and routes.
At a local level in Cahermacnaghten townland, seven routes or potential routes can be identified, most of which
are modern. However, there is a lack of evidence for formal paths and routes within the townland between
Cahermacnaghten cashel and Cabhail Tighe Breac. Access and movement were an important factor in
influencing the location, design and orientation of these buildings in relation to public and private access.
Cahermacnaghten cashel and Cabhail Tighe Breac’s use of the natural landscape contrasts with contemporary
designed landscapes such as Leamaneh, with its deerpark and bawn, or the estates of the O’Carrolls and Mac
Coghlans of Offaly, where Gaelic families adapted to new concepts of landscape design (Lyttleton 2007). A more
detailed survey of the relict field boundaries in Cahermacnaghten may provide further information and evidence
for relict paths similar to those identified in Roscommon (McNeary and Shanahan 2007).
Further Research
In 2009 we are proposing to build on this research by studying the wider road network in the Burren and
surveying the relict and modern field boundaries in Cahermacnaghten townland at a number of specific locations.
We are proposing an expanded analysis of roads and routeways of the Burren, to investigate where modern
roads and paths preserve medieval routes, and highlight the importance of communications in the settlement
landscape of the late medieval and early modern Gaelic lordship. This will be done using GIS analysis of the
position of medieval and early modern monuments and settlements to known roads and routes.
The survey of the field boundaries will use the results of the aerial photography, digital mapping, and terrain
modelling undertaken in 2008 to produce high-quality images of Cahermacnaghten in a series of scaled tiles.
These will then be used during fieldwork to map the boundaries, in conjunction with the assistance of differential
GPS. Particular attention will be given to the types of field boundaries, their relative phases and possible function.
This data will be captured in GIS format. The aim is to highlight not only the field boundary's significance in
understanding route ways and movement at a local level in Cahermacnaghten, but also changing land use and
division from the medieval to modern periods.
Eve Campbell
Historical Background
The transplantation to Connacht and Clare was a scheme drawn up as part of the Cromwellian land settlement of
the 1650s. In the aftermath of the Cromwellian wars the need to repay financial backers and the army provided
the impetus for the land settlement which saw a massive shift in the pattern of landowning across Ireland from
Catholic to Protestant hands (Ó Múrchadha 1982). A key component of the scheme was the transplantation of
Irish Catholic landowners from their lands to lands west of the west of the Shannon. The transplantation occurred
on two levels. Catholic landowners from Ulster, Munster and Leinster were transplanted to Connacht and Clare,
and within Connacht and Clare native landowners were transplanted locally (Simington 1967).
Fig. VIIc.1 First edition OS map (1840) showing Lislarheen House and the cluster of cottages to the east. The sub-circular
enclosure immediately northeast of the cottages is recorded as a caher by the SMR and a rectangular internal structure is
readily visible on the 2000 Ordnance Survey aerial photographs. Note rectangular enclosure A to southwest of Lislarheen
This supplementary study aims to identify the transplantation settlement of the Davorens of Cahermacnaghten,
transplanted locally within the Barony of Burren. Throughout this report the name ‘Davoren’ is used.
Reflective of the social change and shifting identities in later part of the seventeenth century many
Gaelic families dropped the ‘O’ and ‘Mac’ parts of their names. The version of the family name recorded in
historical documents in the period to which this study pertains is ‘Davoren’. The Finavarra Court Leet
panel list, the Books of Survey and Distribution and all of the eighteenth-century deeds for example use
Davoren not O’Davoren. For this reason this is the version of the name used in this text. With reference to
the key research questions posed by the Burren INSTAR project the study seeks to investigate how Burren
archaeology reflects social organisation in different time periods, specifically what can the transplantation
settlement tell us about the substantial social changes that occurred in the seventeenth century in Ireland. The
study also hopes to examine the extent to which early cultural landscapes influenced later settlement
developments, specifically looking at how the pre-transplantation archaeological landscape at Lislarheen and
that from which they had come at Cahermacnaghten, shaped the Davorens’ new settlement in the Caher
Hugh Davoren, son of Cosnamhach of the 1606 deed, was set out ‘Lislarheen qr being the parish of Drumkreehy’
(BSD) corresponding with the modern day townland of Lislarheenmore in the parish of Rathbourney. The
southern quarter of the denomination corresponding with the modern townland of Lislarheenbeg was allocated to
one William King. The division of Lislarheen into ‘more’ and ‘beg’ may have been quite late judging from straight
line cutting across the landscape that divides the two townlands, in contrast to the boundary of Lislarheen as a
whole, which largely follows topographical features like limestone ledges (Fig.VIIc.5). Constance, son of the
transplanted Hugh was confirmed the land at Lislarheen as part of the restoration land settlement under Charles
II (Simington 1967).
