Cathair Na Stéige (Staigue Fort) is located in Castlecove on the Sneem-Parknasilla road. It is about four miles off the main road. Staigue Fort is one of the largest and finest ring forts you are likely to see in Ireland. It stands on a low hill in an amphitheatre of rugged hills open to the sea on the south.
The interior of the fort is reached through a 1.8m (6ft) high passage roofed with enormous double lintels. Access to the ramparts is gained by a series of steps in the shape of the letter X.
The fort is surrounded by a large bank and ditch, still very obvious on the north side. Staigue Fort shows great skill in building. No mortar was used, the stones were not dressed and it is similar in style to the Grianan of Aileach in Co. Donegal using just stones placed at a slight angle, lower on the outside than the inside to allow water to run off.
Several near-vertical masonry joints are visible in the wall, and these may indicate that the fort was built in stages rather than in one continuous operation. The fort was entered through a narrow, lintel-covered passage in the wall. Inside is an elaborate network of stairways leading to terraces and corbelled cells in the wall reached by passages.
It is in excellent condition. It is thought that this structure was built in the first century B.C. and so it is over two thousand years old. Little is known about its builders or indeed what is was used for. It may have been built for religious reasons or to protect cattle.
According to Pádraig Ó Loingsigh ("Staigue Fort", Oidhreact na Stéige, 1989), it may also have been an amphitheatre intended for some spectacle, a place to secure stock at night, a place of religious worship, an observatory, a symbol of wealth and status, or a place of defence and security.
During the 19th century its construction was in turn assigned to such unlikely groups as Phoenicians, Cyclopeans, Danes, and Arch-Druids, while equally implausible theories were put forward concerning its purpose.
Local lore has it that the inhabitants were small in stature and they came here in search of ore. There is evidence that copper was excavated in the surrounding countryside.
Nearby, down the N70 road to Waterville, there is another fort called Caherdaniel, overlooking the Kenmare River.
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