Mortlestown is in the Electoral Division of Ardpatrick, in Civil Parish of Particles, in the Barony of Coshlea, in the County of Limerick
The Irish name for Mortlestown is Baile an Mhoirtéalaigh Mortlestown is on Logainm.ie: Mortlestown.
The favoured modern spelling is 'Mortalstown' or, less commonly, 'Mortelstown'.
Mortalstown Ring-fort: Cahir Mortel
52.34749° North; 8.49372° West
On Certain Typical Earthworks and Ring-Walls in County Limerick - T. J. Westropp (1917). ©JSTOR
This impressive structure is mentioned in Duffy's Hibernian Magazine (1860): "High towering above Slieve Riagh, appeared the blue peaks of the Galtees, the Crotta Cliach of the ancients; and in the intermediate space, between Ballinvreena and the foot of Seefin, rise several small hills. Some of these are cone-shaped; on the side of one, nearly four miles distant, appears the important village of Kilfinane; another is crowned by an ancient mote of large dimensions, Cahir-Mortel; and on the top of a third are some artificial ruins, called Oliver's Folly, having been constructed for picturesque effect among the scenery of Castle Oliver demesne". ©www.libraryireland.com
Ordnance Survey map 1840. ©osi
In the same 1917 work (above), Westropp quotes from the Book of Fermoy (c15th century): "Somewhere near it was the spot where St. Patrick sat on “the three tulachs,” to watch the hunting of the mighty stags, roes, and boars at Osmetal Hill. Three glens met below Cenn Febrat of Sliabh riach, at a lake, Loch bo (evidently the marshy ground below Kilfinnan where the glens abut); the three mounds were probably those of Cush. To the east of the lake was Fininis, to the west Cnoc na haeire; to Patrick’s left was a fort on a mountain (Mortellstown), which he passed later going to Finntulach or Ardpatrick. The topography is most exact".
If this were taken literally it would suggest a date of the 5th century at the latest for Mortalstown ringfort. According to the National Monuments Service, 'the Ringfort [Rath] monuments broadly date from 500 to 1000 AD'.
View from Mortalstown ring-fort in the year 2020, with Oliver's Folly (Castle H) and a gibbous Moon.
Rev John Fleming (Ardpatrick, 1978) wrote: "The precise origins of the Deise clan in south-east Limerick have yet to be determined. Many historians hold that sometime during the third century A.D. there was a political upheaval in the Kingdom of Meath. The result of this was the expulsion of the Deise clan from the lands they occupied in that area. From there they made their way southwards to the present counties of Waterford and south Tipperary, taking possession of the lands which subsequently became known in history as the Deise country. The leader of the clan is said to have been Art Corb. He is said to have had four sons, who ultimately took over his kingdom and extended its frontiers to include the hill country of south-east Limerick. The "kingdom" which the Deise clan founded in south-east Limerick lasted from about the fourth to the eleventh century. During this time its fortunes, like the fortunes of all human endeavour, rose, flourished and finally decayed. Its name changed with this progression and reflects it. In history it is referred to as the Deis Becc, the Deis Beag and the Deis Deiscirt.
The exact location of the site of its chief fort is subject to conjecture and no definite site can be given. O'Donovan, who edited the Book of Rights, seems to think it was situated at Treada-na-Riogh; a legend from Silva Gadelica says that Eoghan went to Rosach-na-Riogh, both names for the one place which today bears the name of the Kilfinane Moate. The fort may also have been at Cahir Mortel in Mortelstown, on the road between Ardpatrick and Kilfinane. Finally, Eoin MacNeill says it was "at Termar Erann in the hill country south of Kilfinane in the county of Limerick''.
In short no definite area can be designated as the site of the Deis Becc power until further archaeological research has been carried out in the area. However, a bird's-eye view of the area would seem to suggest that the Kilfinane Moate was the main seat of power and that the others such as Cahir Mortel were offsprings of it".
