Keamcorravooly, county Cork
Wedge-tombs come, æsthetically speaking, between Court-tombs
and Portal-tombs: a little less compact and rather less striking
than the latter; much more compact than the former. Their roofstones
have not been chosen for their distinction, they do not have impressive
portal- or jamb-stones, and they generally are not more than 1.5
metres high. They are called Wedge-tombs because they are taller
and wider at the straight-façaded front (which always faces south-west)
than at the back.
these tombs resemble to some extent the squat dolmens-simples
of France, though they rarely are quite so simple. Wedge-tombs
in the west of Ireland, especially in the little limestone karst
of The Burren, are box-shaped,
all Irish wedge-tombs have distinctive close double-walling of the
gallery: a feature found in a few French
French tombs, and even more than Irish portal-tombs, chocking-stones
were often used to make the roof-stone(s) steady.
chamber is often entered through a small antechamber or portico,
from which it is divided by a septal slab or large sill-stone.
Those wedge-tombs which are not box-like (the majority) tend to
be D-shaped, with straight façade of matched orthostats and a tapering
or heel-shaped chamber behind it. The cairn also tends to be D-shaped.
built a little later than Portal-tombs, are associated with people
who had the techniques for smelting copper and tin and making bronze.
Thus, as the climate deteriorated to more or less its present chilliness,
they needed to and were able to cut down more trees and work previously-intractable
(heavier) and inaccessible land - a process which has gathered pace
across the millennia, so that Ireland is now the
country in Europe. (More recently,
trees have been felled merely to winter-feed cattle with the ivy
growing upon them!)
stretches across the uplands of the whole island including the south
and west, where very few earlier tombs were built. Those in the
north-east of Ireland tend to be fairly elaborate, and feature a
double or divided entrance created by the insertion of an orthostat
in the entrance to the portico.
are highly reminiscent of the long gallery-tombs or alleés-couvertes
are modest, almost homely, structures.
apertures through which a soul might escape or ritual food be offered.
of their construction coincided both with deterioration of the climate
and the overgrazing that we see today - which turned the fertile
and well-drained lower uplands to blanket-bog: yet another human
Land of Lost Content.
like most of the stone circles and rows that were built around the
same time or later - and unlike the tombs which preceded them
- tend to face the winter or summer sunset: the souls of the
departed, perhaps, could fly out through the door and follow it,
persuade it to return (or, on the other hand, continue) in its former
warm and life-enhancing splendour.
On the other
hand, he entrances of many of the Munster (Cork & Kerry) tombs
face towards the settings of the major and minor southern moons.
fear of Bronze-age people in Northern Europe must have been that
the climate would keep on deteriorating, and that one day the sun
simply would not rise. And, perhaps, that the sun was rising only
by human inducement through prayer, ritual and the orientation of
When there are examples
of so many tombs, we should remember that each one (like each modern
school) was different, and built by separate groups or communities
of people. There is unlikely to have been one single cult or belief-system
or even cosmology. Moreover, we must distinguish between the builders'
intentions and the uses to which the tombs were put by later generations
or incoming people- like, for example, 19th century National Schools
today, some of which are private homes, while others are craft-boutiques.
As for the
enigma of the double-walling, so similar to modern cavity-construction
- the mystery remains.
(after Cunliffe and the Irish Megalithic