Ireland’s long and rich history dates back to around 6000 B.C., followed by the Gaelic and Medieval era, the Viking invasion and the Anglo-Norman conquest. These various human settlements and inhabitants left behind significant and rich history in the country. Among the most interesting are the earliest inhabitants of the island and the artifacts they left behind.
In the unique landscape of the Burren Region, in County Clare, evidence of these early inhabitants can be found everywhere. Stone-built monuments abound, some older than the Egyptian pyramids. Of the about 6,000 national monuments (dolmens, wedge tombs, stone forts/cahers) in the country, the vast majority are located in this region. We visited two of these iconic monuments.
We went first to the site of the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This is the second most visited site in the Burren (Cliffs of Moher is the first), and most widely photographed of all the Dolmens in Ireland. There is no entry fee to enter (to our surprise) and it was not teeming with tourist as we expected. Probably due to the weather that day which was windy, foggy and cold. We only found a small group just about to leave and a vendor selling beautiful Celtic jewelries (yeah, I noticed). He was bundled up thickly like an Eskimo. One tough guy.
WEDGE TOMB – Poulnabrone
It is said that the highest concentration of wedge tombs (built during the early part of the Bronze Age) in Ireland are found in the Burren uplands. There are over ninety megalithic tombs known to survive in the area and one of the most iconic is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, located on the highest point of the region. The tomb is standing by itself in the middle of karst landscape, built on limestone pavement surrounded by a low mound of rocks (a cairn).
Poulnabrone is classified as a portal tomb which features two large portal stones standing on either side of an entrance with a massive slab capstone. The capstone weighs several tons, imagine how they were able to put it on top? The mystery of how ancient people built their structures back then. It never seizes to amaze us. To think that this dolmen, the oldest dated megalithic monument in Ireland is still standing is incredible.
It was indicated that this tomb was used as a burial site between 3800 and 3200 B.C. Human remains (at least 33 individuals) from Neolithic or Stone Age buried under the monument were found here in 1985. None of the remains were intact, indicating that they were buried elsewhere at the time of death and then their bones were later transferred to the portal tomb as their last resting place.
Personal items which were buried with the dead were also found, such as a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, weapons, and pottery. Just outside the entrance, a newborn baby was also found, dated fromthe Bronze Age, around 1700 B.C.
This dolmen was not only used for burial; it was suggested that the tomb was also a center for ceremony and ritual, well into the Celtic period.
Caherconnel is located near Poulnabrone; so it's easy to visit the two sites without going out of your way. There is a fee to enter here, which includes a pamphlet and a short film show about the history of the site and nearby ancient sites. You must watch the film since it is a good introduction to what these sites are all about, a little glimpse of the life of the early inhabitants of the area.
STONE FORT - Caherconnell Cashel
A caher is a ring-fort or an enclosed farmstead. Caherconnell was settled by someone called Connell, a wealthy high status ruler, hence the name. This settlement is a well-preserved medieval stone fort, located in the heart of the Burren Region. It was a small landholding built out of limestone, of which there is plenty in the area, in the 10th century A.D.
However, the evidence of earlier inhabitants found in Caherconnell indicates that this fort was previously settled during the neolithic or bronze age, then later was rebuilt and used until 1200 A.D. It was also suggested that the entrance to the fort may have been re-built in the 15th or 16th century, which means this fort was inhabited up to the late medieval period.
Caherconnell was built of only dry stones, sloping Slightly toward the outside for stability and protection from rain run-off. Inside is evidence of the settler’s life; structures, burial mounds (containing a woman, a toddler and a baby) dated from the 6th or 7th century, a fire pit dated from the 7th century and other additions built by later occupants.
Before flying off to Scotland, we drove to Kinvarra in County Galway to visit the Dunguaire Castle. This castle is the most photographed castle in Ireland. We had to check it out if it is indeed as picturesque as they say.