The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

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Keerin (Portal Tomb) — Fieldnotes

Sheet 13 of the OS Discoverer Series contains such an amount of megalithic treats that it would take an age to get to and see them all. And then when you’d completed that, you could start on the ones that are on the NISMR that aren’t marked on the paper map. The area between Omagh in the west and Cookstown in the east, north and south of the connecting A505, has to be one of, if not the richest areas in all Ireland. Possibly Parknabinnia in the Clare Burren comes close, but that’s mainly wedge tombs, whereas here it’s court, portal, wedge tombs, cairns, stone circles, rows and standing stones. And these are the ones we know of – what lies beneath the peat in the parts of mid-Tyrone that haven’t been explored yet?

Keerin portal tomb, or dolmen if you prefer, hints at the possibilities, as does, obviously, Beaghmore, but we’ll save that for later. In the meantime there’s this. In the middle of a bog, where reclamation work is continuing west of the road from here in Broughderg, is a little flooded gem. We parked at the entrance to the little shebeen/club with the Palestinian flag flying and headed through the kissing gate. 250 metres south-east of here are the roadside remains of a court tomb that we’d visited a few months back. We’d bypassed this in our rush to reach Derry, put off by the experience at the ruined court tomb where the bog has pretty much inundated what’s left. That was a mistake.

The tomb is not visible from the road 120 metres into the bog. The terrain is all rushes and heather above the peat. There is a vague path from the kissing gate but you need to be well into the field before you catch a glimpse of the capstone. From what what we could make out this is a near-perfect example of a small portal tomb. The literature doesn’t mention a doorstone and there are doubts about whether there is a backstone, neither of which we could check. The chamber is flooded, an oily soup gently swirling, quietly tempting further exploration which we declined. The capstone is at ground level at the rear, rising to about half a metre at the front where it has a handsome flattened face. The two portals are well-matched, as are the sidestones.

We tamped down the surrounding rushes in a bid to see a bit more of the monument but I felt like I was being a bit too intrusive. Large flakes of the capstone are falling into the gloop in the chamber and it seems that the stones are more fragile than at first glance. Judging by all the activity in the vicinity, it’s not hard to imagine that this whole area might also be one day ‘reclaimed’, maybe revealing Keerin in all its glory, but you would have to hope that any such work would be done by the proper professionals.

Glendruid (Portal Tomb) — Links

GLENDRUID DOLMEN PUBLIC FORUM - BRENNANSTOWN RD, CABINTEELY, DUBLIN


Facebook page with news about developments at Brennanstown.

Crouck (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

About 120 metres east of Dun Ruadh is this heavily leaning standing stone. It looks to be in quite a precarious situation but is said to be 1.7 metres tall. It may be part of a ruined something or other but that’s just pure speculation. It seemed to us that, along with Dun Ruadh and the chambered tomb west of it, Crouck and Crockneyneill Hill has much more to offer the megalithic explorer, but today we had other, bigger fish to fry.

Dun Ruadh (Stone Circle) — Fieldnotes

Sometimes when we head out we aim big from the get go. We’d been in Tyrone and Derry a few times this year and there was a seriously glaring omission. Ten or so years ago I’d made a fairly feeble attempt at Dun Ruadh and had been thinking about it since, kind of saving it for some sort of epiphanic occasion from deep within my imagination.

We parked at the old, abandoned schoolhouse at the bottom of the farm lane. Turns out this was built ‘of stones looted from the cairn’ in 1877. There was, what we thought to be, a dead sheep lying in the small courtyard at the front of the building. Creepy. We headed up to the farmhouse and knocked looking for permission. Nothing doing, no-one in, except the dogs in the yard. Well, here we are, and Dun Ruadh is just up there, a couple of gates and fences away. So here we go, spending some time at the small chamber on the way.

The territory is reclaimed farmland, sheep and some cattle. Estyn Evans, writing in 1966, says that the cairn “reaches a maximum height of 7 ft. and it is unlikely to have been much higher because at this point it is capped by a small patch of peat which presumably covered the entire site before the cairn was plundered.” And plundered and plundered and excavated or, again Evans, “much mutilated”… to the point where you wonder what the point is.

So first off, let me say I loved Dun Ruadh. It truly is special. But, and I didn’t want there to be a but, but there is… gorse is colonising the whole south-western paved area and ‘entrance’, hugely detracting from the impact of the place, eating into the inner ‘courtyard’, gobbling up the space and crowding out the vibe. Which is not to say that there’s no vibe there at all.

