Kilcashel Stone Fort
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales and Legendary Places in Ireland
A strong place and a high one
There are tens of thousands of round stone forts in Ireland, some say as many as fifty thousand, if you can believe it, and one of the finest examples we have is at Kilcashel in County Mayo, which comes from the Irish Coill an Chaisil, the woods of the stone fort. Almost perfectly circular in construction, with thick walls two broad men could walk shoulder to shoulder on top of, this would have been a comfortable home for a prosperous farmer or wary lord.
In the Irish tongue they were called ráth or lios if they were made of earth, with the rath being the raised mound and the lios being the open space inside, as some of the larger ones were, and caiseal or cathair if they were made of stone. Dún was a general name for a fortress of any sort.
The exact age of these many ring forts is a matter for dispute among the learned – some say they date from the early medieval, others from the late iron age – the problem you see, is they can find little evidence of any other habitation before these times, although ring forts were built far earlier elsewhere.
As with most such difficulties of course, the answer is simple enough – and it is not that everyone in Ireland lived up trees until the medieval period! Later ring forts were built on top of earlier bronze age ring forts, not only for the ready availability of building materials but these strong constructions were usually situated in a commanding position, at a bend in the river or on top of a high hill with a good view of the surrounding landscape.
And so it is with the beautiful circular stone fort in Kilcashel, which can be found just a little ways to the south and east of Kilmovee. It was likely built, or rebuilt, towards the end of the reign of the mac Colmáins over Connacht, perhaps even in the time of Fergal Aidne mac Artgaile, grandson of the famous Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin.
For they were times of strife and times of war in Ireland back then, and you'd be glad of a good thick stone wall between raiding parties and your family! And thick indeed are the walls of Kilcashel stone fort, a full five meters at the base, and three meters in height, protecting an area thirty meters across. It is easy to imagine a whole clan gathered around the fire within, listening to the tales of their ancestors and playing Fidcheall.
Not only that but there are a couple of secret passageways in the walls which the bold can still enter today, and perhaps they were used at the time to hide valuables, or even people!
It was one of three stone ring forts that stood in the area, all of them atop a long sandstone ridge that offered broad views over the rolling countryside and pastures. Sadly, two of them were destroyed only recently, but the last is as good a specimen as you could wish for.
When you enter the stone fort, you can immediately see four sets of steps leading up to the top of the wall, although some of the steps are a bit loose these days, and the two creep-ways which bring you to a hidden chamber inside the walls. There is also a collapsed tunnel entrance which is called a souterrain, and a couple of collapsed houses, as well as a tree who has declared himself the new master of the fort.
Close to Kilcashel stone fort can be found dozens of important ancient sites, the whole area is steeped in magnificent ancient Irish history. Raherolus, or in Irish Ráth Fhireolais, which means the fort of the men of learning, is the name of the next townland, and local tales tell it was meant to have been an important centre of learning once. There is a fulachta fiadh from the bronze age, which is an ancient cooking site signified by burned stones, and even a bullán, which is a kind of stone bowl filled with water, often of mystical significance.
Kilcashel stone fort can be found on the map below!
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