My plan for the day in Fenagh had included a visit to the court tomb in the neighbouring parish of Commons, as many of the standing stones and sundry other pre-christian monuments in the vicinity, and, of course, Fenagh Beg portal tomb and its attendant passage tombs and cairn. So far I'd been put off coming here by a combination of a local lass and Ken's fieldnotes about the bull. It had lashed hail at the court tomb and I'd been attacked by hungry sheep, and the cluster of standing stones north-east of the village had proved utterly elusive. The best laid plans of mice and men…
I had earlier gone up the lane above and to the east of the tomb and had spied it across what now is a lake but is a stream on the maps. The field looked empty, but the very cool response that the local had given to my enthusiastic plan to jaunt across the private land had left me doubting the wisdom of such a venture. My companion and his dog had accompanied me on the fruitless leg of the standing stone search and now we were back in the centre of the village, not 300 metres due south of the tomb. So what to do?
My ventures out in the field have been drastically curtailed by the recession and the perpetual "f*** you, pay me" of my mortgage provider. So I'd killed two birds with one stone – visited my mate in Cavan town, and plotted an attack on Fenagh and its rich megalithic heritage. And here I was, on the verge of bottling the ultimate goal of my trip. Well, bollocks to that, as they say nearly everywhere. I spied a quick route over a farm gate, across an empty field where the remains of the first passage grave are – then it would be over another fence and across the field with the portal. I've done this type of manoeuver so often but never have I been cheered on by a friend and his dog. I said I'd be about 20 minutes and that I'd meet him back in the village and off I set.
I headed straight for the mound with the small chamber at its top. Because of the rush I was in I didn't give this much time. The small chamber is box-like, resembling a small kist. It's about a metre square and sits oddly at the top of the mound and gradually becomes visible as you cross the field from the south. Behind the mound is a fence/hedge and this cuts across the monument. Almost immediately over this is the second passage grave, a strange rectangular structure with a couple of stones from a chamber and some kerbstones on its north side. The odd thing about this is that it's all raised about a metre above the field level, including the kerb. It was excavated in 1928 and "Cremated bone, six bone pendants, the head of a bone pin, and one quartz and two chalk balls were recovered." Again, moving fast I didn't give this much time either.
And then on to the main event: the ivy is really taking over here. The capstone rests precariously on one portal (the other portal, like the capstone itself, having been broken), the backstone and the eastern sidestone. The broken piece of the roofstone is a couple of tons in itself and the complete tomb itself would have been quite a construction. What really gives this place its character though is the mad bush that has parasitically given the tomb a full head of hair. However, from what I could see on my brief visit, this is not as charming as it used to be and some of the ivy trunk/branches are really strangling the stone. As the plant increases in size and bulk I fear it's in real danger of pulling the already damaged and quite precariously balanced capstone down. All of the stone are of the same conglomerate that you find in Sligo and Leitrim and it's really rather brittle and erosion-prone.
Having said all that, this is really a fantastic place. There's an air of ancientness about the place with that really rugged, damp, loaminess to the surrounds. The view immediately north to the beginnings of Lough Reane is gorgeous. The people of the vicinity are aware of what they have on their doorstep but haven't come up with a way to make the most of it yet, what with the tensions between private property and public monuments and the disgraceful lack of a public right to roam movement in Ireland.
I left here way too soon and took a few shots of the very small cairn in the corner of the field. A fascinating and undervalued place that maybe I won't see again.
This tomb almost made me laugh out loud when I saw it first, as you cross the field you can see the top of a luxuriant crop of leaves sticking up over the bank. The thought 'surely it can't be...' was going through my head but yes, there it stood like a peacock pining for a hen.
The tomb itself is great, even the broken and crumbled portal stone cant detract from this one. the construction seems odd, the two back stones form a V shape negating the need for a closing slab. It appers to sit in a long wide cairn but is not in line with it, the portals would have pointed off to the right. Maybe the low mound stretching behind it was not a cairn but it does seem like it.
I saw one ruined passage tomb near to the tomb and a possible second slightly higher above that, the side of the valley seems to step and the tombs are in a mini plateau.
If you are going here, the first thing to look for is not the tomb, its the grumpy bull and his family that hide in the next field until they can cut off your path and out-flank you. They seemed to wait until I was 50 metres away from my camera pack and tripod before launching the manouveres but luckily only the weeny little baby bull looked like he wanted to get physical. Only got a few photos as a result. I will be back!