The ancient rubble of the horseshoe cairn retains such a huge amount of rustic magic as to obliterate my cynicism. Some of the excavated cists are visible in the cairn and the whole place has an air of quiet magic. There’s no activity on the expanse of the hillside save a very few sheep and the atmosphere of the place seems to be funnelled through the monument. The orthostats of the ring, though gradually being encroached on by the gorse, blankly stare into the inner space, silently ceremonial, transporting us willingly to a lost time of mystery and wonder.

There is the possibility that such an important site as Dun Ruadh could be taken into state care, like at Beaghmore six kilometres to the east, where the manicured intrusiveness hardly detracts from the magic of the place, but in the end I know I’d hate that, all perfect fences, no doubt tight up to the stones, and explanatory noticeboards and the rugged ruin-ness all tidied up. Which is not to say that a half an our and a bushman wouldn’t improve matters. Arriving back at the car, the ‘dead’ sheep was back on its feet, corralled temporarily at the schoolhouse, giving us a lesson in lightheartedness.

Hembury Castle (Hillfort) — News

An incredibly rare chance to buy your own Iron Age hillfort –


- with ‘significant archaeological, conservational and ecological value’

Lydia Stangroom

October 22, 2021

Your eyes do not deceive you. Upon first glance, the ancient monument known as Hembury Fort Cross could well be mistaken as just a verdant hilly slope coated in trees. However, there's a lot more to it than first meets the eye.

Granted, buyers searching specifically for an Iron Age hillfort may be scarce. Maybe you didn’t even know you were a buyer searching specifically for an Iron Age hillfort until now. Maybe you didn’t know what a hillfort (or ‘hill fort’ if you prefer— both terms are used) was until now; you wouldn’t be alone. Either way, Hembury Fort Cross is sure to cause intrigue.

It’s certainly not the normal sort of thing you’ll see on the property portals, not least because there is no form of dwelling included within the 38.8-acre area at Hembury Fort Cross, near Honiton, Devon, which is currently on the market via Savills at a guide price of £100,000. But digging a little deeper unearths a fascinating history.

More: https://www.countrylife.co.uk/property/an-incredibly-rare-chance-to-buy-your-own-iron-age-hillfort-with-significant-archaeological-conservational-and-ecological-value-234258

Clegnagh (Passage Grave) — Fieldnotes

Four hundred metres north-east of Lemnagh Beg, the middle of the three related White Park Bay passage tombs, this is a survivor, visible from the road below, hanging on in there on the lip of a quarry. The landowner is a brother of the landowner at Lemnagh Beg and he duly granted us permission for a look.

A track rises up from the western end of the farmyard. The chamber can be seen from this approach. It’s small and squat and one of the three uprights keeping the capstone in place is almost collapsing into the quarry, seemingly held there by the continued downward pressure. Photographing the monument from this open-sided end of the tomb proved to be hair-raising, maybe not the most advisable action.

Clegnagh is placed lower down than both Lemnagh Beg and Magheraboy, but still the views are fantastic. The area around the monument is generally unkempt and some large boulders to the south are said to be remnants of a kerb, though it’s all pretty haphazard. All in all it’s not a place I’d highly recommend, unless like us you had to see all three.

Lemnagh Beg (Passage Grave) — Fieldnotes

The furthest west of the three and the second one we visited. Pulled in at the farmhouse and asked for permission to proceed which was promptly granted. Bring wellies, or other waterproof footwear – there is a lot of mud. The farmer pointed out the location to us, high to the west of his yard on a prominent knoll. The land rises to the south behind the tomb and falls steeply north beyond and towards White Park Bay.

Fourwinds reckons this is the best preserved of the three but that’s difficult to gauge in its current overgrown, unloved state. The capstone arcs over the chamber east to west but seems to be falling away to the north. It’s hard to check because of all the growth. There is evidence of some kerbstones in amongst all the gorse at the north side of the monument but overall this was a frustrating visit, any possibility of figuring out the remains of a passage or even the chamber entrance lost under nasty herbage.

