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 (signposed Dubhadh) 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 souterrain 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
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 just
on one 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.
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.
This tomb and others in the area are under threat from quarrying.
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.
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.
~ 2.3 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.
~ 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 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.
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
If this little standing-stone
were anywhere else, it would not be worth mentioning. But because
it is half 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
Sometimes they have been Christianised, as at several sites
in the Dingle Peninsula of Kerry.
Passage-tomb - see under Newgrange, below.
N 569 773 to N 600 780 (approx.)
Occupying the two Loughcrew
Hills of Carnbane East and Carnbane West in Slieve na Calliagh
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 theVoices
from the Dawnwebsite.] 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)
is also 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',
surrounded by 7 smaller
roofless tombs, some with decoration, and some with their short
passages (mostly facing E) still partly roofed.
A sunny early-morning
summer visit is recommended to see the engravings well.
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.
~ On King's Mountain,
3.2 km to the E, a surviving 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.
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 large 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.
Passage-tomb and Stone circle
O 007 727
Open 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 tomb or shrine to Padre Pio than to
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 reason 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,
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.
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
see under Hurlstone, county Louth
Passage-tomb and phallic
N 920 595
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 Cruaich at Killycluggin
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 megalithic monument on the Hill: "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 man in charge of
the team which found the oval temple 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." [My emphasis.] More recently,
however, the Hill of Tara has been threatened by motorway construction.