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Megalithic Tombs In Waterford

Waterford Geology and Prehistoric Dungarvan

5. Megalithic Tombs In Waterford
Map Of The Megalithic Tombs In County WaterfordThe earliest megalithic tombs in Ireland are commonly known as court-tombs. There is only one example of these tombs in Co. Waterford, it is situated near the cliffs at Ballinamona Lower, Old Parish. The term court-tomb is used to describe this type because a courtyard area is usually found at the entrance to the chambers. This courtyard was possibly used as a setting for burial rites or religious ceremonies. The Ballinamona tomb is important as it is one of only four known to exist south of a line from Dundalk to Galway.

Court Cairn at Ballinamona Lower, Old Parish.

This court cairn is situated in the townland of Ballinamona Lower, Parish of Ardmore. The site is marked 'dolmen' on the 6 inch O.S. map, and is known locally as 'Cailleach Bhearra's House'. It is located about one mile north of Mine Head Lighthouse and about 100 yards from the cliff edge.

In May 1938 an excavation was carried out on the site as part of the relief of unemployment programme under the direction of T.G. E. Powell. Laurence Mongey a chemist and antiquarian and amateur photographer from Dungarvan helped on the dig.

The Cairn & Forecourt : The cairn (mound of stones covering the tomb) was not retained by kerb stones and was about 32 feet in length with about 6 feet on either side of the chamber. On the south side of the forecourt a small hearth was found. The forecourt consisted of four large free standing uprights, two in the north and two on the south side.

Plan And Elevation of a Portal TombThe Chamber : This is 10 feet 6 inches long and 5 feet 3 inches wide. It is built with five orthostats, two on the north,two on the south and one on the east side. The entrance opening at the west end is 18 inches wide. The chamber is divided into two compartments. Originally the chambers would have been covered by two or three slabs, these have since disappeared. The excavation found that compartment A. had been disturbed, as a pit had been dug into the floor probably by treasure hunters. Some flint flakes were found in this area. Some artefacts were found in compartment B. including a small amount of cremated bone. However the floor here had been disturbed at some period.

The Finds : Eleven pottery shards were found in compartment B. This ware was about 5 millimetres thick. The shards had a red colour with patches of grey. Some larger shards were found and when these were joined they formed about one quarter of the rim of a vessel about 13 centimeters in diameter across the mouth. The shards were 11 millimetres thick and composed of grey and white stone grits and mica. The colour of the pot shards were dark brown with grey and white specks.

' The reconstruction suggests a round base for the vessel which, if this were so, was then of a simple bowl type with heavy applied ledge rim. Decoration is found on the rim ledge on the body of the pot where it survives. On the rim are a series of five broad, shallow, horizontal grooves. Above these, on the edge of the lip are a row of very small vertical impressions. The outer angle of the applied ledge forms the centre line of a herring bone pattern, made by small oblique stroke like impressions closely set on either side. The herring bone pattern deteriorates in some places to a few strokes on the upper side only, and in another it is supplanted by three rough stokes executed in the stab and drag technique. Below the best row of herring bone is a zone broad horizontal grooves...'

Flints : Numerous natural flint flakes were found in the chambers and the cairn. Only three showed signs of human working.

Stone Disc : In the corner of compartment B.a small stone disc was found. It was made of a fine grained piece of old Red Sandstone with a diameter of 5 c.m. and 8 mm thick in the centre.

Plan And Elevation of a Passage TombPassage Tombs

Passage tombs like these at Newgrange, Loughcrew and Carrowkeel are not thought to exist in Co. Waterford.

Portal Tombs

Good examples of this type can be seen at Knockeen and Gaulstown near Waterford. They are basically a simple form of gallery tomb (Passage Tomb) and were built by the new settlers in the area to bury their dead. Archaeological finds from these sites include cremated human remains, simple pottery and stone objects, arrow heads, hollow and round scrapers.

Bronze Age Burials

Bodies were usually placed in a stone cist or stone coffin, or in a pit, with as small mound of earth or stones placed on top or sometimes nothing marked the site above ground. This was in great contrast to the large burial tombs of the proceeding Neolithic man. Sometimes the cist contains a single pot which is thought to have contained as offering of food or drink for the spirit of the dead person. Many of the cists contain the remains of cremated bones.

Fulacht Fiadh

These were ancient cooking places and are very numerous all over Ireland, over 2,000 examples have been discovered. One of the first of these sites to be excavated was at Ballyvourney, Co. Cork in 1952.

How were they used? The method employed was heat stones in a fire beside the stone or wood lined pit or trough until they became red hot, these were then dropped into the pit (filled with water) causing the water to boil. The meat was wrapped in straw and dropped into boiling water and left there until the meat was sufficiently boiled.

Standing Stones

A familiar sight in Irish landscape, examples are found in every county. A common Irish name for them is dallan or gallan.

What are they used for? Some served as grave markers and Boundary markers while others may have been erected simply as scratching posts for cattle.

Stone Alignments

These consist of three or more stones lying in a straight line. They are more common in the North and in west Cork and Kerry. There are some examples in county Waterford. It is a mystery as to what their purpose was, it has been suggested that some are of astronomical significance.

Rock Art

Cup and circle inscribed stones are not known in Co. Waterford, however, Canon Power recorded one example.

Author: Willie Fraher

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