Ballymacdermot Court Tomb

stephenMonuments, Mythology, News

Ballymacdermot Court Tomb

Located at a height of 600 feet on the south slopes of Ballymacdermot Mountain in Co. Armagh is this fine example of a Neolithic Court Tomb. As with many of Ireland’s megalithic monuments Ballymacdermot Court Tomb is located in an area of outstanding beauty. The views south from the monument across the Meigh plain to the great sweep of hills known as the Ring of Gullion are spectacular.

Despite the views to the south, the entrance to the tomb actually faces northwards, up the mountain. However, this was probably designed to give the people gathered in the semi-circular open court, a view of this incredible vista as a backdrop to the ceremonies that took place here over 5000 years ago.

The court which is about 6m in diameter leads to a 7m long gallery which is divided into three chambers and surrounded by a large cairn, nearly 30m long. The now uncovered gallery would originally have had a corbelled roof and some of the larger roof-stones can be seen resting on the cairn to the sides of the chambers.

The tomb was excavated in 1816 and it is reported that an urn containing pulverized bone fragments was found in the gallery. It was again excavated in 1962 and evidence of human cremations, flint, and ceramics were discovered in the rear chamber.

During this excavation, the archaeologists discovered that some of the stones had been broken relatively recently. While many megaliths have been damaged by vandalism and grave-robbers, it was confirmed by local people that this damage was as a result of an encounter with a U.S. Army tank. The incident occurred during Wartime manoeuvres in 1942, resulting in several stones being broken However, after the excavation in 1962, the broken stones were repaired.

The monument was known locally as ‘The Fairy Ring’ and stories told of music being heard coming from the site on certain nights when the fairies were said to be dancing there. Another local legend told that this neolithic court tomb was also known as the Danes Graveyard. The word Danes would usually refer to the vikings; who did settle in Ireland around the 9th century AD, a long time after the tomb was built sometime between 4000 and 3500 BC. However it is thought that this title is a mistaken variant of the word ‘Dannan’ from the Tuatha dé Dannan; the mythical people who inhabited Ireland before the coming of humans and the origin of the later fairy folklore of Ireland.

Ballymacdermot Court Tomb is easily accessed as it is situated at the side of a quiet mountain road about 2-3km southwest of the town of Newry, Co. Armagh with room for a couple of cars to park. There are a number of ancient monuments found in the area, known as the Ring of Gullion making it well worth a trip.