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Fieldnotes by ryaner

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Corradooey (Court Tomb)

I had an appointment in a hotel in Letterkenny and it finished earlier than I had expected. Usually if I'm traveling that far I'll have done an itinerary and have my maps with me, but as I thought I'd be in the hotel until nightfall, I hadn't bothered. Now I had about 2 and a half hours of daylight to spare so I typed in Drumskinny stone circle into Google Maps and headed off. It was 50 minutes away and was going to add 30 minutes to my three hour journey home but what the hell.

I headed out the Letterkenny to Ballybofey road but was traveling almost blind as I'd never been in this part of the country. I kept pretty much to the GM directions but peered over any hedgerows I could to see if there any wayward sites. After about 25 minutes and heading downhill towards some forestry I noticed a bunch of upright stones beside a field wall about 50 metres into a field on my left. I was fairly moving it but jammed on a bit past and out of sight of the site. The speed limit sign I parked beside was in mph and as I left the car and headed back, there was one in kph – I was right on the border.

The border-line runs right through this tomb. It is not mentioned in the Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland, Vol. VI, County Donegal but is mentioned in the Archaeological Inventory of County Donegal. It is very much a court tomb and is a wrecked mess that could do with a bit of tidying up. The remains of the court lie mostly in Donegal but most of the tomb, with an ante-chamber, a full chamber entranced through a classic pair of jambstones and a completely destroyed sub-chamber are in Tyrone. Indeed, the only online mention I can find for this calls it Garvagh, and places it in that townland in Tyrone. It's mentioned in the inventory section of Tomb Travel, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency SMR number TYR 015:005.

Drumlohan (Souterrain)

Another of Waterford's amazing sites left in a disgraceful condition, overgrown with nettles and thistles. We approached from the west, through an open gate and down a farm track. I wasn't sure that we had found the right place until we were right on top of it, the substantial standing ogham stones hidden by the summer growth.

Once again I had a go at tidying the place up, giving the stones a bit of breathing space. The enclosure is in a large pasture field on a working farm and you would wonder had it had any visitors this summer. The monument is in state "care" but with the nearby Waterford Greenway now very popular, could this care not be more actual than theoretical?

Five stones stand at the edge of the cut of the souterrain, all former lintels or roofstones of the reasonably short passage. Steps lead down into the passage where more ogham stones line the sides. There are three unmarked roofstones remaining over the passage, two almost midway down the passage and one over the end of the souterrain. Most of the passage is made up of dry-stone walling.

Even with all the herbage, the power of this place couldn't be dimmed. I was affected by the stones here and the remnants of the souterrain more than I would be at a lot of the 'show' sites along the Tramore dolmen trail. Which is not to say that I'll be back anytime soon, if ever – but who knows?

Ballynamona Lower (Court Tomb)

We visited Ballynamona on a drizzly, mid-August day, a day untypical of the sunny summer we've had this year. Ballynamona is deep in the Waterford Gaelteacht, a place where the usual bi-lingual signposting is dropped and everything is in Irish only. However, this convention in turn is dropped when you get to the end of the driveable track, where one neighbour has seen fit to post a "BEWARE, ATTACK DOG LOOSE" sign right next to the last, tree-lined track that leads to the field where the tomb lies. This is very intimidating, and it almost worked, but I reckoned I would never come back here and I really wanted to see Ireland's most southerly court tomb, so with a bit of convincing and coaxing of 9-year-old LM we opened the gate and headed up the track (in the end there was no attack dog to be seen or heard, signs like these judiciously used to put off the intrepid amateur archaeologist and the stoner hippy alike).

At the end of the track we reached a barley field that had been harvested quite a while earlier in the year and headed over to where the tomb lies. I had expected a fenced-in tomb in a clearing at the side of the field, judging from the shots here and elsewhere. What we found, eventually, was a bracken, gorse and bramble covered neglected mess. The fence is gone, or buried under the bracken, and the bracken and gorse has overgrown the tomb.

I was disheartened and disappointed. The gallery of the tomb was visible, but all the court stones were inundated. I took a few shots and started to head off, saddened by the neglect and seeming disdain. We reached the edge of the barley field and talked about how we'd probably never return - this is an isolated spot, not really on the way to anywhere. LM asked me why I bother and I said without the likes of us, these sites could be lost altogether (there was a faint track to the tomb from the barley field so someone does come here occasionally).

