Looking through my archives, I noticed that it was about this time of year, a few years ago, that we visited the site of Millin Bay Cairn. I hadn’t written a post on it because, quite frankly, there isn’t much to see. However, it was still a grand day out and the cairn itself is very interesting because of its unusual design and the discoveries made when it was excavated in 1953.
Driving up to the Ards Peninsula from South Down we had to take the ferry across Strangford Lough, but before we did that we took a little detour over to Audleystown Court Tomb. I’ve written about it in a previous post as it’s one of my favourites and a lovely example of a dual court tomb (a long double-ended tomb).
The ferry goes from the pretty village of Strangford across to Portaferry on the Ards Peninsula. Although it was a bright sunny day the water was quite choppy with a brisk wind blowing down the lough.
We drove across to Millin Bay on the east side of the Ards Peninsula and soon saw the sign for the cairn.
Unfortunately, all that can be seen are a few upright stones which look as if they could be part of a stone circle. These are all that remain visible above the ground after the tomb was back filled following the 1953 excavation. What was found under the ground was much more interesting!
The tomb was constructed in the late Neolithic and is quite unique in that it doesn’t fall into any of the usual categories of tomb found in Ireland.
A long stone cist was built alongside an earlier stone boundary wall and the wall and cist surrounded by an oval of upright stones. These were then incorporated into a larger mound surrounded by large upright stones and these are the stones still visible today.
The layout is best seen on the information board at the site.
The information board also has this fascinating photo from the excavation, where the boundary wall and oval of upright stones can clearly be seen.
The cist contained the skeletal remains of at least 15 people and the cremated remains of another. Rather being individual skeletons, the bones had been sorted and carefully arranged in groups of skulls, long bones, etc. The bones could also have been used in ancestor worship and rituals before they were placed in the tomb as it is thought that they had been kept somewhere else for a considerable time before they were placed in the tomb.
8 small cists, thought to be later burials, were also found within the cairn material.
The cairn is close to the shore, with views out to sea, and the Isle of Man visible on a clear day – not this day though. Despite the sunshine, it was very cold on the coast and my thoughts were more about keeping warm than lingering in the field.
What better to place to warm up on a cold day, than a tropical butterfly house. On the way back we stopped at Seaforde Demesne gardens and butterfly house and got nice and warm in the butterfly house and had a bite to eat in the Garden House cafe.