'Burren SW' : Portal Tomb

Grid RefH 077 345
GPSH 07569 34849 (33m)
Longitude7° 53' 1.8" W
Latitude54° 15' 44.42" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownSwanlinbar (13.7 Km)
OS Sheet26
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192
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Visit Notes

Saturday, 6th April 2002

This is not 'The Burren' that you will possibly have heard of which is in County Clare. Burren is actually a fairly comon place name meaning 'stoney place'. This is a stoney place! with outcrops of rock erupting through the valley walls and floor everywhere.

Nestled away in the pine trees this must be one of the least visited tombs in this area. It is well away from the signed walking route that the other tombs are on.

Much of the cairn remains with the front of the tomb protruding outwards, covered in ferns. The wall slabs seem to be single but as only the portico is visible it is hard to say.

This is a delightful place to find and sit for a while with the sun shining down through the branches, dappling the floor around you. There aren't many places better than this sylvian glade for relaxing with a good book.

The cairn rises to possibly 3m in height and is maybe 9m across at its widest point.

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Saturday, 17th March 2007

It is now a lot easier to find this site than it was on my previous visit. Throughout the managed woodland that covers Burren townland there are now signposted routes to many, many monuments. The paths aren't all that ankle friendly, though. This is limestone pavement country and many of the paths cross rocky ground, which was very slippery today.

When I first visited this site I put it down as a wedge tomb , but it is a portal tomb . This has some interesting implications, because the capstone is covered with some stones that were presumably from the cairn that once covered it. This would make it the only portal tomb known to have definitely covered by a cairn! How many of the others were? I must say that I am uncertain about the official classification of this one, but I can see why it was made.

The rectangular chamber is rather small - just 1.5m square. This is preceeded by two triangular 'portal stones'. The roof of the chamber is formed by two slabs, one on top of the other. Two roofstones in a portal tomb would not be unusual, but it is more reminiscient of the wedge tomb at Baur South (County Clare) in my view.

Wedge tombs are most easily catagorised by their main characteristic - they are taller and wider at the entrance than they are at the rear. Like court tombs they have a gallery which is split either by septal slabs or sill stones into smaller chambers. Galleries can be anything up to 8m in length.

The side walls are, uniquely, made of two rows of stones (three in some cases), which is refered to as double or triple walling. This double walling is perhaps the best feature to identify a wedge tomb by.

The roofs are constructed by laying large blocks or slabs across the gallery, resting on the tops of the walls.

They are often quite small, an amazing exception being Labbacallee (County Cork), one of the largest in Ireland. It is very rare to find a wedge tomb with its roof still in situ, although, occasionally, one or two of the roof slabs are present (see Proleek (County Louth)).

In some examples the roof would have extended beyond the front closing slab forming a portico at the front, which in a few specimens was split by a vertical stone place centrally in the entrance.

Like court tombs, portal tombs and passage tombs they were covered by a cairn, which, at many sites, it is still often possible to determine. A few, such as Burren SW (County Cavan), still retain a large proportion of the cairn.

Portal tombs are what most people wrongly refer to as dolmens. They are, to me at least, the most strikingly designed of the megalithic tombs. They are called portal tombs because they have two large upright stones, usually very well matched, in front of the chamber that seem to form a doorway.

Resting upon the portal stones and the chamber a large capstone rests (sometimes there are two capstones - see Knockeen (County Waterford)), usually at an angle of around 22 degrees from the horizontal. Although these were originally incorporated into one end of a long cairn there are none left in this state today, although traces of the cairn can sometimes be seen upon the ground. The portal stones can be up to 3.5m tall, which combined with a thick capstone can produce an imposing monument over 5m tall. Capstones can reach in excess of 70 tonnes, with that of Browne's Hill (County Carlow) being estimated at over 120 tonnes.

Often betwen the portal stones there is a door slab, blocking the width of the entrance, but not always the full height. Door slabs are either half height, three quarter height or full height, describing the amount of the portal that they obstruct. All portal tombs would have had door slab, but this has often been removed to facilitate entry into the chamber.

Quite rarely the portal stones are the same height as the chamber and the characteristic slope of the capstone is created by the profile of the capstone (see Glendruid (County Dublin)).

The large rock used to form the roof of a portal tomb or kist.

A compartment in a tomb in which burials were placed. In court tombs and wedge tombs a chamber is a sub-division of the burial gallery. Portal tombs have single chambers and passage tombs can have anything from one to five chambers, although usually passage tombs are considered to have a main chamber with extra subsidary chambers.

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Sunday, 29th June 2008

The path to this site is getting quite well-worn. This makes it easier to follow, but has also added some patches that are very boggy and difficult to get by.

The condition of this monument, sitting in its little clearing, still makes it a treat to visit.

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Like this monument

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A Selection of Other Portal Tombs

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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