The Easter holidays are always a great time to do some different activities and visited some locations I had on my list for sometime.
One of these locations was Dunmore caves in the north of county Kilkenny, the caves are some of the most spectacular – located here in Ireland, with a large entrance hall and a great mix of tunnels and caverns. This time was a great visit, there have been some great guides over the years but our female guide over the weekend was clearly into the geology and environment of the area and of the caves themselves along with the Pagan and Viking (history, myths and beliefs) based around the long time use of these caverns.
One local myth in Kilkenny county revolves around the belief that there is a tunnel that goes all the way from the caves into the center of kilkenny city, possibly used for escape in times when the city was under attack. This tunnel has been searched for many times but never found, so maybe it is just a story but the search goes on.
Dunmore caves facts and History
Dunmore Cave (from Irish Dún Mór, meaning ‘great fort’) is a limestone solutional cave in Ballyfoyle, County Kilkenny, Ireland. It is formed in Lower Carboniferous (Viséan) limestone of the Clogrenan Formation. It is a show cave open to the public, particularly well known for its rich archaeological discoveries and for being the site of a Viking massacre in 928.
Dunmore Cave was designated a National Monument by the Commissioners of Public Works in 1944, but development as a show cave with visitor centre and tours didn’t begin until 1967, at the behest of respected archaeologist and spelaeologist J. C. Coleman. The cave was closed in 2000 for archaeological work and redevelopment, and reopened in 2003.
The earliest historical reference to the cave is to be found in the Triads of Ireland, dating from the 14th to the 19th century, where “Úam Chnogba, Úam Slángae and Dearc Fearna” are listed under the heading, “the three darkest places in Ireland”.The last, meaning the “Cave of the Alders,” is generally thought to be the present Dunmore Cave, while the first two translate as the caves of Knowth and Slaney. It is not known which exact system of caves/passage tombs near the river Slaney is being referred to, with the most likely, those at Baltinglass. Other sources translate the listed locations as Rath Croghan, the cave or crypt of Slane and the “Cave of the Ferns”.
In the Annals of the Four Masters, dated to the 17th century, Dearc Fearna was recorded as the site of a great Viking massacre in 928 AD:
“Godfrey Uí Ímair, with the foreigners of Ath Cliath, demolished and plundered Dearc Fearna, where one thousand persons were killed in this year as is stated in the quatrain:
Nine hundred years without sorrow, twenty-eight, it has been proved, ‘Since Christ came to our relief, to the plundering of Dearc-Fearna.”
Gofraith, ua h-Iomhair, co n-Gallaibh Atha Cliath, do thoghail & do orgain Derce Fearna,
airm in ro marbhadh míle do dhaoinibh an bhliadhain-si, amhail as-berar isin rann,
Naoi c-céd bliadhain gan doghra,
a h-ocht fichet non-dearbha,
o do-luidh Criost dár c-cobhair
co toghail Derce Ferna.
While the human remains found in the cave are thought to be victims of the Viking massacre, this has not been reliably confirmed. Many of the remains belong to women and children, and it is hypothesised that they are the bodies of people hiding in the cave who were unable to leave when the Vikings tried to smoke them out, dying from asphyxiation.
The earliest writings on the cave of an archaeological nature came from the bishop George Berkeley, whose report dated 1706 detailed a visit that he made to the cave as a boy. The essay was not published until 1871. In 1869 Arthur Wynne Foot, a physician, made an archaeological visit to the cave with Rev. James Graves and Peter Burtchaell and discovered large quantities of human remains, which they collected. In his reports, Foot meticulously documented his findings, and culled references from the writings of researchers over the preceding 120 years.
In 1999, a hoard of 43 silver and bronze items was discovered in a rocky cleft deep in the cave. Archaeologists dated this hoard, consisting of silver, ingots and conical buttons woven from fine silver, to 970 AD.
The Hell Fire Club on Mount Pelier Hill
William Conolly’s Hunting Lodge
The building now known as the Hell Fire Club was built around 1725 as a hunting lodge by William Conolly, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. It was named Mount Pelier by Conolly but over the years has also been known as “The Haunted House”, “The Shooting Lodge”, “The Kennel”, and “Conolly’s Folly”. It was one of several exclusive establishments using the name Hellfire Club that existed in Britain and Ireland in the 18th century.
