Aghnaskeagh: Megalithic tombs
J 076 137
Sheets 29 and 36
if overgrown, cairns lie some 6.8 km NNE of Dundalk, approachable
only from above because a dairy factory blocks the track that
leads right to them. About 45 metres apart, one is egg-shaped
with a roofless dolmen at one end with portal-stones 2.8 metres
click for a view from the opposite side
At the other end of
this cairn were 6 kist-tombs inserted some time during the Bronze
Age. A paved area close to the N end of the cairn was later
still used for iron-smelting - the sacred site chosen, perhaps,
to give power to the magical metal.
The other, smaller, cairn is circular, containing what appears
to be a derivative, court-less court-tomb with transverse chambers,
rather like one at Tullyskeherny in Leitrim.
The cairn must originally have been quite high to cover the
complex of chambers.
~ 2.8 km SW, about 150 metres W of a by-road (J 053 120) in
Faughart Lower, is a diminutive passage-tomb incorporated
into a field-fence. It looks a bit like a sweathouse,
of which there are a couple of examples in N. Louth. It consists
of a small chamber formed by 2 large orthostats over 2 metres
long which go through the field-fence, and support a large slab
that covers the whole space. There are several other stones
at either end of the chamber and the bank contains many large
stones that could have come from the structure originally. There
is no trace of either covering mound or entrance passage.
800 metres NNW (J 050 127) is St Brigit's Shrine -
obviously a very sacred place today, for it has its own toilets.
By a stream between the car-park and the modern shrine are two
bullauns very close together in a damaged, earthfast boulder.
This stone is now known
as The Kneeling Stone and visitors/pilgrims kneel in
the bullauns to pray. It is also said to have healing properties
relating to leg ailments. Next to this, mounted in the wall,
is another shallow bullaun which is rubbed as part of the pattern
or turas, and nearby is a boulder known as The Horse-Shoe
Stone. Between this and and the shrine is a curious anvil-shaped
stone - almost phallic and much rubbed around its waist. Rubbing
this stone is said to cure stomach (probably originally uterine)
problems. Nearby is a chair shaped stone. Lying on this is said
to cure back pain (perhaps originally pain connected with childbirth).
At the northern extremity of the site (along the stream and
across the road), water issues into a basin stone very like
those in passage-tombs...
km SE is Ballymakellett court-tomb (J 099 112), whose
gallery is still covered by cairn and grass, and whose surviving
court stones reach a height of 2 metres. Next to the southern
entrance stone there is just one of the court stones remaining,
but the other arm of the court is more intact. Four or five
stones remain on this side. In front of these there is a huge
slab that at first sight appears to be one of the court stones,
but is more likely to be the entrance lintel or a displaced
roofstone. A field boundary runs around this side of the monument,
which has largely protected this side of the court. The picture
below shows the entrance-stones and the overgrown cairn to the
NE of the tomb is an upright stone, 1.4 metres tall and about
as wide, which might be a re-located orthostat from the court.
It has a curved edge at the top, with a curious little point
at one end, reminiscent of some stones at Ballynoe, county Down.
km W by N of Aghnaskeagh, in charming Carrif churchyard, Dungooly
(J 014 144) is a classic single bullaun
by the gate.
for a picture.)
H 966 057
on the thumbnail for a larger picture
1.6 km N of Little
Ash, by a stream in the second field (300 metres along a track
to the right of a gate) beyond the end of a lane leading NE
from the road to Inniskeen from Little Ash, lies a boulder (not
marked on the map) with complex motifs of cups and gapped rings.
There were originally five boulders here - of which three were
wantonly destroyed in 1980. They included a design rare in Ireland:
the ring of small cups within a cup-and-ring design (cf Ormaig
in Argyll). The pocking on this design and on some of the others
could clearly be seen. They were the most interesting and most
easily found (!) of a series of petroglyphs in W Louth and E
Monaghan. Another stone similar to the one by the stream is
now in the National Museum in Dublin.
~ 4.8 km NE in Donaghmore
in the sordid garden of a bungalow with maltreated dogs is the
only souterrain to be a National Monument (J 009 071 - not marked
on the map), an elaborate dry-stone structure with traps, a
secret passage and vents, built into a trench dug into boulder
clay and, in places, into the underlying silurian grit. The
passages and terminal chamber total some 80 metres long, and
they are both corbelled and lintelled. Torches will be provided
by the guardian who will also unlock the iron doors which protect
the entrance. He will say that photography is forbidden, but
this is of course untrue.
