Dowth: Passage-tombs and souterrain
O 023 738
Of the three principal
tombs of the Bend-of-the-Boyne passage-tomb necropolis or prehistoric
palace of culture and science, this is the earliest and the
only one (so far) not to be ransacked, vandalised and travestied
by modern archæologists. It was partly excavated in 1847 though
it had been pillaged (by Vikings and earlier looters) long before
that. The cairn or tumulus is about 90 metres in diameter and
15 metres high. Three stone-lined passages lead into the mound
from the W : one to a cruciform passage-tomb chamber, one to
a circular passage-tomb chamber, and the third to a much later
or refuge. Hitherto, the cruciform tomb was reached by climbing
down a ladder in an iron cage, and crawling about over loose
stones. Now, access is somewhat restricted, and all the features
are guarded by metal grilles.
The long passage is
crossed by 3 sill-stones. This tomb is - in all senses - less
developed than the neighbouring and preceding tourist-attractions
of Newgrange and Knowth, partly because the chamber is much
lower, and partly because the decoration is much poorer. The
chamber is lintelled rather than corbelled, and on the floor
stands a single stone basin - somewhat the worse for wear after
5,000 years. The right-hand arm of the chamber leads into another
long rectangular chamber with 2 subsidiaries: an L-shaped extension
entered over a low sill. This may be the earliest part of the
tomb, later brought within the design of the cruciform tomb.
It is floored with a 2.4 metre long flagstone containing an
oval bullaun (artificial depression). Several of the orthostats
of passage and chamber are decorated with spirals, chevrons,
lozenges and rayed circles. Rayed circles or suns can also be
for a larger, hi-res picture
of the decorated kerbstones of the tumulus. A kerbstone with
cup-marks, a spiral and a flower-like design marks the entrance
to the second, smaller tomb - with modern concrete roof. quartz
was found fallen outside the kerbing, showing that the entrance
to this tomb was surrounding by glittering white, as at Newgrange.
This tomb has a few decorated stones, and a single, massive
right-hand recess. At the entrance to the passage of the cruciform
tomb is an early mediæval souterrain.
Pictures of sunset
rays penetrating the tomb at the Winter Solstice, 2006 can be
(Scroll down the rather 'noisy' page.)
is a fine henge - here photographed for www.knowth.com - and
probably best seen from the air.
a slide-show of the Northern passage and chamber at Dowth.
3.2 km WNW of the village
of (The) Naul, along a short track leading from a by-road, a
notice is displayed stating where the key can be obtained for
a deposit. A fine cruciform tomb, excavated, and now preserved
under a concrete shell dome grassed over, is imaginatively lit
by slits above the decorated lintels of the three recesses.
It is quite in contrast to the Disneyfication that has occurred
at Newgrange. The original tomb was probably roofed with timber
and sods. There are 12 fine decorated stones: one upright one
has a stylised human face.
Be careful not to bang your head (as I have done) on a treacherous
iron bar above the iron-doored entrance ! From the top of the
tomb, the cairn at Howth is
visible through a small notch in the landscape to the south-south-east.
on the thumbnail for larger pictures
There are actually three tombs at Fourknocks, the other two
offering little above ground to the visitor, as can be seen
in this aerial photo.
entrance to Fourknocks II by Pádraig O Cumascaigh.
over 1 km NNW is a fine tree-ringed tumulus which is much like
the Fourknocks tomb before it was excavated, and 1.6 km NNW
is a henge-monument, also intact. A short distance to the E
and close to the N side of the road is another fine tumulus,
somewhat overgrown, but with many of its kerbstones surviving.
km N by E are the remnants of a stone circle or cairn-kerb in
Greenanstown (O 102 643): three large boulders sitting
on a sward at a road-junction, in front of a bungalow. Behind
the bungalow is another large boulder (of conglomerate) which
could well come from the same circle or kerb. The names 'Greenan'
and 'Green' (from Irish Grían meaning 'sun') are
often associated with megaliths of one kind or another.
~ 7 km W in Hawkinstown,
close to a road-junction (O 040 630) is an ogam-stone which
has been moved from somewhere nearby. As well as the remains
of an ogam-inscription near the base are other horizontal and
diagonal grooves allegedly made by the uncle of the present
(2003) landowner - who referred to the stone as "worthless"!