We turned back and headed through the jungle. Neither of us were dressed for the brambles but we persevered. Rooting around by the large stone on the western arm of the court I found the Bord Fáilte sign and its post, dumped there unceremoniously. I used this to tamp down the bracken around the gallery to give it some breathing space. I also found one of the staves from the fence which I used to bash back some of the gorse and brambles. I tamped down the bracken within the chamber/gallery of the tomb with my feet. And there it was, quite an impressive court tomb, with stones remaining on both arms of its court and a fairly complete gallery. Uncovered and opened out, the tomb regained a bit more majesty and we were grateful to the ancestors for leaving this place for us.

Leaving, I felt a certain sense of self-justification – this stone-hunting is not everyone's cup of tea, it's mainly the domain of eccentrics and, eh, stoners. It flashes into the broader consciousness occasionally when a spectacular like the recent stuff at Newgrange and Dowth makes the news. And then it's forgotten about once again, left to the likes of LM and me to uncover once again, attack dogs in our own right.

Parknasilogue (Burial Chamber)

Quick fieldnotes for Parknasilogue: This site is in danger of being lost forever. The land that it is on is being sold for housing development under the auspices of NAMA. The old thorn tree that used to stand guard over the chamber is gone and the site is inundated with brambles. See Fourwind's shots here: http://megalithomania.com/show/site/16/parknasilog_kist.htm better than my own old ones on TMA. I couldn't see into the impenetrable brambles to check if the tomb is still extant. In my opinion, this is to be added to a list of a few other endangered sites in the South Dublin/North Wicklow area, all under threat because of the mad dash for housing. Another example is at http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/1664/laughanstown.html where a new town is already under construction. Remember http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/1258/brittas.html

Thomastown (Passage Grave)

If this is what they say it is – the remains of a passage grave – then it is of the undifferentiated variety, and diminutive at that.

From the very small road and over the fence, south about 150 metres into the field and very visible is a hillock, about 3 to 4 metres tall. This is very possibly man-made. Exploring around it's top there seems to be cairn rubble remaining. Maybe, when the excavators realised that they had disturbed an ancient grave, they had second thoughts and stopped their handiwork. But not before they had scooped out a sizable chunk of the southern side of the mound, revealing the chamberless passage.

What's left of this speculative passage are about 12 stones, most in an alignment onto cairn T in Loughcrew, with the most south-easterly pair forming an 'entrance'. Alas, were this an entrance, the alignment of the tomb would face away from Cairn T which would be behind the tomb to the north-west. So quaint theories may be just that, quaint but wholly incorrect.

All of the tombs on the hills of Loughcrew either align with other tombs to the east, or with the equinox sunrise in the east, so this ones orientation doesn't exclude the possibility that this is a Loughcrew outlier, along with the mound at Bobsville graveyard with its megalithic art another kilometre to the south.

Coolcreen (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

We traipsed up a waterlogged lane at the side of some forestry on the north side of the Slieve Bloom range. You never know quite what to expect on these little ventures, and when accompanied by two half-interested companions, trepidation that the discomfort might be a complete waste of time increases with proximity to the goal. This is one of those ones however that lives up to my middling expectations, with some awesome scenery and fairly magical atmosphere.

The first of the five barrows that we encountered as we approached from the west is named a pond barrow on the slightly dodgy entries at the National Monument database. It's very small, quite eroded and relatively dry at the centre, though with the tell-tale rushes signalling that it could be quite wet in winter. You'd almost pass it by as your eye is drawn to the next in the west-to-east line that we followed. This is the most impressive of the five and the most obvious, described on archaeology.ie as a 'mound barrow' and "On top of high ground in mountainous area. Circular flat topped mound (H 3m approx. top diam. 7m; base diam. 15m) with circular depression (Wth 2.5m; D 0.6m) on top with evidence of stone kerbing around depression (possible collapsed burial)." The collapsed, dead thorn tree on the flattened top added to the atmosphere.

We moved over to the middle of the 5 barrows, a so-called 'ring barrow' and indeed it is surrounded by a ring of hawthorn trees. There is a clatter of bushes growing on the mound itself and it's hard to make out, but, like at the mound barrow, there are some stones that may have formed a cist or chamber at one time.

