Tawnamachugh : Portal Tomb

Grid RefG 798 447
GPSG 79817 44722 (6m)
Longitude8° 18' 37.54" W
Latitude54° 21' 2.52" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownManorhamilton (10.1 Km)
OS Sheet16
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192
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Visit Notes

Sunday, 16th May 2004

I had never heard of this portal tomb before, which usually means that noone consideres it to be good enough to place on the web, but I was willing to give it a chance being as I was up on the hill anyway. From the wedge tomb at Aghamore (County Leitrim) I could see what I assumed to be a large drystone wall higher up - I didn't think for one minute that this could actually be where I was heading. As I drew closer it became apparent that it was precisely where I was heading. This thing is massive!

At over 65m long I think this might just qualify as the longest long-cairn in Ireland, but don't quote me on that. It runs across the face of the hill from east to west with a ruined chamber at the east. Halfway along on the south edge is a very unusual circular feature, that my even be a hut foundation, sticking out of one side. I really must say this again: This cairn is 65m long!

The location is even more remote than the cairn and wedge tomb at Aghamore, both of which can be seen from up here. These seem to falsely sit on ridge between the sites; a placement that might have been intentional.

Looking in the Leitrim Inventory this site was said to have had a chamber with a lrage capstone in a report dated 1999. I don't think this is correct, unless the description is just very poor. There is a large slab, which may have been the capstone resting on a single stone, but this is not as large as reported in the entry. A very nice, very rectangular slab lies nearby with some coral fosils embedded in it.

The cairn tapers from 12m wide at the east end to 8m wide at the west, where there is a couple of slabs that might indicate a former subsidiary chamber.

Of all the sites I have been to I think this is one of the most amazing, perhaps because it is so little known. I kept walking up and down the length of it making peculiar "Wow!" sounds - I'm kinda happy that it's so remote!

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)).

Wedge tombs are most easily catagorised by their main characteristic - they are taller and wider at the entrance than they are at the rear. Like court tombs they have a gallery which is split either by septal slabs or sill stones into smaller chambers. Galleries can be anything up to 8m in length.

The side walls are, uniquely, made of two rows of stones (three in some cases), which is refered to as double or triple walling. This double walling is perhaps the best feature to identify a wedge tomb by.

The roofs are constructed by laying large blocks or slabs across the gallery, resting on the tops of the walls.

They are often quite small, an amazing exception being Labbacallee (County Cork), one of the largest in Ireland. It is very rare to find a wedge tomb with its roof still in situ, although, occasionally, one or two of the roof slabs are present (see Proleek (County Louth)).

In some examples the roof would have extended beyond the front closing slab forming a portico at the front, which in a few specimens was split by a vertical stone place centrally in the entrance.

Like court tombs, portal tombs and passage tombs they were covered by a cairn, which, at many sites, it is still often possible to determine. A few, such as Burren SW (County Cavan), still retain a large proportion of the cairn.

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.

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.

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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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