Travel & Tourist Guide to The Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) - Ireland


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Dingle Peninsula Cairns and Mounds

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Cairns and Mounds

The practice of constructing mounds and cairns is one that has continued in Ireland from early prehistoyic times until the present day. They may be composed of stone or of earth or of a combination of both, the term 'cairn' usually being reserved for those comprised wholly or mainly of stone. Cairns and mounds have been erected over burials since the Neolithic Period and, from a surface inspection alone, it is often difficult to determine the antiquity of individual examples. As 6 Rformn points out, 'round burial mounds can contain interments of a wide variety of types and ages, ranging over the whole prehistoyic period' and 'a single site may include a number of distinct phases with burials of more than one traditional represented'.

The purpose of these monuments is not always of a funerary nature. Cairns have been erected as memorials, to commemorate events such as a sudden death, as boundary markers and as Ordnance Survey trigonometrical stations. These latter are usually readily identifiable, but in some instances, for example at Ballynahunt, they have been constructed on or from the material of earlier cairns. Christian pilgrimage stations may also be marked by a cairn which gradually accumulates as each pilgrim adds stones to the pile. Commemorative cairns and hill-top cairns are also often added to by passers-by. It is also common practice for farmers, when clearing stones from their fields, to pile them into cairns. Such cairns may be fairly recent in origin but clearance cairns have also been discovered beneath the peat, in association with the pre-bog field system at Kilmore.

A further difficulty, in relation to the origin of individual cairns and mounds, is that other monument types, such as clochauns and ringforts, may have a mound-like appearance if very ruinous. For these reasons, the antiquity and original purpose of individual examples is often difficult to determine without excavation. However, tentative interpretation is sometimes possible on the basis of morphological characteristics, siting or association with other monuments. For instance, the presence of ogham stones on the mounds at Ballinrannig and Lugnagappul and the discovery there of graves and human bones suggests that these are burial mounds, probably dating to the earliest centuries of Christianity. Depressions in the tops of the cairns at Dromavally and Killelton may result from the collapse of underlying burial chambers. Graves were also apparently discovered amongst the cairns at Ballyglasheen, and their proximity to a couple of cup-marked stones may indicate an Early Bronze Age date for the site. Obvious field-clearance cairns are not included in the following inventory.

This above information was sourced from the Archaeological Survey of the Dingle Peninsula (1986) and provided to dodingle.com courtesy of Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne. Republication of the extract or any part therin, in any form or capacity, is strictly prohibited without the express permission of the publishers. © Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne 1986-2010.

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