The O’Fogartys of Eliogarty

The O’Fogartys were a branch of the Dál gCais or Dalcassians, tracing their descent to a person named Ailghile (An Leabhar Muimhneach, p.307). The O’Fogartys took their surname from Fógarta, a grandson of Ailghile. Some early Norman documents suggest that the ancestors of the O‘Fogartys first settled in the parish of Drom and Inch. Before 1206, Theobald Walter (ancestor of the Butlers) granted one knight’s fee (i.e. a grant of land for which the grantee had to provide military service for the overlord) to Gilbert Cantwell (Gilbert de Kentwell), namely, the tuath of Kenelfenegille. From the description of its location, it embraced the parish of Drom and Inch (Calendar of Ormond Deeds, I-18). In 1303, this place is called the tuath of Knestneghille (Red Book of Ormond, p.71). Early Norman scribes had utmost difficulty in wrestling with the spelling of Irish place names. There is little doubt that Kenelfenegille (also spelt Kenelfenelgille) or Knestneghille are corrupt efforts to render the Irish name, Cenel n-Ailghile, that is, the race or tribe of Ailghile. Thus, these documents supply the first location of the O’Fogartys.

As they grew more powerful and extended their territory, however, the principal residence of the chief was located at Thurles, hence it got the name of Durlas O’Fogarty, the stronghold of O’Fogarty, or Durlas Éile Uí Fhógartaigh, O’Fogarty’s stronghold in Éile.

The Durlas was a stone-faced motte or fortification of massive proportions, rising to a height of 100 feet, with a spiral pathway leading from the base to the summit. It was still in existence in 1752, when Pocock visited the town and wrote a description of it, but before the end of that century it had been removed to make way for building operations. It occupied what is now the site of the car park in Parnell Street and its memory survives in the name Moat lane. The motte was guarded by two subsidiary fortifications – the fort in the townland of Grange which is now the largest surviving fort in the parish, and the fort, also of extensive proportions in Loughtagalla. This latter fort was partially excavated and investigated in 1970 by the Ancient Monuments section of the Office of Public Works.

Although the site lies within the area traditionally accepted as being the battlefield of Thurles no identifiable relics were recovered which could be associated with this encounter between Irish and Norman forces in 1174 A.D. (Bulletin of the Group for the Study of Irish Historical Settlement, No. 1., December 1970.

Excavation Report on this fort by J. Fanning is as follows:

During the month of August 1970 a limited excavation was undertaken on a ring-fort in the townland of Bowling Green on the outskirts of Thurles on lands which are intended for development in the near future.

The fort, which is roughly circular in appearance, is surrounded by a single bank and fosse. (Note : A fosse is a moat or a ditch dug as a fortification and usually filled with water).  It is quite large, with an interior diameter of some 50 metres and an overall diameter of about 70 metres. Situated on a ridge (O.D. 380) which runs northwards to the east of the town of Thurles the site commands a good view of the Suir valley.

In the course of the excavation a number of cuttings were made to determine the structural nature of the defences. These revealed traces of a substantial stone facing to the bank, particularly in the north eastern sector. Many of the stones found during the excavation of the fosse must have originally formed portion of this facing. The bank itself now almost levelled in places, was largely composed of soil obtained in digging the fosse.

On excavation, the interior of the ring-fort showed evidence of occupation in the Early Christian and Medieval periods. Post-holes and hearths, located in the central area, indicated that some form of house structure originally stood there. The finds, which came mainly from this sector, included a number of small iron knives, whetstones, bronze pins and some of the fosse and elsewhere on the site. Some of the finds e.g. the foot of a cast bronze skillet, can be dated to the 17th century when the bowling green, from which the townland name is derived, was flourishing. Of particular interest was the discovery, in the south eastern sector of a buried layer of soil nearly a metre deep in places which indicated that the original ground level in this are area had been deliberately raised to provide a level “platform” within the fort.

 

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