Magheraboy (Passage Grave) — Fieldnotes

We approached this from the south because we just don’t listen, another needless half hour toil because we’ll never learn. But that’s nearly half the pleasure, traipsing amidst the gorgeous wild mint in the summery half-bog on the northern slopes of Lannimore Hill, frustrated but determined because when you know what’s on offer you’re never giving up. Footwear counts around here, even in the dry season.

Though it’s on the highest bit of ground for a couple of hundred metres all around it, gorse keeps it hidden from the west, where we were, mainly… until we weren’t. Because eventually we spied it, peeping up almost furtively about 300 metres away, way over there, the three guides we might have followed: tjj, minipixel and Fourwinds ignored because we’re idiots – or at least I am because my companion mainly relies on me knowing what I’m doing.

Such an elegant sculpture, denuded of its cairn, left for us to marvel at in a marvellous location. One of three, it’s sisters are at Clegnagh and Lemnagh Beg a kilometre and a kilometre-and-a-bit to the west. This is the best of the three, a bit of space and a smidge of care (maybe by default) and some fame ensuring it can keep its best face forward. The capstone hangs delicately over the sunken, flooded chamber floor, balanced elegantly with its prow at the north, reaching for the infinite out over White Park Bay.

There are signs of the kerb at the north, an arc of four boulders, and also at the south-west, but covered by the dreaded gorse these days. Small complaint though as the chamber charms any resentment away.

Ballyvoy (Passage Grave) — Fieldnotes

Crockateemore is a small hill/prominence 120 metres above the foam, one and a half kilometres south-west of Fair Head and Cross passage tomb. The passage tomb here could be said to be a close relation to that at Cross, though it would have been far larger. The location is as stunning.

We did what we were told and headed north out of the hamlet of Ballyvoy all the way to the end at the farmhouse where we knocked and asked for permission. Receptions this far from home can be unpredictable. I sat in the jeep 50 metres away as the farmer listened to Thomas with utter insouciance, all the while staring at me, eventually relenting to Thomas’s simple country charm, even allowing us to drive through his yard and up to within 100 metres of the tombs.

Which came first, the court or the passage? The passage sits above the scarped edge of Crockateemore, below which lies the court tomb 30 metres distant at the south-west. All that remains is the ring of the kerb, 15 metres diameter, 40 boulders, some contiguous. There are some stones within the ring, none identifiable as anything more than a guess. But no matter, because what is important here is the location.

Rathlin lies a short 5 kilometres to the north, Knocklayd 6 to the south-west. Though you’re on farmland here, the coast stretching away to the east and the west makes the relic feel utterly maritime. Like at Fair Head there are cliffs nearby, north-facing bluffs leading down not to the sea directly, but to a narrow strip of land 20 metres above the crashing waves. Just slightly east of north of here there is a way down, a venture that shall remain unfulfilled for the moment.

Ticloy (Portal Tomb) — Fieldnotes

Ticloy, Tamybuck, Antynanum – there’s quite a bit going on in this neighbourhood, a nice triangle of megalithic mystery, only if you’re going to Antynanum, bring a map, which I didn’t, so I didn’t go. But Ticloy is visible from the road, and though ugly, is quite the charmer.

These mid-Antrim tombs, away from the sea, are easily accessible, mostly. We stopped a tractor on the lane below the tomb and asked for permission to visit and though he didn’t own the field, the farmer reckoned the owner wouldn’t mind us checking it out as it’s quite the popular attraction apparently. Except the field it’s in was under crop at the time of our visit.

So what to do? Well it’s not that far from the southern edge of the field so I skirted around that direction from the west, taking a few foties as I went. The crop between the tomb and the southern wall was thin enough for me to venture across to it.

Seven stones remain. Instead of the usual single capstone there’s two. Which leads one to question whether it’s a classic portal tomb at all. Further reading mentions a former court-like facade at the east. Speculation that the Antynanum court-tomb builders were experimenting with a new form while retaining some of their own tradition sounds quite convincing.

Ticloy squats there, bulky, ragged, tottering, testament to the ingenuity of the ancestors, hanging on in there despite the ever-increasing mechanisation of the society around it. You could mooch around the stones here for a bit and not regret it. Slemish away to the south-west draws the eye, focus of so many monuments in Antrim.

Tamybuck (Wedge Tomb) — Fieldnotes

I’d normally have some quite detailed map screenshots with me on these ventures but something happened over the last while. This was the second time in recent days when I’d forgotten to upload the feckin’ things. So even though this would be relatively easy to find, tucked in behind a wall of a small paddock about 60 metres from the road, it was like being back in the old days, relying on the OS map and a bit lost.

