Ringforts are the most numerous and widespread field monuments in Ireland. They are on a much smaller scale than the Staigue Fort and are thought to have been enclosed homesteads. Consisting of a central area, between 15m and 60m in internal diameter, usually circular, but occasionally oval, D shaped or rectangular, they are enclosed by one or more banks and fosses or by a stone wall.
Based on the numbers of ringforts marked on the Ordnance Survey 6-inch maps, the total of known examples are estimated at between 30,000 and 40,000. However, it is difficult to say if these forts were occupied concurrently.
Just past Staigue Fort House, take the turn for Gowlanes and after walking 5 minutes, you will see a ringfort up in a field on your left. This is also the area where there have been a number of sightings of the sea eagles!
Ringforts can be earthen or stone. The distinction is not always clear-cut as it is common for earthen banks to be faced with drystone masonry.
The term cashel is used to denote a ringfort constructed entirely of stone.
The term rath (in Irish ráth pronounced ra) or lios (líos pronounced leeus) is used to refer to sites constructed of earth or of a combination of earth and stone. Rath denotes the enclosing bank and lios, the open space within.
These Irish terms for ring-forts are frequently incorporated jnto modern place-names. Rath beach is just down the road from Staigue Fort House, which itself is in the townland of Liss.
Ringforts are commonly referred to as fairy forts. The association of Piseogs; (pronounced pishogues, meaning superstitions) with these forts have helped protect them. It is considered unlucky to cut hawthorn trees that grow in them. However, as recently as March 2012, a farmer in North Kerry was fined €25000 for deliberately destructing a ringfort on his land.
The archaeological term ringfort suggests a military or strategic significance. However, evidence from excavated sites suggest the majority were enclosed farmsteads, between 400 and 1200 AD while some sites lack evidence of human habitation. Only 200 or so ring-forts have been excavated.
The small size of the sites suggest that they were occupied by a single family. Outdoor hearths have been identified in some ring-fort sites. Many sites have provided evidence for spinning, weaving, corn-grinding and metal-working. Finds include quernstones, spindle-whorls and loom weights, iron slag and iron ore, pins, brooches, glass beads and other personal ornaments.
There has been little investigation of the area immediately outside ring-fort enclosures.
Souterrains have been found within ring-forts.