Dolmens of Ireland

Knockeen Portal Dolmen, Knockeen. co. Waterford.        4000-3000 b.c

The Knockeen portal tomb is one of Waterford’s outstanding monuments and ranks among the finest portal tombs in Ireland. It stands in the middle of a hedgerow bordering 2 fields standing at an impressive 3.5 metres (13 feet). This huge dolmen is of a slightly different design than others in the area with it’s large main capstone set almost level against a secondary capstone that is almost of equal size. The chambers also remain covered and are in of excellent quality.  A feature of the tomb is a small ‘keyhole’ entrance that may have been used to offer food to the spirits of the dead or for access to those performing rituals. The field to the north was also once the cemetery of old Kilburne church. Some of theses gravestones date back to the mid 1700’s which may indicate a continuous use of this area for the dead for thousands of years. It is quite common that portal tombs faces uphill and in this case is facing north west. Unlike some other portal tombs in Waterford which had some remedial work carried out, this tomb stands in its original state.

Gaulstown Dolmen, Gaulstown. co.Waterford. c.4000 b.c

The Gaulstown Portal Tomb is one of the finest dolmens in Ireland and was probably erected between 4000 – 3500b.c. It’s name is derived from the name of the townland and is situated at the foot of “Cnoc an Chaillighe” or “The Hill of the Hag”.  It’s east facing portal stones are an impressive 8 feet high and the capstone is 14 feet long possibly weighing 40 tonnes. It is likely that the structure was once enclosed by a mound or cairn, which has since been removed or eroded away.

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, Carrowmore. co.Sligo 4600>1000 b.c

Carrowmore is the largest megalithic cemetery in Ireland and amongst the oldest in Europe. It is believed that there may have been over 100 monuments on this site but only 30 have survived as the area was extensively damaged in the early nineteenth century by land clearance and quarrying. On site are the remains of chamber tombs, portal tombs (dolmens), ring forts, cairns and passage graves and each one is known by numbers assigned to them in 1837 by George Petrie, the famous Irish antiquarian and archaeologist. Excavations by Swedish archaeologists in 1977 produced radio-carbon dates that have placed some of the tombs as early as 4600 b.c! A large area of the cemetery is now under state protection and a restored cottage on-site houses an exhibition.

Ballybrack Dolmen, Ballybrack. co.Dublin – 2500 b.c

The Ballybrack Dolmen is oddly located in the middle of a housing estate in south county Dublin. The granite capstone which has beautiful shiny quartz through it measures 1.5m X 1.5m and weighs approx 12 tonnes. 

Kilclooney Dolmen, Kilclooney 3500 b.c.

The beautiful Kilclooney Dolmen dates from c 3500 b.c and is regarded as one of the finest examples of a portal tomb in the country. It’s impressive capstone measures 13 wide, 20 feet long and stands over 6 feet high. This makes it one of the largest examples in Europe and probably weighs well over 100 tonnes. The massive capstone looks different from every angle and some say it resembles a bird taking to flight, a whale, a dolphin and an alligator to name but a few. The lower end of the capstone is unusually supported by a small stone which was placed on top of the backstone (normally it is placed directly onto the backstone). It is believed that this extra stone was placed to allow extra light to shine into the tomb. Nearby this magical spot is a 2nd smaller dolmen (which has partly collapsed) and a court tomb. This area is Ireland at its best.

Morton God Portal Tomb, Iskaheen 3500 - 2500 b.c

The Morton God Dolmen is the largest portal tomb in Inishowen and possibly the oldest structure. It is located half way up a mountain in a scenic location overlooking Lough Foyle and it’s name remains a mystery. Its capstone has slightly collapsed and has been reported to weigh at least 30 tonnes! There also appears to be the remains of a cairn of stones at its base. Dolmens were thought to have been used by Druids as tables for sacrifices, which may have been the case however these type of portal tombs were constructed around 5000 years ago, whereas Druids existed around 2000 years ago, so they were not constructed for this reason. These portal tombs predate our great passage tombs (such as Newgrange) but there purpose appears to be similar whereby cremated bones and grave goods of the important members of the clan were placed inside the tomb to send them off to the ‘other life’.

Ballykeel Dolmen, Camlouth 4000 b.c > 2500 b.c

The Ballykeel portal tomb, locally known as ‘The Hag’s Chair’ is a beautiful example of a tri-pod dolmen and dates from between 4000 and 2500 b.c. When it was excavated in 1963, plain and decorated neolithic pottery was found alongside flint stones and a cist type burial. The cap-stone is over 9 feet long and has a notch carved into it which is similar to others found in the north of Ireland. This was undoubtedly an important ancient monument as excavations revealed that it was also surrounded by a huge cairn of stones which measured 90 feet long X 30 feet wide which is quite unusual. Most of this cairn has disappeared however 2 parallel lines of carefully set stones are still visible which define the edges. It is located in the historic ‘Ring of Gullion’ which is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. This dolmen is classified as a State Care Neolithic Monument and is the only portal tomb in Northern Ireland that has been re-erected.