There’s quite a lot to see here, when you eventually find it. It’s at the east end of of a large field, west of the junction of Lisles Hill Road and Lough Road, hidden from view until you enter the field and head south-east a bit. The ground south of the gallery has been quarried, destroying the outer walling on that side. The southern inner wall of the gallery is still there, as is the northern and its outer walling.

I had only a short time here as there were cattle in the field, the kind that take a partial interest and begin a slow saunter towards you. There are many stones scattered around the gallery, possible roofstones and other orthostats. A single roofstone rests on the fill between the inner and outer walling on the northern side. I would have liked to have had a better nose around but legged it before the bovine onslaught arrived.

Killyglen (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

There’s a small hamlet called Millbrook just before Larne, to the left off the A8 from Belfast, a handy turn off at the roundabout avoiding the town, which we’d done on the two previous occasions heading for the Glens. Why change now? Both times we’d headed up the B148 towards Cairncastle and eventually down to the coast road – this time we took a fairly swift left up into the higher ground above Sallagh Braes and into Killyglen townland to this impressive standing stone.

The views down to the coast around Larne are supposed to be fantastic but not today – it’s overcast and dull. There’s not great parking around here and the fences are barbed and tight, surprising given the land’s only really useful for sheep farming. The stone has its own platform, standing proud above the generally heathery surroundings. It’s bulbous and rugged and 2 metres tall and worth a visit, about 50 metres from the road.

Mautiagh (Court Tomb) — Fieldnotes

Mautiagh – (maw-teeah – An Mháiteach [on vaw-chock] – the flooded place) townland spreads steeply north up the hill above Glenaniff valley. On the OS map there is a clear track up from the road and it’s directly aligned onto the tomb. It’s also there on the vector map at the Historic Environment Viewer, as clear as day. Go to the satellite image and it’s there too – it meanders up, zig-zagging in the lower reaches but straightens out eventually.

We knocked at the house on the road at the beginning of the track. Could we head up onto the mountain using the track at the back of your house? We want to go up to the megalithic tomb. That’s no problem, but you might struggle a bit. Understatement of the year, but sure she’s only trying to help. The track is now completely overgrown, impassable. So what to do? Nothing else for it than to head straight up through the woods, scrambling at first, then a fence appears on the right and this helps us gain the open air above the treeline.

Up here it’s all heather and bracken, our disappointing track probably a remnant from the old turf-cutting days. It’s a wilderness now, vague deer-trodden paths tempting us further and higher. We spy an old house – someone lived up here once, the track’s purpose finally revealed – imaginings of a desperate existence. There’s still a ways to go but you can feel it now.

We’ve been skirting the west side of the mountain for a while now when our objective appears, 250 metres ahead. The peat is deep here, treacherous holes hidden under pretty heather. The tomb is on more stable ground, the grey limestone of which it is made appearing like a scab on the skin of the deep brown and green environment. Our pace quickens.

There’s a large stone-wall enclosure north of the monument. Parts of its southern wall incorporate the megalithic tomb. The grave is a shattered mess, barely recognisable due to the material used in its construction being the same limestone pavement on which it lies. It looks like the tomb itself was prised up out of the ground with only a cursory plan. Looks can be deceptive. A north/south wall cuts through the cairn at the western end of what I thought was the complete tomb but as it turns out is just the eastern tomb of a dual court tomb. Over the wall, hidden in the heather, is another gallery, one I discovered back at home after the event. I’ve made this error too often lately.

Of the remains that we did see, the most prominently visible feature was the eastern court and the first two chambers of the eastern gallery. The court is now embedded in the peat, the tops of its stones peeping up and out to a max of about 30 cms. It’s wild up here and as we moped about, a handsome, brazen red fox headed south over the prow of the ridge about 50 metres away, aware of our presence but confident enough to take its time.

We’d started at the 170 contour and ended up at the 290, a paltry gain of around 120 metres, but it was a testing trek. A kilometre north of west of here is another court tomb in Shasgar – it would be a brave soul that would attempt both of these from the direction we took, or any direction for that matter.

