Around 6,000 years ago, the members of a now long-forgotten tribe gathered together and
changed Ireland forever. They had an idea, a concept of something that did not yet exist,
but something that they were determined to create. They dragged and lifted carefully chosen
stones into place and through their exertions, they made their idea a reality. What those
people accomplished in that very distant time still resonates down the ages to us today,
because what they built was Ireland’s first megalithic tomb – the first temple of stone ever
built on the island.
We are not certain which megalithic tomb in Ireland was that first monument or even
if it still exists today, but we do know that in the centuries that followed,
over 1,600 more megalithic tombs were built throughout Ireland.
Then around 2,000 years after the first megalithic tomb was constructed, this great
building project stopped, and the knowledge of what these remarkable structures meant to their builders was lost.
After 4,000 years of silence, however, the stones are no longer mute. Every year archaeologists are discovering
more and more about these enigmatic monuments and instead of a single, simple answer to the question of what the megalithic tombs
meant to those who built them, there is a multitude of answers, each one more fascinating than the next.
At one level, the megalithic tombs were powerful symbolic tools, tools that allowed people to think
in new ways and to break away from the traditional narratives that had governed their
ancestors. At another level, megalithic tombs served to transform both space and time by
creating permanent structures that endured against the fleeting generations.
Beliefs and ideas about life and death also seem to have been woven into the fabric of the
megalithic tombs and it is likely that local groups used megalithic tombs to interact with
their ancestors. We also have evidence that sound and colour played a role in their megalithic
rituals, and we even have evidence that some of the ritual participants were probably
hallucinating, perhaps as a way of journeying to an Otherworld where their
ancestors and other spirits resided.
Other lines of enquiry have shown how some megalithic tombs were closely linked
to the natural world and how whole landscapes were ritualised through the construction
of interconnected networks of monuments, sometimes over 50km apart.
All these lines of evidence and more are now bringing the world of the megaliths
back to life. We can now see that it was a tribal world where Stone Age farmers
defended their territory against neighbouring tribes and where fertility and regeneration were
constant concerns. It was also a world full of spirits, gods and goddesses and a world
where shamans interceded with the dead. Although it was a world of deep traditions, it was
also a world in which people strove to further understand the mysteries of life and death, as
well as humanity’s place in the cosmos.
As such, we can see that it was a world where people had thoughts and concerns far beyond day-to-day survival.
Today, we stand and marvel at these ancient sites and this is as it should be because
these unlikely masses of stone – heaved, levered and shoved into place – these
temples of stone are testaments to our ancestor’s quest for knowledge and to
their ability to change the world.
Dolmens and burial chambers dot the Irish countryside and fascinate all. Once
dismissed as ‘rude monuments’ shrouded in mystery, fresh archaeological
interpretations provide new ways of understanding these ancient structures. Who
were the megalith builders? Why did they heave these massive stones on top of
one another? What can these evocative monuments tell us about how their builders
understood the world and their place in it? How did the monuments alter ancient
people’s experience of place and time? What rituals took place in and around
these monuments? Were drugs and hallucinations part of the rituals engaged in?
How were the giant megaliths erected? And finally, why did people stop building them?
Insights and answers to these questions are presented in a fully-illustrated
popular format. All key sites in Ireland are discussed. 100 ‘Sites Worth
Visiting’ are listed in a final chapter with photos, maps, and detailed
directions for visiting each site.
Boyne Valley Tours
Private Tour with pick up and return to your accommodation.
Newgrange World Heritage site, the 10th century High Crosses at Monasterboice,
Hill of Tara the seat of the High Kings, Bective Abbey and Trim Castle
the largest Norman castle in Ireland