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Fieldnotes by ryaner

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Cairn Y (Passage Grave)

Barring Cairn T on Carnbane East and Cairn L on Carnbane West, it can be said that most of the passage tombs in the Loughcrew complex have been mildly to severely damaged down through the ages. Most of this damage was done at a time before modern archaeological practice had come into effect, and not all of the serious damage was done by sheer vandalism – a lot of the damage happened during investigatory work carried out under the instruction of our antiquarian antecedents.

Of the four hills of the Loughcrew complex, Patrickstown Hill seems to have fared the worst (Newtown Hill/Carrigbrack has only one cairn on its summit and it looks to me like it’s never been opened). Of the three X cairns on the western shelf of the hill there remains but a few scattered stones, with the sundial stone at X1 the main reason for a visit. Destroyed Cairn Y was the purpose of our visit today. The tantalising, but sad entry on archaeology.ie is worth quoting in full here:

This cairn (Y) is on a rise of the fairly broad summit of Patrickstown Hill. It had already been removed when Conwell (1864, 376; 1873, 23) described it as the most conspicuous of the entire cemetery. It had a diameter of 33 yards (c. 30m) but its stone was used by the owner, E. Crofton Rotheram, in building field walls. Although Rotheram had antiquarian interests this cairn was not investigated prior to its removal. The monument is now an irregularly oval area (dims c. 30m N-S; c. 20m E-W) defined by an earth and stone bank (Wth 3.5-5m; int. H 0.4-0.6m; ext. H 1.16m), the irregular shape and form of which suggests that it might be quarry spoil. There is no evidence of any stones in an original position. It remained unplanted but overgrown within a coniferous forest that was harvested c. 2015.

On my two previous visits to Patrickstown I had approached from the car-park at the viewing point on the east side of the hill. Opposite here is a track that leads through the mixed forestry, the early part of which is a welcome change from the ubiquitous pine plantations. Sun dappled through the young beech trees as we set off, having first visited the standing stone. The track heads around the south and west of the hill before turning north and terminating in the meadow with the three X cairns. X1 and X2 were visible here today, but X3, a single kerbstone from what I remember, has been inundated by gorse and brambles.

Turning our back to Carnbane East, we headed up towards Cairn Y. As it says above, this area was harvested in 2015 but the terrain becomes steadily more difficult as you head up towards the broad-based summit. This boggy area was re-planted and there are saplings, as well as brambles and the left-behind detritus to navigate before any discernible cairn footprint can be found. Short trousers are not recommended attire for traversing this area.

And then on to the remains. I’ve visited all of the other cairns in the cemetery over the four hills, so this was a bit of a pilgrimage (there may actually be a fifth, elusive cairn in Patrickstown – for another day). What is left here is very discernible, and would be even more so if there was a bit of care taken. I got quite emotional standing in the middle of the remains, breeze blowing through the grass at the centre of the cairn as the sun beat down. Rotherham left enough for us to be able to make out the circumference, the earth and stone bank mentioned above visible, but whether there was ever a passage and chamber, we don’t know and can’t tell from what’s left. Conwell’s assertion that it was “the most conspicuous of the entire cemetery” is some claim and given the enormity of Cairn D on Carnbane West, I have serious doubts.

I’m glad I came here and I’ll probably never return. Cairn Y hasn’t much to show for itself, but you can tell yourself your own story. It’s one of those places where it’s hard not to regret what might have been or what once was. Indeed, of all the places I’ve visited in Ireland on my own megalithic odyssey, Loughcrew has had the biggest emotional impact on me. The whole of the landscape, the monuments therein, the exertion to reach some of them – all have contributed to a sense of wonderment and awe. It’s not a place that I decide to come to – the decision is already made for me, drawn back time and again. Cairn Y doesn’t need to have been the ‘most conspicuous’ for us to imagine that its builders knew what they were doing, showing a reverence for their environment that we have since struggled to re-find.

Patrickstown Standing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

The most easterly of all the monuments in what you could call the Loughcrew complex. Park at the parking spot on the Kells to Oldcastle road where it crosses over the back of Patrickstown Hill.

The stone, 1.7 metres tall, is at the back of the grassy area, to the right of the forest track. It's hidden from view in summer, but if you continue along the track to the end of the grassy area, there's a slight track on the right. Go up here for 20 metres and the stone is on the right.

Slieve Beagh (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

Slieve Beagh is a low, ridge-back hill in north Meath, close to the Louth border and north-west of the town of Slane. Indeed it can be seen from the top of the Hill of Slane, amongst a larger group of hills and aligned west-south-west, east-north-east. A road traverses the northern side of the hill in Rathbranchurch townland. Between that townland and neighbouring Creewood, in an area about 500 metres by 250 metres, is the Slieve Beagh barrow cemetery, mostly to the south of the road.

The updated record at archaeology.ie says there are 26 barrows here, along with 3 raths, 6 houses of indeterminate age (presumably bronze-age) and 2 hut sites, one of which was excavated in the 1960s and given a date from the neolithic.

I’ve been here twice before and on both those occasions was impressed by the views, especially from the road below the cemetery. It reminds me of Tara and the way the ground falls away to the west and seems to go on forever. There are also extensive views to the east but these are blocked in places by a large gorse hedge. The land on that side of the hill is cultivated whereas most of the barrows are hidden in the gorse in a sheep pasture.