Barracashlaun (Court Tomb) — Fieldnotes

Deep in the middle of nowhere you never know what you might find. Research first before you leave, for the the place can be treacherous, but don’t delve too deep, as revelation is the better part of the process. Park up as close as you can get and once agreement is reached, vault any obstacle and scour…

Sometimes the pin is dropped in the wrong place, anticipation and frustration in equal measure – it’s fucking ‘round here somewhere. Wretched, undulating semi-bog, thistly, rushy, dank… hazel scrub that seems to deter even the sheep. What am I looking for asks my mate. It’s a court tomb, or so they say. Maybe it’s been completely removed.

Limestone pavement is spied under wild ash, elder and hawthorn. A pincer movement, me down from the north, him up from the south, is this it? Here it is. The first sight is a large stone, outlying, probable part of the eastern court, laterally placed so maybe part of a jamb-like entrance into a sacred space, its smaller match hidden beneath the tangle of grass. This solitary stone is all that remains of the northern arm of the court.

Push deeper into the small glade – you know it’s there, nettles are nothing now. Huge jambstones signal the entrance into a three-chambered gallery, everything blocky, slab-like lumps of limestone, moss-covered. The southern wall of the first two chambers of the gallery has been removed. Massive slabs of corbelling sit precariously atop the northern wall. Covered by a spindly, splayed hazel tree, the third chamber is inaccessible, the jambs separating it from the middle chamber like sentinels.

Come out south and around the back and beyond the third chamber there’s more. Another tomb in fact, the south-western, double-chambered, baby bro of this dual court tomb set. Again there’s no southern wall – the floor of the gallery here is filled-in, deeply buried in the cairn. Substantial, tiered corbelled slabs remain on the northern side, here out in the open. Maybe there’s a court beyond, back in under the dense vegetation further west, or maybe there once was.

Barracashlaun (Barr an chaisleán?, top of the castle), western, wild, partially decrepit – go to google maps and see the quarry creep ever closer. The middle of somewhere approaches.

Aghnacally (Wedge Tomb) — Fieldnotes

After two relative disappointments earlier in the day this was the real deal. Aghnacally (achadh na calliagh? – field of the cailleach) is on the north-western slopes of Slieve Rushen (404m) and I’d always assumed that the megalithic tomb marked on the OS map was the Aughrim tomb, uprooted and taken off to the Slieve Russel hotel. Browsing the Historic Environment Viewer at archaeology.ie disabused me of that assumption – Aughrim is actually to the south-east of the mountain, five kilometres away.

There are a couple of ways to approach this isolated site: the difficult one that we took in Tircahan townland at H196245; the other at Drumbrughas at H207270. Either way brings you deep into the borderlands of north Cavan. I hadn’t got too many hopes for the site as the satellite photo shows heavy pine forest and an overgrown clearing. Thankfully we were in my mate Thomas’s 4X4 because after two kilometres up an ever decreasing road, then lane, then track, then forest track, I was ready to turn back. He wasn’t having any of that so on we went, up another two kilometres, through forest junctions, along overgrown tracks, deeper and deeper – this would be a pleasant day’s hike, the track beside the tomb leading up onto the top of the mountain.

All of the plantation trees in the vicinity of the tomb are felled, but the small, unplanted enclosure where it lies is overgrown. This is no bad thing with the vegetation deepening the mystery and enfolding the tomb in a magical atmosphere. However, there are vague trails here – we’re not the only visitors seeking out ancient knowledge. And then there it is, hidden among some stray pines and lots of summer grasses, what on first sight looks like a tumbledown wreck, but on further investigation reveals itself to be a fine wedge tomb.

Open at its south-west end, closed by a backstone at the north-east, with a much intact, covered chamber in between, this, at times infuriatingly overgrown, monument is, to use a well-worn cliché, a hidden gem. The split roofstone covers most of the gallery, just the westernmost sidestone of the northern wall jutting out beyond to the front of the tomb. Hunkering down, the cozy interior of the gallery looked inviting in a maybe-once-upon-a-time sort of way, but not now, thanks all the same. Sunshine intermittently broke through and lit the floor of the fern and clover-floored sepulchre.

There’s classic outer walling and some cairn here too but it’s all pretty much buried in the detritus and mulch. This is not an easy site to peruse – you’re in danger of falling down through some hidden void and spraining an ankle – but it’s well worth the hassle, the rugged structure revealing itself slowly, surviving down through the ages. It’s the type of place you don’t want to leave, a place where maybe, once in a blue moon, you might meet a stranger in search of an answer to an unspoken question.

