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Fieldnotes by ryaner

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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.

Sorrel Hill (Cairn(s))

From the parking place directly south of the summit of Sorrel, on the road that comes up from Lackan, a track begins heading north that will bring you to the top. The path has been eroded/created by hillwalkers, a not very numerous bunch, but enough to wear away the ground. As I ascended I appreciated for the first time the majestic sweep of the curve created by the ridge of hills beginning at Sally Gap and Carrigvore and containing east to west Gravale, Duff Hill, Mullaghcleevaun east and west and Black Hill with Moanbane and Silsean over its back. North of here, but hidden by Sorrel itself, are Kippure, Seefingan and Seefin, Corrig and Seahan.

All over this side of Sorrel are many deep cut trenches into the peat, relics of turf-cutting, and as I ascend there are a few little stone structures that could be something, could be nothing. Further up, Tonduff appears through the Sally Gap and then Kippure. More trenches up here and one can't help but wonder at the toil involved this high up – desperate times – though once the work was done, bringing it home was an easier downhill trek.

The summit of Sorrel is a flat, rubble-strewn wasteland of granite and sand, eroded, like the cairn it contains, by wind, rain and humanity. The view to the north really opens up now, and south-west over the reservoir are Slievecorragh, Church mountain and Corriebracks.

The cairn is wrecked, with people removing the lower stones and placing them atop, creating a different shaped structure with two distinct aspects. A lot of the exposed rubble consists of larger than normal boulders, leading one to think that much of the smaller covering material is now gone, revealing this more robust core. And it's quite small, maybe 10 metres in diameter, looking bigger from a distance as it's higher than normal with all the interference.

There is the sensation that you are at the centre of a bowl up here, with just the gap to the west and the reservoir, but directly west and lower is Lugnagun, with its tomb and cairn, compensating for the gap and furthering the illusion. The ridge that skirts the N81 at Kilteel, from Blessington to Slievethoul, closes the north-west view. There is a slight parallel here with the ring around Slieve Gullion and Calliagh Berra's House.

The descent back down to the car is easy, the spring in your step aided by the new layers of sphagnum moss and the orchestra of chirping birds. There are other secrets on Sorrel Hill, but they're for another day.

Glassamucky Mountain (Bullaun Stone)

Access to this is simple, 250 metres or so up a hillwalkers track at O125205 on the left-hand side of as you travel south on Military Road in the Featherbeds. For this reason I've been here many times, but never wrote about it until now.

Off the track about 5 metres into the peat is this wonderful stone, the connective evidence between bullauns and prehistory. There's nowt else close by, the nearest early christian site about a mile below at St. Anne's in the Glenasmole valley. Others have noticed an alignment here.

The stone is a big lump of granite, like a beached walrus, with 3 bullauns, 2 of which breach the south-east end. One of these two could scarcely be called a bullaun as it's just a carved curve into the stone, but the density of the stone is very porous and all three basins seem to have eroded, and enlarged, over time.

Strangely enough, this stone is not marked on OS sheet 50, but is on archaeology.ie. I was first brought here by Fourwinds about 8 years ago.

Claremont (Artificial Mound)

Dublin City University have recently modernised and expanded their sporting facilities. There is an entrance on the Ballymun Road, just after the petrol station on your left as you travel north. Through here and around the back of the all-weather GAA pitch is the Poor Clares Convent. At the back of this is the mound.

I'm really surprised that the opportunity to excavate this site wasn't taken before or during all the groundwork that happened recently. At the very least they could have cut down the sycamores that have colonised the mound, but that's just me being selfish, wanting to open up this bit of urban prehistory.

Very hard to make out what's under all the vegetation so I've added the SMR entry below. The height could lead one to speculate that it's a Norman motte, but the diameter's only 15 metres, so a tad too small for one of those. Great that this still survives amongst all the urban sprawl, though really only one for the completists.

Athgreany Rath

I approached this site from the bottom of the cliff in Hollywood glen at N934024. There is a small waterfall on the east side of the road that runs through the glen and just beside this is a pumping house. Directly opposite this you can see a track up towards the cliff-top. It is extremely steep and arduous.

This is called a rath here but I'd say promontory fort would better describe it. It's D-shaped, with the straight line of the D to the east and the maw of the cliff. It's maybe 40 metres north-south, but the ditch, where it can be seen below the vegetation, is impressive. There are some earthfast boulders peeping out of the structure of the defences but it's hard to say what the bank is made from. Allowing for silting over time, I'd say possibly 3 metres in places from bottom of ditch to top of bank.

There are no traces of any structure inside the small area of the fort, which has space for one homestead. Did the people who lived here, if this was a habitation site, build the stone circle below? The views west down to the N81, where traffic blasts noisily by, and across the Kildare plain are great. North-north-east the cairn of Slievecorragh is visible.

Athgreany standing stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

The long axis of the standing stone, almost NW-SE, points NW directly at the stone circle below. South-east is the peak of Church mountain with its cairn, though this is not visible from here. There is a handy stone placed at the base of the standing stone, probably used as a comfortable viewing seat with the narrow axis of the stone as a backrest, to look down on the stone circle. The stone now leans to the north-east. It's over a metre tall.
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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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