On our adventurous trip to Ireland, we came upon two stone forts near the town of Cahersiveen (CARE-HER-SAH-VEEN) along the Ring of Kerry.
The stone ring forts, Cahergall (CARE-HER-GAL) and Leacanabuaile (LACK-AN-NAH-BYOO-LAH) are two of the most well-preserved stone forts in the region. These types of structures have many names to describe them, such as stone fort, stone ring fort, ringfort, and fairy fort.
Origin of Irish Stone Forts of Cahersiveen
The following video highlights the uniqueness of these Irish Stone Forts
Although no specific dates are established for the construction of these forts, iron artifacts suggest they were likely built by early Christian settlers sometime between 600 and 900 AD. Stone forts were a step up from the typical earthen ring forts, and most likely built to protect farmsteads of well-to-do landowners.
The partially reconstructed Leacanbuaile stone fort sits high on a rocky hill, with an inside diameter of 21 metres (70 feet) and 3 metre (10 metre) thick walls. It is protected on three sides by steep slopes. Several interior walls are present, representing different rooms. There is also an apparent entrance to a tunnel that once led outside the fort, (possibly an escape route).
A short walk away, the fully reconstructed Cahergall ring fort is a formidable sight, with a diameter of 25 metres (82 feet), wall heights up to 6 metres (20 feet) and a 5 metre (15 feet) wall thickness. Multiple sets of steps constructed into the tiered wall allows easy access to the top of the wall and the astounding views of the surrounding landscape.Within the fort lies a small circular fort.
Enough of the actual history and descriptions. Let’s get into the soap opera lore surrounding these stone forts.
A Tragic Ringfort Romance
This rather tall tale of Irish tragic romance, connects one of the most famous historical Irish folk heroes with the stone forts of Cahersiveen. Are you intrigued?
The town of Cahersiveen, is also spelled Cathair Saidhbhin. Stay with me here.
Cathair means ‘ring fort’, and Saidhbhin means ‘little Sadhbh’. In other words, the ‘ring fort of little Sadhbh’
Sadhbh (SIVE) was a beautiful young lady who rebuffed the advances of Fer Doirich (FEAR-DOOR-EEH), a wicked Druid sorcerer. He became so enraged, he turned Sadhbh into a deer.
Dear Oh Deer
Soon after, Sadhbh came to learn from a reliable source that the spell could be broken if she managed to get into one of the stone ring forts. Now the dwellers of these ring forts were a group of warriors known as Fianna. Sadhbh spent the next three years miraculously evading predators and hunters as she searched for the Fianna.
Ironically, those she was trying to find were skilled hunters. This could get interesting!
Soap Opera Saga – Meet Finn MacCool
The fateful day came when two large hunting dogs surprised Sadhbh in the forest. With no way escape, she was at the mercy of the hounds. Now one would expect the rather large dogs to immediately trap or kill Sadhbh.
However, in the soap opera world of Irish lore, the dogs instead lay down beside the fawn to protect her from other hunters. You see, they recognized she was no ordinary deer. Truth be told, they were no ordinary dogs themselves. Their mother was once human before being turned into a hound. (What’s with all these animal related curses?)
The two hounds continued to protect the deer as their master caught up to them. He was none other than the famous Irish folk hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill (better known in some parts as Finn MacCool).
Fionn just happened to be the leader of the Fianna warriors, exactly who Sadhbh was seeking. Now Fionn, taking heed of his dogs’ peculiar behaviour, decided to take Sadhbh back to his stone ring fort home.
What a Fort-Night
As soon as they crossed the stone fort’s threshold, Sadhbh turned back into a beautiful woman. Fionn and Sadhbh fell madly in love (and particularly in lust for awhile). Their amorous relationship resulted in Sahbh getting pregnant.
All was going so well. Then right in line with a good soap opera, bad news arrived. The Vikings were invading Kerry, so Fionn had to leave Sadhbh to lead his Fianna warriors into battle.
Deja Vu at the Ring of Stone
A few days had passed when Sadhbh saw Fionn and his dogs returning home. She was so excited and ran out from the fort to greet him. As she approached, the image of Fionn transformed into the spiteful sorcerer Fer Doirich (you know, the one she had previously rejected). He ruthlessly turned Sadhbh back into a deer with his dastardly magical skills. To her utter dismay, she remained a deer even when back in the stone fort. In total despair and terror, Sadhbh fled into the forest.
