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Court Tomb

<b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by GLADMANImage © Robert Gladstone
Also known as:
  • The Black Castle
  • Eanach Mar - The Big Marsh -

OS Ref (GB):   H905178 / Sheets: 28, 28
Latitude:54° 6' 4.49" N
Longitude:   6° 36' 58.97" W

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<b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by ryaner <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by megaman <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by megaman <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by megaman <b>Annaghmare</b>Posted by megaman


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This was my fourth visit to Annaghmare court tomb. It really is a stunner and has so much going for it – ample parking space, a nice short walk through a pine plantation, it’s regularly tended to, I’ve never met anyone else here on my four trips and it’s a superb example of this type of tomb with most of its structure still in situ except for its roofstones and some of the covering cairn. Some might balk at its location in so-called bandit country, but as any local will tell you, the bandits left a while ago and to paraphrase the great Elvis, “and I would rather [not] be anywhere else but here today.”

So you pull into the driveway about a quarter of a kilometre south-west of the site and head off up the track. It really is nowheresville but not as isolated as it feels and the modernish pine plantation is entirely inoffensive. And then the tomb emerges at the bottom of the track, perched on its little knoll behind a gate, its surrounding lawn recently mowed and the more violent vegetation trimmed back, more of which anon.

The tomb is built on the contours and the slope of the hillock. The ground rises by close to 2 metres from the bottom of the of the last stone of the arm of the western horn of the court to the bottom of the western jambstone/portal marking the entrance into the three-chambered gallery. This gallery, seven metres long, lines the top ridge of the hillock. Its construction and segmentation are superb, always imperfect in that neolithic groove, but joyfully solid and skilfully finished. The ground of the two subsidiary chambers at the back of the cairn is maybe a metre and a half below the ground of the main gallery and offers a proto-symmetry. The cairn spills satisfactorily away from the sides of the gallery to both the east and west, but more so the east.

The remains of the cairn, for it must have been higher to cover the missing roofstones, is now being colonised by various plants. This adds to the ambience of the whole place, but may be not sustainable when the roots of pines and ash start to disturb the structure. And yet you’d miss the Rose Bay Willow Herb and various wildflowers – with a bit of sun, this burial place is a sleepy backwater, buzzing with life and vibrant with energy. This last visit was the longest yet, my companion this time happy to lie in the court and drink it all in while I did my usual clambering and photographing.

I focussed a bit on the subsidiary chambers at the back of the tomb this time. On their own, either of these two constructions would merit a visit. Attached to the back, northern end of the cairn, in what the excavation report says were later additions, they are a bonus. The flair of the orthostat/dry-walling combination witnessed in the court and the main chamber continues in the northern side of the western chamber. The southern wall of the eastern chamber is thought to borrow and incorporate the stones of the kerb of the rear of the main tomb/cairn before it was extended. Given that court tombs are said to be the earliest in the Irish series, this monument shows remarkable skill and ingenuity. The back-to-back backstones of the subsidiaries again speak of a symmetry.

The excavation was conducted in 1963 and 1964 before the trees were planted and the report speaks of extensive views almost all around, with the passage grave on Gullion visible from here. Alas not now - views are completely blocked by the pines, but with a respectable amount of breathing space for the tomb. This obscuring and hiding just adds to the intimacy of Annaghmare – not having seen it any other way I find it hard to imagine what it would be like opened up.
ryaner Posted by ryaner
6th September 2020ce

The area around the staunchly Republican South Armagh town of Crossmaglen, prosaically dubbed 'Bandit Country' by British soldiers during the Anglo-Irish troubles, was found to emanate a quite intimidating aura by this somewhat wide-eyed, head down traveller in search of megalithic treasures. Not so Mr Cope, who - if the legend is true - once brazenly drove through town sporting his enormous Luftwaffe cap. Mind you, there were what appeared to be 20mm cannon shell holes penetrating several road signs at the time of my visit, so please don't be too harsh on me.....

From Crossmaglen head north on the B135 towards Cullyhanna, the trick being to pick up Annaghmare Road going left at some crossroads, then proceeding just under 1 mile down this road to locate a minor access track on the right. More difficult than it sounds, since clearly several promised signposts had been removed. Park at the end of the access track and there it is, the superbly preserved court tomb standing before you upon - or perhaps more accurately, engulfing - a small knoll backed by woodland.

Seeming only lacking capstones, the tomb possesses a fine facade of large orthostats either side of a central galley, this being aligned approx north/south and consisting of three linear chambers. Beyond, at the far (northern) end of the cairn, lie two lateral chambers, apparently later insertions, the cairn being therefore extended to accommodate them. The quality of construction is excellent, with high quality dry stone courses being utilised to fill the spaces between orthostats.

Both forecourt and entrance were apparently sealed sometime between c3100 and 2,800 BC, radio carbon dates in this range being obtained from charcoal found behind the blocking material. And there's more... According to Carleton Jones (Temples of Stone) the relative positioning of the facade stones may well have represented an attempt to embody male/female symbolism within the structure. Specifically, the 3rd orthostat to the right of the gallery entrance is the largest of the entire tomb, potentially suggesting 'masculinity', whilst the 4th to the left is, bizarrely, set upon its narrower end as if to represent a 'top-heavy' female shape. This would certainly explain what is otherwise a very structurally unsound, not to mention difficult to achieve, architectural arrangement. Not quite 'Page 3', I grant you, but infinitely more 'tasteful', I'd have thought?

Annaghmare is thus a complex, damn interesting monument and... once a hovering army helicopter decides to bugger off.... possesses a great vibe within its woodland setting. I loved it and left South Armagh a little wiser in more ways than one.
23rd March 2010ce
Edited 24th March 2010ce


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THE BLACK CASTLE, ANNAGHMARE CAIRN at the Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record

157 page PDF with excavation report, notes, pre-renovation photos etc.
ryaner Posted by ryaner
4th September 2020ce