MEGALITHIC BURIAL TOMB. CARLOW, IRELAND.
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(Dolmain Chnoc an Bhrúnaigh)
(Source: 'About Carlow Issue 2 & Carlow County Library)
The Browneshill Dolmen is a portal tomb dating from c.3300 – 2900 B.C. It has a very large granite capstone measuring 4.7 metres x 6.1 metres x 2 metres. The capstone rests on two portal stones, a door stone and a prostrate slab. The dolmen or cromlech is a type of pagan sepulchral monument. The capstone is the largest to be found in Europe. It has been calculated to weigh over 100 tons.
Carlow is probably well renowned worldwide for its pre-historical Dolmen which is situated at Browne's Hill which is approximately 3km east of Carlow town on the Hacketstown Road. This is the county’s most prominent feature which is estimated to be about 5000-years-old. But what is it and who built it?
We do know what is it but we can only speculate on how it was built. The stone age peoples of Ireland honoured their dead in different ways. In addition to Dolmens (also called Cromlechs from the Gaelic ‘Crom’, stone and ‘Lech’, flagstone). The stone age peoples also used Moates, or artificial mounds. Inside these mounds have been found the skeletons or burnt remains in clay burial urns. Cairns corresponding to Moates, except that they consist of stones instead of earth were also used. Kists are box like graves, with the floor, sides and roof made from flagstones and Gallauns, or Longstones. The Gallauns, were sometimes inscribed with Ogham writing, which occurred about the 3rd or 4th century A.D. It may well be that these ancient graves were re-used by later generations of Gaels. The type of grave we are concerned with here is the Dolmen. The sides or uprights of Dolmens consist of large stones or boulders, capped by a large boulder.
In later years these Dolmens were also known as Druid’s Alters and frequently as Leaba Diarmaid agus Grainne, ‘the bed of Dermot and Grainne’, from the well known legend of the elopement of Dermot with the wife of Fionn MacCuil. It was said that Dermot erected one every night for the couple to sleep in while on the run. The Browneshill Dolmen has the largest cap-stone in Europe, estimated at over 120 tons. How primitive man raised these huge stones into position is something we really do not know. There are three popular theories on how they did so. The very fact that they went to such trouble and invested such amounts of labour in the building of them shows clearly that they had leisure time and did not have to spend all their time in hunting and gathering and growing food.
The first theory on their erection is that they did not move the capstone at all. They could have dug holes where the uprights were to go, inserted these and then dug away the surrounding earth, leaving a Dolmen looking like it is today. Secondly, they might have erected the uprights and then used a ramp of earth, stones and timber, upon which they could have levered the capstone into position. The third theory is that they could have levered up one edge of the capstone and crammed in earth and stones, raising it. If they continued this all round the capstone would eventually have risen to the level of the uprights and could then I have been prised into position. Many Dolmen were originally covered with a mound of earth. As there are very many such unexplored mounds in Ireland perhaps there: are many more Dolmens to be discovered. Of course, it goes without saying that ordinary people were not buried in Dolmens. They were reserved to honour those of the highest rank in society, Kings, Chiefs and their families.