Irish Grid Reference: L 8180 0976. The ancient semi-circular shaped fort of Dún Aengus (Fort of Aonghasa), near Kilmurvey, is situated at the edge of a 330-foot high cliff overlooking Galway Bay on Inishmore (Inis More), which is one of the three Aran Islands, in west County Galway, Southern Ireland (The Republic of Ireland), and, is thought to date from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age – around 1,000 BCE, or maybe earlier. This spectacular cliff-top hill fortification or Cashel is the best known of all the prehistoric forts on the Aran Islands and is now an archaeological site of great interest. It was an ancient stronghold with some very serious defences: stone ramparts and dry-stone walling made of jagged, tooth-like upright slabs and blocks of Limestone – with the innermost ramparts enclosing an area of around 150 feet in diameter, but the whole site is said to cover 11 acres (6 hectares). Its strategic location on the cliff edge added to the security of the fort and would have allowed its defenders to ‘keep a look out’ for any would-be invaders from all directions, especially landward, but, also seaward too – the sheer cliff face making the hill-fort above unassailable and unattackable to anyone wanting to even attempt it. Dún Aengus ancient hill-fort is located nearly ½ a mile southeast of the village of Kilmurvey (Kilmurvy). The site is in the care of Heritage Ireland.
Treasures Of Britain (1968) tells us that: “The most spectacular of the Aran Islands’ many prehistoric monuments, this dra-matically sited drystone fort encloses nearly 11 acres. It has three rings of defense, the central one reinforced with a line of jagged limestone uprights. The innermost rampart encloses an area about 150 ft in diameter. There are three principal islands: Inishmore to the north-west, Inishmaan in the middle, and Inisheer to the south-east. On all three islands there are numerous early drystone forts…… The exact date of the great forts is unknown, but they are presumed to be of the Iron Age. INISHMORE, Kilronan, the principal town, is in Killeany Bay on the north-east coast. The major monument is the world-famous Dun Aengus, a huge drystone semicircular fort standing on the edge of a 300 ft cliff dropping sheer into the sea. To the north-west is Dun Onaght, a large ring-fort, also restored…… In the centre of the island, near the highest point, is Dun Oghil, a large stone ring-fort…… A mile and a half to the west is the promontory fort of Doocaher, also with a defensive line of spikes, and also restored, with clochans.”
Historic Britain (1956) says: “Research by archaeologists is discovering more and more information about prehistoric civili-zation in Scotland and Ireland. Dun Aengus in the Aran Islands, one of the many prehistoric forts of Ireland, encloses an area of eleven acres on the edge of the cliffs. The outer defences of this vast encampment are shown below (see photo, left). They consist of well-built dry-stone walls in the same tradition as the walls, for instance, of the dwelling places…… in the Orkney Islands.
The Rough Guide (1999) gives us some very useful information here, saying: “DÚN AENGUS AND THE FORTS: The most spectacular of Aran’s prehistoric sites is Inishmore’s fort of Dún Aengus (signposted from Kilmurvey, three-quarters of a mile), a massive semicircular ring fort of three concentric enclosures lodged on the edge of cliffs that plunge 300ft into the Atlantic. The inner citadel is a 20ft-high, 18ft-wide solid construction of precise blocks of grey stone, their symmetry echoing the almost geometric regularity of the land’s limestone pavementing and the bands of rock that form the cliffs. Standing on the ramparts you can see clearly the chevaux-de-frise outside the middle wall, a field bristling with lurching rocks like jagged teeth, designed to slow down any attack.
“The place is tremendously evocative, and it’s easy to understand how superstitions have survived on the islands long after their disappearance on the mainland. Visible west of the cliffs of Inishmore under certain meteorological conditions is the outline of what looks like a mountainous island. This is a mirage, a mythical island called Hy Brasil that features in ancient Aran stories as the island of the blessed, visited by saints and heroes. Until the sixteenth century Hy Brasil was actually marked on maps”.
Other hill-forts of interest in the area include: Dún Eoghanachta, 1 mile to the northwest, Dún Dúcathair (the Black Fort), 2 miles to the east, near Killeany, and Dún Eochla, 2 miles to the northeast, near Eochaill.
Reader’s Digest (1992) describes the site as: “Dun Aengus is a huge prehistoric cliff fort defended on the landward side by three semicircular rings of massive dry-stone battlements, and a broad band of vicious looking chevaux-de-frise, sharp, upended rocks placed in the ground to impede any enemy. The innermost enclosure is some 50 yards across.”
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Odhams, Historic Britain – Britain’s Heritage Of Famous Places And People Through The Ages, Odhams Books (Hamlyn), Feltham, Middlesex, 1956.
Reader’s Digest, Illustrated Guide To Ireland, Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1992.
The Rough Guide, Ireland, (Fifth Edition), Rough Guides Ltd., London, 1999.
The AA, Treasures Of Britain And Treasures Of Ireland, Drive Publications Limited, London, 1968.
And more info here: https://www.doolin2aranferries.com/blog/dun-aengus-fort-icon-aran-islands/
Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.