West Inishowen’s machu Pichhu

On November 26, 2017 by admin

View of Lough Swilly from the rath


On Sunday last, a few WIH&HS members set out to rediscover one of West Inishowen’s most important promontory forts at Gollan Hill. After a long trek they were rewarded with finding this important rath and with the fantastic views from its elevated position. So spectacular were these views that John Mc Ginley aptly described the rath as being like Machu Picchu, Peru so hence the title. However, this world famous mountain citadel was built in the 15th Century whereas the rath on Gollan Hill dates back to the Iron Age.

The impetus for this field trip was unpublished information discovered by those members of WIH&HS who continue to archive the Mabel Colhoun Collection for the Tower Museum in Derry. It gives information about the possible origins to this hilltop fort. She refers to the fort as a “lis” and purports that this is the origin to the name of the townland Lisfannon.

Remains of Rath on top of Gollan Hill


The natural rock precipices serve as natural protection/defences and by the NW side there appears to have been an artificial (built) rampart. The interior is described as rough and levelled. There would have been structures of stone or wood erected by the inhabitants. Although there are traces of stone buildings, Mabel doubted that they would be contemporary with the fort.

She quotes W.J. Doherty’s (of Fahan, 1881) reference to Vallancy who describes a rath and fortress of great antiquity atop this hill. He also states that this was the “principal residence of the Northern Kings of Ulster”. Doherty also refers to the area where ferries used to depart to Rathmullan as Rhinn-na-Rath or the promontory of the rath or fortress. This is reportedly the origins of the name of the local hotel “Roneragh House” (now closed). In her book, “The Heritage of Inishowen – Its Archaeology, History and Folklore” (1995), Mabel, also quotes from the extensive work of Andrew Spence. This can be found in “Antiquities of Fahan”, Ulster Journal of Archaeology.

The rath overlooks Barnes Gap to the north. This strategic position would have been very important in guarding this natural gateway into the valley or “bosom” of Fahan and further, by possible invaders or marauders.

Some of our intrepid members.

Barnes Gap is known locally as “Davy’s Gap” or “The Minister’s Gap”. This would have been a “bridle path” on the main route from Derry to Buncrana and it dates back to the 19th century. Around this time, Rev. David Hamilton, as minister of Fahan, used to ride through this gap on his ministerial rounds, there being no parish church in Buncrana. There is a “Friar’s grave in the middle of this gap with a “Holy” well situated nearby. Mabel states that it is difficult to know who is buried here. She suggests that it could be a friar of the Middle Ages who would have used the route going from Fahan Abbey to Carrowmore Monastery near Carndonagh. She proposes that being buried so near a “Holy Well” would have been of great solace to him.

Examining the remnants of the original walls of the Rath.

The region around Fahan/ Lisfannon hosts a myriad of archaeological sites including other “holy” wells, cairns, souterrains etc. It is quite evident that this area is of great importance when it has attracted the attention of so many people in the past e.g. Mabel Colhoun, Spence, W.J.Doherty and Vallancy. Hopefully, in the future, WIH&HS members will continue with their research into this area prevail in rediscovering the recorded sites of these prominent historians and possibly discover other archaeological sites that would have eluded them in the past.



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