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.

Slieve Gullion : a passage tomb on top of the world

Title picture : looking out from the entrance of Slieve Gullion Tomb

Sitting majestically on the summit of Slieve Gullion, this is the highest surviving passage tomb in Ireland. At 573m Slieve Gullion is is the highest hill in Co. Armagh and from the tomb there are extensive views across Ulster and Leinster.

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Ascent to the tomb

The tomb is reached via a steep footpath which starts from the road through Slieve Gullion Forest Park. The single track road climbs high up the side of the hill and the views are spectacular. Right from the start of the walk you are looking down onto the green fields far below and the small knobbly hills of the volcanic ring-dyke surrounding Slieve Gullion.  Just before you reach the summit, the large circular cairn comes into view.

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A short passage with a lintelled roof leads into the octagonal chamber, which originally had a corbelled roof. Rather than using large orthostats to line the chamber, the walls were constructed from smaller stones, as in dry-stone walling.

When the tomb was excavated in the 1960’s, two basin stones were found in the chamber and another one (which is now in Armagh County Museum) was discovered in the passage. The tomb had been disturbed in previous centuries and as a result, there were very few finds, only some cremated bone, small flint flakes and arrowhead.

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Basin Stone

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On the winter solstice, the setting sun shines along the passage and lights up the back wall of the chamber.

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The Ring of Gullion from the passage tomb
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Trig point on top of the cairn

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From the tomb, looking across the summit to the Cailleach Beara’s Lough

The tomb is also known locally as the Cailleach Beara’s House (the Cailleach Beara being the old witch of Beara, Co. Cork) and in a shelter half-way up the hill is an information board which relates the folk tale. There’s a small lake on the summit and the story is that the Cailleach Beara enticed Finn McCool to swim in it and when he emerged he had turned into a weak old man.
The earliest record of the tomb is from when it was opened up in 1789 by locals looking for the Cailleach Beara!

Annaghmare Court Tomb

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Annaghmare is one of the best preserved court tombs and is situated on a small knoll in a forestry plantation close to the Armagh – Monaghan border.
It’s secluded location in a clearing in the forest gives it an ambience that is often missing from other neolithic sites in the area and this is probably the best tomb to visit to feel a connection to the neolithic.

This long, trapezoidal-shaped cairn consists of a well-built court area which leads through two impressive portal stones to a gallery of three chambers.

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Towards the rear of the cairn are two more chambers (added at a later date), which lie at right angles to the axis of the cairn and are entered from the side. Excavations showed that these two chambers had never actually been used for burial.

The two rear chambers

The court is particularly well-preserved and contains some very large orthostats. Some of them are sure to have been chosen for their size and shape and probably placed in significant positions within the courtyard wall. Dry stone walling fills the gaps between the orthostats.
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When the cairn ceased to be used it was ritually sealed up by blocking the entrance with stones and then filling in the whole of the court area. It was filled with stones right up to the height of the tall orthostats, thus blocking the entrance and hiding all the large court stones from view until it was excavated about 5000 years later.

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Ballykeel Portal Tomb

Ballykeel Dolmen (2)

Also known as the Hag’s Chair, it is situated on a terrace of flat land ringed by the low rugged hills of the Ring of Gullion in Co. Armagh.
Like many portal tombs, it was built in the Neolithic period but used again in the Bronze Age and also has the common feature of the entrance facing a stream.

Excavation in the 1960’s revealed that it had an octagonal burial chamber under the capstone. Many sherds of Neolithic pottery and some flint tools were found. The portal tomb would have been covered by a cairn of stones which extended back from the tomb by 25m, giving it the appearance of a long cairn.  The remains of this can still be seen. The Bronze Age stone burial cist was inserted into the cairn material.

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The information board with a drawing of how the cairn would have looked
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Standing on what remains of the cairn material, looking towards the dolmen at the south end
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Looking from the tomb towards the end of the cairn. The hills forming part of the Ring of Gullion volcanic ring dyke are in the background.

Corliss Fort and Souterrain

Co. Armagh

Raths (also called ring forts) are the most common ancient monuments found in Ireland and would have been the most common form of farmstead in use during the second half of the first millennium, particularly from around 600-900AD.
The remains of about 40,000 raths can be found all over the country and Corliss, in Co. Armagh,  is a particularly fine example.

Corliss Fort (5)

Raths were circular in shape, with defensive banks and ditches and wooden palisades, although those with impressive tiers of banks and ditches may have been built for status as much as defence.

Corliss is quite a large rath with two tiers of defensive banks (bivallate) and a deep ditch. It stands proud on a hillock with commanding views over the countryside of Co. Monaghan and South Armagh. The beech trees planted by the landowner over a century ago accentuate the height of the rath and add to the ambience of the site today.

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The rath looks impressive as you walk up to it from the Corliss Road.
Going through the well-defined entrance into it, there’s a wonderful sense of tranquility and  I soon became aware of what a haven for wildlife this is, with many small birds singing in the trees and wildflowers such as bluebells, primroses and wood sorrel flourishing within the sheltered banks.
Looking out across the countryside it was easy to imagine people living there over 1,000 years ago and looking across the same countryside as I was today.

In the centre of the large grassy area on the top of the rath is the entrance to a souterrain – another aspect of the defensive nature of the site.
Corliss Souterrain (2)

Raths were built at a time when there would have been a need to defend themselves, as well as their cattle and food stores, from marauding cattle raiders and Vikings. Souterrains were built inside or beside the farmstead, as a place of temporary refuge and for somewhere to store and hide food.

The dry stone walls and roof lintels of this perfectly preserved L-shaped souterrain