Just under 5 km NNE
of the souterrain is the ruined portal tomb at Lurgankeel
(see under Proleek, below).
~ 4.5 km SE is the
standing-stone at Rathiddy.
~ 3 km
WSW in the
townlands of Drumirril and (immediately to the N) Comraghs
in County Monaghan are over 70 examples of Neolithic
petroglyphs - mostly cups-and-rings, but also rare concentric
circles - on many stones which are mostly on little heights
or mounds. As can be seen from the map, there are many petroglyphs
- and souterrains - marked in this area. The most accessible
(illustrated below) are at H 936 048.
small mound (with four petroglyphic stones on the top) is surrounded
by a ditched enclosure.
2 km E of Drumirril (back in county Louth) is more 'rock-art'
at Drumgonnelly (GPS: H 95750 0490), which is so faint
that the rings around the cups (most of them natural solution-pits)
can properly be seen only when wet.
O 144 782
W of a track leading
N out of the hamlet of Baltray close to a strange concrete structure,
are two standing-stones, over 2 metres high, which, it has recently
been revealed, align significantly with the Fourknocks
tomb in county Meath. Formerly there were three, but the absent
monolith has not prevented the discovery that the larger of
the two stones aligns with the offshore island of Rockabill
towards sunrise at the Winter Solstice. There are also alignments
to sunset at Summer Solstice and moonrise at Winter Solstice.
by Jim Dempsey
click for another
~ 8 km NW (sheet 36)
is a fine standing-stone at Piperstown (see under Tinure,
H 943 876
down a track leading SW off the R.165, on the SE side of the
track, this superb slab, 1.6 metres high and 1.8 metres broad
at the base, has a perfectly circular perforation roughly in
the middle. It is 20 cms in diameter, splaying to about 25 cms.
This part of Louth used to be rich in standing-stones, and "The
Hurl Stone" is one of a chain of stones possibly forming some
kind of boundary - though equally it might be the only remnant
(a perforated door-slab) of a wedge-tomb.
Locals say that the name Hurlstone refers to the practice of
aiming a sliotar (puck) through the hole with a hurling-stick.
on the thumbnail for a larger picture
6 km ENE in Barnaveddoge, 4 km E of Ardee (O 002 893),
is a slightly-leaning menhir, some 2.4 metres high, which stands
very close to the N side of the R 170. An ogham inscription
reading Branogeni is supposed to be legible down one
fields to the NE (O 005 896) is another standing-stone, 3.2
metres high, in a dip, and also close to a hedge. These stones
7.3 km S in the middle of a field (H 947 803) in county Meath
- and commanding extensive views - is a decorated stone at Mullagharoy
whose S face has pecked concentric rings near the top, and
natural solution pits. The N side is quite different and extraordinary.
km W of the Mullagharoy stone on sheet 42 at Rathkenny,
also in county Meath (N 888 797) is a collapsed portal-tomb
whose large capstone, covered on the upper surface with small
grooves and cupmarks/solution pits, leans against a solitary,
low orthostat. The underside is smooth except for a series of
7 pocked circles. The inner face of the portal-stone has some
two dozen similar circles and other faint scribings.
Portal-tomb and Wedge-tomb
J 086 119
Sheets 29 and 36
Approached via Ballymascanlon
House Hotel, and on foot through the stableyard, following the
signs, this fine dolmen, known as The Giant's Load, has
a huge 40-tonne capstone balanced on two portal-stones over
21 metres high and a backstone 1.8 metres high. There may not
have been other stones to complete the chamber. There are always
many pebbles on top of the domed capstone: if one tossed up
does not come rolling down again, the thrower will be married
within twelve months! Close by is a ruined wedge-tomb,
two of whose roofstones survive.
~ 5 km ESE is a very
large court-tomb at Rockmarshall, about 50 metres SW
of Rockmarshall House and its unattractive outbuildings. It
is some 15 metres long, has a broad court of low stones at the
N end, and a wide, four-chambered gallery entered through fine
jamb-stones and a displaced lintel. Some kerbstones survive
on the NW side, and some of the cairn on the SE. However, my
colleague, Ian Thompson (whose photographs are below), interprets
this tomb as an anomalous double-court tomb, rather than a single-court
tomb which may have been added to.
tomb viewed at ground-level from the N,
and as seen from the high wall which cuts through the E side
of the cairn.
