Fourknocks - Snow Scenes

Fourknocks Passage Tomb
Fourknocks Megalithic Passage Tomb | Ireland's Ancient East

A snow covered landscape in Ireland is unusual, some winters pass without a significant fall of snow. The following images of a snow covered passage tomb at Fourknocks were taken on the 29th of December 2000.

Fourknocks entrance
Entrance to Fourknocks Passage Tomb

Snow covered Fourknocks
Fourknocks Passage Tomb

1st Unexcavated Tomb
Fourknocks II - Unexcavated Tomb

Sheep with newborn lamb
Sheep with newborn lamb on top of Fourknocks II

Fourknocks III Unexcavated Tomb
Fourknocks III - Unexcavated Tomb

 2nd Unexcavated Tomb
View of Fourknocks III Unexcavated Tomb from top of Main Fourknocks Tomb

1st Unexcavated Tomb
View of Fourknocks II Unexcavated Tomb from top of Main Tomb

View from top of Main Tomb
View from top of Main Fourknocks Tomb

Fourknocks - View from top of Main Tomb
View from top of Main Fourknocks Tomb

Fourknocks Passage Tomb

The Fourknocks Passage Tomb was unknown and unexcavated until 1950. It has no mention in the old folkloric literature. There were no Sídhe, giants or witches who were said to inhabit the three recesses of its interior. But the absence of fairies in Fourknocks has not put the ancient tomb at any disadvantage in its ability to create a sense of mystery for modern visitors. The monument is a regular destination for "sacred sites" tours designed for the followers of neo-pagan and earth-based spiritual practices.

Fourknocks - from Na Fuarchnoic ("the Cold Hills") is only 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the more celebrated Brú na Bóinne passage tombs, and may have been created by a related group of Neolithic farmers 3800 years ago. Newgrange and the other marquee tombs were mentioned by the 18th century antiquarians and have been woven into the folkloric fabric of the country since the medieval annals. Fourknocks, however, was unknown to archaeologists until a chance conversation in 1949, when a woman making a visit to Newgrange mentioned, "there are mounds like this on my uncle's farm"

Patrick Maguire was the uncle of the woman who first tipped off the authorities to the existence of the mounds near Naul. When Maguire brought archaeologist P. J. Hartnett to view the site they saw "an insignificant mound, much overgrown with brambles and rank grass." But when they cleared away some of the bushes and dug into the surface a large slab with engraved patterns began to emerge. The archaeologist immediately set about planning for a major excavation.

At the conclusion of the dig the investigators reported finding more than 65 burials in the collapsed tomb. They were dated from c. 1800 BCE. Other, later, burials were found in the covering mound. In addition to the cremated and unburnt remains, a trove of decorated pottery and personal ornaments, such as pendants and beads (see gallery, below), were discovered, all now in the National Museum.

It was determined that the mound, with its small entrance passage and a large central chamber, was never fully covered by a corbelled stone roof construction as found in other passage tombs. At Fourknocks a central pole likely held up a wooden roof, long decayed and fallen in. The tomb is now covered with a concrete roof, with hidden openings that allow in just enough daylight for the visitor to slowly discern the decorated stones.

Inside Fourknocks there are 12 stones with very finely rendered engravings, zigzags and lozenges. One design, however, has attracted particular attention because of its resemblance to a human face. It may be the best representation of a human face from the Neolithic period in Ireland. It could perhaps have been placed near the entrance to the passage to "strike fear or awe into an unwary person approaching."

The dozen decorated stones at Fourknocks represent only a small percentage of the 576 such stones known to exist in 51 sites in Ireland. We cannot know the intentions of the Neolithic artists who created this body of work. And we can only guess the purpose of this stylized face at Fourknocks, if that is indeed what we are seeing. The men working on the excavation were the first to note its human features, and came to refer to it as the "clown" or the "Old Man of Fourknocks."

"The journey from the outside world into the chamber space is thus a highly orchestrated one, in which the individual is constantly being made aware that he or she is passing between radically different spaces, by being presented with symbols and by being forced to bend down or squeeze through particular parts of the passage." One additional object found, fragmented within the cremations, is worth a special note. Carved from the antler of a young red deer, a 19 cm (7.5 in) pin with chevron markings was described as a "cult object, symbolic of the power and authority of its owner who was buried there" by Hartnett. He found evidence that it was broken up before being placed in the tomb. "Whatever the inspiration, [the artist] produced something for which no exact parallel is forthcoming."

The National Museum of Ireland compares this object from Fourknocks to a carved phallus-shaped stone found during the excavation of the Brú na Bóinne tomb of Knowth, ascribing them both to "ritual functions associated with fertility, probably in order to stress social and family continuity in the face of the death of individuals" Two other mounds in the Fourknocks complex were excavated, but these were not restored and are not accessible. One of these likely served as the cremation site for the bones found in the main tomb and was used for later internments. Communal burials may serve to celebrate the entry of an individual into the realm of the ancestors. When the final burial occurred perhaps 2500 years ago the history of the Fourknocks mounds "would have been passed on by word of mouth; they would have been mythologised and become the domain of the ancestors and the spirit world."

Whatever mythologies the oral traditions may have created at Fourknocks in the distant past have been long since forgotten. But some visitors to Fourknocks today-such as the dowser quoted at the top of this page-arrive with their own belief systems that they have connected with the tomb. Theories involving the practice of dowsing within these ancient monuments are not new. A 1969 book claimed that prehistoric people built their sacred structures along lines of "geodetic forces" they determined by dowsing. "These would then be recognizable as holy places, and their stones would provide assembly points where people could carry on their business under divine protection and guidance.


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