Some Archaeological Sites in the Carnaun School Area

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The Carnaun School catchment area provides a wealth of historical and prehistorical remains, many of which may not be well known to local people living in the area.  Thanks must be given to Professor Etienne Rynne, University College Galway, for his help and co-operation with providing a huge amount of very useful material. I also wish to thank Dr. Ton Clafffey of the C.B.S. in Tuam for his help, and Fr.  Martin Coen, C.C., Craughwell, but above all, thanks are due to Mr. Eamonn Cody, M.A., Archaeologist in the Ordnance Survey, whose Master’s thesis was an “Archaeological Survey of the Barony of Athenry”.


In the first map shown, there are the sites of four raths and five cashels, in near proximity to Carnaun School.  The term ringfort is a generic one applied to circular and sub-circular enclosures demarcated by one or more earthen banks with ditch or by a drystone rampart-like wall.  It is the most numerous monument-type in the country.  As stated, there are two types of these structures: those which are earthen built and those built entirely of stone.  The former are generally called raths and the latter cashels.

A ringfort was entered via a gap in the enclosure, usually at the eastern side, probably because of the prevailing westerly wind.  Excavations have shown that ringforts were farmsteads of family groups.  The foundations of wooden and/or stone houses and outhouses are usually found inside the enclosure.  Animal bones, parts of iron ploughs, sickles, quern stones and occasionally cereal remains at many excavated sites show the practice of a mixed farming economy carried out by the ringfort dwellers.  The main period of use of ringforts was from about 500 A.D.-1000 A.D., but some go back to shortly before the Birth of Christ and others up to about 1600 A.D. Their widespread construction was coincidental with a dramatic increase in agricultural activity which has been attributed to the introduction of the plough.

After their initial use as a dwelling place, the sites which remained were sometimes used as:

A. Burial places for children as in the cashel (No. 5), which is near the ruins of the castle (no. 12).

B. Hut sites: the sites were later used for the construction of hut-like structures.

C. Cultivation ridges: As the population rose during the mid 19th century, there was increased utilisation of the land which made it necessary to use the old sites as tillage.

The ringforts in the Carnaun area seem to have been of a larger size and more frequent than those in some other parts of the country.  The reason for this would seem to be environmental, in that the land in this area around Carnaun is well-drained and fertile.  One rarely finds ringforts in boggy areas or areas of alluvial deposits.  Clearly the ringfort builders sought dry land for their homes.

The building of a rath or a cashel seems to be largely determined by the environment.  The cashels in the Carnaun neighbourhood occur on or close to areas of karst which are, in large measure, lacking in earthen forts, i.e. cashels in stony areas and raths in areas of good soil where one could dig a ditch to throw up a bank.

Of the many raths in the Carnaun School area:

No. 1 is in William’s land, Carnaun towards the back of their house.

No. 2 is in Scott’s Wood, Carnaun (Rabbitt’s Wood).

No. 3 is in Moanbawn in Eamonn Brady’s land near the Carnaun road.

Cashels in the Area

No. 4 in Carnaun is known locally as a children’s burial ground.  The burial area of the cashel is rectangular in shape – 25m by 23 m, and filling most of the N. E. quadrant of the enclosure.  It is marked by a dense mass of small stones set on end in the ground and was used only for the interment of unbaptised infants.  There is no strict formal arrangement of these stones though they are tightly packed.

No. 5 in Kilskeagh is near the remains of a castle, has no visible entrance and is filled with rocks and stones.

No. 6 in Cahertymore: It is sub-circular.  The entrance is difficult to locate due to the undergrowth.

Medieval Moated Site

No. 7 a medieval moated site near the school in Carnaun is a rectangular earthen enclosure built by or under the influence of Anglo-Norman settlers.  They were used as homesteads and are dated to the 13th Century.

They consist of a bank and fosse enclosing a space which was sometimes raised above the level of the surrounding land.  It is thought that the fosse would have been filled with water.
The medieval moated site at Carnaun is slightly south-west of the School building and is of earthen construction.  The entrance is by a gap in the bank and a causeway across the fosse.  The enclosure measures internally 34 m by 34 m. Within it are the remains of a (later?) rectangular mortared stone-built structure.


No. 8 a Castle at Carnaun in Coen’s land.  This castle has been identified as a ‘convent’ on the O. S. maps.  It was named in a list of County Galway castles, dated 1574.  It stands on an easily defended hillock.  Very little of the building survives though the outer defences of the site are well preserved.  There may have been more than one building phase at this site.  The initial construction here may have been an Anglo-Norman ringwork castle and which, along with the more readily identified motte-and-bailey castles, were built by the Anglo-Normans during the early decades of their incursions into Ireland.