It is not unusual for such stones to be used for knife-sharpening,
whether out of a misplaced sense of ritual or out of the same
malice which destroyed many thousands of megaliths, especially
in the 20th century.
~ 6.5 km NE are the
remains of Knocknagin Passage-tomb (O 179 665) - a low
mound over 20 metres in diameter with several surrounding kerb-stones
protruding from the soil. It is quite separate from a nearby
group of tombs on the other (S) side of the Delvin River - see
under Bremore in county Dublin.
400 metres ENE in the same townland, a rough circle of rocks
lies on the beach below the high tide line - the only group
of large stones on the entire 5 km stretch of strand. They are
the remains of one of four tombs which stood on the sand-cliffs
that have been eroded from beneath. A correspondent, Kathrin
Marsh, to whom I am indebted for this information, tells me
that she has seen two metres of cliff disappear in a single
winter. Of the other three tombs almost nothing remains. They
fell victim to the construction of the Great Northern Railway
from Dublin to Belfast. One of them, writes Kathrin Marsh, contained
a very fine stone basin that was broken up for railway ballast
and was actually in the line of the track. The second was in
the field between the railway line and the sea. Three kerb stones
survive of this tomb as part of the sand cliff face. Last time
the field was ploughed fragments of neolithic pottery and a
single stone marble were found in the field along with Victorian
field drains, clay pipes and other débris presumably
from the railway construction.
~ 5 km
ESE of Fourknocks are the mounds at Knockbrack - see
under Bremore in county
km NNE of Fournocks, between the R 150 and the river Nanny,
less than 1 km WSW of Laytown, is a fine tumulus
over 6 metres high and 25 metres in diameter. A late Iron Age
burial mound it illustrates the longevity of tumuli in Ireland.
~ 16.5 km NNE of Fourknocks,
at Baltray (O 144 782) across the Boyne in county
Louth, 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.
N 880 830
little standing-stone were anywhere else, it would not be worth
mentioning. But because it is on a path in a pleasant graveyard
where there is also the shaft of an Irish Romanesque sculpted
cross (with scenes of Adam & Eve, the Sacrifice of Isaac,
Noah's Ark and Daniel with the Lions), it is worth remarking
on - even though it is only one metre high. Standing-stones
occur in scores of ancient graveyards, including Killadeas
and Dreenan in Fermanagh.
Sometimes they have been Christianised, as at several sites
in the Dingle Peninsula of Kerry.
photo by Tom FourWinds
Passage-tomb - see under Newgrange, below.
N 569 773 to N 600 780 (approx.)
the two Loughcrew Hills of Carnbane East and Carnbane West in
Slieve na Calliagh (Sliabh na Caillighe), with car-parks
at the saddle between the hills, are several passage-tombs,
some of which are usually locked: see notices for where keys
may be obtained. There were originally between 50 and 100
cairns or tumuli in this prominently-sited necropolis, but the
usual Western European destruction and neglect of prehistoric
monuments (from earliest times) has greatly reduced the number.
Those which are locked have fine decoration, as well as one
or two small, unroofed tombs. Carnbane East is the hill
also known as Sliabh na Callighe, or the Hag's Mountain:
the tumuli were said to have dropped from the Hag/Earth
Mother's apron. [For
the folklore and excellent photos see the
from the Dawn website.]
Cairn T here is very well preserved with fine decoration
on many stones - much of which has been disfigured by nincompoops
chalking it for photographic or didactic purposes: chalk, unlike
charcoal, is extremely difficult to remove from rock. It has
a fine kerb of 47 exceptionally large stones, one of which ('The
Hag's Chair') is over 3 metres long and 2 metres wide. Cairn
T (richly decorated)
on the thumbnail for a larger picture
surrounded by 6 satellites with a variety of decoration in them,
including solar designs.
Cairn S has an early/mid-May alignment with the setting
sun, whose beams stream down the left hand side of the passage
(looking out) and form a rectangle of light on right side of
the backstone (looking in). It slowly decreases in size as the
sun reaches the horizon. It may have even entered the now-destroyed
right hand chamber before dipping below the horizon.
On Carnbane West, currently closed to visitors, there
are two large cairns, one apparently empty, but the other (cairn
L) containing a fine decorated tomb with five side-chambers
and a limestone monolith of 'ritual significance',
on the thumbnail for larger pictures
surrounded by 7 smaller
roofless tombs, some with decoration, and some with their short
passages (mostly facing E) still partly roofed.
early-morning summer visit is recommended to see the engravings
Carnbane West: Cairn H
tombs represent an intermediate stage in the development of
elaborate tombs between the skyline cairns of Carrowkeel
in Sligo, and the lowland complexes in the E of county Meath.
