09 Nov 2020
In a land abundant with historic and prehistoric monuments, a rock art find is one of the most enigmatic and mysterious.
Prehistoric rock art, believed to be at least 4,000 years old, has been discovered on a portal tomb in north County Sligo on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
The discovery is very rare, as only a small number of other rock art examples have been found on Irish portal tombs to date.
Portal tombs, sometimes called dolmens, date to the Neolithic age (4000BC – 2500BC). They are one of four types of megalithic tombs found in Ireland, along with passage tombs, court tombs and wedge tombs.
Community archaeologist Tamlyn McHugh spotted the rock art recently on a large boulder used to support the capstone of the Cloghcor Portal Tomb in Sligo. Returning after dark with her husband, photographer Ciaran McHugh, the carvings became more apparent in torch light. The images taken by Ciaran show a series of cup marks incised into the surface of the stone, and evidence of a possible rosette design.
With large capstones held up by huge weighty standing stones, portal tombs are the most recognisable type of Irish megalithic monument. Marking burial places in a distinctive way, they are often associated with Irish mythological stories, folklore and the graves of famous giants or warriors.
Poulnabrone Dolmen in County Clare.
Around 180 are scattered throughout the island of Ireland, the best-known of which is the impressive Poulnabrone Dolmen in County Clare. Others, such as the Legananny Dolmen in County Down, have been a characteristic part of the local landscape for perhaps 4,500 years, earning them iconic status.
The rock art find is one of a number made in the course of the Sligo Community Archaeology Project, which encourages ‘citizen archaeologists’ to look out for and report artefacts.
Earlier this year 14-year-old Darragh McDaniel found a rare Bronze Age stone pendant in Drumcliffe, the County Sligo village ‘Under Ben Bulben’ where Ireland’s world-famous poet, W.B. Yeats is laid to rest. The landscapes of the area were the inspiration for much of his poetry.
While Sligo’s scenery is stunning, its archaeological and mythological heritage is incredibly rich, with the landscape peppered with ancient monuments stretching back more than 5,000 years. The largest and oldest collection of dolmens and stone circles in Ireland, including another example of rock art, can be found at the Carrowmore megalithic complex a short distance from Sligo town.
Though a lesser known aspect of Irish archaeology, rock art can be found in various parts of Ireland, including counties Carlow, Wicklow, Louth, Monaghan, Fermanagh and Donegal, with the densest concentration found in the Cork and Kerry region.
It is a mystical experience to be up-close to one of these carvings as the Irish landscapes are largely the same as when they were first made. Yet, the meaning of the marks remains a mystery, with rock art on a portal tomb perhaps the most enigmatic of all.
Cloghcor Portal Tomb in County Sligo
Legananny Dolmen in County Down
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