• Ali Isaac

knockdrum ring fort & the gurranes, Co. Cork

Updated: Mar 16

My first road trip after the easing of lockdown restrictions was to Skibbereen in west Cork at the beginning of August. While I was there, I visited the impressive Drombeg Stone Circle, and on my way home, a site I had always wanted to experience, Dunamase Castle.

find out more about drombeg stone circle

read my post on the rock of dunamase

But today, I want to introduce you to two other ancient sites I also was fortunate enough to visit on my little sojourn to Cork: Knockdrum Fort, and the nearby Gurranes, or Three Fingers.

It was a glorious, hot sunny day. I parked in the deserted church car park opposite the National school, and walked along the road till I found the lane which was signposted to Knockdrum fort.

When you get to the stone steps, you know you are in the right place. Take a deep breath, because there are 99 of them... although both up and down, I only counted 97. But maths was never my strong point! Also, I am easily distracted by beautiful plants, scenery, and big skies.

On ascending, your progress is immediately halted by a large stone wall. This is the wall of the fort itself. The path skirts the wall to the left and leads you to a very narrow entrance. As you pass through this tiny, oppressive space, you will see a room within the wall to your right, supposedly a guard's room.

On your left, just inside the entrance is a standing stone, inscribed on both surfaces with crosses, one a Greek cross, the other more weathered and less clear. I put my fingers next to the crosses to help guide you to where they are in the images.

Knockdrum has been granted national monument status and so has been taken into the care of the OPW. It is a circular ring fort c. 29m in diameter with walls 3m thick and up to 2m high. It is quite a substantial structure, and once inside you get the feeling it was certainly built for defence. Inside, there are the remains of a rectangular building, and a souterrain which is stone lined at the entrance, but appears to be cut out of the bedrock. This souterrain was apparently excavated in 1930, and is said to comprise three chambers, one with a funnel shaped chimney to the surface, which seems unusual to me. It is now sealed by an iron gate.

It is not known who built this impressive stone fort, or when. I'm sure there are stories circulating in the local community, but on the day I visited the church and school were closed, and there was no one around. I would love to know more, but information is unusually and disappointingly scarce.

The presence of the standing stone with its christian motifs is not the only unusual or intriguing feature of this site. Just outside the entrance is a large boulder with a flat surface in which are inscribed several cup marks.

Most ring forts can be dated to the Iron Age, or early Medieval period in Ireland. This site is unusual in that it is associated with both pagan symbols - the flat boulder with stone art and cup marks - and christian symbols - the crosses carved into the standing stone. Are these authentic connections, or are they interferences from well-meaning landowners or antiquarians?

Finola and Robert, archaeologists who live in west Cork and who specialise in the archaeological structures of the area, discuss these questions on their website, Roaringwater Journal, and I urge you to follow the link to find out more about this wonderful and mysterious site.

to find out more about knockdrum fort and the intriguing cup marked stone and solar alignments please read finola and robert's post on the roaringwater journal

I fell in love with Knockdrum for its air of mystery, and its fine views. How inspirational it must have been to live here, and if you think ancient people would not have cared for things like fine views and remoteness and big skies and beautiful nature, why did they always pick the most spectacular locations to build their monuments? If there is one thing you have learned from following this blog, I hope it is a sense that the people of the past were not primitive savages, but sophisticated, knowledgeable, complex people finely tuned to the land around them, and all that lived in it.

As I turned away and reluctantly began my return to reality, I noticed something sticking up off the ridge across the road, just in view below the telephone wires - the Gurranes! I had all but forgotten them. I passed 5 gates on the fields around them all with massive 'DO NOT TRESPASS' signs on them. Clearly, the landowner did not welcome my presence, and I was forced to concede that my west Cork adventures were over for the day.

The Gurranes, or Three Fingers, are all that remain of a five stone row, the tallest of which reaches 4m in hight. Although they don't look too exciting in my photos, in reality, they dominated the skyline.

fortunately, Ken Williams of shadows and stones.com was able to get close to the stones and took these absolutely stunning photos of them.