'Cloghanmore' : Court Tomb

TownlandMalin More
CountyDonegal
Grid RefG 519 826
GPSG 51906 82606 (3m)
Longitude8° 44' 45.11" W
Latitude54° 41' 21" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownCarrick (8.2 Km)
OS Sheet10
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192
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Visit Notes

Thursday, 1st January 2004

As you drive west down the valley towards this site you can just see what looks like a low cashel on the valley floor. It is only as you get very close you realise what you know already - that this is the restored cairn around the arms of the extensive full court.

There is a car park 300m away from the site, but no signposts to let you know what is there. A small gate leads to a footbridge across a stream, which in turn allows access to a narrow concrete path across the bog to the court entrance. When I visited the 2m wide gap that forms the entrance was a veritable marsh and very difficult to cross without getting soaked.

The courtyard itself is is defined by sweeping arcs that extend in an oval from the unusual twin, parallel galleries that face the entrance. A large stone lies oddly in the centre of the court partially blocking the initial view of the gallery entrances. In front of the leftmost gallery is the gabled lintel stone - this would have looked similar to Shalwy (County Donegal) when in place.

Immediately to the left of the entrance as you enter, built into the fabric of the cairn is a subsidiary chamber , the roofstone of which is propped up gainst its front. To the right of the entrance is a second one with its roofstone almost in place. Next to each of these chambers was a stone which had passage tomb style rock art - a unique occurance at a court tomb. These seem to have been removed ... i.e. I couldn't locate them.

I was lucky enough to arrive here about midday and I witnessed a great sight. To the south of the monument the mountains rise up and the one due south has an arced ridge. Being close to mid-winter the sun at this time of year is at its lowest high point at midday and, while I stood in front of the latter sub-chamber I witnessed the sun ride across the top of this arced ridge. A wonderful phenomenon to behold and (I think) possibly the first time this has been noticed and documented. At midday the sun shines directly into the second chamber mentioned above.

Looking southeast from the tomb along the valley presents another wonderful site. The tip of Lergadaghtan protrudes just above the slope north of Slieve League, possibly giving a mid-winter solstice sunrise alignment.

There is definitely a lot more to this location than has been realised to date and I feel it needs full investigation.

A cairn is a large pile of stones, quite often (but not always) containing a burial. Sometimes they have a kerb around the base.

Most cairns are hemi-spherical (like half a football), but the piles of stones used to cover wedge tombs, court tombs and portal tombs are also called cairns. When associated with these types of monument they are not always round, but sometimes rectangular or trapezoidal.

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.

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.

Wednesday, 28th July 2010

When meeting with someone in this area there is no better place to meet up than here: it is on the road into the Malin More valley and it has a car park - you can also wander around the tomb while you're waiting! Well, you can if it's not raining, which it was today, so we waited for Tatjana in the car.

The rain eased up shortly after we had both arrived and a third car pulled up. We all headed to the monument and I tried in vain to photograph the decorated stones. The young couple in the third car stood around looked at the stones and left after declaring that they'd been told it was a court tomb but didn't know what one of those was. The tomb part and the court part were pointed out to them and they left a little wiser. Who sent them here without explaining what they were going to see?

The decorated stones are difficult to photograph when they're wet and the light is in the wrong place. At least I know for definite which stones they are now and when I come back I'll know where to look. I know I'll be back - how can any serious megalith-lover not revisit this place every 5 or 6 years?

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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A Selection of Other Court 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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