Cummeen : Court Tomb

Grid RefG 657 366
GPSG 35739 36591 (3m)
Longitude8° 59' 11.59" W
Latitude54° 16' 26.44" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownSligo (3.5 Km)
OS Sheets16, 25
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192
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Visit Notes

Saturday, 4th April 2009

The northwest has some amazing court tombs, such as Magheraghanrush (County Sligo), Creevykeel (County Sligo), Tullyskeherny (County Leitrim), Cloghanmore (County Donegal) and Tawnymanus (County Leitrim) to name a few, but not many are as unusual as this one.

The remains are clearly that of a central court tomb that the court has been removed from. Two galleries stand facing each other some 5m apart on an east-west alignment. The eastern gallery is the more complete and it is possible to tell that it was divided into two chambers, because one of the dividing jamb stones is in situ. The other is more ruined, but of about the same size and design. Each gallery is about 4m long and over 1.5m wide. The entrance jambs into each gallery are present and well-matched.

The views in most directions are obscured by hedgerows and walls, but the most important view, that to the north, is clear. Here Benbulben dominates across Sligo Bay.

It is surprising that this site survived at all, as it seems to stand in what was a monastic/church complex. At a nearby farmhouse there are the remains of a church and next to the tomb there is a large walled bawn. The most peculiar thing about this monument, though, is that it seems to be inside a raised rath! This embanked platform surrounds the monument, but the tomb is off centre, placed more towards the north side of the enclosing earthwork. The central area is raised at least 1m above the field and the stones of the tomb do not seems to be at all buried. This raises the question about the timeline here. What came first - raised platform or the tomb? A very unusual site indeed.

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.

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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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