Our visit to the Neolithic Brownshill Portal Tomb in Ireland



Booking.com

Our visit to the Neolithic Brownshill Portal Tomb in Ireland

An image of the Brownshill Portal tomb in County Carlow in Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

It was yet another unseasonably hot day when Bob and I struck out from Glendalough in the direction of Baltinglass, which brought us nearer to the Brownshill Portal Tomb in Ireland.

An image of the Brownshill Dolmen direction sign in County Carlow in Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

A modest parking lot along a quiet country road marked the beginning of a short hike to the tomb where some believe that religious rites were once held.

An image of the farm field that the Brownshill Portal Tomb sits in, in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

Bob and I soon discovered that the tomb was peacefully located in the center of a farmer’s field with crops gently undulating on all four sides.  We could not have asked for a more perfect day to seek out the ancient burial site.  A big blue sky hugged the horizon, and soft clouds cast the occasional shadow over the flowing sea of green.

An image of the top of the Brownshill Portal Tomb sitting in a farm field in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

To some, the capstone might look like some old boulder unearthed when early farmers tilled the soil for their crops, and, in actual fact, the tomb may have, at one time, been covered by a mound of earth or a cairn of rocks.  But the assemblage of the rocks into a portal tomb would have occurred sometime between 3800-3200 BC using huge blocks left behind by glaciers during the Ice Age.

An image of the walkway through a farm field to the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

It was pleasant walking along the protective hedgerows bordering the farm fields in order to gain access to the little plot where the dolmen prominently stood.  With no other visitors in sight, we found the location quiet and secluded, a reprieve from the confines of our car.

An image of flowers growing in a field beside the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

Adding to the pastoral beauty of the location was the occasional wild poppy that added a punch of colour to the wavy depths of green grass and swaying stalks of spindly buttercups.

An image of a Yellowhammer bird sitting on a fence near the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

As Bob and I strolled along the shade-dappled trail, we caught sight of a small yellow bird where it perched on top of a fence post.  It turned out to be a Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella).  This is a species of bird that breeds across Europe and parts of Asia, but the species has been in serious decline throughout Europe in recent years.

An image of a Yellowhammer bird sitting on a fence near the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

I believe this to be a male Yellowhammer because of the heavily streaked brown back.  With the adjacent crops forming a dense mass of vegetation, both a harbour for insects and a source of weed seeds, the Yellowhammer had a good habitat for foraging and nesting in the surrounding fields.

An image of the front of the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

Once Bob and I entered the fenced-off area designating the protected site, we saw the small plot of manicured grass  to be dominated by the massive capstone of the neolithic Brownshill Portal Tomb.  It makes one wonder how a primitive Stone Age community could manage to move the humongous rock without modern engineering skills.

An image of Jean reading the information sign at the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

With a gentle breeze tousling my hair, I paused to read the literature on site and learned that the portal tomb was built as a burial place by Ireland’s first migrant farmers sometime between 4000 and 3000 BC.  It has endured for a very long time.

An image of the historical information sign at the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

The picture featured in the display shows how the tomb might have appeared some 5000 years ago, bolstered by a mound of earth to the rear, and with an elaborate entrance area consisting of several stones for the facade.  The completed Brownshill Portal Tomb was called a barrow or burial mound.

An image of the capstone sitting on top of the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

That early covering of earth and/or rocks has weathered away, leaving only the stone skeleton of the burial mound intact.

As you see in Bob’s short video, the prominent remains today include the 100-ton granite capstone, 2 portal stones that define the entrance that is blocked by a central stone or gate stone, and a prostrate slab.

An image of Jean walking around the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

There is something eerily haunting about such sacred spots as this portal tomb, and as I circled the assembly of boulders, the transient coolness of the morning air touched my face and mind alike, dispelling the conjured spirits in my imagination.

A closeup image of the stones that support the capstone of the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean

The massive blocks of stone that supported the capstone were, in their own right, very impressive and required the farmers to inset them into the ground at great depths for stability and longevity.

 An image of Bob looking at the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

Bob put his mind to the test trying to figure out how the Stone Age people accomplished the positioning of the megalithic capstone and gargantuan portal stones of this neolithic grave site.

bob checks rock cut in the brownshill dolmen - county carlow - ireland

 An image of Jean standing in front of the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

Portal tombs were single-chamber graves wherein the cremated body of the deceased was placed, often with beads, pottery and stone artefacts.

 An image of the capstone at the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

It has been suggested that such megalithic tombs were more than mere burial places, but instead, were monuments to ancestors or even served to declare territorial rights.  Bob and I spent considerable time contemplating the significance of this tomb, said to have been erected to honour a local chieftain.

An image of the Brownshill Portal Tomb in a farm field in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

We were respectful and did not enter into the tomb even though evidence showed that others had done so.  Being at an out of the way location, no custodian is on hand to keep an eye on the sacred place.  In fact, large stones lying next to the nearby field boundary are believed to be from this tomb, but when and how they were moved is unknown.

An image of clouds above a farm field near the Brownshill Portal Tomb in County Carlow, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

Two other megalithic portal tombs are thought to have existed close by, but they did not survive the passage of time.  But the Brownshill Dolmen will remain where it has always been, an homage to spirits that have gone before us and a reminder of the achievements of Stone Age man.

You May Also Like –

An image of the Poulnabrone Dolmen on the Burren in County Clare in Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.2

The Poulnabrone Dolmen In County Clare, Ireland

An image of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

Visiting The Cliffs of Moher In Ireland

An image of Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ireland. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

Ashford Castle – One Of Ireland’s Most Romantic Hotels

An image of Pinnacle Rock in Mpumalanga, South Africa. Photography by Frame To Frame - Bob and Jean.

Our visit to Pinnacle Rock in Mpumalanga, South Africa

Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean

7 comments

  • Have you been to Rathgall Stone Fort? Take Shillelagh Rd out of Tullow (Co Carlow) and fork left after a mile or so at signpost for Liscolman. Watch out for sign for Rath on right hand side. It’s known locally as the Ring o’ the Raths, and it’s amazing. It’s a 3000 yr old fort with concentric stone walls, and is a very special place.

    • Deirdre. Thanks for contacting us. I really appreciate the tip, but until we get a chance to visit Ireland again, we will only have to dream about the historic old fort that you mention. It sounds amazing!

  • Facebook comment from: Irelands Hidden Gems.com

    Something else isn’t it Bob, Susan

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Irelands-Hidden-Gemscom/141058572600715

  • Facebook comment from Got Ireland

    Wonderful pictures, Bob & Jean Thanks for sharing it on Got Ireland Liam

    https://www.facebook.com/GotIreland

  • Hello!

    I came across your visit to the Dolmen in Carlow and as a local person here in Carlow I would like to say congratulations on a wonderfull encapsulation of the site. Your attention to all the detail which is missed by many people was great to see and read.
    I also looked through your other travels in Ireland and wow you gave me the urge to to get up and go visit our beautiful country!!!!

    I loved the lay out of your trip,

    Once again thank you

    Dermot

  • This monument predates the Celts by about 3,500 years. The British Isles were inhabited by a people known as the Iberians. They started farming and worked with bronze. When the Celtic waves begun around 500 C.E., they conquered these people with their iron weapons, and absorbed them. For someone who is Irish, you can test their DNA, to find out what wave of people they are descendants of. I knew a man in Ireland, where DNA testing proved that he was the descendants of Iberians. The Iberians built monuments that followed the movements of the sun, while the Celts were more concerned with the movements of the moon. They both cremated their dead, for burials really did not occur until the arrival of Christianity. If you want to go back to your ancient Irish roots, be cremated.