'Ballygroll Prehistoric Complex' : Megalithic Complex

TownlandBallygroll
CountyDerry
Grid RefC 533 135
Longitude7° 10' 3.79" W
Latitude54° 57' 58.19" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownClaudy (6.2 Km)
OS Sheet7
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192

This site has subsites

Ballygroll - Standing StoneBallygroll 1 - Court Tomb
Ballygroll 16 - Wedge TombBallygroll 7 - Cist
Ballygroll 8 - Stone CircleBallygroll 9 - Wedge Tomb
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Visit Notes

Sunday, 29th October 2006

The Ballygroll Prehistoric Complex is in the care of the DOE and has good access. It is signposted and approached from the road to the west of the site. The track leading to it may be a bit slippery during or just after heavy rain.

On this site, which is split into two enclosures, there is a great range of monuments. There is a court tomb , two wedge tombs , a pair of stone circles , a cist and many pre-bog walls.

There are maintained paths leading to all the main moumments in the southern enclosure. The court tomb is in the north enclosure and it's a rather ankle-breaking trek to reach it. The map on the sign at the entrance to the southern enclosure is hopeless! The paths are in the wrong place.

Sadly, except for the paths and the main monuments, the site has been allowed to become overgrown again. Even around the court tomb and the wedge tombs gorse has been allowed to establish itself.

I was fascinated to see that from the top of the ridge you can clearly see the peak of Eskaheen Mountain in Donegal some 15km+ northwest. This is visible from the court tomb (the earliest monument on the site), but not from any of the other monuments. These are all built on the southeast facing slopes. However, from the rest of the structures many peaks in the Sperrin Mountains can be seen in notches in the hills directly to the east and south east.

I will handle each of the major sites separately as sub-sites of this one. You will notice how many of the sites are missing from the list - these are the ones that are now undetectable under their covering of heather.

Court tombs have several distinctive characteristics that allow easy identification when in fair condition. One key feature that is a great help, no matter what the condition, is that court tombs are nearly always aligned north to south. They were all originally covered by a cairn, but in most instances this is now missing, or at best only remain to a height of one or two metres. The easiest feature to identify (when intact) is obviously the court. The rest of the tomb is occupied by a long, divided, passage-like gallery.

Galleries:
Galleries of court tombs can usually be identified by their characteristic boat-shaped plan, i.e. the gallery, when viewed from above, is flat at the entrance and tapers to a point or narrow width at the rear. The gallery may be segmented into up to five chambers by jambs, the walls normally being made of large slabs. The roofs were created by laying large slabs across the gallery, either directly on to the tops of the wall slabs or resting on corbel stones. Two large stones, with smooth forward-facing faces, usually create the entrance and it is possible to identify a court tomb when only these stones remain. The gallery would have been covered by a cairn of stones, sometimes with a kerb.

Single Gallery Variations:
Most often called a 'Single Court Tombs, usually this style has a half-court, a horseshoe-shaped arrangement of stones in front of the gallery (see Ballymacdermot (County Armagh)). This is usually, but not always, symmetrical about the centre line of the gallery, although occasionally the centre line of the court forms a slight angle with the centre line of the gallery. The other option is a full-court formed a complete circle of stones (see Creevykeel (County Sligo)). These full-courts mainly have one entrance allowing access, which is usually opposite the entrance to the gallery.

Double Gallery Variations:
Double-gallery court tombs come in three styles, the last of which is very unusual. The first is where the chambers are built facing away from each other. These are usually referred to as ŽDouble Court TombsŪ (see Cohaw (County Cavan)). The galleries sometimes share the same rear stone, but more often there is some distance between them Ů ranging from one to ten metres. This style has a half-court at each end of the monument, one facing north and the other facing south. In this style both galleries would have been covered by the same cairn.

Tuning round the two tombs and placing the two galleries so that the entrances face each other, across a full court, creates another style, known as a Centre-Court Tomb. Access to this court is gained through entrances placed (usually) in the east and west sides of the court. Here there would have been two cairns, one at each end, but they would have been joined down the sides of the court by a low cairn.

The third and very uncommon form is where the two galleries are located side-by-side facing into a full court with an entrance opposite (e.g. Malin More).


Subsidiary Chambers:
Quite often you will find other chambers built into the cairn. In single-gallery tombs and double court tombs these are invariably located to the rear of the gallery. Centre court tombs often have them placed near to the entrances.

One of the most fascinating types of remains left to us by our neolithic ancestors. Enigmatic carvings on rocks, either loose boulders or earth-fast rocks. Designs vary enormously from simple cup marks to amazing spirals, zig-zags, checker-board and lozenge patterns.

No one knows what these symbols once stood for, but many theories exist including star charts, calendars and maps. Many passage tombs are adorned with rock art, both inside the chamber and on the kerb.

Alignments or stone rows are groups of standing stones set in straight line. They can occur in any size group from two (usually refered to as a stone pair - see Boherboy (County Dublin)) to ten or more, although anything over four is exceptional (see Castlelanaght (County Cork)).

The function of these is a bit of a mystery, although many do seem to have significant astrological or geographical properties.

The stones making stone pairs often appear to be totally different in shape from each other, often hinting at a male and female partnership.

There are two kinds of burial chamber that are refered to as cists or kists. Kist is usually used to refer to a megalithic structure and cist used for later Bronze Age burials.

Cists are small slab lined boxes, set into the ground, with a single slab used as a cover. They tend to be no larger than 1.5m square. Although cists are found in dedicated mounds or cairns they are often later insertions into megalithic cairns (see Kilmashogue (County Dublin)).

Kists are much bigger structures and usually built above ground level (see Dolmen of the Four Maols (County Mayo))and covered by a cairn. They are usually rectangular in plan with vertical sides, but one type, known as a Linkardstown Kist is pentagonal with sloping side stones (see Cloghtogle (County Fermanagh)).

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About Coordinates Displayed

This is an explanation of (and a bit of a disclaimer for) the coordinates I provide.

Where a GPS figure is given this is the master for all other coordinates. According to my Garmin these are quite accurate.

Where there is no GPS figure the 6 figure grid reference is master for the others. This may not be very accurate as it could have come from the OS maps and could have been read by eye. Consequently, all other cordinates are going to have inaccuracies.

The calculation of Longitude and Latitude uses an algorithm that is not 100% accurate. The long/lat figures are used as a basis for calculating the UTM & ITM coordinates. Consequently, UTM & ITM coordinates are slightly out.

UTM is a global coordinate system - Universal Transverse Mercator - that is at the core of the GPS system.

ITM is the new coordinate system - Irish Transverse Mercator - that is more accurate and more GPS friendly than the Irish Grid Reference system. This will be used on the next generation of Irish OS maps.

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