The style of masonry in the entrance can be compared with that found in early masonry churches except that no mortar was used. Features in common include the use of large dressed stones roughly coursed, the use of large thin stones placed on edge to give the impression of massiveness, and the plinth at the base of the wall. It was from these common features that archaeologists estimated the time period in which the fort was built to be within a century or two of 1000 AD. The arrangement of the banks and ditches suggest that the projecting entrance was an original feature of the fort, supporting this estimation. Also, during the excavation, no evidence of earlier entrances was found. As there is no causeway across the outer ditch leading to the entrance, it was thought that there may have been a wooden bridge there originally.
According to local tradition, when the old school at Coppeen was being built, the contractor robbed stones from the entrance to Cahirvagliair. According to the story, they only stopped when a “foxy” haired woman appeared at the entrance and frightened them off.
The entrance is of course the main attraction and this statement was made about the site in ‘The Journal of Irish Archaeology’:”It is difficult to find a parallel for this entrance in an earthen ringfort but lintelled entrances do occur in stone forts. Generally these entrances are different from Cahirvagliair in that the gate would not be part of a projecting structure, the stones would not normally be dressed and the passage would not be as long.”
The fort has been excavated twice: firstly by antiquarian Windele in June of 1856. In his account of his first visit to the fort in 1840, he stated, “But the most striking object is the covered passage at the east side, and near the cairn, formed of two sidewalls, and covered over with large transverse stones.” He also stated, “The whole of this very interesting monument is worthy of being diligently explored, its cave and its cairn opened and the gateway entrance, the covered way put in repair. There are few monuments like it in the Country.”
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In his excavation in 1843, Windele was aided by Fr. Dan O’Sullivan P.P. The fort was, at this time, owned by a Mr Hungerford. At this time, the entrance was in very bad repair, with the exterior having received much injury and the outer covering stone fallen. Some of the lintels lining the roof of the entrance were also fallen.
The owner, Mr. Hungerford, had found what he described as caves two years previously. These were formed from earth and in some chambers, the roof was formed by flagstones. A boy, it was said, could stand or sit in some, and in others could creep on all fours. The only items found in the caves were some animal and human bones.
Following Windele’s, there was one other excavation which took place at the site; this one in April of 1984 under the direction of Conleth Manning. It was during this time that a more detailed excavation and restoration took place. The entrance was then restored beautifully, and contained most of the original stone work. (two lintels were missing from the original roof of the entrance).
Excavation of the site turned up very few artefacts, including several stone artefacts, a piece of iron slang, a scrap of iron and some animal bones. One of the stone artefacts found was an “oblong mudstone pebble” with a groove cut around it closer to one end than the other. Another was an egg shaped pebble which had a black coating in places and appeared to have been subjected to heat. Also found was a portion of a perforated disc of sandstone with concentric grooves on one face.
An important hoard of late Bronze Age gold ornaments was found in the last century in “a fort in Coppeen”. As there are two ringforts in the townland of Coppeen East and one in Coppeen West, it is difficult to determine which ringfort was involved.
A private survey carried out by the Ballineen Enniskeane Area Heritage Group recorded that there is an ever increasing number of visitors, especially European Students of Archaeology, travelling long distances to visit this site.
Illustrations above are taken from “The Journal of Irish Archaeology, IV 87/8” by Conleth Manning.