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!

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Ballymacdermott Court Tomb

A very well preserved court tomb, built around 3,500 BC. It has a forecourt which leads to a gallery of 3 burial chambers.

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. ┬áThe 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
Ballykeel Dolmen
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.