Dunnaman Court Tomb, Co. Down

Also called the Giant’s Grave or Massforth Court Tomb.

A particularly long court tomb situated in a field beside the graveyard at St. Colman’s Church, Massforth, on the outskirts of Kilkeel.

Nothing remains of the forecourt or the covering cairn of this tomb but it is worth seeing for the remains of the 12-13m-long gallery and some features of the wall construction.

Looking down the tomb from the single boulder across the closed end of the gallery to the opening at the other end where the forecourt would have been

The outer walls are made from large split granite boulders and jamb stones segregate the gallery into 4 chambers.

Rather being placed end to end, the large boulders along the length of the tomb were  placed so that the stones overlap each other(see below). This is a feature seen at some of the Clyde Cairns in Scotland and other court cairns in Ulster and probably made the structure more stable. At Dunnaman, where only the bare skeleton of the tomb remains, it is particularly obvious.

Overlapping split boulders
Looking towards the NE end of the tomb (forecourt end). Note the old sign in the bushes behind.

There’s a  sign and information panel at the entrance to the site but the old sign is still there in the bushes behind the tomb.

The tomb is close to the A2 Newry road and is easily accessible via a signposted path.


Clontygora Court Tomb

Clontygora is one of the Neolithic tombs situated in the Ring of Gullion, an area of south east Ulster famous for its outstanding geology, history and archaeology.

Clontygora (5)

This would have been a massive structure when it was covered by its cairn of stones  but it is still one of the most impressive Neolithic tombs in Ireland and a good example of a court tomb.
Fortunately, many of the huge stones used to build the 3 burial chambers and the forecourt are still in situ. Granite orthostats up to 2.7m high form the U-shaped forecourt and the burial chambers are made from huge split granite boulders. One of the chambers is still covered by a 3m long capstone.

A cairn of some considerable length would have covered the 3 burial chambers and the U-shaped forecourt in front of the entrance would have extended the length even further.

The U-shaped forecourt

It is still one of the most impressive court tombs, despite the fact that it was pillaged in the 1730’s to provide stone for the nearby Newry Canal and again in the 19th century for building the quay at Narrow Water. One can only wonder what it must have looked like before it was plundered, when it was a giant cairn sitting prominently up on the hillside above the plain of Meigh.

Clontygora – from Chluainte Gabhra – the meadow of the goats. The tomb is also known locally as The King’s Ring.

Some of the other megalithic tombs in the Ring of Gullion that are well worth seeing are Ballymacdermot Court Tomb, Ballykeel Dolmen and on the summit of Slieve Gullion itself, is the wonderful Sleive Gullion Passage Tomb.

The Iolaire, Stornoway

Most entries for the Western Isles are about chambered cairns and other prehistoric remains but this one is about a very moving memorial to the Iolaire disaster, one of the saddest but least known tragedies from WW1.  As the memorial is in the form of a temporary artwork which will only last as long as tides and weather allow, I thought it deserved to be recorded here in a post.

The shape of the Iolaire, with the blue and green lights of the posts shining up from under the water.

100 years ago, on 1st January 1919 the Naval Yacht HMY Iolaire was bringing sailors back home to the islands after the war when it hit rocks and sank as it approached  Stornoway harbour. The young men, most of them naval reserves on leave after the war, would have seen the lights of Stornoway ahead of them and there would have been great excitement at seeing their families again and celebrating the New Year. Families were waiting at the pier to welcome them but in the darkness and gale force winds the ship hit rocks and sank, about a mile from its destination and only about 20 yards from the shore. Of the 280 crew and passengers on board, 201 were lost.

There wasn’t a district or family left untouched by the terrible loss of so many on the Iolaire. The islands had already lost a higher proportion of its young men to the war than other places and the loss was so great that it could barely be spoken about for generations.

A hundred years on, islanders have been commemorating the disaster.  Apart from events to mark the anniversary,  a special exhibition has been running at Stornoway Museum throughout the winter and this sculpture was commissioned by Stornoway Port Authority and erected on the shore by the ferry port. It was only intended to be a temporary installation for a few months but it has survived better than expected and hopefully will be in situ for a little while longer as it has been so popular with local and visitors.

The sculpture at night, and behind it, the Calmac ferry arriving from Ullapool

The life-size outline of the 189ft long ship is depicted by tall posts, one for every man on the ship. 201 have been left plain to represent the number lost and 79 are painted white to represent the survivors. At low tide the posts are revealed, rising starkly from the mud like the ribs of an old ship. As the tide comes in the posts disappear under the water, the white tips just visible under the surface. If it isn’t too sunny, you start to see spots of blue light appearing under the surface, like phosphorescence.  It is at night time that it looks most dramatic, when the tide is in and ethereal green and blue lights from the posts reveal the outline of the ship under the water.

Sheòl an Iolaire – The Iolaire Sailed  (Iolaire is Gaelic for eagle)

Along the top of the wall by the pavement is a long plaque with the names of the many districts in Lewis and Harris who lost men. After each place there is a number in black for the number lost from that area and a number in white for the survivors.

Across the harbour is Lews Castle which houses Stornoway Museum and around it are the Castle Grounds whose trees provided the posts for the sculpture.