Documentary Sources
A host of historical documents show the townland to have been in Davoren hands until at least the latter part of
the eighteenth century. The 1659 ‘census’, a poll tax return, lists Hugh Davoren, gent as tituladoe in the townland,
with twelve Irish listed as eligible to pay the tax. The Books of Survey and Distribution list Constance Davoren as
holding the land in the column detailing the restoration land settlement. A list of the panel of the Court Leet of
Finavarra Manor Court dated 1678 and contained in the Petworth House archive lists ‘Constance Davourn of
Lislarrine, gent’ and six other men who served on the court panel as being resident at Lislarheen (O’Mahony). A
series of eighteenth-century memorials of deeds contained within the Registry of Deeds, Henrietta Street, Dublin,
indicates that the townland was in Davoren hands until at least the 1770s. The memorial of a deed dated 1770
(Book 319, p.35 No. 209567), for example, records the transfer of land between ‘Wm Davoren of Kilmurry &
Oliver Davoren of Creggicuridan …Gents and James Davoren of Creggicuridan …only son and Heir at Law of
Hugh Davoren late of Lislarhee the eldest brother of the sd Wm and Oliver Davoren.” The memorial for a deed
made three years later in 1773 records the sale of Lislarhee by the same James Davoren to one Frances
McNemara, Esquire (Book 298, p.366 No. 97730). While it would seem that Lislarheen was not in Davoren hands
after the mid-1770s it continued to be associated with the family into the early part of the twentieth century. An
obituary printed in the Ennis Chronicle for one James Davoren (possibly the same man mentioned in the above
deeds) dated 1812, describes him as ‘James Davoren of Lislarhee’.
Identifying the Davoren Settlement at Lislarheen
Lislarheen lies on the eastern slopes of the Caher Valley, in the shadow of Slieve Elva, in northwest Burren. The
denomination comprising the modern townlands of Lislarheenmore and Lislarheenbeg is situated at the junction
between the parishes of Rathbourney, Killeany and Drumcreehy. The townland slopes gently from a boggy hill
eastern hill at 907m to the east to the flat green valley floor to the west.
Fig. VIIc.2 South-facing north wall of Lislarheen House. Scale 0.5m.
Fig. VIIc.3 East-facing east wall of Lislarheen House. Scale 0.5m.
In attempting to identify the archaeology of Davoren transplantation settlement at Lislarheen a number of
methods have been used. Desk-based research based on the consultation of aerial photography (2000 Ordnance
Survey aerial photographs, Google Earth), cartographic sources (1st edition Ordnance Survey maps of 1840, 25
inch Ordnance Survey Maps, SMR) and the archaeological archive of the OPW formed the primary component of
the study. Targeted field-walking and photographic survey, with the aim of investigating certain features identified
during the desk based research followed.
The focus of settlement in Lislarheen is in the western portion of the townland, on the gentle slope just above the
valley floor (Fig. VIIc.4; Fig. VIIc.4a). Here within several meters of each other and within the densest
concentration of boundaries and enclosures lies a caher with a prominent internal structure visible on the 2000
Ordnance Survey aerial photographs, a cluster of cottages and the site of Lislarheen House. This part of the
townland is most sheltered and adjacent to the best portion of agricultural land running north south along the floor
of the Caher valley.
Fig. VIIc.4 West-facing wall of enclosure A. 4A North-facing top of eastern wall of enclosure A. Scale 0.5m.
