Often the abandoned remains of human activity are isolated: a single standing stone, a single rath. Here at Caheravart, however, in the south-facing foothills of Lackawee, the landscape is many-layered, overwritten by succeeding generations whose hands are difficult to read.
The usual rendering of the name is misleading; the cathair here was not a stone fort, but a stone enclosure, in the later sense of a boundaried ecclesiastical settlement—cathair feartach, the stone enclosure of the graves. This was probably not, in intention, a graveyard, but the home of a small religious community, well enough established to surround itself with a sturdy stone ring a hundred yards across; the stone cross clearly gives the site the stamp of early Christian times. There were huts here, the small round huts found in early monasteries and still traceable in the grass. A stone building (probably a later byre) survives, but nothing that can be identified as a church, although an alternative name, Killeenagh, suggest that the foundations of a little church, a cillín, may lie amongst the anonymous stone footings within the outer wall.
The cillín, however, may not have been a church, but the graveyard itself. Despite the ancient cross, the other grave-markers, small and rough and anonymous, suggest that the burials here are from recent centuries. For the ‘cillin’ noted in small red print on the maps of so many sites in Ireland denotes a ‘children’s cemetery’, unhallowed ground—away from the community—where, even in relatively recent times, the innocent unbaptised were ostracised in death, together with suicides and unidentified bodies washed ashore. If this was a children’s graveyard, those who used it may have long forgotten the religious nature of the place they were adopting.
Nor is this the only sad re-use of the site which may be traced amongst the grass and rushes. Just beyond the boundary wall are shadowy ripples in the grassland which show where lazybeds once grew potatoes. The ground is infertile: damp, thin, acid soil, barely suitable for grazing. But in times of land hunger, the poorest might be driven to raising rows of compost—layers of seaweed and dung—in places which more prosperous folk thought unsuited to cultivation, in order to plant the easy-going potato; the plots were often fragmented and the harvests meagre. Some of those who painstakingly laid out these beds moved to better land in better times, but all too many were driven off by blight and famine to the workhouse, the emigrant ships, or the (unmarked) grave. Now the land is left to the sheep.