Cranaghan (Slieve Russel Hotel, present location) (Wedge Tomb) — Images (click to view fullsize)

<b>Cranaghan (Slieve Russel Hotel, present location)</b>Posted by ryaner

Cranaghan (Slieve Russel Hotel, present location) (Wedge Tomb) — Fieldnotes

Visiting this is a slightly awkward pleasure: thoughts of the absolute arrogance of digging it up and transferring it to your hotel and golf club and using it as a massively ignored decorative afterthought so you can continue to quarry out the side of the mountain on which it rested, weighed up against the desire to see it, check on it, maybe mourn it a bit.

It’s the monument that most points up the angst that sometimes accompanies me on my pursuit of these monuments. That pursuit has been made multiple times easier by the mapping system at both the Historic Environment Map Viewer in the north and the similar system at archaeology.ie in the south. The wealth and depth of information available at these websites almost makes anything I do here redundant. Almost… because as we all know, these monuments need looking after, a task the authorities are not always too keen to pursue. Who said it here? “Progress was fine, but it went on too long.”

So in our need for economic progress we’re sometimes quite prepared to demolish what we once were. Precious funerary monuments from 3,500 years ago are deemed expendable and the safety blanket of ‘preservation by record’ is used to register their destruction. What happens the stones after? It seems that they’re then put in storage, the report is written up and we move on. Or as has happened here, permission is given to reconstruct away from the original site. On reflection, even the very notion of a visit here being an acceptable alternative to seeing it in its original place is contemptible. To do so is to almost acquiesce in a process that one finds hugely problematic. Almost…

So what’s it like anyway? Well it seems that it was in a fairly ruined condition before the excavations in 1992, and no matter what what was done, actually replicating what was found would be impossible. Three cists were found in the cairn, none of which are noticeable now. The structural stones of the chamber/gallery are quite tall, almost head height and there’s a lintel-like roofstone midway along. I get the feeling that the stones weren’t socketed as deep as they would have been in the original. Ivy is being allowed to grow over the stones making examination more difficult.

Overall the impression I get is that the excavators were quite diligent, but, once the initial task was completed, that was that. Mr. Quinn could continue his quarrying, his hotel has a garden ornament and life went on. But the story didn’t fully end there. For an alternative history, see the link in the folklore below.

Doon (Court Tomb) — Fieldnotes

Doon is one of those sites that would have you asking “why bother?” Practically destroyed beyond all recognition and shamelessly overgrown to the point where you wonder if there’s anything there that remotely resembles a recognisable megalith.

Here’s the Cavan Inventory entry: “Court tomb – Situated in rolling countryside just N of Ballyconnell. This is a dual court tomb set in a long cairn. It is somewhat overgrown by trees and bushes. Two galleries, set back to back, are both 9m long, and each is divided by jambs into three chambers. They are likely to have shared a backstone but this is lacking. Eleven stones remain along the combined N sides of the galleries and seven along the south sides. There is a single courtstone just beyond the southern entrance jamb of the SW gallery and another about 2.5m from the south side of the NE gallery.” And that’s it. Which is quite substantial in comparison to some sites I’ve seen, but seemingly not substantial enough to have found its way into the Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland, which is neither here nor there really, but I’d like to see a plan of what’s there and maybe come back in winter when the vegetation is less rampant.

Crouck (Chambered Tomb) — Fieldnotes

So you’re not going to get much attention when 150 metres north-east up the hill is the wonder of Dún Ruadh, but hang on in there – there’s bound to be a nerdy old completist goon arriving soon in the next millennia or so. Absolutely underwhelming to my companion, especially after I had waxed lyrical about what was to come on the long drive up into deepest, darkest, wonderful mid-Tyrone, I loved this little assemblage of 5 stones, 4 still in situ, almost certainly the remains of a megalithic tomb. What type? I said probably a wedge tomb while on site, but now, on reflection, I’m thinking the remains of the chamber of a court tomb. But who knows? A starter to whet the appetite for the red fort up the hill.

Vicars Carn (Cairn(s)) — Fieldnotes

Did you ever imagine a place and when you got there it was nothing like you imagined? Well, this was one of those places. Absolutely nothing like I imagined, which is no bad thing, because the surprises were a good enough consolation. I had to do a delivery near Ardee, maybe 60 kms south of here and just thought that I’d take in a few of the lesser known sites in the Louth, Monaghan, Armagh area and finish up here.

