The Hag’s Chair – Ballykeel Dolmen, Co. Armagh

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The Hag’s Chair – Ballykeel Dolmen, Co. Armagh

Ballykeel Portal Tomb stands at the western foot of Slieve Gullion in Co. Armagh. With its graceful appearance, it is a classic example of a tripod portal tomb. Its large flat capstone, which is some 3 metres long, is supported by just 3 upright stones; two portal stones and a back-stone. A low door-stone blocks the entrance to the chamber.

Built around 3500 BCE, the monument we can see now would have been covered by a large stone cairn, 10m wide by 30m long. Very little of the cairn is visible with the exception of two lines of stones running parallel along its length.

Excavations of the chamber revealed different types of pottery, including three highly decorated “Ballyalton” bowls. At the rear (north) end of the cairn, a cist grave containing Neolithic pottery, a javelin head, and three flint flakes was discovered.

Known locally as ‘The Hag’s Chair’, the monument is associated with the Cailleach, the mythical goddess of Winter. Legend has it that she would fly down from her home on Slieve Gullion to sit on the dolmen at Ballykeel, which served as her throne.

Located in the heart of the Ring of Gullion, an area of outstanding beauty, Ballykeel is easily accessed. The only thing that detracts from its appearance is the wire fence that inexplicably runs really close to the monument, despite the fact that it situated in its own little field. This minor quibble aside, Ballykeel Dolmen is a beautiful monument, well worth visiting.