Trefignath Tombs, Anglesey

An intriguing Neolithic burial site which contained 3 tombs under one long mound.

Trefignath probably started life as one traditional passage grave. Over the next few hundred years another tomb was built next to it and the cairn extended to form one long mound, which was later increased in length even more when yet another tomb was added to it.

It brings to mind the tombs at Malin More in Donegal or, on a much greater scale, the impressive Grey Cairns of Camster in Caithness.

Photo showing the remains of all 3 tombs, with the original one on the left and the final and best preserved tomb on the right

The first phase

The first tomb has a simple square chamber which was covered by a mound of stones and entered via a short passage on the north side.

The second phase

The second tomb was built on the eastern side of the first one. It was a rectangular tomb with a massive capstone (which is now broken) and 2 large stones marking the entrance. The mound over the first tomb was extended to cover this one as well, forming one long cairn. It  was faced with dry stone walling and a forecourt was added at the eastern end.

The scant remains of the second tomb with its broken capstone. The first tomb is visible behind it
Looking east from the second tomb with the last tomb to be built in front of it

The third phase

The third tomb was added to the eastern side of the second cairn and the mound extended to cover this one as well, thus blocking the entrance to the middle tomb. Two very tall portal stones mark the entrance.

The third, and last tomb to be built, has the best preserved chamber

 Trefignath was excavated in 1977-79 and was consolidated afterwards, with some partial (and not exactly sympathetic) reconstruction.

The tomb builders chose some highly textured stones with veins of quartz running through them

The cairn was built on a rocky outcrop which is slightly elevated above the surrounding low lying land. Its position in the landscape can still be appreciated despite being on the outskirts of Holyhead and the encroachment of modern development which is getting closer and closer!

Trefignath burial cairn with the aluminium works on the other side of the dual carriageway

It used to be accessed down a country road but since the building of the A55 dual carriageway and more recently, a new road and roundabouts into a development area, it now finds itself sandwiched between these two new roads.

There are no signposts to the monument, despite it being one of the important prehistoric sites on Anglesey but access and parking are very easy once you actually find it!

Ty Mawr Standing Stone

Two fields away and going back towards the roundabout is Ty Mawr standing stone. An impressive stone, even with Morrisons Supermarket as a backdrop!  Standing 9ft high and looking as if the stone has been twisted into this shape.

It isn’t known if this stone and 3 other smaller ones are contemporary with the burial mound or if they came later.

Presaddfed Burial Chambers

About 6 or 7 miles away, near Bodedern,  is another example of what was probably another multi-phase site on Anglesey.

The 2 Neolithic dolmens at Presaddfed

The dolmen on the right is still fairly intact but the other one just has an upright and a pile of collapsed stones. There is a written account of the dolmens in the mid-19th century which says that they were surrounded by a pile of stones and it is easy to imagine that they would once have been covered by one large cairn.

This is as close to the cows as I was prepared to go!
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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 when you are looking down onto the green fields far below and the small knobbly hills of the volcanic ring-dyke surrounding Slieve Gullion, to when you approach the summit and 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!

Bru na Boinne ~ Knowth

A massive tomb and a profusion of megalithic art

Knowth is one of the three massive passage tombs that dominate the landscape at The Bend in the Boyne.
Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange were all built around the same time, within a few hundred years around 3,000 BC and are all a similar size of between 80 and 90m  in diameter.

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The large tomb at Knowth, with 2 of the smaller tombs in front of it.

The large, central tomb is closely surrounded by 19 smaller tombs. These were already in existence when the large tomb was built and most of them have their entrances facing the summit of the hill. It’s very likely that the top of the hill was a large open space being used for rituals before the large tomb was built.

Some of the small tombs

Knowth contains two passages,  one with its entrance on the west and the other with its entrance directly opposite on the east side.

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The western entrance. The tall standing stone is alligned with the entrance and the passage inside
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Decorated kerbstone at the east entrance. Note the white quartz and the dark rounded pebbles outside each entrance

The two passages are aligned with the equinox sunrise and equinox sunset and ceremonies probably took place at the eastern entrance in the morning and at the western entrance in the evening.

The mound is surrounded by 127 large kerbstones, almost all of which are richly decorated, particularly the ones in front of the entrances.
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Some of the decorated kerbstones