In the next field over are the very large bowl barrow, described on archaeology.ie thus: "Located on top of high ground in mountainous area. Circular raised area (diam 16.5m; H 0.8m) enclosed by a slight bank (Wth 2m; ext. H 1m) and poorly preserved external fosse. Marshy raised interior is unusual." Not far from this a little further east are the very poor remains of the fifth, unclassified barrow.

The records for these at archaeology.ie are incorrect, with the bowl barrow and the mound barrow inverted and the ring barrow description given for the most easterly, least impressive of the five.

We spent quite a while here, only taking our leave when the bullocks in the fields decided that we did have food after all and approached us expectantly.

Tibradden (Wedge Tomb)

I've scouted around this area before and always given up due to access issues. We're just in the foothills of the mountains here, so there's maybe a bit more paranoia so close to the city when it comes to strangers traipsing across private land.

I realised from the archaeology.ie map that the 'tomb' is actually fairly close to some forestry and there's a car park in there not 400 metres from the site, so having given up on the Tibradden Lane eastern approach, I flew around to the Tibradden wood car-park.

About 200 metres south, in from the car-park you can walk though the thinned forestry and head north-west to the remains. The field here has been extensively quarried for gravel. I'm not sure that what I found is the tomb. It's listed as 'Megalithic tomb - Unclassified' on archaeology.ie and there are no more details. The only other online mention that I can find is the photo on the link that I posted. I've given this a wedge tomb classification given that Kilakee and Kilmashogue are close by, but I'm not confident that it's correct.

What does remain is overgrown and wrecked. There are some dressed stones and the most visible stones look like a capstone and a sidestone, part of some sort of chamber, though the capstone looks more like one from a portal tomb than a wedge tomb.

Preban (Cup Marked Stone)

In his wonderful book, Inscribing the Landscape: The rock art of South Leinster http://wordwellbooks.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1607 Christiaan Corlett writes of the re-use and rediscovery of 3 cup-marked stones in Preban cemetery. We found 2 of these stones, and what is maybe a fourth, very small, stone with 2 cups.

Using the gazeteer at the back of the book, it was hard to locate the stones as they are both not in the same position as when Christiaan photographed them. I've only realised now that the third stone, the one that we didn't find, named Preban 1 in the book, is illustrated also. Ah well.

I've followed the naming convention from the book, Preban 1, 2 and 3 and taken the liberty of adding the fourth, Preban 4, discovered by seven-year-old Lily-Mae.

Brittas (Bullaun Stone)

A quick note here to say that these stones are in danger of disappearing off the radar altogether. I've never quite figured out why they are here in the first place, there being no ecclesiastical site nearby, and just the ogham stone up the road at Knickeen. But they are not looked after in any way, despite there being two stones of seeming great significance.

It's hard to say when the better time is to visit here - spring-time when the vegetation hasn't yet thrived but the ground is marshy and muddy or summer/autumn time, when the ground may have dried out a bit, but the plants have taken over.

My favourite of the lot, the one with six basins, is completely submerged – I guess I lucked out that day, 10 years ago when I first came across it. It is still a place that I will always stop by if I'm close.

Mount Venus (Burial Chamber)

Visited the neighbouring DSPCA today, 12/5/15 and couldn't resist this. Seems that they may be realising what they have on their hands here as there was quite a bit of recent heavy shrub felling and the site is quite open. I don't know if the DSPCA own the land that the mega-megalith is on, but they have marked it on the map on one of their hand-outs.

I always struggle to explain this place, and the scale of what may have once been a capstone (or may have been an over-ambitious and abandoned operation). The stone's only rival for weight, as far as I know, is at Browne's Hill in Carlow – much better known and valued.

This time I had my little companion with me and hope that today's shots show some scale.

Nutgrove (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Imagine our disappointment having read this description – In level pasture. Stone (H 3.8m; 1.67m x 0.55m) is subrectangular in plan and irregular in shape, long axis E-W – only to find it now sadly fallen. Ah well.

Ballybought (Bullaun Stone)

I finally made it to this stone, Ballybought (Baile Bocht) wart stone, after 5 aborted visits, livestock in the large field always putting me off. The stone is about 200 metres into the field from the little bridge that fords the north to south flowing stream, on the eastern side of the small valley.

