Proleek Dolmen & Court Tomb

The sights at Proleek were another unexpected treat during my latest trip.  I hadn’t heard of the dolmen or court tomb prior to the trip, and only learned about its existence after my mother made an offhand comment to our B&B host at The Highlands, Marie, that I seemed determined to drag her to every megalith in Ireland.  Marie took interest immediately and asked if I’d heard of the dolmen just 15 minutes away.  When I shook my head, she assured me she’d have directions for us in the morning.

The site, she explained, is kept somewhat a secret due to its location.  Rather than on a remote hilltop like Loughcrew, or out in the middle of a field like the Browneshill Dolmen, Proleek sets in a very ironic spot – the middle of a golf course owned by a high-end hotel.

That’s right – a 5,000 year old sacred site now can only be reached by dodging golf balls. But the hotel provides easy access to visitor, even if they don’t advertise their hidden attraction.

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Still tired from our long drive the night before, my mom decided to rest in the car and sent me on down the trail alone.  It had a different feel to it than walking to Loughcrew, less like stepping back in time and more like setting off on an ordinary stroll down well manicured garden paths.

I passed several golfers on my way to the dolmen (and even more signs reminding visitors to watch out for golf balls), but met no one else on the path.  After wondering if maybe I’d somehow taken a wrong turn, I rounded one last corner and the court tomb came into sight.

Proleek Court Tomb

The sign beside the site offered no information, merely a reminder to keep off the grass.  And though small compared to other megaliths, it left me renewed and eager to push onward.

I didn’t have to wait much longer to see the dolmen, however, as it came into view almost as soon as the court tomb fell out of sight.  The concrete path curved around the dolmen before circling back, allowing me to look at it from every angle without stepping on the hotel’s golf course.

Unlike the court tomb, the dolmen did have a signpost that told a little about the site.  It explained that Proleek gets its name from a word meaning obscure, because not much is truly known about it.  It’s suggested a cairn might have once covered the monument, though no evidence of one has been found.

It’s also worth noting that the site has been altered – one of the portal stones has been reinforced with concrete and smaller stones sometime since the dolmen’s discovery.  And, if you look closely at the capstone, you’ll notice a number of smaller stones.  Local superstition holds that if you toss a stone on it and it stays, you’ll be married within the year.

Proleek Dolmen

Unfortunately, even after returning to the States, I’ve not been able to find much information about either the dolmen or the court tomb.  Multiple sites refer to Proleek as being one of Ireland’s most easily recognized dolmens, but little else is ever said.  The site lives up to its name in that sense, retaining obscurity in even such an open, modern space.


Admission to both the dolmen and court tomb is free during daylight hours.  However, as these sites are on the hotel’s grounds, please remember to be respectful and stay on the designated walkways.

If you wish to see more of photos from Proleek, please check out my dA account here.


Additional Links & Resources:

Ancient Ireland: Proleek DolmenCourt Tomb

Discover Ireland: Proleek Dolmen

Megalithic Ireland: Proleek

Mythical Ireland:  Proleek

Carrowmore – Megalithic Cemetary of the West

Carrowmore, located just outside of Sligo, is Ireland’s largest megalithic cemetery. Some controversy surrounds how old the tombs at the site truly are, with dates ranging between 5,400 BC and 3,500 BC, but it’s widely believed Carrowmore predates Newgrange by at least 700 years.

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Arial view of the complex.  Image Credit:  Bing Maps, via Carrowkeel.

Each of the many dolmens, passage tombs, and stone circles are identified by number rather than by name, just as they have been since 1837.  However, some of the tombs are “missing” – of the 60 originally described, only 30 have survived years of stone quarrying and general disruption.  These remaining tombs are almost all partial examples, but generally would have displayed short passages with small inner chambers.

Even though these megaliths are referred to as tombs, almost none contain interred bodies. Instead, archeologists have found signs of cremated remains along with small material possessions commonly found in other Irish tombs.

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Tomb 7.  Image Credit:  Wikipedia.

Tomb 51 is the largest and most complete, sitting at the complex’s highest point. Known as Listoghil, it’s the only tomb still covered by a cairn and measures slightly over 111 feet (33 m) in diameter. Some restoration has been performed, including the addition of a public viewing platform of the cairn’s inner chamber. From Listoghil, it’s also possible to see Queen Maeve’s cairn on nearby Knocknarea.

