Caiseal Anagaire is ringfort or as its name implies a cashel. It is located on high ground approximately 250m southwest of St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Annagry village. Annagry is a small village located on the N259, skirting the northern shores in the Rosses district of west Donegal. The cashel dates at least back to the fifteenth century when the forces of Sweeney, O’Donnell and Boyle camped here before they engaged with O’Neill(1). My affinity to the cashel comes from family history, that Caiseal Anagaire was the stronghold of my Duffy ancestors until plantation times.
The cashel is located on high ground overlooking Annagry village and the strand (to the north). It commands an encompassing view of the coastline. To the south it is protected by Annagary Hill, the highest hill in the area.
Ground conditions are rocky and soil cover is poor and the adjoining ground is utilised for rough grazing. The rocky outcrop is localised mica schist in a general area of granite (2). This otherwise hostile environment is adorned by many plants species such as foxglove, snow drop, bog-bean, primrose and purple orchid. There are a number of monuments of an archaeological nature within a half kilometre radius of the cashel. Tobar an Chulga (DG041-006—) is a holy well said to have a cure for infertility. A stone circle (DG041-009—) was discovered by the late by Prof. W. S. Pitcher, a leading geologist. There is also a burial mount that has been identified by the Donegal County Museum adjacent to the stone circle. Garraí na Reilge is a cillín or a graveyard for unbaptised children. This is a small garden measuring 0.8m x 4m surrounded on three sides by a wall measuring one metre in height, the other side of the graveyard is enclosed by a stream running from Annagary Hill. This site used during Famine times, has been revered by locals as a sacred place. Cloch an Chugla is a standing stone located in the grounds of Caisleáin Óir, a local hotel, this stone is said to have been used to cure infertility. In the same field as the cashel, there is a rectangular enclosure called the Ard na Phunta or the height of the pound, this field was used in the days of landlordism to keep livestock seized in lieu of rent arrears. It is also worth noting that there was a clachan directly below the cashel. It was recorded in the Historic 6” map, but when the Cassini 6” map was drawn up there were just a couple of houses remaining.
The early medieval period (AD 400-1169) was a time of profound internal social and economic change in Ireland. Site types associated with this period included ringforts, souterrains, and enclosures. Ringforts are undoubtedly the most widespread and characteristic archaeological field monument in the Irish countryside. They are usually known by the names ráth or líos, forming some of the most common place-name elements in the countryside(3). The ringfort is basically a circular or roughly circular area enclosed by an earthen bank formed by material thrown up from a concentric fosse (or ditch) on its outside. Archaeological excavation has shown that the majority of ringforts were enclosed farmsteads, built to enclose the house and other buildings of a lord or strong famer in the early medieval period (AD 500-1100)(4). In some areas, especially in upland areas and along the western seaboard of Ireland, drystone walls were built to enclose farmsteads in place of the excavated defences of the ringforts. Cashels (Gaelige caiseal) have the same circular or roughly circular plans as ringforts, but are generally smaller, with an average internal diameter of 25m(5). Also known as cahir or dún in local place-names, the walls can be quite massive, sometimes as much as six metres thick and up to three metres high. Although there is unsubstantiated evidence to back this theory, it is also worth noting that Caiseal Anagaire may have been an observatory in pre history. It is located on 55 degree line of latitude stretching east through Dún Luiche, Doon Fort and Grianan of Aileach.
The site is in private ownership at present and is in a secluded area, therefore protected from human or environmental disturbance.
Caiseal Anagaire is situated in the townland of Annagry West. The meaning of this placename is uncertain as the second part of the name has many explanations. To explain this we need to look at the original Gaelige name Ath na gCoire. Ath means a ford or a crossing place. Coire could be either a bird of the stork family, a whirlpool, a sand-eel or a large cooking pot similar to those used to feed the starving in times of hunger. The first written version of the placename was recorded by the English in 1641 when they called it Angory(6).
The internal diameter of the cashel (DG041 -007—) located at Annagary measures 17m. The circular area is enclosed by a ruined stone wall, circa 3.5m in width and 0.5m in height. The interior area is level and a number of field boundaries cross the site. It is reputed that there is a souterrain associated with the cashel although there is no visible ground evidence.
In an article in the Derry People newspaper(7) of January 1940, the following was stated;
‘Paddy Hanlon had a trying experience on Monday when engaged on sinking a deep drain, the ground suddenly gave way and Mr Hanlon fell through into a subterranean passage, about ten deep. His cries for help attracted the attention of Dan Forker, Annagry, who with another man went to Mr. Hanlon’s aid and managed to haul him out with ropes. The place where he was working is in close proximity to the ruins of the old fort’.
It is interesting to note that Mr Hanlon’s homestead was one of three remaining in what was once a clachan of ten dwellings. This clachan was immediately below the cashel and was recorded in its entirety in the Historic 6”map surveyed around 1835. It is believed that stones from the cashel were taken by its inhabitants during the plantation times, to erect a shelter in the form of a clachan directly below the site of interest. In an article in the then Derry People newspaper in 1951, Owen Gallagher told of the fort being in a half complete state in the mid eighteenth century during the lifetime of his great grandfather(8).
With the expansion from rural to urban living and commerce, there was a need for suitable building stone. Around the year 1880, development began which would eventually create a village below the cashel. The walls of the cashel were removed to provide for the building the village. The pinnacle of this destruction came when Fr. Daniel Sweeney C.C proposed to build a new church in the village in 1894. Ironic as it might seem, the observatory once used by the sun worshippers of pre-Christian times is now in the wall of very different religion.
