'The Labby Rock' : Portal Tomb

Grid RefG 796 157
Longitude8° 18' 42.46" W
Latitude54° 5' 23.78" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownBallyfarnon (7.3 Km)
OS Sheet25
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192
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Visit Notes

Sunday, 16th March 2003

This is no normal portal tomb , this is a site with its own microcosmic ritual landscape, which is only slightly spoiled by the proximity of a pine plantation.

The best approach is via Cromlech Lodge (a well signposted hotel) and through the pine plantation - the path is quite clear and zig-zags through the woods. Then all of a sudden it's there! Bang! Right before you. And it's beautiful ... and remember you first see its worst side, with a field wall built up against it.

A small west to east valley(ette) climbs up in front of you, with the tomb lying right in the centre. Standing at the tomb and speaking a little loudly produces quite an incredible echo .. perfect for a ritual location. On the south side of the mini valley are some large slabs, which are very similar to the heather encrusted capstone of the tomb, so one can presume that either the tomb was built from eratics left in the valley or that the builders brought a surplus of material to the site. One of these has a vertical face and acts as a sounding board, possibly contributing to some of the echos - was its placement deliberate?

To the rear of the tomb is a large rock outcrop and I would guess that there was never a cairn around this monument. The huge (and I mean huge) capstone rest on a perfect portal tomb structure: two well matched portal stones, with a full height doorstone set well back, raise the capstone above the height of the three stones that form the chamber. The back stone looks as if it may be two stones, but closer inspection reveals that this is due to an eroded weak line in the piece of rock. A similar feature runs around the capstone half way up its 1.5m thickness.

As you can tell, this site really had an affect on me and I can say with great conviction that I will be back.

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.

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Random Gazetteer

A Selection of Other Portal 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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