The bulk of recorded monuments in Lislarheen townlands are cashels. The SMR records eleven sites for
Lislarheenmore and one for Lislarheenbeg, nine of which are recorded as cashels or raths. Of these, three have
recorded names: Lislarheen Caher, Lislarheenmore and Cahernateinne, a sub-square caher located in the
modern townland of Lislarheenbeg. Consultation of the papers of the archaeological survey indicates that most or
all of these cashels are in very poor condition, and none show obvious evidence for later medieval occupation
such as that visible at Cahermacnaghten.
The first-edition OS map of 1840 records a building marked “Lislarheen House (in ruins)” located in the western
portion of Lislarheenmore, near the valley floor (Fig. VIIc.1). The footprint of the building is also visible on the 25”
map and is marked ‘sheep pen’, but by the third edition 6-inch map the building has melded into the surrounding
system of field walls. The house lies south west of a cluster of three cottages which are also marked on the 1840s
map. Two of these cottages are in a state of ruin, with only the overgrown, bare stone structure remaining, while
the third is roofed and has was likely to have been inhabited into the mid- to late-twentieth century. An inscription
etched into the concrete doorframe reads ‘Neilon and Son’.
Fieldwork at Lislarheen has determined that fragments of Lislarheen House remain on the ground held within the
network of stone walls that sprawl across the valley. Portions of a north and east wall are upstanding, and can be
clearly differentiated from the later dry-built stone walls in which they are contained. Grassed-over mounds
indicate traces of a south wall and a projection to the north as indicated on the first-edition map. The north wall
survives to a height of 1.8m and length of 4m, with an intact return at the western corner. It is 0.8m in width and
composed of flat-bedded and mortared limestone rubble (Fig. VIIc.2). The east wall survives to a height of 0.8m
and length of 4.3m and is also 0.8m in width (Fig. VIIc.3).
Initial comparisons of the building, bearing in mind both the sketch on the first-edition edition OS maps and the
remains on the ground, indicate that the building may date to the seventeenth century. It compares favourably
with a number of seventeenth-century houses in scale and plan. A deed dated 1773, recording the sale of
Lislarhee by James Davoren of Craggicaridane, Gent to Francis McNemara of Doolin, mentions the ‘demised
premes’ (Book 298, p.366 No.97730). An early date is supported by the fact that the house was in ruins by the
1840s and described as ‘demised’ in the 1773 deed. Given the potentially early date for the house it is a strong
possibility that it represents a house built by the O’Davorens in the years after being transplanted to Lislarheen,
most likely after their title to the land was secured in the restoration land settlement.
Lislarheen house lies in a complex of fields and enclosures focused on the settlement to the eastern part of the
denomination and sprawling across the entire townland. Many of these boundaries undoubtedly date from the
pre-transplantation landscape. Immediately to the northeast there is a cashel with traces of internal structures,
and there are several other circular enclosures in the vicinity of the house, including one marked as the site of a cist.
Other boundaries and enclosures date from the period in which the cottages were inhabited and the townland
was the site of a sheep farm.
Some field boundaries are likely to be associated with Lislarheen House. To the southwest of the house there is a
rectangular enclosure (enclosure A) which may be significant. It is visible on the first edition Ordnance Survey
map (Fig. VIIc.1) and, from comparisons with the 2000 aerial photographs, we can see that part of its southern
extent has since been cleared away. The walls of the enclosure survive 1.78m in height. They exhibit a slight
batter measuring 0.9m wide at the base and 0.5m at the top. The walls are constructed of flat-bedded limestone
rubble with a rubble core and are dry-built (Fig. VIIc.4). It is probable that this field represents part of the estate
landscape associated with Lislarheen House. It may, for example, be a garden or orchard.
Carleton Jones and Michelle Comber
The primary aim of this first phase of the project was the creation of a research framework for Burren
archaeology. This was achieved by formulating six key themes relevant to the archaeology of the Burren at the
start of the project, and then exploring these themes with the data from a variety of diverse projects. These six
themes are discussed in the introduction, but they can be summarised as:
a) Spatial relationships and interactions between secular and ritual/ceremonial activities
b) Relationship of boundaries and land divisions to past land-use and social organisation
c) Social organisation
d) Extent to which early cultural landscapes influenced later settlement developments
e) Movement in and out of the Burren as well as within the Burren
f) Position of the Burren in relation to wider exchange and contact networks
One of the first challenges encountered in formulating a framework for planning, organising, and executing
research on the Burren is the reality that this INSTAR project incorporates a diverse range of ongoing projects on
the Burren which are at various stages of completion. On the other hand, it was because of the number of
ongoing projects that it was recognised that an over-arching research framework was needed. The various
projects started with their own individual research questions and many are already well into their data collection
stage. Nevertheless, we found that the nature of the problems being investigated, the nature of the data being
collected, and of course the base of previous research on the Burren, shared enough common ground that we
could move forward with formulating an over-arching research framework for the archaeology of the region.
