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Historical sites

This section covers a large variety of monuments and is basically anything that's not prehistoric, religious, a farm or a house! It has been divided into Fortified Sites, Mines, Schools, Ringforts and Other. Admittedly some ringforts may date from the prehistoric era but the majority are early Christian.

Ring forts

There are over 30,000 ringforts in Ireland and once you start looking they're everywhere! Usually placed on top of a hill, they are circular enclosures normally with a single bank and ditch. They were not forts in the true sense but protected farmsteads.  They mainly date from the early Christian period (500-1100 AD). Place names gives clues as to their construction:

Caisel/cashel..........drystone walls
Rath......................earth walls
Dun.......................large rath
Lios......................ditch filled with water

Known locally as fairy forts, they are traditionally thought to be the homes of the fairy people and all sorts of superstitions and stories are connected with them. This extract was written by Breda MacCarthy as part of the Folklore Commission for 1938 when all school children over the age of 11 were asked to interview a member of their family about their area:

There are many old forts scattered over the district, three within sight of each other.  Some people say they are inhabited by a mythical tribe generally styled fairies or 'the good people'.  But the more probable theory is that they were either built by the ancient Irish or the Danes ... A beautiful woman was often seen at daybreak singing in one of them and at sunset she would be visible ... a mile away exercising her vocal organs in another fort.

The fort which adjoins our farm is not very large... and is surrounded by a trench between eight and ten yards  wide which does not contain water.  It has never been interfered with within living memory and is overgrown with gorse and weeds.... My grandfather  is reputed to have seen a fairy a short distance from his home ... but whether she  proceeded fromt he fort or not has not been stated.'

Forts are protected structures and the first  successful court case was recently made against a farmer who ploughed out the fort in his field. He was heavily fined.

Lissareemig Ringfort
Gortalasa Ringfort
A general vie wof the circular interior
Caherurlagh Ringfort
Ardenenig Ringfort
Derrycluvane Ringfort
Lisualinagh, Rossnacaheragh
Brahalish, Ringfort
Brahalish ringfort
The banks of the hillfort
Glanlough Ringfort
Letter West ringfort
Fortified sites

Dotted around the landscape are the remains of West Cork's turbulent past. Having a large coastal area and being of strategic importance, many of the remains of fortified buildings are on the coast. The gaunt ruins of tower houses, built during the 15/16C  stare forlornly out to sea, stark remains of inter tribal feuding and defences against the English. With the threat of French invasion in the late 18C and early 19C a whole system of maritime defense was constructed, many signal towers, martello towers and batteries remaining from this time. During the two World Wars, Ireland remained technically neutral. The Coastal watch was set up in 1939 to guard against invasion and  look out posts were positioned often very close to signal towers and below them the words EIRE were written in stone to warn allied and enemy forces that they were approaching neutral territory.

Signal Towers

81 signal towers were built along the coast of Ireland between 1804 and 1806 as a direct response to the unsuccessful French invasion of 1796. They were part of a coast defence system that included martello towers and gun batteries. Towers were built to a similar design as older towerhouses - thick walls, two or three storeys high with a flat roof, a doorway above ground level, machicolations above the doorway used for throwing down projectiles and bartizans, small fortified turrets placed on the upper corners. 10 men, a military guard and a naval signal crew, were stationed in each one. Their  function was to signal information to naval vessels offshore and other towers, using a system of flags hoisted on a central signal post. Most were abandoned after the Napoleonic Wars.

Martello Towers

Around 50 of these circular gun towers were built between 1805 and 1815. They were squat towers with immensely thick walls - the ground floor contained  the powder magazine, ammunition and food and the first floor was the accommodation for the men.  A revolving circular gun platform was built on the flat roof. Most towers had one gun, but two or three was also possible. A shot furnace was built into the walls for heating 18-24 pounder shot  which was then fired when it was red hot and could set alight wooden ships.


These were large gun placements built to strengthen the defences of martello towers. Usually circular they often had huge deep dry moats and a a central garrison containing up to 40 men.