The Long Search
After several days of battle, Fionn returned home to find Sadhbh missing. Completely heartbroken, Fionn spent the following seven years searching for his love.
One day during the long search, Fionn’s two dogs came across a young boy and lay beside him (sound familiar?). The lad could not speak, but Fionn recognized his features were of his lost love, Sahbh. He took the boy back home to take care of him.
As the boy learned to speak over several months, he told Fionn how he had been raised in the forest by a kind and loving deer. Fionn now knew this was his son and named him Oisín (O-SHEEN), meaning ‘young deer’.
Sadhbh was never seen or heard of again.
Although it is unclear if either Cahergall or Leacanabuaile were the actual stone fort in this story, they are the only remaining stone forts around the town Cahersiveen – “Sadhbh’s Ring Fort”.
Any interesting fables learned during your travels?
Great story! 🙂
On our “RailTrailsRoadTrip” last year we encountered 2 tales:
– the story of Nacoochee and Sautee, which we learned about when we stayed in Helen/GA [https://wp.me/p4uPk8-1sO]
– the story of Jump-Off Rock in Hendersonville/NC [https://wp.me/p4uPk8-1xM]
I’ll check out your posts. I’m quite intrigued about “Jump-Off Rock”. These names just don’t come along by accident!😊
You’re most welcome! 🙂 Both are kind of romantic “heart-rending” stories.
Beyond dazzling Sue. The beauty of this place is rarely rivaled.
The green-ness of Ireland can not be understated! Combine that with these stone ring forts, and I agree that it’s tough to rival.
Oh my what a story! Great post and it reminded me of your 14 day tour posting …very handy since I’m planning my annual trip with my two (now 15 year old!) granddaughters and you provide great tips.
Thanks so much Carol! Yes, a great location to explore when touring the Ring of Kerry! All the best in your planning and travelling with your granddaughters. What a special experience it will be for all of you!
Love this post. I think it’s mind boggling to realize that human beings created these structures so long ago and here they stand today for us to wonder about. My understanding of these Irish soap opera stories is that they are allegories for soul experiences. I think it’s intriguing to think about the consciousness of these long-ago people and why they passed these stories down through the ages.
I’ve never been to Ireland, but hope to one day. Your video and photos are inviting indeed 😉
Thanks so much Wendy. I too am amazed at the integrity of these stone forts’ structures! i can’t even begin to imagine the amount of labour that went into constructing these forts with 10 to 15 feet thick walls. Incredible.
And the stories, – amazing how intricate and intertwined the stories are with all the magic and giants and fairies and trickery and on and on. One theory I read is many of the stories were created to handle pre-Christian myths and lore with the ‘new’ Christian beliefs that had swept through Ireland. Anything pre-Christian became ‘magical’, but not ‘miraculous’ as that would infringe on Christian beliefs. That way, old stories and myths would not be forgotten, just altered somewhat.
That theory makes so much sense. I love them at any rate 🙂
I love these old folktales and this was a good one. Many First Nations stories are about people being changed into animals. Perhaps our connection to animals is stronger than we think. Thanks, Dave for an entertaining post.
Yes, it is interesting how through history societies have connected to the animal world in such a unique way.
What a great story Dave. And so very Irish!
Thanks Alison. So true, you can’t say the Irish don’t have good story telling capabilities!
This was quite an interesting fable, and one that speaks of one of stories behind these two magnificent stone forts. These forts seem massive and span quite an area. Probably took a while for them to be build back in the day. Also looks very quite and peaceful in this part of the world. Thanks for sharing, Dave 🙂
Thank you Mabel. I too thought about the length of time and workload it must have taken to construct these massive forts about 1100 to 1400 years ago! The landscape is stunning and yes, very peaceful. Very few other people were visiting these sites while we were there.
What a great story! We will be on the Ring of Kerry in September, so we will be sure to visit these forts and watch for deer! 🙂
Thanks Jim and Diana,
You won’t be disappointed by these forts. There is another stone fort on the other side of the ring of Kerry called Staigue Stone Fort. We did catch a photo of this one but didn’t visit it. We thought 2 out of 3 wasn’t so bad :). Oh, and also watch out for leprechauns! 🙂
That’s quite a tale! (Tail?) 😉 One of these days I’d like to read up on Irish folk tales – there are so many! Those forts are amazing, too. I can only imagine the time and labour that went into them; and I always wonder whether they kept their residents safe in the end or not!