At the end of this first phase of the project, patterns are already emerging relating to the different emphases
placed on the six research themes. Out of the six themes, the two most commonly addressed by the INSTAR
researchers are the those of ‘Boundaries and Land Divisions’ and ‘Social Organisation’. This highlights one of the
most unique and valuable aspects of the archaeological record of the Burren - the remarkable preservation of so
many field walls and other land divisions from so many different time periods. This preservation of boundaries
and land divisions has also led directly to the other commonly addressed theme of ‘Social Organisation’ because,
of course, these boundaries and divisions can reveal so much about the social landscapes of the past. The next
two most commonly addressed themes are those of ‘Movement’ and the ‘Relationship between Secular and
Ritual/Ceremonial Activities’. Again, it is the richness of the archaeological remains on the Burren, where
landscapes of contemporary ritual and secular sites are discernible both in prehistory and in the historic period,
that lends itself to studies relating to these two spheres of human activity. In addition, studies of movement are
aided not only by the well-preserved archaeological remain, but also by the diverse topography of the Burren
which provides both natural routeways and impediments to movement.
Finally, the two themes that have, so far, been addressed the least (although significant avenues of enquiry have
been opened in both areas) are the ‘Extent to which Early Cultural Landscapes influenced Later Settlement
Developments’ and ‘Wider Exchange and Contact Networks’. There is no doubt that earlier landscapes influenced
the development of later landscapes, and this has been a relevant factor in nearly all the studies. Perhaps,
however, the reason that this theme has not been addressed in as much detail as other themes is because
researchers, by necessity have to specialize chronologically in order to build up their expertise. Nevertheless,
collaboration between INSTAR researchers is leading towards a more diachronic view of the Burren landscape,
and it is envisioned that this aspect of research will be developed more fully as the Research Framework is
engaged with in the next phase of research. The lesser emphasis on the Burren’s wider exchange and contact
networks seems to stem mainly from the fact that many of the individual projects are not yet in the later stages of
interpretation which is when these questions are typically addressed. Again, it is envisioned that this aspect of the
research will be developed more fully as the Research Framework is engaged with and as many of the projects
move from data collection to interpretation.
At this stage it seems worthwhile to bring together some of the points where the INSTAR researchers have
addressed the different themes. These are treated below in roughly the order in which they have been
emphasised by the researchers.
Boundaries and Land Divisions
Starting with ‘Boundaries and Land Divisions’, Bergh’s study of Turlough Hill is revealing a series of features that
may owe their nature and position to the fact that the steep eastern face of the Burren has always formed a
natural boundary between the interior of the Burren and the lowlands stretching out to the east. The importance of
this boundary in prehistory is reinforced by Coyne’s study which has shown that the cairns along the eastern
margin of the Burren are sited to be viewed mainly by people not on the Burren (but instead on the lowlands to
the east). At a much smaller scale, Jones’s study of Roughan Hill, Carey’s study of Coolnatullagh, and Hennigar’s
study near Carron provide more examples of the importance of land divisions on the Burren in prehistory. In all
three areas, the abundance of prehistoric field walls demonstrates that the prehistoric inhabitants of the Burren
were concerned not only with large-scale land divisions but also with the quite small-scale division of the land into
fields. Additionally, contrasts are becoming apparent between the very small and irregular fields of Roughan Hill,
the more orderly layout of Coolnatullagh, and the emphasis on large hillslope enclosures near Carron. These
differences appear to relate to changes in the social organisation and the economy of the inhabitants of the
Burren over the course of the Bronze Age.
