Cahirvigliar Fort (Coppeen)


Coppeen and its surrounding areas hold a wealth of historical sites, monuments, information, and of unique archaeological features. The fort of Cahirvagliair is one of these unique sites. It is a bivallate ringfort and was one of the chief residences of the Cineál Laoighaire. It has been suggested that the name comes from the Fort of the Son of Laoighaire “Cathair Mhac Laoighaire” and may have been built around 1100  AD . The Cineal Laoighaire included clan Shelbhaig or Shelly from which the name of the territory Kilshallow derives. When Kilshallow was conquered by the O’Crowleys in the 13th century and later formed a recognised lordship in the 15th century it included the area of Coppeen which remained in O’Crowley hands until the early 17th century.

The style of masonry in the entrance can be compared with that found in early masonry churches except that no mortar was used. Features in common include the use of large dressed stones roughly coursed, the use of large thin stones placed on edge to give the impression of massiveness, and the plinth at the base of the wall. It was from these common features that archaeologists estimated the time period in which the fort was built to be within a century or two of 1000 AD. The arrangement of the banks and ditches suggest that the projecting entrance was an original feature of the fort, supporting this estimation.

During the excavation, no evidence of earlier entrances was found. As there is no causeway across the outer ditch leading to the entrance, it was thought that there may have been a wooden bridge there originally. The entrance is of course the main attraction and this statement was made about the site in ‘The Journal of Irish Archaeology':  ”It is difficult to find a parallel for this entrance in an earthen ringfort but lintelled entrances do occur in stone forts. Generally these entrances are different from Cahirvagliair in that the gate would not be part of a projecting structure, the stones would not normally be dressed and the passage would not be as long.”

It is within Cahirvagliar for that in 2016 four sept chietains were officially installed with the clan assembled, each with a heraldic flag.

By Michael-Patrick Crowley

Peter Crowley