Dún Aonghasa is the most famous of several prehistoric hill forts on the Aran Islands. It is located on the island of Inis Mór and is a semi circular stone fortm at the edge of a 300ft high cliff, which over looks the Atlantic with daunting and dramatic views that stretch the length of the Island. It is not known exactly when Dún Aonghasa was built, though it is now thought that most of the structures date from the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Excavations carried out in the 1990s indicated that people had been living at the hill top from c.1500 BC with the first walls and dwelling houses being erected c. 1100 BC. A remarkable network of defensive stones known as a Chevaux de Frise( c.700bc) surrounds the whole structure. Dun Aonghasa is deemed to be one of the best examples of its kind in Europe. Its name, meaning “Fort of Aonghas”, may refer to the pre-Christian god of the same name described in Irish mythology, or the mythical king, Aonghus mac Úmhór.
Unfortunately there is not to much currently known about this fort. It is a square fort called Cregboyne fort.
Uncovered due to the construction of the nearby M6 motorway, the excavation at Mackney ringfort found a long sequence of settlement and occupation activity at the site. The fort dates between the 8th and 17th century. A range of internal features also survived within the ringfort. It is believed that the fort was later used as a burial place as the excavations discovered 143 individual skeletons, primarily of infants under the age of six years, concentrated in the south-western arc of the ring fort ditch.
Located on Inisheer island, archaeologists have called this fort, Creggankeel Fort which derives from ‘Creagán Caol’ meaning ‘Narrow Outcrop’. The surrounding fields show a structure that is almost identical in form to a ringfort at Clogher in Co. Sligo. There are a number of blocked entrances in the wall that probably lead to the souterrains. The fort is also the location of the Cill na Seacht nIníon (The Chapel of the Seven Daughters), as later ecclesiastical structures were added to the fort.
Doocaher (Black Fort)
Dún Dúchathair or simply Dúchathair (anglicized Doocaher), meaning “black stone ringfort”, is a large stone fort on the island of Inis Mór. Due to erosion, it now sits on a rocky promontory that stretches out into the sea. The fort consists of a terraced walls, reaching 6 metres high and 5 metres wide. On the inside are the ruins of various rooms, possibly from Clocháns or Beehive huts. There is also evidence of a Chevaux de Frise protecting the entrance. Excavations have not been carried out on the fort so it’s exact dates cannot be given but it is thought to be possibly contemporary with Dún Aonghasa. It is understood that the name the Black Fort comes from the dark coloured limestone which is characteristic of this particular area on the island.
The Carrowmore ringforts consist of two small forts. They are an example of paired ringforts (as opposed to a single ring fort), which may reflect a smaller family groupings. Ringforts are enclosed settlements and date to between the mid-3rd century AD to the mid-14th century AD. They are also known as ráth, caiseal, cathair or caher and dún in the early Irish sources. Ringforts are traditionally regarded as farmsteads and were, in the caste system of the early medieval period, the home of a free man and his family at the centre of a mixed agricultural economy, which was dominated by cattle. They generally comprised of a raised area enclosed by a bank and outer fosse or ditch. They are usually circular, D-shaped or oval, with a single entrance. The typical ringfort would have enclosed one or more simple houses with outbuildings, made from upright wooden posts interlaced with wattle-and-daub panels.
At the Ballynastaig stone fort, lies what is known as a Souterrain. A souterrain (from French ‘sous terrain’, meaning “under ground”) is a name given by archaeologists to a type of underground structure associated mainly with the Iron Age. It is believed that they were used to store food or act as a hiding place during times of strife. At the Ballynastaig fort, there is a narrow alley way that leads to five steps which lead down into the souterrain. Once in the narrow doorway, the souterrain widens out to about 2.5 metres and stretches back for at least 7 metres. The roof is lintelled with tightly packed stone beams running width-wise. The manner in which the souterrain has stood the test of time, is testament to it’s builders.
Ballynastaig Stone Fort
The Ballynastaig stone fort consists of 2 metre high (in parts) walls which are now overgrown with grass and trees. The wall is missing in several places and so it is impossible to identify where the original entrance to the fort once was. Inside the fort, there are traces of building remains and a souterrain which is partially covered by some trees. The whole fortress is around 50 metres in diameter.