Description of “cave” at Greenan Hill from 1838

At the base of the hill are several remarkable caves; which are considered by some antiquaries as associated with the ancient relies on the summit. Indeed, such occur in all parts of Ireland. Mr. Croker states that, in a circle of four miles ” round Garranes,” in the county of Cork, there are no fewer than thirteen of these “circular intrenchments :” and he considers it ” probable that these works were thrown up by the native Irish around their little wigwam settlements, as a defence against any sudden attack from an enemy or from wolves, and that subterranean chambers or cellars were formed for granaries, or as secure depositories in time of danger for their rude property*.”

* The Cave at the base of Greenan Hill is now blocked up ; but we obtained some account of it from a gentleman—Andrew  Ferguson, Esq., of Burt—by whom it was examined in 1838. It was known to be situated in a field forming part of the farm of John Alison, in the town-land of Speenogue, and parish of Burt. It had been closed since A. D. 1785, in which year Mr. Ferguson recollected his having explored the several apartments. It was then discovered by a boy engaged in digging potatoes, whose spade forced itself between two of the flags which form the roof of the “cave.” It remained open at that time for a few months, when it was again closed up by the then occupier of the farm. The only person alive (in 1838) who had any idea of the exact locality of the building, was an old man, named William Dunn, who had lost his sight in early youth, but who remembered to have heard from his brother, that the subterraneous building was situated nearly opposite, but rather north of, a quartz stone in the wall, which bounds the field on the east side. The entrance was accordingly discovered.

The chamber into which we first obtained entrance—writes our informant—is somewhat dilapidated, and appears to consist of the original apartment of the building and of a sloping passage leading to it. It is much encumbered with loose clay and stones, and declines a good deal towards the lower extremity, where we were able to stand perfectly upright, although we were at first obliged to creep in on our hands and knees. The form of this chamber is oblong, or rather oval. On the arrival of lanterns we proceeded into the second apartment. The passages between the first and second, as well as between the second and third apartments, resemble much the mouth of a large pipe, or the apertures (called in Ireland “kiln-logies,” i.e. the eyes of the kiln) by which the fire is introduced into lime-kilns. These entrances are compactly built of large stones, and they both decline a little towards their lower extremity, a remark which is also applicable to all three apartments. The second chamber is nearly circular, but approaches in form to the oval. Here, as in the other two apartments, the floor is of clay, and the walls are regularly built of large stones without mortar or cement of any kind, and incline perceptibly inwards at the top and bottom. In all these apartments the ceilings are composed of immense flags resting on the walls on either side, and smaller stones are advanced to support them in one or two instances where the flags were too short to cover the whole extent. The stones employed in the construction of the building are the common schist of the country intermixed with whin-stones and some quartz. The walls were found by measurement to average about three feet in thickness. The passage between the second and third chambers branches off to the cast, and is situated on the right immediately as you enter from the first apartment. In the corner of the second chamber between the two passages, and nearly on a level with the ceiling, there is built a recess in the wall answering the purposes of a cupboard, and similar to the “boles” which are placed in the walls of Irish cabins. The architecture is the same as that of the rest of the building; it extends to the north-east ; the entrance is nearly square, but the interior is circular. The floor of the third apartment is 1 foot 8 inches below the end of the entrance passage, of which fact the first of us who crawled in was informed to his cost, as may readily be imagined. The third chamber runs parallel to the second, viz. due north and south, and its form and architecture are similar, except that perhaps the second apartment is more circular. The following account gives the dimensions of the several apartments of this building:—

  HEIGHT.               BREADTH.               LENGTH.

First apartment    6 feet 0 inches      4 feet 0 inches      20 feet 9 inches
Second do.           6    ”   0     ”           4   ”   6     ”            7    ”   9     ”
Third do.               6    ”   0     ”           5   ”   5     ”          12    ”   3     ”

From IRELAND: ITS SCENERY, CHARACTER, &C., Vol. 3, pp. 234 – 236 by Samuel C. Hall, Anna Maria Hall


Souterrain (site of)
(Iron Age, or later)

47/6 Td. Carrownamaddy 1950 (18.5 ins. N. 16.75 E.)
Situation: Alt. 207 ft. Bridge End/Burt road; 0.25 miles on S.E. branch road (beside Burt Presbyterian Church and leading to Grianan), is a narrow road to N.E. Site near top of field N.W. of this, bounded by Grianan road and narrow road, with a stream flowing down to N.W. Arable. Good view to N.W., church just below.
This souterrain is flagged, and L-shaped, extending 12ft or more on each side of the turn.
Subsequent to the above date the structure was closed.
Mr. Brian Lacey has drawn my attention to reference to this souterrain in ‘Twixt. p. 120, Chapter XVI on “The Souterrains of Inishowen” by F.W. Logan and S.R. Hunter.

From ‘TWIXT FOYLE AND SWILLY by Harry Percival Swan, 1949, published by Hodges Figgis & Co., Ltd.

Chapter XVI
The Souterrains of Inishowen

The term souterrain is almost self-explanatory, of French derivation, it is applied to a chamber, or series of chambers, constructed below the surface of the ground. Although such structures are widespread – they are common on the Continent as in these islands – their very nature makes them an inconspicuous feature of the countryside.
The entrance by which these chambers were approached was, in the first instance, extremely narrow and probably well hidden, so that in the course of years it has, in most cases, entirely disappeared. The discovery of further examples is usually due to the collapse of one of the roofing slabs during agricultural operations.
An excavation carried out recently near Burnfoot revealed clearly the method by which these underground chambers were constructed. A circular hole, about 12 feet in diameter and six feet deep, had been scooped out of the stiff boulder clay, and the sides carefully lined with roughly dressed stones, bedded in soft mould. Each tier of stones slightly overlapped those below, so that the top of the chamber could be closed with a single flag. This souterrain was unique in having no apparent entrance, other known examples in Inishowen being approached by a narrow passage, roofed with slabs. It is common to find, about a yard inside this entrance, that one of the roofing slabs projects downwards into the passage, forming an unexpected barrier to the unwary invader.
The passages usually widens as one progresses along it, and then terminates in one or more chambers which, in a fine example situated near Burt Presbyterian Church, are of a beehive shape. In the case of one at Rooskey, near Clonmany, however, they assume a more rectangular form. These chambers are connected by a very much constricted aperture which in the Rooskey souterrain proceeds first in a horizontal and then in a vertical direction to the succeeding chamber, each chamber being on a higher level than the preceding one.
It is interesting to note that this curious structures often occur in earthen raths, although there is no such recorded example in the Inishowen district. It is also worthy of note that they appear to occur in groups. Over a dozen have been reported in the Burt district, though only one close to the Presbyterian Church is now open for inspection. Four examples have been recorded on Inch Island. A detailed description of a “Cave” situated “at the base of Grianan” and explored in 1838 appears in Maghtochair’s Inishowen, but all traces of it have now disappeared.

Maghtochair’s account is a shortened version of the Hall’s description above.

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