Ordnance Survey map 1901. ©osi
Subsequently, a satellite church to that on the Hill of Ardpatrick was constructed close to this site; viz. Lewis (1837): "it was near the fort called Cahir Mortel". Quoting again from Ardpatrick, "... numerous references occur in relation to this church, from the time of its foundation in A. D. 1317 until A.D. 1666 when Captain Oliver of Clonodfoy House (Castle Oliver) annexed it to his property". In addition to the dates 1317 and 1418 mentioned by Westropp above, Fr (later Bishop) Fleming elaborates: "Again in 1577 it is referred to in the Fiants. By 1607 it is called Chapel Mortel in Particles (Parish). It seems to have fallen into decay sometime after the Olivers took it over, obviously having been preserved by the Catholic family of the Fitzharris' until the 1660s. Canon Canty recalled in 1914 that an old man in Ardpatrick assured him that he saw its remains. By 1914 there was no trace of it".
View towards the Hill of Ardpatrick
Fr (later Archdeacon) John Begley includes the site in his 'Diocese of Limerick, Ancient and Medieval' (1906): "Capella Martele (Chapel Mortell). It was situated in the townland of Mortelstown". This Latinised version may provide a connection with an earlier name for the townland; viz. 'Martelstown'.
The site is listed as LI056-011001- at the National Monuments Service:
Class: Ringfort - rath
Scheduled for inclusion in the next revision of the Records of Monuments and Places: Yes
Note that a Ringfort (Rath) is defined by the NMS as 'a roughly circular or oval area surrounded by an earthen bank with an external fosse' as distinct from a Ringfort (Cashel); 'a roughly circular or oval area, though some examples are rectangular, which is surrounded by a stone wall or walls'. Also the term is not hyphenated in this version, unlike that of Westropp.
The site marked '2' above, 70m west of the ring-fort, is listed as Monument LI056-011002- ; Earthwork.
There are other archaeological treasures in the immediate vicinity; 750m SW is a Bullaun stone listed as LI056-064---- ; 'A low outcrop of limestone in pasture field on the upper surface of which are three deep cup-shaped depressions (A: D 0.14m, diam. 0.26m; B: D 0.3m, diam. 0.32m; C: D 0.46m, diam. 0.38m); B and C are conjoined' [National Monuments Service]. There are only 6 Bullaun stones documented in County Limerick ['Mysterious waifs of time' some thoughts on the functions of Irish bullaun stones - Brian Dolan, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 2013]
60m north, in the same field, is listed LI056-007---- ; 'Megalithic structure. A construction of large stones of 'megalithic' proportions which, though comparable in certain respects with megalithic tombs, cannot be classified as any other known archaeological monument type on present evidence. This may date from the prehistoric period onwards.'
Bullaun stone at Mortalstown
Below: 1943 image [©limerickcity.ie] (associated text)
300m to the east, monument LI056-009001- (Ritual site: holy well) is listed. Caoimhín Ó Danachair's The Holy Wells of County Limerick (1955), says that the name of the well was changed from Tobereen on the 1840 map, to Tobar Fhionain in the 1928 edition. He quotes O'Donovan from the Ordnance Survey notes: "The name of this well it would appear is Tobereen and not Toberania. Perhaps you could say whether it ought to be engraved in old English as a holy well? I think it ought". Also, "Tubbereen als. Pauderaugha, The little well for Prayer". Danaher states that at time of writing there was no tradition of any holy well. [National Monuments Service].
Mortalstown ring-fort 2020
'Cathair Murthuile' is yet another designation for the ring-fort and is in fact the version used on the signpost at Monine cross. It was the subject of an online article dated 2008 from The Modern Antiquarian:
The reference above to Teamhair or Tara Luachra, predominant Munster fort of the Ernai tribe, is sourced from a 1931 Journal article by Kilfinane historians Daniel F O'Shaughnessy and Patrick Carroll, in which they put forward their theory identifying that prestigious site, chiefly famed as the residence of 1st century BC warrior-king Curoi MacDaire, with Mortalstown ring-fort:
Article - Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society ©JSTOR
Comparison of Kilfinane Motte and Mortalstown Ring-fort
View towards Knockfierna from Mortalstown ring-fort