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Listoghil.  Image Credit:  Carrowkeel.

The site is open to the public March 24th thru October 20th from 10:00 am to 6:oo pm.  Without a Heritage Card, admission to Carrowmore is 4 euro per adult, 3 euro for seniors and 2 euro for children.  Guided tours are available upon request.


Additional Links & Resources:

Carrowmore Facebook Page

The Golden Book: Ireland, page 96

Heritage Ireland: Carrowmore

Ireland Legends & Folklore, pages 198-201

Megalithic Ireland

Hill of Tara

About 30 minutes away from Newgrange is the Hill of Tara, a site included in many Newgrange tours.

Tara’s Summit.  Image Credit: Wikipedia

Archeologists believe Tara’s significance predates Celtic times, with tombs from around 5,000 years ago.  But Tara is perhaps most noteworthy for being the ancient seat of power in Ireland.  It is here that 142 kings, chosen by their victories in battle rather than through family ties, were crowned and reigned.  The Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny, stands in the middle of the Royal Seat, and according to legend, this standing stone roared loud enough that the whole of Ireland would hear when a new king met a series of challenges placed before him.

The Stone of Destiny.  Image Credit: Wikipedia

Tara was overall believed to be a sacred place, the entrance to the Otherworld and the dwelling of the ancient Irish gods.  Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that legend has it St Patrick chose the nearby Hill of Slane in the 5th century on which to challenge the old pagan beliefs held firmly at Tara.  His encounter with Tara’s High King Laoghaire was significant – with Laoghaire’s submission to St Patrick’s God, Ireland’s conversion to Christianity began.

Sunset at Tara.  Image Credit:  Wikipedia

Today, Tara offers an expansive view of the surrounding landscape.  It is listed as a Heritage Site, allowing Heritage Card owners free access; general admission is 3 euro per adult.

Additional links & Resources:

Heritage Ireland: Hill of Tara

The Gold Book:  Ireland, page 58

Ireland: Legends & Folklore, pages 144 – 151

Newgrange

“There is a place on the East / Mysterious ring, a magical ring of stones…”

Oftentimes, my love of Celtic music inspires me to research different physical places.  On my first trip to Ireland in 2011, I spent a lot of time on the bus humming different tunes to myself as the bus moved on.  It made the songs come alive, to see the places lyricists were writing about.  So, it makes perfect sense to go to another place captured in song – Newgrange.

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Newgrange.  Image Credit: Wikipedia

Newgrange is located north of Dublin, in county Meath, and known as the most important Stone Age site in Europe.  Constructed over 5,000 years ago, this monolithic passage tomb is older than both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, though now it is also recognized as having astrological, ceremonial, religious and spiritual connections.  The mound is roughly 9 meters high and 104 in diameter, with stone slabs decorated in intricate spirals.

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Entrance stones with engraved spirals.  Image Credit: Wikipedia

On the morning of the winter solstice, the tunnel leading into the heart of the mound is lit by the rising sun.  The light continues to enter farther and farther into the tunnel, until at last the inner chamber is lit.  The event last for about 17 minutes, before the chamber is dark once more.

Newgrange Winter Solstice

Newgrange on the winter solstice.  Image Credit:  Newgrange.com

Since admission to Newgrange is on a first come, first serve basis, I plan to take a day tour to see the site rather than try to go it on my own.  One tour I see recommended fairly consistently is Mary Gibbon’s Newgrange and Hill of Tara tour. For 35 Euro per adult, she picks up tourists from various meeting places in Dublin and drives them to Newgrange,  allowing people to enter the tomb without waiting in line for a ticket.  The tour also includes a stop at the Hill of Tara and a drive through the town of Slane.  However, upon reading reviews, some of which describing last minute cancellations or not being picked up at all, among other things, I fear I’m a bit concerned.

I decided to look into a different tour through Gray Line, and found that it had much better reviews – the major complaint was that the air conditioning on the bus wasn’t functioning.   This tour goes to Newgrange and the Hill of Tara exactly like Mary’s tour, but it also travels to Howth, stopping to look out over Dublin Bay.  The tour is also comparable price-wise:  at $46 US dollars, it costs roughly 34 euro.

However, if one would like to visit Newgrange without a tour group, the cost of admission is covered for Heritage Card holders.

Additional links & Resources:

The Gold Book:  Ireland, page 59