Thanks Diane (and nice play on words!). Yes, it must have taken an enormous amount of effort to construct these forts. I am curious as to how many people were involved. Was it a community effort, hired labour, or just VERY large Irish families? It isn’t quite clear how these forts functioned, how many people lived in them, and how mant attacks they needed to defend. I guess we’ll just have to use our imaginations!
What a sad story. These structures are so amazing and it’s hard to imagine the hard work that went into building them.
These structures are definitely amazing and truly is astounding to think of the effort that went in to building them. Yes, some of the folklore out there is a bit on the sorrowful side.
It’s always nice to read about the stories of places built many centuries ago, and what made this post even more interesting to me is the fact that Ireland is not on the radar of most Indonesians, hence the lack of discussions about places like these stone forts. What I also find intriguing is the similarities between Irish and Indonesian folk tales, most notably in this case is the animal related curses.
Yes, it is so interesting that the human to animal transformation stories are so universal. It is truly fascinating how different societies go forward to building structures that can withstand the time.
You asked “What’s with all these animal related curses?” I don’t know, but I can tell you my wife believes in them. She’s always telling me that, since we got married, I’ve turned into a pig! Anyway, I loved the history lesson. But what intrigues me is the building of the forts and how the rocks might have been transported to the sites. Any info on that?
OK Paul, you really cracked me up on that one! Good to learn your wife is such a true believer! Wonder what she would think you are if she didn’t believe in animal transformations!
The area where these stone forts are built are located near the very rocky coastline, and at least one of them is on a solid rock foundation. Over the centuries there have been excavations of slate from outcrop seams around the region. My guess is that an outcrop of slate was relatively close to these forts.
Loved the folk tale, Dave….the rings are so beautiful as is the countryside. Great post, sir!!
Thanks so much Kirt! Yes, such a beautiful and relatively quite part of the world!
So interesting to read the folk tales that go along with sites. I always love a good handmade stone wall and these look exceptional. I didn’t really comprehend the size and how large they actually are, until the last photograph. I particularly like the photo which shows the grass growing atop the circles.
Thanks so much Peta. I too love a good story to go with whatever we’re discovering! You know these forts have been around awhile with the thick soft grass growing on them. Mind you, in Ireland, it is pretty standard that everything has some green on it!
what a story! but a sad one 🙂
Yes, one are those heart-wrenching fables!
Wow, that’s quite the story, Dave. You had me on the edge of my seat. I’m not sure whether to call the fable happy ending or sad ending. But, I can say those stone forts look magnificent. Parts of them remind me of an arena. I had no idea of their existence and would love to visit them in Ireland one day.
Definitely a place to visit when in Ireland. The Ring of Kerry is one of those ‘must-dos’ when in Ireland, so visiting these forts is a nice touch to the day!
Apparently the son Oisin, became famous in his own right as a poet and writer of Irish stories, so this story has somewhat of a silver lining in the sad ending.
Fascinating and beautiful places! I’m awed by how each stone would have had to be separately laid to build each structure. Love the story! What can I say? Those Irish sure know how to weave a tale! LOL!
It truly is incredible how much work would have gone into the building of these forts. Perhaps the builders came up with the stories to make the time of hard labour seem faster!
Really enjoyed this look at the stone forts, Dave, and the history in its many forms. Great photos giving good size perspective, beautiful Irish emerald grass carpets. Loved the video with its jaunty Irish music, and liked seeing the beautiful stone work up close. Always a joy to share the adventure with you and Sue, thank you.
Thanks so much Jet. It was quite surprising to realize the size of these forts once up close. Amazing construction! I was also truly amazed at how green Ireland really is!
I love how we can learn from each other’s experiences!
Fascinating structure, aren’t they? Thanks so much for sharing, Dave. 🙂 🙂 Happy travels!
Thanks Johanna! They truly are incredible structures. So unique in a land sprinkled with castles.
Love, love, love the fable although it is sad that Sahbh never found her way back to the ring fort. Evil sorcerers suck 😡. The forts are truly an engineering marvel and are in such pristine condition. As I said on the YouTube Channel, the film was masterful. I would love to create something as perfect someday. And all the green screams “Ireland” !!! Beautiful.