Creggankeel Fort is a remarkable archaeological site on the eastern part of Inis Oírr (Inisheer), the smallest of the Aran Islands in County Galway. It consists of two main features: a stone fort (or cashel) that dates back to the Iron Age, and a later Christian site known as the Grave of the Seven Daughters (or Cill na Seacht nIníon).
The stone fort at Creggankeel derives its name from the Irish creagáin chaoil, meaning “narrow stony place”. It is one of several stone forts that are found on the Aran Islands and in other parts of Ireland. These forts are circular or oval enclosures surrounded by massive drystone walls that were built without mortar. They were mostly constructed after the 1st century BC, and served as defensive structures or residences for local chieftains and their followers.
The fort at Creggankeel is formed by two square walls that enclose an area of about 30 by 25 metres. The walls are about 3 metres thick and 2 metres high, and have several entrances and passages that may have led to underground chambers or souterrains. The walls were reused in the 15th century as part of the outer walls of O’Brien’s Castle, a medieval tower house that stands nearby.
The fort also contains a cross-inscribed pillar-stone that may indicate a Christian presence or influence at the site. The cross is carved in a simple style with straight arms and a circular centre. It is similar to other early Christian crosses found on the Aran Islands and elsewhere in Ireland.
The Grave of the Seven Daughters is a later addition to the fort, dating from the 5th or 6th century AD. It is an early Christian site associated with the female saint Moninne, who was also known as Darerca or Blinne. According to legend, she was one of seven daughters of a king of Leinster who renounced their worldly possessions and devoted themselves to God. They travelled to different parts of Ireland, founding monasteries and churches along the way. Moninne settled on Inisheer, where she established a community of nuns and built a church within the stone fort. She died there around 518 AD, and was buried with her six sisters in a graveyard that came to be known as Cill na Seacht nIníon, or the Chapel of the Seven Daughters.
The graveyard is located in the south-eastern corner of the fort, and consists of an incomplete circuit of a cashel that encloses an area of about 15 by 10 metres. The cashel has several niches or recesses in its walls that may have served as sleeping places for the nuns or pilgrims. There are also several stone slabs or graveslabs that mark the burial places of Moninne and her sisters. One of these slabs has a cross inscribed on it, similar to the one on the pillar-stone. A bronze replica of this cross can be seen at the entrance to the graveyard.
The graveyard also contains the foundations of other buildings that may have been part of Moninne’s church or monastery. These include a rectangular structure with an east-west orientation that may have been an oratory or chapel, and a circular structure that may have been a beehive hut or clochán. These buildings are typical of early Irish monastic architecture, and show the influence of Roman and Byzantine styles.
Nearby, there is another structure that resembles a ringfort or rath, which is similar to one seen at Cashelmore (Clogher) in County Sligo. This structure may have been used as a farmstead or settlement by the monastic community or by later inhabitants of the island.
Creggankeel Fort is a fascinating site that showcases two different aspects of Irish history and culture: the pre-Christian era of stone forts and chieftains, and the early Christian era of saints and monasteries. It also reveals how these aspects were intertwined and influenced each other over time. The fort is a National Monument of Ireland, and is open to the public. It is well worth a visit for anyone interested in exploring the heritage and beauty of Inisheer Island.
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