Another possible passage grave, and so close to home too. Goldenhill is a funny little hill, to the left just off the N81 as you head for Blessington. 274 metres high, but rising slowly and gently from the aforesaid road at about 200 metres. East of the hill is Kilbride, Cill Bhríde (good old Brigid) down in the Brittas river valley, just north of where it joins the Liffey.
I'd never heard of it until I was browsing Herity's book and surfing the NMR map browser. And there it was in Price too. Three mounds/cairns/raths/possible passage graves. So off we set, 10 minutes up through Ballinascorney, down into Brittas, left at The Lamb just inside Wicklow and first turn right up the incline to the ridge/hill.
You can see the main monument here from the road. Looking west, the fosse/ditch on the east side is visible. There were a bunch of people, the landowner and his relatives, in the field messing about on a quad-bike. We sauntered over to them and asked permission to have a look. He said no problem. I asked if he knew much about the monuments. He said that the main one, the rath, was a fairy fort, and that the second one, the mound to its south, had original stones and field clearance mixed in. He also mentioned that the "heritage people" had told him to "leave them alone". I remarked that I was sure he would have complied with that without the instruction, bad luck and all that. He agreed.
So the minor one first: Pretty much a denuded cairn, some original kerbstones remain, mainly in the south-west quadrant. It's about 20 metres in diameter and under a metre high, really just a raised platform. You'd be forgiven for wondering why it was robbed of its stone only to have field clearance heaped on it later. Pretty unremarkable stuff anyway, except that it has such a prestigious neighbour, leaving one to wonder which came first.
Over to the rath/possible passage grave. It's very impressive, whatever its provenance. The view across to the passage grave cemetery at Seefin/Seefingan/Seahan is great, slightly spoiled by the telegraph line and poles. It really feels that the inhabitants here wanted to be looked over by the ancestors. The mound is about three and a half metres high, the ditch/fosse mainly in evidence on the south-eastern arc. North of east is the supposed entrance with the large stones that, along with the structural stones in the interior, made some think passage grave. These are a bit jumbled but seem to mark out the entrance to the rath/mound.
Six stones of varying size and some smaller ones make a rectangular, almost box-like structure just outside the rath entrance. I've seen a similar construction at Knockscur http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/10620#post-63878 I imagine that this may have been some sort of "contamination/quarantine zone" before you were allowed to enter the rath, sort of like a mini-court. One of these large stones has a gorgeous quartz vein running through it. Another seems to have been split. There is always the chance that these were very late additions – only excavation will tell. There are other large kerb-like stones around the circumference of the mound, in particular at the south quadrant.
The interior is a mess, with 6 to 8 pits dug into the raised floor. These are a distraction to interpretation – it has been said that they might be evidence of huts inside the rath, but I can't agree, the rath being large but not large enough to contain that many separate dwellings/buildings. There is one very cist-like structure in one of these pits – Price changed his mind about this and said possibly "a ruined hut (door?)" but again I can't agree. The covering stone here is very much like a capstone and from what I could see, it seems to cover a rectangular stone box.
So what is it? I reckon that this is an old cairn that was re-used as a rath, a 'fairy-fort' in common parlance. It may well have been a passage grave, situated as it is almost on the top of the hill, and in the shadow of Seefin and Seefingan. The hill is elongated north to south, and as the rath is situated west of the the summit, the most expansive views are in that direction, over the N81 towards the ridge of hills that begin at Saggart Hill and terminate just west of Blessington. A not very well-known and mysterious place, fascinating all the more for that reason.
"There is a rath about 20 or 25yds in diameter just N of the top point of Goldenhill. Almost due E, just outside the entrance are six large boulders, suggesting a passageway by their appearances. There seems to be the remains os a chamber or cist in the centre of the rath – and the surface inside is not even, but consists os a large wide pit 5 or 6ft deep in the centre (containing the stones of the chamber) with six smaller pits of the same depth irregularly placed around – the surface now all grass- and bracken-grown."
He returned on 11 October 1944 (and had second thoughts)
"Raheen at Goldenhill, Kilbride. I examined this again and noted more details. It has an outer fosse and an inner bank: I saw no trace of an outer bank. Depth of fosse below level of field, only about 1ft, width of fosse 9 paces or yards, height of inner bank over fosse about 7ft: fairly even all round.
Six blocks at entrance, the outer two are near the outside edge of the fosse – 9ft apart, one 3ft high by 3ft across (S side), the other 6ft high by 5ft across (N side). The other four are on the outer slope of the gap or entrance through the bank, 9 to 10ft apart, and each about 3ft high – the lower one on the S side has been cut through with wedges, and the broken-off piece is lying there.
Diameter of enclosed space of raheen, about 25 paces. It is very uneven, so that it is impossible to pace it across. Going in through the entrance, on the left is a round pit 5 or 6ft deep and 10ft or so across – and there are two somewhat smaller pits close inside the bank further to the SE and S. Between the first and second, and going in a crooked line across to the W or NW side is a long depression: and across this from the entrance, on the west side is another hollow, and it is in this one that the stones are which I though in 1929 were the stones of a chamber. This pit is not in the centre, but W of the centre. The stone which looked to me like a capstone is about 3ft wide, mostly buried in the grass – and there are other stones under and near it. I now think that these might be stones forming part of a ruined hut (door?). The other pits might also be the ruins of huts. [In 1929] I spoke of six smaller pits, but three I have mentioned here are the best preserved, as round pits.
The inside of the raheen would I think be higher than the level of the field outside, even allowing for a buried accumulation of stones. All the stones and block are of granite.
The Liam Price Notebooks – The placenames, antiquities and topography of County Wicklow
Edited by Christiaan Corlett and Mairéad Weaver
2002 Dúchas, The Heritage Service
Description: Situated on a very gentle SW-facing slope c. 200m SW of the summit of Golden Hill. Circular area (diam. 37m) defined by a stony bank (Wth c. 4m; int. H 0.7m) and an external fosse (av. Wth 6m; av. D 0.7m). There is a gap in the bank (Wth 5m) and causeway across the fosse (Wth 6m) at the NE with another causeway (Wth c. 12m) at the SE. There are some large stones in situ in the interior of the site and traces of a boulder revetment at the base of the bank. Possibly a modified prehistoric kerbed cairn. (Price 1934, 46)
Herity has this in his inventory of Irish passage graves, listed as Wi 1.
"At a height of 274m (900') stands a ruined circular structure 36m in diameter and 4.5m high. There appear to be upright kerbstones around the edge and a pair of matched stones in the north-east quadrant. two other tumuli stand close by, one in Goldenhill Td. (Sheet 5) and the other in Kilbride Td. (Sheet1)"
[Mr. P. Healy]
From Irish Passage Graves: Neolithic Tomb-Builders in Ireland and Britain 2500 B.C.
by Michael Herity
1974 Irish University Press