The ovoid bullaun dominates the large, metre and a half long boulder, at least a foot wide on its longer axis. I didn't feel like testing its depth. There are very faint cupmarks on the boulder too. Lumps of quartzite speckle the granite. The stone seems to have been cut on its south-east edge, though many moons ago.

On leaving I realised there were livestock in the field still, hidden beyond the crest of the hill. Oh well.

Blessington Demesne 1 (Round Barrow(s))

I was heading south for Church mountain and glanced down to my right as I entered Blessington. Seeing the temporary fencing I quickly diverted and decided to check it out. And oh dear, what a mess! Already a neglected and overgrown monument, with a kids' playground butted up to its west side, now the ignominy of a skate park to its east.

Sounding desperately like a killjoy to myself here, let it be said that the more playgrounds and skate parks for our kids, the better. But come on – allow the ancient burial site a bit of room to breathe. The beginnings of the ground work on the east side cut right into the edge of the external bank.

The whole project seems to have gone ahead with a lack of thought – what's going to happen to the barrow now, given that the council has already treated it with such disdain? I get the feeling that they'd prefer if it just went away. Shame.

Johnstown Hut Site 2 (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

This is not listed in the SMR. As I ascended south towards the summit of Broughills Hill from the barrow in Johnstown, along the boundary line between Johnstown and Kiernans Hill and in turn Broughills Hill, I spied a large, rocky outcrop. Though I was making for the summit in driving wind and rain, I couldn't resist investigating. The outcrop is made of huge earthfast granite boulders, but below it to the east is a seemingly man-made platform containing this intriguing monument.

I can't make out what it is, so I've listed it here as a hut site/habitation site, though i suspect that it may be a burial/chambered cairn, ruined and lost to history, until now. There are lots of lumps and bumps in the small, 8 metre diameter area, some of which may be a chamber, or may be the hearth of an old hut site. In the north-west quadrant there is erosion leaving packed, cairn-like stone visible. The whole mound is about half a metre tall, rising to a metre in places.

A mystery, leading me to reckon that this ridge, leading down from Broughills Hill, has not been properly surveyed.

Broughills Hill (Standing Stones)

There are two listed standing stones in this small townland, west of the summit of the hill with the same name. I believe I found both, along with two other possibles. The terrain here is difficult - swampy, pitted, harsh and treacherous – boots a necessity if you wish to retain intact ankles.

All of the stones are being swallowed up by the peat. Of the four, the tallest, conical menhir is the only one that could be said to be definitely such. Another large, bulbous, craggy example, almost a metre and a half tall, is badly leaning to the south-west, but seems to have packing stones at its peat engulfed base.

The other two are similar, slab-like examples, one listed and said to be "Possibly a marker stone between the other Broughills Hill standing stone (WI009-030----), the Johnstown barrow (WI009-029----) and the Kiernans Hill standing stone (WI009-034----)."

Rathcoole (Holed Stone)

Yet another Dublin curiosity, I'd never heard of this until I stumbled upon it here: http://www.irishstones.org/place.aspx?p=246 And what a nice surprise it is, nestled to the side of an, until recently, overgrown graveyard.

Rathcoole is supposedly named after this: http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/15924/newtown_lower.html the rath of Coole or Cumhaill, he of Fionn fame and is at the west edge of Dublin county.

I arrived and didn't hold out much hope of getting to the stone as the walls of the church/graveyard are very high and the gate seemed forbidding. However, there was a groundsman there and I pushed through the gate no problem. I asked him if he knew of the stone and sure enough he led me to it. I asked if he knew much about it and he said he had heard that the tradition was to pass a newborn through the hole in a cleansing ritual, similar to baptism I guess.

The man was very friendly and showed me around the grounds – turns out that he's a volunteer, doing the work to keep busy and doing a fine job, having cleared what was a seriously overgrown perimeter.

The stone, not even a metre square, sits there amongst the various relics of Christianity, a reminder of our pagan past, a survivor, pitted and pockmarked and tilting and still here, a small trace, or testament, to a tradition that remains despite all that time has altered.

Bishopsland (Round Barrow(s))

My companion today was Ruth, a sometime or somewhat-interested megalithic explorer. This monument is on land that was formerly owned by her grandfather so it was a trip down memory lane to her childhood for her.

The monument sits north, high up on a ridge above the Liffey – there's a lake down there now, made by the hydro-electric dam that is part of a scheme that includes another dam upstream that created the Poulaphuca reservoir.