~ About 700 metres
to the E of Carnbane East, on Patrickstown Hill, are the less-accessible
remains of 4 more tombs, out of a former 25 or so.
King's Mountain, 3.2 km to the E, a decorated lintel
now stands upright on the site of a destroyed tomb. Half of
one face is covered with well-executed spirals (the largest
being over 40 cms in diameter) and arcs.
for a superb photo by Ken Williams
metres E of Carnbane East, 300 metres W of a by-road and up
a muddy farm-track in Ballinvally (N 581 786) are the
remains of a stone circle, some 25 metres in diameter, in which
four large stones up to 2 are very obvious. It is visible from
the cairns on Carnbane E and W - and vice versa. A ruined wall
cuts across its eastern side, separating one of the seven or
so surviving uprights from the others, one of which is massive,
and another of which has beautiful natural fissures in it. Five
or six stones extend in a row N of the circle for a distance
of 800 metres, and there are several small isolated standing-stones
scattered about the surrounding area. For a more detailed description
of this very disturbed site, click
the ruins of the wall is a decorated stone (GPS: N 58107 78599).
On the upper surface there are three finely carved cup and ring
designs. The delicacy and style belong to the passage-tomb art
of this area (cf the stone at King's Mountain 5.3 km
E), rather than to the open-air rock-art that is engraved and
pecked on panels, boulders and rock-surfaces in coastal areas
Another stone with fine petroglyphs from the same townland is
in Dublin's National Museum of Ireland.
~ About 4 km SE of
Slieve na Calliagh, in the graveyard of Bobsville (N
616 744) is a large upright stone bearing many cupmarks and
a wedge-shaped depression. The graves of the burial-ground are
all set into a rather large mound, 3-4 metres high and about
40 metres in diameter: possibly a passage-tomb that the cupmarked
stone came from or was set up on. Set into the wall by the gate
there are some 'Clonmacnoise-style' decorated cross-slabs of
the ?11th century, and a Tau or T-cross.
to see a photo by Ken Williams
Decorated Stone - see under Hurlstone, county Louth
Passage-tomb and Stone circle
O 007 727
daily, with guided tours in summer, this remarkable tomb has
been degraded by "restoration" and by its status as one of Ireland's
top three tourist attractions and the only prehistoric tomb
that most visitors to - and natives of - Ireland can be bothered
to see. Under the pressure of coachloads, the casually curious,
and the faintly-inquisitive, not to mention the fatuously over-restored
façade, it has lost all its atmosphere. Thus it is, perhaps,
in a worse situation than Stonehenge. Books and photographs
"explaining" it can be bought on-site - which might more fittingly
be a shrine to Padre Pio than to archæology.
It is hard to appreciate
the fine circle surrounding the mound of Newgrange, because
of the razmatazz of the pseudo-authentic entrance to the tomb,
the visitor centre, the guides, the buses, the ticket-booth
and all those things that cheapen the place for the brief bemusement
of gawpers who mostly know little about Ireland and less about
prehistoric Europe - and go away knowing very little more. The
circle was erected after the tomb was built, apparently by late-Neolithic
"Beaker-people" from Northern Britain, who also built a smaller
circle at Ballynoe in county Down. Twelve out of an original
35 large stones survive.
the thumbnail for larger pictures
for the building of the circle was perhaps to incorporate it
into a new form of sanctity, just as old churches in Ireland
were taken over from the Celtic rite first by the Roman orthodoxy,
then later by the Anglicans. Or possibly to restore it to an
ancient form of sanctity as a reaction against the development
of the Boyne Valley monuments into cathedrals of science.
There are also satellite-tombs,
many of which have also been excavated.
~ Slightly over 1 km
NW of Newgrange is the even more complex, marvellous and even
more pillaged tomb of Knowth, with several decorated
stones outside and inside the tombs,
for more photos
and also with satellite
tombs. It is has been sold to mass-tourism in the same way as
Newgrange, and included in the same "Customer Package"
- and if there are disquieting reports of the manufacturing
and/or altering and/or suppressing of archæological evidence
to bolster comfortable hypotheses, there is a strong tradition
of such practices in Irish archæology.