Ah, the best laid plans etc. All of the sites bar this were either no longer there, the fields were under crops or they were obscured by such a tangle of vegetation as to be unrecognisable. So I pushed on, crossing the Monaghan/Armagh border at Drumnart. Nearby at Doohat is a standing stone but I was moving fast and previous disappointments didn’t instil confidence enough to stop.

Through Keady and towards Markethill then north over the dam at Seagahan, a sharp right turn and then the third turn on the left, up to the prominence with the cairn. It’s all fairly rich farmland in the vicinity and the road scarps along the cairn on it eastern side. The northern part of the cairn has been robbed and the decorated stones that were reported in the 1700s are not to be found, but still it rises to about 4 metres from ground level at the south.

The views from on top of the cairn would be panoramic all around except the eastern aspect is blocked by trees. I stayed a while here in the sunshine, drinking in the summer buzz and lost for a while away from the mundanity. Then a local farmer woman happened along with her daughter and asked if I might move my car as her husband was moving cattle up the road soon and the spell was broken. Nice people, but I didn’t stick around as I was more than welcome to do.

Tervillin (Wedge Tomb) — Fieldnotes

It’s possible that I’d travel out of my way to visit this if it were more isolated, but in an area so rich with ancient sites, it could be easily bypassed. I hopped the field gate and inadvertently disturbed some grazing wild geese, probably domiciled in Lough na Crannagh 250 metres to the north. The mound is very truncated on all sides and has been used for field clearance. One stone remains standing on the eastern side, the rest thrown about the place. This is a survivor, just about, probably only because of the risk of prosecution, though I'm open to correction on that.

Cross (Crannog) — Fieldnotes

Lough na Crannagh can be approached from the north and the west from the well laid out Fair Head car-park looped trails. We had spun around to the opposite, east side as we’d wanted to check out the Teervillan wedge tomb/cairn on the way. Judging from the distance of our viewpoint, this may well be outside the normal range of sites posted here. Drystone walling, which the literature says is around the whole of the ‘island’, is visible on the southside. Crannogs are thought to be generally early-medieval but given the richness of megalithic sites in the vicinity, I think this is worth posting. The area is mostly quiet and very beautiful with just the occasional car or bunch of ramblers to intrude on your imaginings.

Cross (Passage Grave) — Fieldnotes

The peculiarities of the placement of passage tombs are particularly perplexing. Joking aside, if there is another as phenomenal as this I’ll be flabbergasted. Set 40 metres back from cliffs that are 150 metres above the channel that separates Fair Head from Rue Point on the southern tip of Rathlin Island 4 kilometres to the north, this is megalithic Antrim at its finest.

Towards the back end of this seemingly endless pandemic, we’re on our second visit to north-east Antrim in as many weeks. Six hour round-trips from Dublin are best enjoyed in the summer months and here we were in early August, the season fallen 6 weeks ago. The week previous the sun had been splitting the stones – not so today – low cloud skittered here and there as we tried to cram in as much as possible, not sure whether we’d manage another return trip.

Fair Head car park is situated in a farmyard about 500 metres south-east of the tomb. It’s a paid car park with an honesty box. The couple of quid we spent was well worth it – the car park is a trail-head for a series of walks around the head and the signage was educational and helpful. The walk up to the tomb is a mixture of road and then across rocky pasture with some well maintained stiles. Doonmore Fort is an interesting feature 300 metres along the lane, probable remains of a Norman motte. Beyond this Rathlin peeps over the horizon.

Arriving in the vicinity of the tomb I spotted the low circular cairn. The satellite map at the NISMR came in handy – this wouldn’t be easiest to find without it. The passage and chamber are small, but very well defined. The passage faces north, aligned onto Rathlin. The short walk to the edge of the cliff and the truly breathtaking view down to the sea and then across to the island is close to the finest memory I had on what turned out to be 4 trips to Antrim. The monument, though slight in comparison to some, is still one of those that tugs at the heartstrings, a reminder of what we once were, situated there quite lonely, ignored by most, waiting on you to rediscover and appreciate it. Stunning.