~ 4.5 km N, marked
Standing-stones on sheet 36 is an obviously-bogus
(but charming) stone circle erected by Lord Clermont of Ravensdale
in the early 19th century, and much-photographed by the ignorant.
This antiquarian/landscape-architect encouraged his tenants
to build sweathouses and corbelled kennels, pigstyes and hen-houses;
and he wrecked the passage-tomb known as Clermont Ca[i]rn on
Black Mountain to build himself a belvedere.
under 6 km W by N, behind a squalid farm and shed in Lurgankeel
(J 024 116) are the remains of a portal-tomb which must
have been even more impressive that that at Proleek. Just one
of the portal-stones now stands - to a tapering height of three
metres - and a huge boulder-like capstone lies behind it. The
original monument would have been over 4.5 metres high. As with
Proleek, there is a nearby wedge-tomb. Its remains lie about
150 metres NNW and clearly visible on the other side of the
road. Just under 5 km SSW is Donaghmore souterrain (see
under Ballinloughan, above).
~ 9 km E in the townland of Commons (J 182 097) are the remains
of a court-tomb, consisting of a gallery, aligned N-S, just
1 metre wide and 5 metres long, divided into two chambers by
opposing jambs. A field wall runs along the west side of the
tomb and across the north end at a distance of 1-2m. Within
the base of this wall are several large stones which could be
reused court stones. Situated close to the edge of a natural
shelf on an east-facing slope, the tomb offers fine views over
J 007 039
to a stile into the field that contains this menhir is a notice
which states that this is "Cú Chuláinn's
Stone" - referring to the legendary mindless Ulster macho-hero
or demigod who, after being mortally wounded, tied himself to
a standing-stone so that he could continue to fight his opponents.
No-one dared approach him until a raven (the bird of death)
perched on his shoulder, signifying his demise. The stone is
over 3 metres tall, 80 cms thick and 120 cms wide at the base,
where, in a very clean font and with a good chisel, a certain
Jim McKenna - not otherwise known for 'heroic' deeds - has sought
For more on the legends of the stone see Voices
from the Dawn.
km W by S in Monavallet (J 950 029) is another large,
but more rectangular, stone, unfortunately fallen and difficult
~ 6 km
SE in Whiterath (O 034 983) is a very squat and massive
stone only 1.2 metres high. From the road it looks almost cubic,
but on closer inspection from the side it is just 30 cm thick
at the base.
~ 4.5 km NW are Ballinloughan
O 049 835
and defaced slab over 2 metres high and 1.5 metres wide, partly-obscured
by brambles, lies 70 metres N of the by-road from Tinure Cross
to Kieran's Cross. It is not marked on the map. The vertical
face of Silurian shale is decorated by fine incised lines and
tiny punched holes - partly obscured by the initials of vandals.
These engravings are thought to be of Neolithic rather than
Bronze Age date, and are unique in Ireland.
metres S in Paddock (O 050 831) is a low, overgrown wedge-tomb
known as "Calliagh Birra's House", with 4 large roofstones still
covering the gallery, and 7 transverse buttress-stones, set
in remnants of the cairn, on the S side.
km NE in the grounds of The Parsonage, on the boundary between
Parsonstown and Labanstown (O 132 867)is a nicely-landscaped
standing-stone 1.4m tall, 80 cm wide and just 20 cm deep.
~ 3.2 km E in Drumshallon
(O 083 827) are three standing stones some 2 metres high on
the slopes of the outcrop ridge called Carnanbreaga, from which
there are fine views as far as the Carlingford and Mourne Mountains
to the North, and the Wicklow Mountains to the South. South
of these in Piperstown (O 083 837) is another (five-sided)
standing-stone which has many solution-pits (some of which may
be cup-marks) on its E face. If you stand about six metres E
of this stone and shout, the concave face will produce a remarkable
~ 8 km SE of the Piperstown
stone are the standing-stones at Baltray (sheet 43).
O 024 757
Part of the Newgrange/Knowth/Dowth
complex clearly visible a couple of kilometres to the S in county
Meath, this roofless grave is an 'undiffer-entiated'
passage-tomb, i.e. with no separate chamber at the end of the
passage. Few orthostats survive. Excavators found heel-shaped
rows of boulders between the end of the short, wide passage
and the kerb, which have been re-covered by the earth and stones
of the cairn. The tomb looks like a curious hybrid between the
passage and wedge types. Access is via a small stile almost
hidden in the bushes along the N side of the N.51.
photo by Jim Dempsey