In the townland of Kilmore an ordinary looking field of about 1.5 hectares rejoices in the name of Cillín Leasa Ronán - Ringfort of Ronán’s Small Church. The Local folk-lore describes it as a burial ground, and like most such redundant burial grounds it has been used, in recent history, for those who were denied a Catholic burial. i.e. Unbaptised Infants, Suicides, Excommunicants etc. At one corner there is a rock, which tradition calls a Mass-rock.
When drainage work was undertaken on the field a souterrain was discovered. Souterrain is a name given by archaeologists to a type of underground cellar associated mainly with ringforts. A number of important facts should be noted here. Firstly the adjacent road seems to take a broad sweep to miss the southern boundary of the field. Next, if we continue the sweep of the road to complete the boundary as a circle or ellipse we have a very large area perhaps 150 metres across. The name includes St. Ronan, one of the patrons of the present church. Finally, during late summer evening sun, a double ditch surrounding at least part of the field had been spotted from a neighbouring hill. Was this the Great Church (Kilmore) ?
All these features taken together suggested an early medieval ecclesiastical establishment and the evidence was strong enough to interest Glasgow University’s Achaeological Research Division. A co-funding deal was put together between the University and Ballingeary Historical Society and in 1997 a small team from the university joined local volunteers in a survey.
Unfortunately the results were inconclusive, a filled double ditch structure was found, but no artifacts or signs of a settlement. Remember that absence of proof is not proof of absence, but the evidence was not strong enough to attract funds for a full excavation.
I feel that this could be the remains of an early medieval religious settlement but we should look at the historic scenario into which it fits. Establishments of this kind would be self supporting, often not only consisting of monks, but also a greater number of lay workers. Large ringfort like structures were often built with a division across their centre separating the church and monks, in the eastern part, from the lay members and sometimes vegetable gardens and animals in the west. They were often fairly close to the local chieftain’s dwelling, which would also have been a ringfort. In early medieval times there was a ringfort at nearby Tirnaspideoge.
So why are we not able to find any written reference to the establishment. I think that is because it was deserted in the late 12th. century or early in the 13th.. There is a quite good reason for this: At almost exactly the same time (1192 it is said) the O'Leary Clan were driven out of Rosscarbery and settled in the upper Laoi valley. Having come from exactly the area of the great monastic School of Ross, they probably brought their own clerics with them and these may well not have approved of the previous inhabitants.
After the establishment was abandoned, it, like all sites associated with Christianity would still have been used for burying the dead that the Church would not accept. The earthwork was probably used for fairs, feasts and gatherings for a while. Strangely enough this field is now used for the annual Ballingeary Show. Then after the locals began to turn from their traditional cattle herding to a more settled and agricultural lifestyle around eight centuries of ploughing would have the removed most surface traces. I think that one day an excavation by an enlightened archaeologist will prove this an important site.