Harristown has changed a bit since I was last here, 5 and a half years ago. New restrictive barbed wire was in place blocking access, and the sign with the phone number urging you to call and ask for permission to visit the site was gone. We were in Waterford city for a short while and had some spare time so I thought I'd show an enthusiastic friend one of Ireland's little gems. Arriving and finding the new disposition didn't put us off and soon we were kicking back, basking in the sunshine and pondering our ancestral past.
Last time I was here much of the views were blocked by late morning mist. Not today – the tomb builders certainly picked their spot, slightly back from the end of a north-south ridge, views to the distance for almost 300 degrees. And I'd say equal that onto the tomb from all around. We thought from up here of the families that were involved in the construction of this bronze age passage grave – the landscape much changed now, bungalows and farms dotted around, working the same land that sustained the tomb-builders.
Harristwon is one of three undifferentiated passage graves in Waterford that are said to owe more to Cornish entrance graves than to Irish passage graves. Trade between there and here is not difficult to imagine and the passing on of construction ideas maybe from Brittany to Cornwall to Waterford is not a leap to far.
simond's aerial shot of the tomb describes it better than any words ever could – however, note the 2 passage roofstones between the passage and the kerb at the top (actually the west 'side' of the tomb). Coming across the remains of graves like this I often wonder at the haphazard form the denudation/destruction takes. Why those particular stones and not the 2 left in situ?
As we took all of this in, somebody arrived in a 4-by-4 and went about his business at the enclosed masts and aerials at the other end of the ridge. This turned out to be the land-owner, who was not a little pissed off that we were on his land. It seems that Harristown is a popular spot and that some visitors are wont to bring wire-cutters to gain access. This explains all the new, unwelcoming security features. He told us that plans and work are in train to allow access to the site, with fenced-in walkways and an enclosed, 'sterile' space around the tomb. I guess this is progress, but I couldn't help being glad that we'd got here before all that kicks in.
What a beautiful place. I sat on a kerbstone at the south-west of the monument while the sun burned away the morning mist. I'd driven up along the rutted track from the east of the hill and got to the gate with the sign. I'd called the number 5 times without any joy before deciding to head over to the tomb anyway.
I stayed for about half an hour, almost forgetting the intrusive noise from the farm machinery and barking dogs – somebody had unleashed the hounds of hell and they marauded all over the heather-covered hillock at the north end of Harristown.
The small undifferentiated passage tomb is in reasonably fine condition. The kerb remains around much of the monument. Two roofstones remain, one over the chamber and one near the beginning of the passage. There is a sill-stone at the beginning of the passage. The stone reminded me of the stone found in other monuments in the south-east. What seems to be a thrown down roofstone rest between the kerb and passage just behind the chamber.
This was a beautiful place to pass the time. The only let-down was that the sun didn't burn the mist away quickly enough and I couldn't take in the full breadth of the expansive views.