Poulnabrone Dolmen, Caherconnell. co.Clare – c.3600 b.

This national monument is Poulnabrone Dolmen. It’s timeless simplicity has made it one of the most photographed landmarks in Ireland. It is a classic example of a portal tomb. The tall portal stones flank the entrance to a rectangular stone chamber which is then covered by a single large capstone. The name ‘Poulnabrone’ means ‘The Hole of the Sorrows’ in Irish and dates from the Neolithic period (4200 bc – 2900 bc). The tomb is surrounded by a mound of stones (or cairn). This would have been the cairns’s original height to add stability but not to dominate the tomb’s elegant shape. Remains of at least 31 infants, children and adults were excavated in 1986 along with  personal possessions including polish stone axes, decorated stone beads, quartz crystals, pottery, chert and flint weapons. Radio carbon dating also shows that a newborn was buried in the portico nearly 2000 years after the tomb was built! It is located in the ‘Burren’ which is one of the most dramatic areas of Ireland. This entire area looks like a moonscape as giant slabs of limestone have been eroded and dissolved by rainwater creating what is described as a ‘karst’ landscape.

Knockmaree Dolmen, Phoenix Park. Dublin City – 3000 b.c > 1700 b.c

The Knockmaree Dolmen is probably the oldest monument within the city of Dublin, and is possibly the smallest ‘dolmen’ structure in Ireland. It is located beside Knockmary Lodge in Phoenix Park and is also known as the Linkardstown Tomb. Although sometimes described as a dolmen, these stones are actually the remains of a ‘cist’ type burial chamber. Only 15 of these particular type of burial tombs have ever been excavated in Ireland, and most of them are found in Munster and south Leinster. This one was discovered in 1838 when workmen employed by ‘The Commissioners of Woods and Forests’ were asked to remove an ancient tumulus. It measured an impressive 15 feet in height and 120 feet in circumference. Inside the tumulus, 4 small stone cists were found that contained urns of baked clay, food vessels and pieces of burnt bone. The remaining stones (in the photo) were at the very centre of the mound and no passageway led to them. The remains of two almost complete male skeletons were found in a crouched position and analysis showed they were approx 40 & 50 years old (which was old for the time). There was also a flint knife, shell necklaces and a bone toggle. The water worn capstone is believed to have come from the nearby River Liffey.

Brownshill Portal Tomb, Hacketstown Road 4000 > 3000 b.c

This national monument is the Brownshill Portal Tomb. It is not only the largest example in Ireland but also in Europe with a capstone weighing in at an impressive 150 tonnes! Portal tombs are so called because the entrance to these burial chambers are marked by a pair of tall portal stones which are covered with a single capstone. The capstones usually rest and slope backwards. The earliest portal tombs date from 4000 b.c to 3000 b.c and many were surrounded by mounds of stones called cairns. These might have resembled a miniature ‘Newgrange’. Over time most of these stones have been removed for other purposes so what you see now is the skeleton of the building.

Kilternan Dolmen, Kilternan. co.Dublin – c.3000 > 2500 b.c (Cill Tiarnáin-Church of Tiarnán)

The Kilternan Dolmen is located in the village of Kilternan in south county Dublin. It is believed to be the 2nd largest example in Ireland (next to the Brownshill Dolmen in Carlow) and dates from sometime between c.3500 and 2500 b.c. It’s capstone weighs in at an impressive 80 tonnes and measures 21 feet long x 15 feet across. The word ‘dolmen’ translates from a Breton word meaning ‘stone table’ and was first used by Victorian archeologists who thought Druids from the Iron Age used these structures for performing rituals. These structures are however much older and are now officially known as ‘portal tombs’. Most portal tombs point east-west for the rising and setting sun. This one, however, points towards Little Sugar Loaf Mountain which was thought to be a sacred place in ancient times. It was recorded that a family took refuge under this capstone during the famine years in the mid 1800s.

Proleek Dolmen. Ballymascanlon. co.Louth c.4000>3000 b.c

This is the beautiful and graceful Proleek Dolmen located on the legendary Cooley Peninsula in co. Louth. It is one of the finest examples in Ireland and dates from between 4000 to 3000 bc. They were given the name ‘dolmen’ in the Victorian era which derives from a Breton word meaning a ‘stone table’. The proper name for these incredible monuments are ‘portal tombs’ as the 2 upright stones (or portals) are believed to be ‘the gateway’ into the burial chamber. Many of these were originally covered by hundreds of smaller stones in the shape of a cairn but these were usually removed over the years for other purposes. It is common to find cremated bones, grave goods, flints, bone beads and coarse pottery during excavations. The giant roof stone on this example measures approx 12 x 10 feet and is estimated to weight over 30 tonnes. If you look closely at the photo you will see lots of tiny pebbles on the top of capstone as a local legend says ’if you throw a stone up and it stays, you will be married within a year”!



  1. This is a great post. Thank you for bringing it all together so well... The dolem/cist in the Phoenix Park, Dublin is a revelation. Lived beside it and never knew it existed!

  2. Your welcome mate,i`m glad you like article :)