Knockroe : Passage Tomb

Grid RefS 408 313
Longitude7° 24' 0.27" W
Latitude52° 25' 54.33" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownCarrick-On-Suir (9.3 Km)
OS Sheet67
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192
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Visit Notes

Tuesday, 18th December 2001

This site is something of a disappointment. So much has been said about its importance in the overall scheme of megalithic Ireland and yet there is sadly so little to see. Sometimes even the most minimalist remains can project a certain beauty, but Knockroe fails to deliver in a big way.

The main reason for this failure is down to the 4 foot high barbed wire fence and the archaeological detritus that still remains there. Each stone sits on its own piece of black bin bag and many stripey marker sticks poke out of the grass.

This place gains its importance from the fact that it is or was a decorated passage tomb. None of the experts imagined that one could be so far south. It does make one ask how many others were destroyed to make roads!

From outside the fence it is not possible to see any of the faint carvings that remain and the propped up orthostats give no real idea of the original form of this once mighty place.

Like Knowth it has two passages, one aligned with the Winter Solstice sunrise and one with Summer Solstice sunset. This truly was the Newgrange of the south. It will be interesting to see what happens to it once the archaeologists have finished poking around here.

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Sunday, 30th November 2003

My visit here today has changed my opinion of the site. It is still a mess, but I actually went into the enclosure and looked around the site properly this time and I was soon able to forget about the plastic sheeting and red and white striped poles everywhere - at least most of the time.

The smaller passage is very similar to many found at Loughcrew having side chambers divided by othostats that protrude into the main chamber which is basically a widening of the passage. There is a sill stone at the current entrance, but an almost cubic stone stands 2m or so in front of this on the line of the kerb , which could indicate that the passage was once much longer. This structure faces SE.

The stones forming the kerb are immense and give the cairn an oval(ish) outline. The smaller passage is at one end of this. Only one kerb stone seems to have any real ornamentation on it and this is quite extreme in quantity. In the dying sun I was able to see that the whole surface is covered in wiggly lines and zig-zags. This is probably of particular importance, because this stone faces towards the river below.

Quartz scatters litter the floor outside the smaller passage and around the perimeter to this heavily decorated stone. They also occur on the northwest side of the cairn.

The larger passage seems to have been added later. The entrance is set back from the outline of the kerb and looks like a court tomb being flanked by large upright orthostats . This passage bears a lot of internal passage tomb art consisting of spirals and concentric circles. I was very much reminded of some of the carvings at Knowth (County Meath).

One of the back stones is covered in arcs and swirls and looks as good as any stone from Knowth or Gavrinis in France. One of the stones forming the passage has a field of well defined cup marks near to its base. In fact most of the remaining ornament is at the bases of the orthostats. Presumably these were buried until the recent excavations.

The most pleasurable thing about this trip was seeing the sun set into the larger passage. It was probably originally aligned to the mid winter sunset, but I think the collapsing sides mean that the display will no longer happen. Now you probably need to be here a couple of weeks or so either side of this date as I was today.

One thing I did notice relates to the kerb and I have not seen this commented upon elsewhere. There are two stones that are different types to the rest of the kerb. One is on the south side of the cairn and the other on the north side. A straight line between these two stones passes straight through the central point of the smaller chamber. If the line is extened south it heads towards the hill at the foot of which stands the high crosses at Ahenny (County Tipperary) - possibly one of the earliest Christian sites in Ireland.

Another alignment of note is that a line drawn through the centres of the two tombs, when extended westwards passes through Slievennmon, a very significant mountain in the area.

There is no doubt that this location was chosen for very specific reasons based upon the landscape around it.

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.

A kerb is a ring of stones placed around the perimeter of a burial mound or cairn. It basically serves the purpose of a retaining wall to keep the cairn or earth in place. Kerbs are usually associated with passage tombs, but do occur on court tombs and wedge tombs too.

Sometimes on passage tombs the stones can bear decoration, such as at Newgrange (County Meath).

A kerb is a ring of stones placed around the perimeter of a burial mound or cairn. It basically serves the purpose of a retaining wall to keep the cairn or earth in place. Kerbs are usually associated with passage tombs, but do occur on court tombs and wedge tombs too.

Sometimes on passage tombs the stones can bear decoration, such as at Newgrange (County Meath).

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 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 barrow is essentially a mound of earth over one or more burials. They are more usually to be dated to the Bronze Age. There are many forms of barrow including ring, bowl, long and bell barrows.

Ring barrows are formed by digging a circular trench or fosse around a central burial, with no mound.

Bowl barrows are formed by heaping up soil over the burial(s) from a surrounding fosse, these often have an external bank too (see Ballyremon Commons (County Wicklow)).

Bell barows are simply round mounds with no fosse or external bank.

Long barrows are rare in Ireland and are more common in southwest England. Their shape is basically ovoid rather than round (see Ballynoe (County Down))

Like this monument

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A Selection of Other Passage 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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