Staigue fort is one of a number of stone forts, related to ringforts and cahers, which have defensive features shared with Dún Aonghasa on the Aran Islands, and with Doon Fort and the Grianán of Aileach in Donegal. A number of these impressive forts on the Ring of Kerry can be found at the western end of the Ring of Kerry, including Loher, Cahergal and Leacanabuile. Staigue fort appears as a circular, dry-stone enclosure wall or rampart, surrounded by a fosse and external bank, with a causeway forming the entrance to the fort. The walls were constructed using internal and external faces of roughly coursed dry-stone masonry enclosing a rubble and fill wall core. The walls show an external and internal batter, so that they walls taper from approximately 4m wide at the base to 2m at the top. The single drystone entrance passage has three lintels, with the external lintel relieved by another lintel one course above. The interior of the fort has two wall-chambers, and a series of characteristic X-shaped stairways leading to the top of the walls – a feature also seen in stone forts of Donegal.
Staigue fort was considered unique in the 19th nineteenth century, and the topographer Samuel Lewis devotes a lengthy description to it:
“It stands on a low hill nearly in the centre of an amphitheatre of barren mountains, open from the south to the bay of Kenmare, from which it is about a mile and a half distant. The building, which is nearly of a circular form, is constructed of the ordinary stone of the country, but bears no mark whatever of a tool, having been evidently erected before masonry became a regular art. The only entrance is by a doorway barely five feet high, through a wall upwards of 13 feet thick, which opens into an area of about 90 feet in diameter. The circumference is divided into a series of compartments of steps, or seats, ascending to the top of the surrounding wall, in the form of the letter X, and in two of these compartments are entrances to cells constructed in the centre of the wall. The average height of the wall on the outside is 18 feet, battering as it rises by a curve, which produces a very singular effect: the wall also batters on the inside, so as to be reduced from about 13 feet at the bottom to 7 at the top. On the outside the stones are small, and the joints are so filled with splinters of stone as not to be removed without violence. The fort is surrounded by a broad fosse. Various conjectures have been formed as to its origin and use, the most probable of which appears to be that it, was erected as a place of refuge for the inhabitants and their cattle from the sudden inroads of the pirates of former times”.
The interior of the caher is slightly raised, and was in used as a ceallúnach or children’s burial-ground, a testament to the high rate of infant mortality in the past in Kerry, a harsh reality compounded by a the stigma attached to unbaptised children, as until the 1960s it was not permissible to bury unbaptised infants in consecrated ground. These burial-grounds were also used for a wide range of other persons, including suicides, murder victims, people of unknown religion and shipwrecked sailors. Another, older site can be found quite close to the fort. A primitive copper mine can be found in the mountainside c.550m south-south-east of the fort:, a primitive copper-mine, appearing as an 8m wide and 1.6m high mine face. A 12m-long area of rock art is visible on a large outcrop about 800m south of Staigue fort, and about 100m east of a disused bridge.
This book focuses on one of Ireland’s most visited landscapes. The Ring of Kerry, one of our best-known tourist trails, is the largest peninsula and the most mountainous area in Ireland. The landscape is wild, dominated by mountain ranges cut by steep-sided valleys, cliffs, pockets, glens and narrow passes, a varied coast stretching from sandy bays at Ballinskelligs and Derrynane to high sea-cliffs and long sandy spits, and bogs found to the north and west of the mountains.
This diverse landscape contains a wide range of archaeological remains, which the author sets out to describe and explain. The sites described in this book lie along the Ring, ordered as if travelling in a clockwise direction from Cahersiveen to Killarney and circling the Iveragh Peninsula through Waterville, Sneem and Kenmare, providing a cross-section of the archaeological heritage of this part of Kerry and a useful guidebook for anyone travelling in the area.