Emerald Isle

Court Tombs

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Court Tombs of Ireland

Court tombs or as some call them, court cairns, are some of the most mysterious relics left behind by the ancient peoples of Ireland. They can be found only here and in Scotland - nowhere else - and so represent a unique mystical or religious tradition which originated in these Irish Isles.

Most of them were built over the course of four centuries during the Irish Neolithic age, from 3900 to 2500 BC. Almost five hundred of these structures were completed across Ireland and Scotland, and usually consist of an uncovered oval courtyard lined with standing stones, leading to one or more chambers roofed with overlapping stones. The chambers were divided by stones into smaller compartments.

These monuments were often re-used during the Bronge age and are unique to Ireland and Scotland. They may have originally been covered by earth or a stone cairn. Almost all court tombs have been found in the northern half of Ireland, and there are often several near to one another in an area. They were often built in or near populated areas and farmland so might have acted as local temples or gathering-places for communities.

Whether these structures were primarily tombs or temples, or served as both when they were originally constructed, is not clear, since they always face the rising sun, to the east, particularly at the equinoxes.

It is easy to imagine primordial Druids or priests of some almost-forgotten religion bathed in the red light of an equinox dawn, arms raised, perhaps holding a stone or bronze knife, chanting deep sonorous pagan incantations as they gathered in a semicircle. Or we can envision whirling priestesses in the courtyards, singing a joyful paeon to the rebirth of spring and the merry twittering of birds, secrets now lost to the ages.

Most of them have the remains of at least one cremated person buried in their chambers, although as many as thirty four cremated remains have been found in one site.

Other items recovered from these tombs include round-bottomed bowls, flat bottomed pottery vessels, flint, polished axes and stone beads. Dual tombs have been found sharing the one courtyard, but in their own mound.


Prehistoric Court Tombs of Ireland

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