Poulnabrone : Portal Tomb

CountyClare
Grid RefM 235 004
Longitude9° 8' 27.16" W
Latitude53° 2' 55.73" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownBallyvaghan (7.4 Km)
OS Sheet51
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192
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Visit Notes

Saturday, 26th October 2002

This is where I had intended to start my day and I suppose it did really start here, with the two previous impromptu stops being at fairly poor sites. I was amazed to find that there was no one else here, but extremely happy to get the place to myself. Perhaps that is the secret - arrive at 9am on a Saturday morning! I drove past on Sunday and there were 7 cars parked stupidly in the road and a whole hoard of people tottering about the limestone, like a wobbling and lurching bunch of penguins, trying not to break their ankles. Looking at most of them, if somebody had told them it was such hard work walking the 100m from the road they would never have come.

This portal tomb is spectacular though and it is easy to see why it is one of the most photographed things in Ireland. It is partly collapsed, but this is to its photogenic advantage. It is also a lot smaller than you imagine from any photograph, just under 2m tall.

The capstone slopes beautifully, the two stones that form either wall are perfectly matched, the exposed low rear chamber is nicely proportioned, the limestone pavement is beautifully fissured, the huge metal barn 100m away is really ugly!!! Why does no one mention this?

Despite the metal fencing that has been thrown up haphazzardly to protect the visitor from the rougher bits of ground (now the state owns it they are being extra cautious about litigation) and the disgusting barn it is a truly beautiful structure and, I suppose, deserves to be so hugely photographed. As much as I hate seeing its picture on the front of every book, I have to say that, I do really love the monument itself. Get ther early and be alone here - it is worth the effort.

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.

Like this monument

Marked Sites

Random Gazetteer

A Selection of Other Portal Tombs

External Links

Photos of Excavation Discoveries

At Clare Museum we have on display the excavated material from Poulnabrone portal tomb on long-term loan from the National Museum. Photographs of and information about these can be seen on the museum's website.
Click here to visit this site

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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