Ossian's Grave (Court Tomb) — Fieldnotes

Two kilometres north-west of Cushendall is Ossian’s Grave court tomb in Lubitavish townland. The track that leads up to the site crosses the Glenaan river. Ossian’s Grave is sited on the eastern end of Glenaan glen’s southern side. We parked at the house/B&B 200 metres up the track and knocked to ask for permission. No one in the house so we headed on up. The hill is quite steep but easy going, beginning to get overgrown in late summer.

The field with the tomb has its own kissing gate and there’s the memorial to John Hewitt just inside of this. Then you see the grave, 100 metres into the field, and it seems to be perfectly placed on the prow of a slight ridge coming down from the mountain of Tievebulliagh, with its axe factory under cliffs 200 metres higher up.

The remains are all quite low for a court tomb, but no less compelling for that. The court is shallow and seems more embracing as a consequence. The two-chambered gallery is bisected by a pair of matching jambs and is maybe 3 metres in overall length. The views north-east up through Glencorp and towards Cushendun were calling us with the promise of more megalithic adventures up in Ballyvennaght. Ossian’s Grave was a good place to start.

Ballynagloch (Standing Stones) — Fieldnotes

Just beyond the western end of the megalithic wonderland that lies north of the road from Ballyvoy to Torr Head is this odd pair of stones, possibly part of a larger stone row. The stone that you first meet as you walk up from the gate is a magnificent Obelix-dimensioned menhir, almost 3 and a half metres tall. It’s not often that I indulge in a bout of stone-hugging but this one is irresistible, its surroundings probably adding to my sudden melancholy sentimentality. Its amigo at the other end of the church was quite possibly of equal stature, once upon a time, but not now – it seems to have been broken at some stage and is quite deformed, especially when compared to its buddy. Once again, I discovered more information about a site after I had returned and read up a bit more. Must do better.

Ballyvennaght (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

About 400 metres east of north of the double portal tomb in the same townland, this is a mighty fine standing stone. Isolated on its own hill, rushes and and marsh grasses almost inundate it, but not quite – it’s 1.8 metres tall. If you were in the vicinity, it’s well worth checking out – the views all around are fine, though the day we were there, low cloud dominated and horizons were shorter.

Ballyvennaght (Portal Tomb) — Fieldnotes

This is not the easiest site to access. I had Fourwind’s guidebook with me in the car but neglected to read his directions for no good reason other than being scatterbrained and convinced an approach from Ballycastle Forest car park would be best. We had been in the vicinity a week earlier and had scouted the area a bit and this seemed the best. There were a few fences to traverse but sure when has that ever stopped us?

A track heads east and then south from the car park and skirts the edge of the forest. As the track enters the trees we headed up east along the edge of the forest through a couple of rough pasture fields. The two-dimensionality of the maps and satellite photos never prepares you for what’s ahead so the clomp up the increasingly boggy terrain was challenging if not wholly surprising. Once we’d reached the ridge and traversed the last fence we turned south and headed towards the monument.

There was no immediate sign of the tomb from 150 metres away. The floor of the chambers of this double portal tomb is nestled 2 metres below the ground level of a peat bog. As we got nearer, the top of the western capstone appeared and then, closer in again, it becomes readily apparent that this is an extraordinary monument.

We first skirted around the western end where the better of the two chambers is. There’s not much room at the front of the chamber, sealed as it is with a half-height doorstone. The southern sidestone has been removed and the remaining 4 stones keep the massive capstone propped up, though it seems to have slipped a bit towards the rear.

The eastern tomb, 20 metres from the western, is completely flattened. The capstone, 3.5 metres square, rests on the collapsed chamber stones. Mooching around the place I wondered what direction was the eastern tomb aligned – in the same direction as the western? But that would mean the entrance faced into the cairn. Cairn material is visible between the two chambers. So did the eastern chamber entrance face east?

Of all the many monuments in the large townland of Ballyvennaght, this is the best. I can’t imagine you would ever meet anyone around here – even the sheep seem to give it a wide berth. There are two more portal tombs here, plus a wedge and a court and a nice standing stone. Visiting all of these in one day would be a serious challenge, but now that I’ve been to them all but one, I think I know the best way to attempt it.

Clogherny (Wedge Tomb) — Images

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Castledamph (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Images

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Castledamph (Stone Circle) — Images

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Glenroan (Chambered Tomb) — Images

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Glenroan (Portal Tomb) — Images

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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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