Moving into the historic period, detailed studies of land divisions by Comber have revealed differences in field
sizes and shapes between areas close to cashels and areas farther away, with a similar pattern also detected by
FitzPatrick in the area around Cahermacnaghten townland, especially around the cashel of Caheridoula. The
typical early medieval/medieval farm in the area appears to have comprised smaller enclosures/fields close to the
settlement, with larger examples a greater distance away. Such farms appear to have formed the smallest units
of land division in the early medieval period at least. Comber, in the eastern part of her south-central Burren study
area has used cashel distribution analysis, topographical assessment and historical study to identify a probable
early political boundary running to the west of the large cashel at Cahercommaun. Also combining historical and
archaeological data, FitzPatrick has revealed that units of land such as townlands are not as static as was once
thought and the vagaries of family histories can have a huge impact on the division of the landscape. Campbell
follows a similar theme with her very close study of a transplantation settlement at Lislarheen.
Social Organisation
Looking at the theme of ‘Social Organisation’ we start with the remarkable new discoveries on Turlough Hill
revealed by Bergh’s project. Here, the revelation that the mountain-top huts are grouped into two nearly equal
groups may well be linked to the possible importance of Turlough Hill as a place on the edge of the Burren where
different social groups came together (equally interesting and plausible is the possibility that the pattern
represents a ritual division rather than a social one). On a similar scale, and possibly of a similar date, is the
immense enclosure discovered on Ceapaigh an Bháile hill by Grant. Here, the construction of an enclosure
encircling the summit indicates the presence of a society well enough organised to carry out such a large project.
Both Turlough Hill and Ceapaigh an Bháile hill may date to the Neolithic. On Roughan Hill, differences between
the monuments of the Neolithic and those of the Beaker/Early Bronze Age allow inferences to be made about
changes in social organisation; perhaps from a lineage-based society in the Neolithic to a society based on
smaller social groups in the Beaker/Early Bronze Age. In addition, Burke's study of the megalith-using Khasi
people with their matrilineal, clan-based society may well provide important insights into the wedge tomb building
societies on the Burren for whom Roughan Hill was an important focus. In Coolnatullagh, we can see a landscape
of dispersed farmsteads and small-scale burial/ritual monuments which seems to reflect a society organised on a
similarly small scale in the Beaker/Early Bronze Age period, while in the Carron area the spacing of several large
hillslope enclosures around the edge of a plateau may well reflect an economy based on different social units by
the later Bronze Age.
By the historic period, the range of settlement types and settlement sizes recorded by both Comber and
FitzPatrick certainly suggests the existence of a well-defined social hierarchy and also the deliberate use of
architecture to reflect different social roles. Many previously unrecorded unenclosed house-sites have been
identified in landscapes that also contain larger settlement enclosures such as the typical early medieval cashel
of c.20–25m diameter, occasional cashels of impressive size and morphology (such as Caherconnell at 43m in
diameter), and a small number of later towerhouses. Whether early medieval or medieval in date, these different
forms/grades of settlement reflect an established social hierarchy. In many cases it is difficult to clarify the time
spans over which past social organisations may have endured or the speed with which they may have been
transformed. The study of Lislarheen, however, with its transplantation landscape superimposed on a pretransplantation landscape gives us an interesting view of a Burren landscape being transformed by a fairly abrupt
change in society.
Looking at the Burren as a discrete block of topography in prehistory, it is interesting that at least three of the
main ‘entrances’ to the Burren are associated with significant monuments. The natural corridor running south into
the centre of the Burren is overlooked at its northern end by the enclosure on Ceapaigh an Bháile hill, while
Poulnabrone portal tomb is sited along this same corridor, a bit south of the point where the steep ascent up the
Ballyvaughan valley gives way to the high, broad ground of the central Buren. The northeast corner of the Burren,
where both the Corker pass and the steeper pass between Turlough Hill and Slievecarran give access into the
Burren, is dominated by Turlough Hill. In the southeast corner of the Burren, a natural entrance is formed by the
convergence of Roughan Hill and the River Fergus, and within this gap we can see not only the Neolithic portal
tomb of Ballycasheen but a whole range of later monuments that demonstrate the importance of this entrance
into the Burren throughout all periods (the possibly defensive cashel of Cahermore, the Tau Cross marking a
potential pilgrimage route, gate piers associated with Leamaneh Castle, and the funnelling of two modern, but
potentially much older, roads into the gap). Coyne’s discovery of cairns situated in the saddles between the
mountain peaks of the eastern Burren points to a concern with these natural access routes as well. At a smaller
scale, Carey’s study of the Coolnatullagh valley has shown that the many of the smaller cairns in that valley are
sited to overlook the natural routeways through the valley; furthermore, many of the Coolnatullagh cairns seem to
be constructed with an emphasis on the side that faces the routeway.