The castle at Carnaun, in land now owned by the Coen family, is almost totally demolished.  It stood on a flat-topped hillock, its western slope is long and gradual, but it is elsewhere relatively steep-sided.  The top of the hillock has been enclosed by the combination of a masonry curtain-wall and a drystone wall.  The hillock itself is enclosed by an outer defensive ring built at the general ground level of the locality about four metres lower than the hill top.  The entire space, oval in shape is 105m by 125m. There is an intermediate line of defence, a deep fosse dug in the hill slope just outside the inner enclosing wall.  At the eastern end of the masonry wall there is the remains of a turret.  Its ground floor, which is now completely grass grown and rubble filled, was lit by a narrow loop in two walls.  At the first floor level there are loops in three walls.  Just above these loops would have been a ceiling.  There are also 3 steps in this N.W. corner at this level.

The hilltop was enclosed by a drystone wall.  Within this enclosure there are no recognisable remains of buildings save for two short lengths of mortared walls.

There is an intermediate line of defence at the West, a deep fosse which is about lm outside and 11m to the inner wall.  It is about 20m long and is 2m deep.

The date of this well-defended castle site is uncertain but it may be that named “Cahernyre” and said to be in the possession of Tybbot Beg in the 1574 list of Galway Castles and owners.  The nature of the castle building is not known though its siting on an easily defended hillock suggests a concern with safety greater than that exhibited in the siting of the tower houses in the Barony.

No. 9 Castle in Moanbawn near Castle Lambert road.

No. 10 Kilskeagh Castle: This castle is in bad condition-the remains of only three walls are standing.  It originally belonged to Murrough MeSwine and is known locally as the “Witches’ Castle”.

No. 11 Ancient Roadway: There is a gap in the East side of the outer line of defence of Carnaun Castle.  It is 2m wide and opens onto an Ancient Roadway.  This runs for 135m to the north-east and now ends at the modern field boundary, though clearly it formerly went farther.  The roadway itself is 5m in width.  It seems that the roadway was built to give access to the castle, but it would seem unlikely that it dates from the earliest use of the castle.

Tower Houses

Tower Houses are the most numerous castle type in Ireland.  The towers are usually four or five and occasionally six stories high.  They were the fortified dwellings of local chieftains or lesser nobles and date to the 15th-17th Centuries, and mainly to the 16th.  The six tower houses in the Barony of Athenry are typical examples of the type.  They are built of rubble laid in mortar with dressed stone used for window and door fittings and corner stones.  The walls are battered externally to first floor level.

No. 12.  The four storey tower house at Castle Ellen has split vertically and only half the ground plan of each storey now survives.  It seems not to have been vaulted.  The floors were of timber and were carried in stone corbels.  No timber floors survive, but some of the corbels remain.  Entry to the tower house was gained at ground floor level, but the entrance to the tower house at Castle Ellen has been lost.  There are traces of two simple fireplaces at ground level and traces of another at the first floor.  Though the greatest part of the bawn wall at Castle Ellen is ruined, a short length adjacent to the tower is well preserved and contains an arched entrance, with above it, two superimposed rooms to which access was gained from the upper levels of the adjoining tower house.

Remains of Old Chapel

No. 13.  The rectangular dry-stone enclosure at the rear of Rabbitt’s house in Carnaun is said locally to be the remains of a chapel, but this claim cannot be confirmed.

Apart from this local information and the possible significance of its east-west orientation, there is no indication that this was a chapel.  The remains suggest that it is possible that they are those of a hut or cabin of uncertain antiquity which might have been used as a chapel.  If it were used as such, the condition of the structure would suggest that it was likely to have been during the 18th century when the anti-Catholic Penal Laws were in force.

Unclassified Structures

These are mostly circular, rectagular, oval or irregular spaces delineated by an earthen bank or stone wall.  The following are sites in our area.

Unclassified Stone Structure

No. 14 in Cahertymore North: The sub-circular enclosure at this site is in very poor condition.  It is surrounded by an inner bank of earth and a poorly defined outer bank.

No. 15 in Kilskeagh: A few traces remain here of a circular enclosure.

No. 16 in Coolarne: The enclosure here is in fairly good condition and incorporates an inner bank and ditch and is a moated site.


No. 17 Kilskeagh Church: Also called the Church of the Wooden Cross.  It is in a very poor state of repair and access is very difficult.  It is probably one of the oldest churches in the area.

No. 18 Kilskeagh Cemetery: The cemetery here, like the church, is probably the oldest in the area and people from all over the eastern side of the parish were buried here.  Only one graveslab can be located.  Other graves are identified by a stone standing at the head of each one.  Adults were buried here up to the 1930s.

Remains of old houses suggest that there was a village located nearby hundreds of years ago.

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About this record

Written by Frances Kelly

Published here 05 Feb 2021 and originally published 1991

Page 068 of the The Carnaun Centenary Book archive.

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