The actual monuments are increasingly difficult to identify as more and more gorse takes over. Walking up the track from the gate, the first you see are two enormous, conjoined and flattened round barrows, their banks visible but their ditches are gradually filling. After that it’s more difficult to identify anything, except what seems to be a central, focal bowl barrow, over two metres in height. The graffiti-carved stone still sits atop this, but the carvings are weathering and the whole of the barrow might soon be inundated with gorse.

I like this place. Most of fertile Meath is under cultivation, but this hill stands out, wild and wind-swept. The mystery of the barrows drew me back and retains enough pull to make me want to return. Maybe some day the landowner might cut back the gorse, or it may catch fire, and reveal some more of monuments.

Crockaunadreenagh (Passage Grave)

Saggart Hill/Knockananiller/Crockaunadreenagh/Knockandinny sits at the western end of the chain of south county Dublin Hills, the northern edge of the Wicklow mountains. Have a glance at the bottom of Sheet 50 of the Discovery Series OS map and you’ll see that this chain is quite the megalithic playground, peppered as it is with a fair smattering of red monument dots. It also happens to be on the edge of the city and consequently is a favourite spot for non-megalithic adventurers, both benign and malign.

It’s almost exactly 14 years since I last visited here and I was looking forward to seeing the slight remains of the passage tomb and the neighbouring cairn. From back then I remembered a large, overgrown Knockananiller cairn, with the Crockaunadreenagh passage tomb remains over the usual countryside fence. What I encountered today made my heart sink. The forest walks on the hill are increasingly popular and there are mountain-bike trails running through them. More and more people use the hill as an amenity and as a drinking place. As a consequence, there is now a concentration camp-like electric fence separating the cairn on the public land from the ruined passage grave, not 15 metres away on private land in the neighbouring townland. The message here is plain and simple – fuck right off.

It’s not often that one feels like giving up on a place – to do so would be to give up on humanity and the little bit of love that we get from the passion we have for these places, but the absolute, complete wreck that is Crockaunadreenagh and the disdain shown for its neighbouring cairn by the outdoor drinkers and the mountain bikers, almost makes one want to. If you’re going to be that mean-spirited to erect the aforesaid fence, however you may feel about the lumpen attitude of the general populace, well keep it; in fact shove it so far up your…

I remember a short debate a few years back with Fourwinds about the derivation of Crock in Crockaunadreenagh and I think Julian mentions it somewhere in one of the books, and Fourwinds saying it’s an alternative to cnoc, or knock, meaning hill and that that’s where he reckoned the phrase crock o’ shit comes from – as more and more of south Dublin gets opened up and landowners get more and more paranoid, it’s in danger of becoming just that. Apologies but I can’t say anything better.

Crooksling (Round Barrow(s))

The SMR entries for Dublin on archaeology.ie have improved over recent times. There are three barrows clearly marked now in Crooksling townland. These do not include the mound in my previous shots from 2013.

I did a flying visit to this barrow, on the eastern side of the Kiltalawn to Brittas road, opposite the aforementioned mound. It's quite clearly a round barrow, with bank, ditch and central mound, though with lots of interference and overgrowth.

Not exactly spectacular, but worth hopping the fence for a quick nosey.

Cunard (Portal Tomb)

Cabin fever struck around 8pm last evening so I made a quick dash for the Shed Stone, slightly beyond the 5 kms limit set by the powers that be (6 on the odometer), but still a local monument. It is quite hard to believe that it's been 14 years since I was last here.

There's a parking space on the Upper Cunard Road, south after the brook (Trumandoo?) that you must follow to reach the 'tomb'. I parked here, changed into my boots and headed down. The first time I was here (taken to it by Fourwinds - it's not marked on the map) I'd gotten my feet soaked, the boggy ground of Glassamucky Brakes/Cunard unforgiving in Spring, but not today. The recent good weather made for easy hiking.

The monument is hidden from the road, maybe 350 metres down and on the northside of the brook. The beauty of the location, so close to the city, brings a gladness to the heart. And it's ultra-quiet now, a few sheep farmers hereabouts tending to their essential work. There's deer on the Brakes tonight, venturing further down the Dodder valley than might normally be their wont.

And then to the stone. It's nestled above the brook on what seems like a levelled out platform, but there are a few of these on the way down and they may be natural. In fact, everything about the Shed Stone may be natural. The debate is still ongoing as to whether this is a tomb at all. The supposed entrance faces roughly south, towards the brook that babbles not 5 metres away, portal tombs and water being a generally accepted conjunction.

The capstone rests on two of the three stones beneath it. Healy says that these are three pieces of the one stone, split by the weight of the glacial erratic capstone, and I can see why he believes that. However, the underside of this capstone seems to have been worked to flatten it, though not into one sheer plane; there are two sections, the major one towards the ‘front’ of the stone. The rear of the ‘capstone’ rests on a fourth stone. There is the possibility that this small arrangement of stones were in situ and then the ‘capstone’ was placed on top of them, the assemblage being some sort of ritual monument and not a tomb. Maybe a fanciful theory, but an explanation for the working of the underside of the ‘capstone’. The natural groove around the ‘front’ of the ‘capstone’ adds to the theory that this stone was chosen, as opposed to to it being an accident of nature.

I spent a while here, drinking in the place. The colour of the day was leeching out as I headed back up to the road. Deer were heading south above me, back to the wilder hinterlands of Dublin county, and then the sun broke out over the back of Ballymorefinn, lighting up the hillside in an orange glow and I didn’t want the day to end. And then it was back to ‘civilisation’, and TVs and laptops, and pandemics.

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.
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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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