For the Early Medieval period, Comber’s analysis of settlement patterns in relation to topography has detected
linear distributions of cashels and early ecclesiastical sites that often correspond with natural routeways. Several
of the more impressive/socially important sites of this period are located on, or next to, important routeways. One
such routeway may link the early ecclesiastical foundations of Kilfenora, Noughaval, Kilcorney, and then join with
the main north-south route into the central Burren (mentioned above) via Caherconnell and on past Poulnabrone.
The high-status cashel of Cahercommaun is situated along the other main north-south route into the Burren, that
extending south through the Corker Pass. The south-eastern entrance to the Burren, mentioned above, is marked
by a dense concentration of early medieval cashels running roughly west from this entrance area to Kilfenora. On
a more detailed level, both Comber and Clutterbuck (in the Cahermacnaghten study), have been able to trace
stretches of minor routes and tracks that allowed people and livestock to move around the landscape.
Secular versus Ritual
Spatial relationships between secular and ritual/ceremonial activities are of course many and varied in any
society, and the various lines of evidence relating to this theme being pursued by the INSTAR researchers are
likewise many and varied. The bipartite division of the features on Turlough Hill has already been mentioned but it
is worth re-emphasising here that this division may reflect a basic dualism in the ritual sphere, the two parts of a
larger social group, or perhaps a combination of both of these factors. Studies of the hilltop cairns of the eastern
Burren as well as the cairns of the Coolnatullagh valley have demonstrated that these monuments can be sited
either far removed from secular activities or embedded in the day-to-day landscape of fields and farms.
Ethnographic analogies drawn from Khasi practices relating to the use and location of stone monuments in their
lived-in landscape may well be of relevance here. Moving into the historic period, Comber’s work at Caherconnell
has suggested that the wealthy inhabitants of the cashel, an O’Loughlin sept, were probably the patrons of the
nearby parish church at Kilcorney. There is also some evidence in this area of a relationship between secular and
ritual remains from different chronological periods. A prehistoric ritual structure, of possible Early Bronze Age
date, was re-used around the fifteenth century AD for burial purposes – most likely by the inhabitants of the
adjacent secular settlement at Caherconnell. That cashel is set amidst a number of prehistoric ritual monuments
– a barrow, a cairn and a couple of boulder burials – perhaps reflecting a deliberate desire for ancestral
association, for social and political reasons.
Extent to which Early Cultural Landscapes influenced Later Settlement Developments
While connections between earlier and later landscapes have been noted in many of the studies (such as the
post-Early Bronze Age re-use of at least two of the farmstead sites on Roughan Hill), it is primarily those
researchers focusing on the later periods who have addressed this theme most directly. In her study area,
Comber has documented the intensive re-use of particular locations in the Early Medieval period that were also
foci of activity in the prehistoric period. This re-use ranges from the re-occupation of particular sites to the
alteration and re-use of field walls. Likewise, the Later Medieval inhabitants re-used or continued to use many
Early Medieval structures and fields. Comber has also noted some interesting juxtapositions of later secular
remains with prehistoric ritual structures such as the wedge tomb enclosed within a cashel at Creevagh and the
prehistoric structure excavated adjacent to Caherconnell. In the Cahermacnaghten study, FitzPatrick has noted
the possible clustering of later settlement around earlier cashels and the incorporation of at least one wedge tomb
into a later boundary. Campbell’s Lislarheen study is, by its nature, focusing on the influence of the pretransplantation landscape on the transplantation landscape.
