Ballybeg : Court Tomb

CountyMayo
Grid RefG 137 321
GPSG 13739 32056 (3m)
Longitude9° 19' 22.48" W
Latitude54° 13' 48.14" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownBallycastle (6.4 Km)
OS Sheet23
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192
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Visit Notes

Sunday, 5th April 2009

When I saw the plan of this court tomb I was rather excited. There aren't many that share this layout - the only one I've seen so far that is like it is one nearby at Gortatoor (County Mayo). This monument has a full court leading to a single gallery . What makes it unusual is that it has a shallow forecourt in front of the full court. A narrow entrance in the forecourt allows entry into the full court.

The gallery is rather ruined, but you can still make out its basic plan. It is about 1.m wide and 2-3m long. 10m behind the gallery area there is a scattering of stones that may be the remains of subsidiary chambers. At the rear of the site there are some kerb stones forming the northwest corner of of would have been the trapezoidal cairn that covered the monument. Along the north side it is possible to trace the line of the cairn in the field - the south side is not so clear. The full court is full to the tops of the court stones, creating a platform within. However, the entrance through the front court would indicate that this has just filled up over time and that the full court would have originally been empty.

Sadly at the time of my visit the site was al but engulfed in gorse bushes. The most visible part of the site was a section of the full court. The farmer told me that he used to get visitors and used to keep it clear, but visitor numbers have dwindled and he stopped clearing the site. He went on to say that he would try and find time to clear the bushes in the near future. I'll pop back and see this site released later in the year.

From the site it is Nephim Mountain that dominates. It is huge and looms - simply looms - over the site. What really surprised me is that you can see Knocknarea on the northeastern horizon: I really wasn't expecting that.

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.

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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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