The bank is very visible on the western side, about a metre high, but with parasitic beech trees adorning it. Yet again, as at many sites close by, Slievecorragh and Church mountain are the mother's breasts, slightly east of south from here. The southern arc of the bank is flatter, barely visible in places, before re-appearing as we turn to the east and north.

The curious little domed mound is in the centre of the 35 metre diameter ring, but set in about 10 metres, about 8 or 9 metres diameter itself and about a metre and a half tall. There is a beech tree growing on its northern side.

The external ditch/fosse varies in depth around the bank, but is most profound on the northern arc where it is 1.3 metres from top of bank to bottom of ditch. There is an entrance feature here too.

There has been modern digging both on the southern side of the mound and in the south-eastern quadrant of the barrow between the bank and the mound. Overall, a very impressive monument, impressively set with extensive views to the south and west.

Kilranelagh Graveyard (Standing Stones)

Kilranelagh Graveyard, in the wilds of Wicklow, has lots of ancient structures, not all prehistoric, but still ancient. They're continuing to bury people here, and after what must have been centuries of neglect, the place is very well looked after and obviously well loved by its carers.

The stones that we are interested in are very neolithic looking, like the entrance portals and sillstone of a small passage grave, its last remnants, the rest now long gone. Yet these remain, and you're supposed to pass the coffin between them before burial.

Nearby, within the graveyard, is a holy well, St. Brigid's of course. Out the gate to the south, the setting sun bathes Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs in an orange glow. Leaving I came across two graves, one with a very rough-hewn stone with no inscription but with a small toy gun and 2 toy motorbikes, the other, the last resting place of Clive Mervyn Wynne, died 2nd April, 1976, age 6 weeks. This is a place of power and peace and of sadness.

Toor

In Toor townland and neighbouring (to the east) Lugglass Upper, in a little glen north-east of the peak of Church mountain and almost directly north of Corriebracks, up through sheepy fields, surrounded by stones and mounds that could be, may be, a very neolithic environment vibe to it, there is this group of monuments.

This first part of the track is drivable but behind a farm gate. Just keep going up this track, stay undistracted by the banks, clumps, maybe fallen menhirs – keep going. I had the, as it turned out, fantasy that I might head up to the peak of Church mountain and over to some monuments on its western side – laughable notion in this heat.

After a while you come to another farm gate, directly ahead, not off to the left at the farmhouse where the standing stone is. Over this and about 100 metres in you must ascend the bank to your right. Up here on a flat, boggy plain, are the two stone circles and the henge.

The whole area is like a vast theatre gallery, with the gap between Slievecorragh and Church mountain the proscenium arch. Through here, way off in the distance to the north-west, there is one hill that pulls the attention of the observer, the Hill of Allen, full of Fionn MacCumhaill folklore. It really is quite a distance away, but on a clear day like the day I was there, it seems to float above the plain of Kildare, calling to the observer, attention seeking, and the star of the multi-faceted display up here.

Toor (Stone Circle)

At this, the southern stone circle, the flat face of the southern-most stone faces inwards, a big boulder; the next one on the arc towards the west is nondescript but again has its flat, shaped face facing inwards, today with the jawbone of a sheep on top and a sheep's skull nearby. The westernmost stone leans in, again with the flat face facing inwards. The northernmost stone leans out, it's flat face facing outwards. I think there may have been a sixth stone at one point.

The most eastern stone is almost buried, barely peeping out above the heather-covered peat. The interior is artificially flattened and again, it's hard not to believe that there wasn't another stone between the easternmost and northernmost stones, as that would suit the geometry of the place, but that sort of speculation can only lead one down to path to yet further contemplation of many more stones. In and of itself, this little known and small in stature circle is very near perfect.

Sitting here writing these notes I'm getting the yen to go back there already. As with all of the other sites here, the views are great, north-east towards Mullaghcleevaun, over the reservoir at Ballyknockan towards Sorrel Hill, again north-west through the gap towards the Hill of Allen. Sphagnum moss continues to grow in the interior and winter up here would be wellies' terrain.
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Taxi-driving, graphic artist with a penchant for high hills and low boulders. Currently residing in Tallaght where I can escape to the wildernesses of Wicklow within 10 minutes.

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