Wider Exchange and Contact Networks
Interestingly, both Turlough Hill and Ceapaigh an Bháile have their closest parallels in Co. Sligo. The group of hut
circles on the Mullaghfarna plateau in Co. Sligo certainly appears to have similarities with Turlough Hill, including
the quite remarkable similarity in the number of huts circles recorded (153 on Mullaghfarna and 156 on Turlough
Hill). Similarly, the mountain-enclosing feature on Ceapaigh an Bháile shows affinities with similar features on
Knocknarea in Co. Sligo. It is possible that the similarities are indicative of some form of contact between groups
along Ireland’s west coast during prehistory, although the similarities may also have risen in a context of similarly
functioning societies without intensive contact. Either way, the scale and nature of these features does suggest
the possibility that these sites were visited by people who did not all reside on the Burren. This theme of
monuments that may have been sited with a larger audience than just the population of the Burren in mind is also
touched upon by the easterly orientation of many of the hilltop cairns on the east Burren which were sited to be
visible from the lowlands to the east. Certainly by Beaker/Early Bronze Age times, the occurrence of wedge
tombs on the Burren shows that communities, such as that on Roughan Hill, who built and used these
monuments were linked into contact networks that stretched up and down the western half of Ireland.
Furthermore, Beaker pottery from Roughan Hill shows us that the Burren at this time was incorporated into even
wider exchange and contact networks that stretched ultimately right across Europe. In the Early Medieval period,
although some local variations are present, both the settlement and ecclesiastical remains show affinities with
contemporary remains farther afield, particularly along the western seaboard. In addition, finds such as the silver
coins from the Caherconnell excavations demonstrate connections stretching beyond Ireland.
The present state of knowledge
By placing our current state of knowledge into the structure created by the six themes, we have created a
research framework for the archaeology of the Burren. This is by no means a final statement on the archaeology
of the Burren, or even an immutable framework to be imposed on future research. It is instead, a working model
that clarifies what we know, and what we do not know, as well as the links between research interests and time
periods that will allow the present researchers and future researchers to fully contextualise their research within
the larger body of Burren archaeological research.
One of the gaps in our knowledge that this exercise has identified is the presence of relatively large numbers of
previously unrecorded site types. There is clearly a large gap in the official record of monuments for the Burren.
Future phases of the Burren project could help address this, both in terms of extended surveying and the
provision of chronological and functional evidence for these new site types through excavation. Investigations
along these lines might help to fill in apparent gaps in the settlement record. For instance, although there are now
a variety of excavated and dated Neolithic monuments on the Burren and some newly discovered hilltop features
that may well date to the Neolithic, there is still no known Neolithic habitation site identified on the Burren. The
Bronze Age is better served with a variety of both secular and ritual evidence but what has been recorded and
dated so far falls mainly into the earlier Bronze Age (although this imbalance is being partially redressed by
Hennigar’s present study).
Due to the meagre proof of Iron Age activity in the Burren (a single radiocarbon date from Roughan Hill and a few
stray finds), it is impossible to trace patterns of settlement and landscape use during this period. The pollen
record does show a continuation of farming, albeit on a lesser scale than that of earlier prehistory. The barrows
present on the landscape may represent burial activity during late prehistory, while some of the enclosures and
cashels, like Caherballykinvarga, may have their origins in the period. Cashel sub-types are beginning to emerge
from current studies in the region and some, such as the sub-square examples, may have Iron Age origins.
Ptolemy’s map suggests that there were peoples living in the area in the second century AD, and it seems
unlikely that the Burren would have been largely abandoned between the Bronze Age and Early Medieval period,
both of which saw relatively dense activity and settlement.
For all periods, investigations into land divisions and social organisation have been profitable and we are
beginning to construct models of past social structures. Like all models, these will be tested and challenged in the
future, but their value lies in exactly that - providing something that can be tested. Investigations into patterns of
movement and patterns of secular versus ritual activities have also been fruitful and are providing a viable means
of investigating both within periods and between periods. Finally, collaboration between INSTAR researchers is
already leading towards a more diachronic view of these and many other aspects of the Burren’s archaeology.
If the research framework is to work, it must be able to support current and future Burren studies, facilitating the
use of information from all works, at all stages of progress, to build a picture of the Burren landscape throughout
the past. Overall, this first phase of the Burren Landscape and Settlement INSTAR project has been a success.
By bringing together the various studies under a unified set of themes/questions, a research framework has been
created. This is, of course, just the first step. The next phase of research will involve engaging with, developing,
and testing the framework.
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