A New Discovery
In Formoyle Beg townland, the top of the highest hill is enclosed by two circular earthen banks. Up until recent times the local farmers considered these banks to be part of the normal field layout. They were never thought to be anything special and every day activities such as turf cutting and cattle grazing were carried out. This area was also known as good ground for grouse and snipe because of its cover of blanket bog and heather.
But in 1995, Tom Condit, an archaeologist, while investigating aerial photographs for the North Munster Project, identified a possible hillfort at this site. The aim of the North Munster Project was to examine and interpret the late Bronze Age and later prehistoric archaeology of the lower River Shannon area.
1995 was a particularly hot and dry summer and very likely the monument was more visible due to these conditions – just like in 2017 when lots of new archaeology came to light as the ground conditions dried. This was especially the case around Newgrange, Co. Meath. We also remember 1995 for Clare’s great victory in the All-Ireland hurling competition.
Where is it?
The hillfort in Formoyle Beg is located 3.5km south-east of Broadford, 2km to the south-west of Kilbane and approximately 13.5 km to the north of Limerick City as the crow flies. It is 240meters above sea level and straddles the townlands of Formoyle Beg and Cloonyconry. If you are standing on this monument, you have a commanding view over the surrounding countryside.
To the north you have a view across to the Slieve Bernagh Mountains with the Glenomra Valley stretching from the east to west below you. Looking to the north-east you can see Kilbane Roman Catholic Church and village. The River Shannon, Arra and Galtee Mountains are in clear view to the east. South is Limerick city and county and the Shannon Estuary. Turning to the west the lake dotted plains of County Clare are in full view.
The elevation of this site above the surrounding landscape and the view it commands, suggest that this hillfort probably had a strategic role for controlling this territory when it was in use. There are a number of similar hillfort sites in this region and they may all have had a role in controlling access routes.
Following its discovery in 1995, Nick Hogan, another archaeologist, carried out a geophysical survey of the site in 2004. In 2012 Professor William O’Brien of University College, Cork excavated some of the site.
These studies tell us that Formoyle Beg hillfort was probably built approximately 3,500 years ago. Two circular earthen banks enclosed a large space of 6.4 hectares around the summit of the hill, the remains of which we can see today on the Formoyle Beg side. The builders dug out a ditch and threw up the soil to make the banks. On top of the banks they constructed a wooden fence of ‘light roundwood stakes’. However as no evidence was found of houses or people living here, we are still left with the question of why was this monument built and what was it used for?
Formoyle Beg Hillfort is now a recorded monument (No. CL044-085) on the Archaeological Survey of Ireland database compiled by the National Monuments Service.
What could it have been used for?
Studies of other similar hillforts of the same date in Ireland, indicate this type of monument could have been used for residency, assembly or ceremony. Imagine if you lived in this area around 3,500 years ago. Looking up at the hill, you would see the summit surrounded by high earthen banks toppled with a high fence. Someone of importance would have had to be responsible for its construction. It was very likely a powerful chieftain. At this time, cattle farming was very important and the chieftain needed to protect his stock and territory from enemy attack. The commanding view from the hillfort helped him to monitor routes into the area. In times of peace, the hillfort may have been used for gatherings of the local community, such as the ancient practice of ‘Aonach’ or fair, where great ceremonies were held.
The interest of archaeologists in this site is exciting for the living community that surrounds this ancient site. Their research brings to life over 3500 years of history in my local area. I and my community welcome and look forward to further investigation of this historical gem.
Sources of Information
Condit, T. 1995. Hillfort discoveries near Killaloe, Co. Clare. Archaeology Ireland 9 (1), 34-37.
Hogan, N.2004. Unpublished geophysical and GPS survey report: Formoyle Beg, Co. Clare. NUIG, Dept of Archaeology.
O’Brien, W. 2012. Unpublished excavation report: Formoyle Beg, Co. Clare. University College Cork, Dept of Archaeology.
Dr. William O’ Brien UCC: The Development of the Hill Fort in Prehistorical Ireland 2017 published paper and peer reviewed.
Formoyle Beg Bi-vallate Hill Fort: Sites and Monuments Record No CL044-085