While the building has a rough appearance today, the architecture is of a Palladian design. The upper floor consists of a hall and two reception rooms. On the eastern side, there was a third, timber-floored, level where the sleeping quarters were located. On the ground floor is a kitchen, servants’ quarters and stairs to the upper floors. The entrance, which is on the upper floor, was reached by a long flight of stairs which is now missing. At each side of the building is a room with a lean-to roof which may have been used to stable horses. A stone mounting block to assist people onto their horses can be seen on the eastern side. To the front there was a semi-circular courtyard, enclosed by a low stone wall and entered by a gate.
The house faces to the north, looking over Dublin and the plains of Meath and Kildare, including Conolly’s primary residence at Castletown House in Celbridge. The grounds around the lodge consisted of a 1,000-acre (4.0 km2; 1.6 sq mi) deer park. The identity of the architect is unknown: the author Michael Fewer has suggested it may have been Edward Lovett Pearce (1699–1733) who was employed by Conolly to carry out works at Castletown in 1724.
There was a prehistoric burial site at the summit of Mount Pelier Hill and stones from it were used in the construction of the lodge. A nearby standing stone was also used for the lintel over the fireplace. Shortly after its completion, a great storm blew the original slate roof off. Local superstition held that this was the work of the Devil, an act of revenge for disturbing the ancient cairn. Conolly had the roof replaced with an arched stone roof constructed in a similar fashion to that of a bridge. This roof has remained intact to the present day, even though the building has been abandoned for over two centuries and despite the roof being set alight with tar barrels during the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1849. There is little evidence that the lodge was put to much use. Conolly himself died in 1729.
Dating from the Early Neolithic period (4000-3000 BC), Brownshill dolmen in Co. Carlow is one of the most impressive megalithic monuments in Ireland. The capstone is truly massive and has to be seen in person to be really appreciated. It is estimated to weigh in excess of 150 tonnes and is believed to be one of the heaviest capstones in Europe. It is still not certain how it was raised up, but it may have involved a combination of wooden rollers, ropes and man/animal power, aided by ramps of earth or stone.
The Brownshill dolmen is classified as a portal tomb by archaeologists and there are approximately 174 of these monuments in the country. The tombs generally consist of two large portal-stones defining the entrance and a back-stone, all of which support the cap-stone. Although Brownshill has never been excavated, finds are known from other portal tombs. These include burnt and unburnt human bone, pottery and flint artefacts as well as personal items such as bone pins and beads.
One of the very few portal tombs that has been investigated by archaeologists is Poulnabrone in Co. Clare (Lynch 2014). At this site the remains of twenty two people were uncovered inside the tomb, including sixteen adults and six children. Of these bodies only eight could be sexed and these were equally split between males and females. The bones were found in a largely disarticulated state and this suggests that the human remains had undergone a complex burial ritual. It appears that the dead were initially placed in the tomb as complete bodies and allowed to decompose. Then at a later date certain body parts were removed, in particular the skulls and long bones. The reasoning behind this is uncertain, although it may have been related to some form of ancestor worship, where the dead, via their skeletal remains, continued to play a role in the daily lives of their descendants.
A truly ancient monument, Brownshill portal tomb is located just outside the town of Carlow and is easily accessible, with a small car park present and path leading up to the monument. If you are ever in the area you should definitely visit!
Today I just want to share this You tube link !
For the first time tomorrow morning the website “Ireland ancient east” are sharing the great events that have been taking place at Newgrange for over 5000 year. This is usually a private by invention only event but now the world can share the moment that the sun light travels down the passage tomb opening and falls on the wall at the back of the tomb,
If you can please log on it would be great if as many people as possible can share this Ancient event …..
Every year, the Winter Solstice at Newgrange, Ireland, attracts crowds to witness the solstice sun illuminate the ancient tomb’s passage and chamber. At dawn, from December 19th to 23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates the roof-box and reaches the floor of the chamber, gradually extending to the rear of the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. This event lasts for 17 minutes, beginning around 9am.
Ardgroom Stone Circle, County Cork, Ireland
The Ardgroomon stone circle is located on the Beautiful Beara Peninsula, county cork. It has to be one of the most magical of all the Irish stone circle, it also has the best of locations and views, sitting about the Atlantic ocean. There is something so exciting and mysterious about visiting a stone circle. The Ardgroomon circle is located in an area were there is an abundance of these historic sites, as well as wedge tombs, ring forts, boulder burials and fulachta fiadhs.
As well as being used for the Solar Spring and summer Equinox’s along with the Summer and Winter Solstice, many of these stone circles would also log the Movement of the Moon, Planets and Stars as during the year they changed their positions along the horizon. The standing stones in a stone circle would have in combination with a feature on local hill sides, have been lined up with astronomical objects(Sun, moon, planets and Stars). This would have given an almost daily measurement for months of the year.