Lookout Posts & EIRE signs

In 1939 the Coastal Watch was set up. 82 lookout posts were erected, each site was numbered - Barlagan Point ,Louth was Number 1 and Inishowen, Donegal was number 82.  A small team of watchmen manned each site. At first they were accommodated in tents but then concrete pillboxes were erected. 6 windows gazed out seawards, their only comforts a small fire and a telephone. The men were also responsible for putting EIRE marker stones near their posts.



Eire sign, Sheep's Head
Eire sign
O Daly Castle, Farrananamanagh
Tower house
The Camp
World War 11 look out post
Signal Tower
McCarthy Castle, Rossmore
Tower house
Lord Bandon's Folly
Ornamental tower
Cul na Long, Gearhamines
Fortified house
Creameries, Churn stands, Butter Houses


During the early 20C the Creamery co-operative movement began. Farmers could arranged to have their milk  collected and taken to a local creamery. Here the milk was separated using an engine driven by turf or coal. The cream was then used to make butter and the skimmed milk was returned to the farmer for use a feed for livestock. Milk was originally collected from churn stands but by the early 1970s was collected directly from the farm by tankers. Creameries often also included a shop where basic provisions and farm supplies could be bought.


Churn Stands

Scattered around the countryside, just off the roadside, these rectangular stands are a reminder of the days when  farmers brought their churns of milk here to be either processed by a mobile creamery on the spot, or to be collected and taken to an established creamery. The stands are usually rectangular, with stone clad based and cement tops. Some have steps on one side.  This remained the main way of collecting farmers' milk until the 1970s/1980s when tankers visited the farms instead and collected milk directly, The information board at Dunbeacon Churn Stand describes the general process and history well:

This milk stand was built by local labour in the year 1950 to facilitate dairy farmers from the locality who wished to have their milk processed. Each day a mobile creamery travelled from Aughadown stopping at a number of similar milk stands along the way. The cream was separated from the milk which was taken away for production into butter and the by product 'skim' was returned to the farmers who fed it to their pigs or other farm animals.

In 1959 the process ceased and this stand became a collection point where milk was instead taken away in churns for processing in the local creamery.

The year 1986 brought about the end of this functional facility and milk is now collected by bulk tanks directly from the farmyard.

Milk churns replaced pails as a means of carrying milk and were originally made out of wood. Galvanised metal churns were introduced in the mid 19C from America. There were two types - a conical  churn which could hold 17 gallons and the mushroom headed churn, introduced in the 1930s, which could hold 10 gallons.  Each churn had the farmer's number on it and the milk supply was recorded.

Durrus Creamery
20C Creamery
Butter House, Ahakista
Churn stand, Rooska West
Dunbeacon Milk stand
Churn stand, Ahakista
Churn Stand, Glanlough


During the late 18C and early 19C educational opportunities were limited, especially for Roman Catholic children who were still penalised due to their faith. Hedge schools, as the name suggests, were set up in fairly basic surroundings and were the only form of schooling available to most children. The masters were often wandering poets or storytellers. Lord Palmerston, writing in the early 19C, described the situation on his estate in Sligo:

The thirst for education is so great that there are now three or four schools upon the estate. The people join in engaging some itinerant master; they run him up a miserable mud hut on the road side, and the boys pay hims half a crown or some five shillings a quarter. They are taught reading writing and arithmetic, and what, from the appearance of the establishment, no one would imagine, Latin and even Greek.

 In 1828, the Catholic Emancipation Act removed all obstacles to Catholic children receiving an unhindered education and in 1831 the National School System of Education was introduced. A sum of £30,000 was made available for the education of the poor. This was the first state funded education system in the English-speaking world. A Board was set up to fund the building of new schools all over Ireland whose function was: to pay for teachers' salaries; to instigate a comprehensive teacher training scheme and to develop a full inspection of these school. National schools were intended to be nondenominational – an early example of 'Educate Together', currently growing strength around the country. However, this idea was fiercely resisted by the different church groups and never fully realised. Church of Ireland schools seem to have remained outside the National School System until later in the nineteenth century and were funded by the Church Education society, founded in 1839.

Four National Schools still educate on the peninsula, but many of the original schools are now private homes.



Whiddy Island National School
Durrus School
Former schoolhouse
St James National School
Former national school
Sheep's Head National School
Caher School
Dunbeacon National School
Gortalassa National School
Abandoned copper mines