In its heyday the Caiseal Anagaire must have been a spectacular site. The following passage, translated from the original Gaeilge version(9) tells of its size.
‘It was in the land of Lochlann that Mac Ancair Na Long, came to build his castle on the headland of Diarach by Annagry. He devoted a lot of his time to despoiling the communities around the coasts and drinking his heather ale, at intervals between forays, until eventually he was challenged and subdued. When his capture was inevitable he hid all his gold and other wealth in a fountain close to his keep and attempted to flee in one of his longships. The flight failed, all his followers were slain and his only son captured. The conquering chief promised him respite on condition that he would reveal the secret of the heather ale. He acceded to this stipulation but insisted that he would only do so if they would slay his son first. He told his captors that his life would not be worth living should the other Norsemen learn from the boy that he had given the secret away to the enemy. Father and son were taken to the roof of the castle and there before his father’s eyes the son was flung over the cliffs below. “My fair son” said the distraught man, “you were too young to be entrusted with the secret, but it is now locked away forever in your father’s heart”. He then flung himself over the precipice after his son’ (10).
The remains of the cashel have been overgrown with rough grasses, since the decline of crofting.
Due to ground cover, the site is not at risk of erosion at present and it has survived recent developments of more affluent times. As stated previously the site is in private hands, passed down through the generations. The site was subject to an archaeological assessment a number of years ago, when the local development committee had plans to develop a heritage walk taking in the cashel and the other sites in the immediate locality. Public access for all including the physically impaired, car parking space and public toilets was included in their proposals.
The internal diameter of the cashel measures 17m. The circular area is enclosed by a wide, but ruined stone wall. The interior area is level and a number of field boundaries cross the site.
Ground conditions are rocky and soil cover is poor. The rocky outcrop is localised mica schist in a general area of granite. This otherwise inhospitable environment is adorned by many plants species.
The site could have been existence since pre Christian times and adapted in medieval times as a safe haven for livestock. The fact that only locals and a few historians know of its existence and its relative remoteness protects it from human interference.
In its present state the site isn’t suitable for tourists. Certainly it could have tourist potential, but it is strongly advised that the site should not be interfered with until an inspection by a suitably qualified archaeologist.
There are a couple of other sites of interest within a 2 km radius of the cashel. One is a water mill on the western slopes of Annagary hill. This mill reputed to have ground the oats used to feed O’Donnell’s forces before the so called Battle of the Rosses in 1435. This mill is known to have been operated by the Patton family from the 1820s until the 1950s. The other is a turas path in the neighbouring townland of Meenderryowen dedicated to Naomh Dubhthach.
There are quite a number of forts within a 10 km radius of Caiseal Anagaire. Dún gCloiche in Cloughglass, Caiseal Úa Baoill in Dore (unrecorded), Dún Luiche in Dunlewey, An Dún in Loughanure, Caiseal Machaire Gathlán in Gweedore and others including An Dún Mór, recorded by the place name only. Traces of these forts have now vanished and Caiseal Anagaire, although reduced to its foundation, is the last remnant of medieval fortification in this area. It is imperative that this site is properly surveyed and made accessible to those interested.
Note* The old administrative name for the village of Anagaire (Gaelige) was Annagary, it is now known as Annagry. Throughout this article, it is be referred to as Anagaire, Annagary and Annagry where appropriate.
**Please note that this site is privately owned and prior permission is required to access it**
1Niall Ó Domhnaill, Na Glúnta Rossanacha, Baile Átha Cliath (1952), pp 77-81.
2Irish Historical Geology maps surveyed by Joseph Nolan, F.W. Egan and J.R. Kilroe, 1889.
3Earthen Banks and Broken Walls, our legacy of ancient monuments, (Department of the Environment and Local Government), information leaflet, (Dublin n.d).
4The Irish Landscape by Frank Mitchell, London, 1977, p168.
5Muiris O’Sullivan and Liam Downey, ‘Ringforts’ in Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 2007), p. 32.
6Logainm, (http://www.logainm.ie/ga/1414058) (22 May. 2015).
7Donegal News 20 Jan 1940.
8Donegal News 8 Sept 1951.
9Niall Ó Domhnaill, Na Glúnta Rossanacha, Baile Átha Cliath (1952), pp 74-5.
Donnelly, J. (ed.). Ruins: The conversation and repair of masonry ruins. Dublin 2010
Lacey, B. Archaeological Survey of County Donegal: A Description of the Field Antiquities of the County from the Mesolithic Period to the 17th century A.D. Donegal 1983
MacLaughlin, J. and Beattie, S. (eds.). An Historical, Environmental and Cultural Atlas of County Donegal. Cork 2013
Maguire, Canon. A History of the Diocese of Raphoe. Dublin 1920
Mitchell, F. The Irish Landscape. London 1977
Ó Domhnaill, N. Na Glúnta Rosannacha Baile Átha Cliath 1952
O’Sullivan, M. and Breen, C. Maritime Ireland: An archaeology of coastal communities Stroud 2007
Pitcher, W.S. and Berger, A.R. The Geology of Donegal: A study of Granite Emplacement and Unroofing London n.d
Donegal Annual (1953)
Archaeology Ireland (2013)
Written by Jimmy Duffy November 2015