Rathlackan : Court Tomb

Grid RefG 166 388
GPSG 16603 38757 (8m)
Longitude9° 16' 51.11" W
Latitude54° 17' 26.54" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownBallycastle (6.2 Km)
OS Sheet24
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192
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Visit Notes

Monday, 25th October 2004

This is really what this trip was about. A magnificent court tomb that is in near-perfect condition. I was surprised to see that it faced almost due east. Nephin mountain dominates the southern horizon here, so a north-south alignment would have brought that into the picture. However, looking east I was amazed to be able to see [[985]]. This is over 30 miles away across a few headlands and the sea!

The tomb doesn't actually point directly at it though, but a little to the south of it.

The site is easy to find, but for some reason the stile into its little compound has barbed wire across it. The ground within this area is very wet and stepping stones have been set out to make it a drier experience.

The court is almost complete. The arcs of orthostats form a semi-circle in front of the the massive entrance jambs. The lines of the arcs are continued by sweeps of drystone walling and flat blocks lying on their sides.

The gallery is close to 6m long and split into three chambers by two pairs of jambs. A low stone sits infront of the entrance and the original doorstone has been pushed aside and leans against one of the entrance jambs.

The cairn reaches to the top of the gallery walls and surrounds the court. Inside the gallery it is possible to make out the corbels that once held up the massive roofstones, which now lie on the cairn to one side.

Here's where the excavators missed out in my opinion: They could have replaced the roof and given us a prefect court tomb, instead of a very good one. Considering it was excavated as recently as 1990, I am amazed at the lack of forward thinking here.

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 �Double Court Tombs� (see Cohaw (County Cavan)). The galleries sometimes share the same rear stone, but more often there is some distance between them � 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.

Saturday, 21st August 2010

I spent some time looking around the enclosure to try and locate the hut site that was found near to the monument. Tatjana told me that the story I had originally heard about how the site was discovered wasn't quite correct. I must find out the truth about this one before I write it up in my forthcoming Mayo book!

While we were here the weather was alright, but it soon started to get nasty. We almost called it a day and went home. Luckily we stayed and had a great night after stopping off at Down Patrick Head.

Like this monument

Marked Sites

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Random Gazetteer

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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