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Fieldnotes by ryaner

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Rath Maeve (Henge)

We'd been up at the crowded Hill of Tara sites, open to the public and increasingly popular, and felt the need to escape to somewhere quieter. Rath Maeve (misnamed, like the monuments up at Tara) henge is on private land, usually full of livestock with the banks overgrown and generally as unsatisfying as Tara itself. However, not today. We spent well over an hour here and got quite a sense of the place, but as usual left with as many questions as answers.

It's described as a henge on the SMR and is really rather massive, so you can see why some think it a hillfort. The interior is low dome-shaped and as a result, from ground level, it's hard to see the opposite bank in places. The bank on the northern perimeter is the best preserved and, in mid-March, not too overgrown to appreciate. The southern arc has quite a bit of bank remaining but doesn't rise to the same height as at the north, but, like at the north, falls away to a depth of about 4 metres.

The eastern edge of the bank has been flattened, with the modern road just skirting its edge. A modern field boundary cuts off the western sector from the rest of the monument and that portion was too overgrown to explore.

As mentioned above, the best preserved and most interesting part of the henge is at the north. There's a gap just west of north with a clear view up to the Hill of Tara. The back of the bank here resembles a defensive rampart more than a ceremonial enclosure and the construction is impressive. That said, I still had the sense that this was a place of ceremony.

Ballymaice (Passage Grave)

I can drive to within a 5 minute walk of this little tomb. It's now more open and accessible than I've ever seen. So what better to do in these days of plague and isolation than to take the 10 minute drive in the social isolation direction, up into the low Tallaght hills? Well, like most on here, I'd do that anyway, and like most everyone else, hours and days of bewilderment are beginning to grind.

Someone has taken it upon themselves to clear the monument of gorse. There's a hammock strung between the two trees to the north-east, and there's the remains of a substantial fireplace in the quarried gouge in the same direction. The remains are opened up, the central cist, or what remains of it, are visible, and all the kerbstones are uncovered. It's more than I that reveres this place.

The views across Tallaght, further across Dublin City and Dublin Bay and thence over to Howth are fantastic. Though what is still extant is relatively scant, you can see why the ancestors picked this site and put in the effort to give their dead a fitting tribute. The forestry to the south and west crowds the stones a bit, but the power of the place persists. LilyMae and I left a little less despondent.

Ervey (Portal Tomb)

Twelve and a half years since I was last here, it was different than I remembered. A massive capstone, a portal stone, what looks like a flaked part of the capstone split off from the bottom and some various possible chamber stones are what remains.

It's one of those sad reminders of what once may have been, neglected, but in the end not wholly ignored – there were signs that we weren't the only ones to check out the tomb.

Access is not as straightforward as I thought, though the monument is in a roadside field. Now is the time to visit – this will be overgrown in the summer months.

Eden (Bullaun Stone)

At the back of the church in Kilmainhamwood, this was a happy and easy find as well as being a bit disappointing. The stone has been roughly shaped into a cylinder, damaging the bowl in the process. I'd say this happened when it was dug up, having possibly been earthfast when the bowl was originally cut. The bowl is deep, full of leaf detritus, with some clear water at the surface. I rinsed my hands in the clear water, avoiding stirring up the goopy mess lower down in the bowl.

Mullagha (Standing Stone / Menhir)

We'd been down at Staholmog earlier, where the stones have been removed, seemingly in the way of the crop growing in the massive field. Looking over the roadside hedge into the northern of two fields we thought that this stone had fallen to the same fate. I drove further to the next field at the south and looked up and down – the stone is marked on the map as being close to the road. I glanced over at the dividing hedge and there it was, probably as visible as it gets throughout the year. A fine, pointed menhir, 2.6 metres tall, surviving thanks to being incorporated into the hedge.

Loughanleagh

Loughanleagh is a ridge of large hills almost halfway between Bailieborough and Kingscourt in south County Cavan. According to the noticeboard "the mountain ridge forms a watershed between the drumlin lake district of Cavan to the west and the richer, flatter farmlands of County Meath to the east." Along the nearly north-south aligned ridge are three cairns, set on the highest, most prominent peaks of the massif. They are all in different townlands and given a sub-site of their own here. There is also an ancient, now dried up sacred lake, the Lake of the Cures, Lough an Leighis in Irish, from which the whole area gets its name.

Staholmog (Standing Stones)

These two stones are on the OS map and are listed, with a description, on the SMR at archaeology.ie. It says there that they "may have been removed after 2005" and this is indeed the case.

Aghmakane (Portal Tomb)

Two fields in from the very busy Halls Road, south-east of Camlough, are the remains of what once could have been a very fine portal tomb. It's probably not one of the most enticing sites, but the fact that there is a relatively fine cashel built right beside it makes it that little bit more intriguing.

