The Browneshill Dolmen is a portal tomb dating from c.3300 – 2900 B.C.
It has a very large granite capstone measuring 4.7 metres x
6.1 metres x 2 metres. The capstone rests on two portal
stones, a door stone and a prostrate slab. The dolmen or
cromlech is a type of pagan sepulchral monument. The
capstone is the largest to be found in Europe. It has been
calculated to weigh over 100 tons.
Carlow is probably well renowned
worldwide for its pre-historical Dolmen which is situated at
Browne's Hill which is approximately 3km east of Carlow town
on the Hacketstown Road. This is the county’s most prominent
feature which is estimated to be about 5000-years-old. But
what is it and who built it?
We do know what is it but we can
only speculate on how it was built. The stone age peoples of
Ireland honoured their dead in different ways. In addition
to Dolmens (also called Cromlechs from the Gaelic ‘Crom’,
stone and ‘Lech’, flagstone). The stone age peoples also
used Moates, or artificial mounds. Inside these mounds have
been found the skeletons or burnt remains in clay burial
urns. Cairns corresponding to Moates, except that they
consist of stones instead of earth were also used. Kists are
box like graves, with the floor, sides and roof made from
flagstones and Gallauns, or Longstones. The Gallauns, were
sometimes inscribed with Ogham writing, which occurred about
the 3rd or 4th century A.D. It may well be that these
ancient graves were re-used by later generations of Gaels.
The type of grave we are concerned with here is the Dolmen.
The sides or uprights of Dolmens consist of large stones or
boulders, capped by a large boulder.
In later years these
Dolmens were also known as Druid’s Alters and frequently as Leaba Diarmaid agus Grainne, ‘the bed of Dermot and
Grainne’, from the well known legend of the elopement of
Dermot with the wife of Fionn MacCuil. It was said that
Dermot erected one every night for the couple to sleep in
while on the run. The Browneshill Dolmen has the largest
cap-stone in Europe, estimated at over 120 tons. How
primitive man raised these huge stones into position is
something we really do not know. There are three popular
theories on how they did so. The very fact that they went to
such trouble and invested such amounts of labour in the
building of them shows clearly that they had leisure time
and did not have to spend all their time in hunting and
gathering and growing food.
The first theory on their erection is
that they did not move the capstone at all. They could have
dug holes where the uprights were to go, inserted these and
then dug away the surrounding earth, leaving a Dolmen
looking like it is today. Secondly, they might have erected
the uprights and then used a ramp of earth, stones and
timber, upon which they could have levered the capstone into
position. The third theory is that they could have levered
up one edge of the capstone and crammed in earth and stones,
raising it. If they continued this all round the capstone
would eventually have risen to the level of the uprights and
could then I have been prised into position. Many Dolmen
were originally covered with a mound of earth. As there are
very many such unexplored mounds in Ireland perhaps there:
are many more Dolmens to be discovered. Of course, it goes
without saying that ordinary people were not buried in
Dolmens. They were reserved to honour those of the highest
rank in society, Kings, Chiefs and their families.
Source: Carlow County
Museum / Wikipedia / Julian Cope
presents The Modern Antiquarian.com