The reason that ancient peoples needed to log the movement of the heavens was mainly for practical reasons such as farming, they needed to know when to sow seeds, bring cattle down from the mountains and bring in the crops, also they needed to know how long their store of food had to last before the new growing season started, no imports in those days.
Reefort, Glendalough Monastic City, Glendalough
Glendalough has one of the biggest collections of Monastic remains in Europe, one of the most beautiful simply has to be Reefort church, located in the ancient woodlands above the lough this little chapel and is small grave yard are such a perfect reminder of an age that has long past us by.
The remains of Reefert Church are situated in a oak woodland setting, on the south-eastern shore of the Upper Lake close to an Information Office. Reefert derives its name from the Irish ‘Righ Fearta’ meaning burial place of the kings (referring to the local rulers – the O’Toole family). It dates from the eleventh century and is likely to have been built on the site of an earlier church. The church and graveyard were originally surrounded by a stone wall enclosure known in Gaelic as a ‘caiseal’. Most of the present surrounding walls however are modern. The upper parts of the church walls were re-built over 100 years ago using the original stones.
The old church yard at Killamery county Kilkenny is most famous for its highcross pictured here at the bottom of the post. The old church and grave yard however are just as interesting, the history of the area includes it being the location of a very large monastic site covering what would have been many large building now completely lost in time.
My sketch here I hope helps capture a sense of this wonderful place located on the boarder between county kilkenny and county Tipperary.
One of the location that I love to take both my camera and sketch book is Kells Priory, county Kilkenny. Its an amazing location to capture in many forms and I am very lucky to live only a few miles away. I have posted here on my blog about it many time, you can used the search box to find these post if you wish.
The above is a Pencil on Paper drawing I worked on from about two weeks ago and below is a photo taken earlier in the summer when there was many more visitors around the site.
Poulnabrone Dolmen and Portal Tomb is one of the most Dramatic megalithic sites in Ireland, it has superb sculptured form and is easily access from the road.
During the summer months it must be one of the most visited dolmens in the country. The day I visited and took these pictures it was overcast and grey, so there was less visitors than I can imagine at other times. When the site was excavated in 1986 they found some human remains some 16 adults and children plus some of their artifacts, together they dated the tomb to around 3600 B C.
The entrance some 2 meters high faces north, The capstone is tilted at the usual angle for a Doland of this type, it measures about 3 1/2 metres long and some 2 metres wide.
The name Poulnabrone means ‘ the hole of the sorrows’ There are many other interesting sites near poulnabrone including the Wedge tomb at Gleninsheen and Baur South and the Stone Fort at Caherconnell.
Situated on Karst limestone, in a field east of the Ballyvaughan – Corrofin Road the Poulnabrone Dolmen is one of Irelands more accessable megalithic structures.
Knockroe Passage Tomb, County Kilkenny
Knockroe Passage tomb is located in a picturesque setting on the slopes above the Lingaun River and old slate quarries which were abandoned in the early 1900’s. The site dates to around 3,000 BC and has many similarities to the far more famous examples such as Newgrange and Knowth in the Brú na Bóinne complex in County Meath.
Originally Knockroe would have been a similar tomb to Newgrange, albeit on a smaller scale. It is likely that it too would have had an earthen mound surrounded by large kerbstones. However unlike Newgrange, Knockroe has two burial chambers, located at the eastern and western sides of the feature. These tombs are exposed, and had long ago lost their earthen cover. Many of the stones lining the passageways of these tombs at Knockroe are highly decorated with megalithic art such as spirals, hollowed ‘cup marks’, and zig-zags. You can still find them in their original locations, and when you see them it is impossible not to wonder about the possible meaning of the decorations – was it purely decorative or did it have a deeper symbolism, and what messages may be in that symbolism? You can also still see the quartz which possibly would have formed a wall around the entrance to the passageways.
Also like Newgrange, Knockroe is aligned with the Winter Solstice. Every year around the 21st December people gather at Knockroe to witness the sun setting in perfect alignment with the length of western tomb.
Knockroe is one of a group of tombs located in this region, all of which are aligned with the large
mound on the summit of Slievenamon in County Tipperary. Knockroe is one of those wonderful sites that you can’t help to keep thinking about long after your visit, without being encumbered with its earthen mound, Knockroe is like the stony skeleton of a Neolithic passage tomb.