What remains are the western portal, a full-size doorstone and the stump of the eastern portal, abutted to the wall of the cashel. There are what looks like an amount of cairn material around the base of the stones. Which begs the question: did the cashel buliders destroy the tomb and use the material to build the cashel? And if so, why did they leave what remains standing? Or was the tomb already destroyed before the cashel builders arrived, and they used the site because they believed it a place of power? Or maybe the full tomb was there when the cashel was built and was then destroyed in more modern times. Or finally, maybe the remains are not those of a portal tomb at all. Who knows?

The views from the site, inside the ring of Gullion, are pleasant – Camlough mountain to the south-east, Sturgan mountain to the north. The ground slopes up to the west, downward to the east towards Camlough itself. Not the easiest of access here due to the traffic on the road, but still worthwhile.

Saval More (Field Stone) (Standing Stone / Menhir)

I found the stone pair in the graveyard up the road but couldn't find this stone. There's a new GAA ground in the place that it's marked on the map, but the positioning could be wrong.

Punchestown Standing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

At the north-west corner of the field there is a service entrance to Punchestown racecourse. The gate is sometimes open but if it isn't there is a hurdlable wall. Over this and back into the corner, the fence into the pasture field that holds the stone is easily surmountable. The hedging and fencing that line the road are impossible. (If you're not into leaping the medium-difficult wall you can walk up to the actual racecourse entrance a couple of hundred yards up the road and come back to this point. The racecourse allows dog-walkers and strollers and is a popular amenity for the denizens of Naas up the road)

There is a footworn track from the field corner to the stone so people are still determined to visit despite the obstacles. The stone itself is magnificent, the views north blocked but those south-east towards the Wicklow mountains fine. An old info sign has been trashed and thrown into the battered enclosure, the cement that holds the stone up after it was re-ercted in 1934 visible but not too obtrusive.

Craddockstown West (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Facing the stone with the racecourse entrance at your back, look to the right and there is a gap in the hedge. Over the fence into the neighbouring field and then through the ungated entrance. The hurdle of the fence is low to medium difficult.

The stone sits atop a slight ridge, over 4 metres tall and leaning to the west. It still has its original packing stones, continuing to do their job down through the millenia. Views all around are pleasant if unspectacular but this is still an essential site if your're in the Dublin area.

Doohatty Glebe (Court Tomb)

Twice now I've gone in search of this tomb, twice defeated. The walk along the Ulster Way, under the gaze of the magnificent Benaughlin, is only a small consolation for the disappointment of not finding the sepulchre.

The tomb was excavated in 1882 by Wakeman and when the modern forestry was being planted was given enough room in its own little clearing. Alas, for us, this has now been overgrown completely, to an extent where even the more adventurous and determined are left completely defeated. The area in which the tomb lies has been left unmanaged for so long that when the forestry workers do make a move on it, the tomb is in danger of being completely destroyed. Shame.

Edit: [After some more research I think I may have been looking in the wrong place. Twice. Oops.]

Parknabinnia, Commons North & Leana

There are 10 wedge tombs tombs in Parknabinnia townland, 7 of which are recorded in The Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland, along with 1 court tomb, 1 passage tomb, 5 cairns, 2 unclassified megalithic tombs/structures and 2 cists.

In the neighbouring townland of Leana there are 5 wedge tombs (2 of which are recorded in the Survey), 3 cairns and 1 unclassified megalithic structure. Further north in Commons North townland are 2 wedge tombs (both recorded in the Survey) and a cairn.

Alongside all of this have been found prehistoric farmsteads and enclosures, a true prehistoric landscape that when you're exploring around there you makes you wonder what more it has has to reveal.

This landscape deserves much more than a cursory visit, but as can be seen from what's written above, it doesn't give up its secrets easily. I've been here three times now, but like much of the Burren, I can't say I really know the place.

Baur South (Wedge Tomb)

This was confusing. So there are 3 wedge tombs in Baur South townland, one of which is recorded as Cl. 26 in the Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland, and there is one wedge tomb in Baur North townland, recorded as Cl 25.

The tomb with the co-ordinates of the main site here is one of those that is unrecorded in the Survey. It's the tomb that was visited by Carl, and by myself. I've uploaded two not-very good shots of it.

The tomb depicted here by Bogman, CianMcLiam and Megaman is Cl. 26., the tomb with mini-tomb within its chamber. I didn't make it to that one today, but I did make it to the small, ruined one that is at the bottom of the farmtrack that Carl mentions in his fieldnotes.

Baur North, which I've seen mistaken for the barn-side tomb, can also wait for another day.

Kilgraney (Chambered Tomb)

The landowner here is very proud of what he has on his land. There's even a sign on the gate into the field announcing the presence of the Kilgraney Dolmen. The structure here is badly collapsed however. I struggled to identify any of the orthostats but I'm sure they have been plundered down through the years as there are distinct quarry marks on two of them. The babbling stream not 5 metres away from the monument is soothing. Access is downhill from the aforementioned farm gate and visitors are welcome.

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 were 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.
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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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