An old photo of the stone basin in the right-hand recess,
By the time the passage-tomb-building
societies had extended their activities and influence from Sligo,
via the skyline-necropolises of Carrowkeel and Loughcrew, as
far as the Bend of the Boyne - where (apart from the absence
of dominating heights) the land and landscape resembled the
Sacred Plateau of Carrowmore and environs - they had become
obsessed, like the Babylonians whose systems we still use, with
astronomy and astrology, and obviously were a plutocratic, totalitarian
View a slide-show of the interior of the main tomb at NEWGRANGE.
Google Earth photos of Boyne Valley Tombs. >
a slide-show of the interior of the main tomb at KNOWTH.
see under Hurlstone, county Louth
Passage-tomb and phallic
N 920 595
by Ken Williams
Before the commercialisation of Newgrange to a kind of pseudo-Neolithic
Mall, this was the most celebrated (and disappointing) of Irish
sites. The earthworks are of Iron Age date but are not the remains
of banqueting halls etc. that Romantic songs might lead us to
expect. One of the two megalithic monuments on the Hill of Tara
is the remarkable Stone of Destiny (Lía Fáil
- thus dubbed in 1837) which is a very phallic granite pillar
some 1.5 metres high, formerly known as Fergus' Cock,
moved to the centre of an earthwork to commemorate the dead
killed in a skirmish during the ill-fated 1798 Rebellion. Fortunately
it is no longer upstaged by the huge and hideous concrete statue
of St Patrick that was removed in 1992 - but a very similar
one has been erected much nearer the church.
Whether or not Lía Fáil is the same as
that mentioned in the Book of Leinster (as
one of the Three Oracle-stones of Ireland - all in the Northern
half of the island - the others being Crom Cruach at
Killycluggin, Cavan and Cloch
Óir from which the town of Clogher in Tyrone gets
its name) is impossible to say. There are also three
smaller mounds around it that are now incorporated into the
fosse and banks of the earthwork.
Recent geophysical research has revealed that a huge oval temple,
measuring about 170 metres at its widest point, and once surrounded
by about 300 huge posts made from an entire oak forest, lies
directly beneath the Lía Fáil. It is thought
to be from 4300 to 4500 years old.
The Lía Fáil
was moved from its position as significant standing-stone near
the second most interesting thing: 'The Mound of the Hostages',
which is in fact a small passage-less passage-tomb, whose entrance
is covered with a grille.
Its walls are composed
of just 7 massive orthostats, one of which is decorated, and
only half of the chamber is roofed: with 2 massive capstones.
One of the great celebrations traditionally associated with
Tara was the week-long festival of Samhain (1st November, the
'Gap of the Year', when the veil between the natural and the
supernatural can easily be rent) - and when the rising sun illuminates
- through the grille - the back of the 'Mound of the Hostages'.
A recent theory suggests
that the decorated stone in the 'Mound of the Hostages' is in
fact a plan of the Hill of Tara. Read
the (poorly-written) PDF
"The British Israelites",
who, early in the 20th century took spades to the site and dug
unsuccessfully for the Ark of the Covenant, have an interesting
opinion on the Lía
The phallic Baal-pillar stone that is now wrongfully
and blasphemously called the Lía Fáil,
was re-discovered and placed on The Inauguration Mound at Tara
some time between 1839 and 1845.
As the real Lía Fáil
is also known as Bethel, meaning 'House of God'
in Hebrew and it is prophesied that Christ will come and be
Inaugurated King of the Israelites, including the Irish, upon
the Lía Fáil Stone
there could be no greater insult to God or Christ than to name
a stone phallus the Lía Fáil.
That is telling God that His House, where He should come and
live, is a stone phallus and that Christ should come and sit
stone penis. The wrongful naming of the obscene phallic stone
at Tara caused God's Cursing of Ireland which brought about
the Great Famine of 1845-52 and it is still the "Curse
of Tara" and Ireland.
The man in charge of the team which found the oval temple under
the Hill said that there were no plans for excavation. According
to The Irish Examiner (November 2002), Mr Newman remarked
that "There was a time when excavation was the
first step in archæological research. That's not the
case now because it really is the systematic destruction
of a monument. When you are dealing with something as important
as the Hill of Tara, you don't do something like that lightly."
More recently, however,
motorway construction has threatened it.
also an excellent online history of Tara and its many other
structures up to the present: