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Reencaheragh: a fort with monastic views

Reencaheragh: a fort with monastic views

Introduction

Boats leaving Portmagee taking passengers to the Skelligs pass by Reencaheragh Castle on the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. CHERISH began studying the site because it is being actively eroded by the sea and our research has also revealed the importance of the site’s location and its’ multi-period occupation by high ranking families with links to Spain. We are very grateful to the landowner who gave us permission to survey the site in April 2018.

The castle is built on an earlier promontory fort at Doon Point near the western entrance to Portmagee Channel. The exposed fort has views to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael, and the early monastic site on Long Island lies only 300m to its north. Its’ beautiful coastal location means it is particularly exposed to impacts of climate change, and its erosion is gradually turning this promontory into another island. The CHERISH Project has been recording this site to monitor the rate and extent of change to this site. The record of this site was used to create a 3D model which you can use to take a virtual tour of the site.

Reencaheragh means the headland of the stone fort. The promontory fort projects 190m into the sea and a stone wall was constructed at the point where the promontory connects with the mainland (No. 4 in 3D model). This wall was probably constructed in the early medieval period and the team noticed similar construction to circular cashels such as at Cahergall near Cahersiveen, and Dunbeg on the Dingle Peninsula to the north would have had a similarly straight stone embankment before 19th century repairs (See our Dunbeg blog). The O’Falveys ruled what is today the Iveragh peninsula during the early medieval period and it was part of the regional kingdom of Corca Dhuibhne. This large strategic site in an area of farmland and marine resources suggests occupation by important families.

History of Reencaheragh

Today, the entrance to the promontory fort it is defended by the stone wall and a gatehouse (No. 1 in 3D model). In the 13th century, the MacCarthys and their relatives the O’Sullivans dominated the Iveragh Peninsula. The O’Sullivans had a branch called the MacCrohans, who ruled the area of Reencaheragh. It was probably during their ownership that the gatehouse was built and the stone wall pointed. A castle has been recorded on the site since 1576, during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, when it was called Ryncaharragh. The entrance in the stone wall beside the gatehouse may have been the original entrance.

Aerial view of the site in which you can see the stone wall and the gatehouse which defend the promontory fort
Aerial view of the site in which you can see the stone wall and the gatehouse which defend the promontory fort

The gatehouse which is rectangular in plan (6.75m E-W x 4.3m N-S) was originally two storeys in height. It is accessed through an arched entrance which the Archaeological Survey of Ireland’s record suggests was rebuilt a later date. The entrance lobby is roofed at the north end only by a pair of slabs. On either side of the entrance lobby are two intra-mural chambers (or chambers created in the thickness of the wall). The chamber on the west side contains the staircase while that on the west is roofed with lintels. Both chambers have windows or loops in the N wall, which allow light into the chambers. The staircase give access to the first floor chamber.

Shaded point cloud image of the laser scan survey carried out of the Gatehouse at Reencaheragh
Shaded point cloud image of the laser scan survey carried out of the Gatehouse at Reencaheragh

Inside the fort is a rectangular mound that may have been a house (No. 3 in 3D model). Another possible house is located to the east of the gatehouse where there is a row of upright stones. Our survey found evidence of where boats landed on the beach on the north side of the fort. Here, large stones had been removed  to make a passage where boats could easily be launched without damaging them. Further north on the next promontory were two intriguing low cairns. From here we looked longingly over the narrow channel to Long Island, where we could see the eroding ecclesiastical enclosure and wished we had time to get there – maybe next time!

The erosion of the connection between the promontory and the mainland is clearly visible in this aerial image
The erosion of the connection between the promontory and the mainland is clearly visible in this aerial image

Feelings of yearning for Reencaheragh could also be seen in the records of the inhabitants. Many O’Sullivan family leaders emigrated to Spain during the 17th century. In 1660, Charles II granted Reencaheragh to Trinity College Dublin. Tenant farmers paid rent to Trinity until 1913. Murragh O’Connor’s poem in 1719 indicates his exile from Reencaheragh:

Our Irish veins are filled with blood of kings
But I alas, can no such honour’s boast,
Since sweet Rhincarah, dear Ivrah is lost,
My blood runs low, I’m poor and in disgrace,
And dare not own I’m of Milesian race.

'A Kerry Pastoral' written in 1719 by Murragh O' Connor

References

King, J. (1911) History of Kerry Part V: The Kerry Bards. Easons and Sons, Dublin.

MacCotter, P. and J. Sheehan (2009) Medieval Iveragh: Kingdoms and Dynasties. In, J. Crowley & J. Sheehan (eds), The Iveragh Peninsula: A Cultural Atlas of the Ring of Kerry. Cork University Press.

Westropp, T. (1912) Notes on the Promontory Forts and Similar Structures of County Kerry. Part V. Iveragh (Valencia to Sr. Finan’s Bay) The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 2, No. 4, pp. 285-324

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