Court Tomb - County Tyrone

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H 64604 75040 (GPS 30min. entrance lintel).
Visited June 2002

Creggandevesky (the Stony Place of Black Water), Court Tomb stands  about 5km NW of Pomeroy at the NW end of Lough Mallon, it is built on a slight natural prominence and the court area has commanding views over the lough. There seems to be some variation in the spelling of the place name, some sources using Creggandeveskey, we settled on Creggandevesky as this form is used by both the OS and in the excavation report. The whole area was buried in a thick layer of peat and was scheduled for land reclamation at the end of the seventies when examination of a low mound topped by a large mossy boulder near the Lough revealed a spectacular Court Tomb. The site was subsequently excavated by Foley (1) in four seasons from 1979 to1982. Initially the mound was thought to be an oval cairn and indeed, removal of soil and peat did reveal an oval cairn 22m x17m with granite corbels lying along its centre line. When excavation commenced, the dry stone revetment  of the cairn and the structure of the court area itself was revealed, the cairn was in fact a trapezoidal Court Cairn, the initial oval shape being caused by the outward collapse of cairn material over the millennia. 

Creggandevesky is in a very good state of preservation, the trapezoidal cairn is about 18m long, it tapers from 13m across at its widest at the court, down to about 6.5m at the rear. The cairn remains are about 1.75m high and its edges are well defined with dry-stone revetment that shows a mixture of laying styles. The half court is "U" shaped, 5.6m across at the tips of the cairn "horns" and about 5m deep, it is faced with spaced orthostats which increase in height and size towards the gallery entrance. The spaces between the court orthostats are inter-filled with panels of dry stone walling. 
The entrance to the gallery is in the centre of the court and is capped with an impressively massive gabled lintel stone which is presently partially supported by a thin steel post at the eastern side of the entrance. The lintel stone was in fact the mossy boulder first spotted at the site, one of only three stones that protruded above the peat in the tomb's buried state. The portal stones of the entrance are poorly matched and poorly shaped, the eastern stone requiring an additional stone to match the height of the western portal, which itself requires chock stones to level the lintel. A small stone is set in the ground between the entrance portals and is probably an original sill-stone, the only one in the gallery.
The gallery has three chambers separated by two pairs of jamb stones, and is about 10m long. The first chamber is roughly ovoid, the second is widest just after the front jambs and tapers in towards the second set. Because of missing stones, the third chamber appears poorly defined today, but it seems to have been roughly rectangular. The back -stone of the rear chamber and one of its eastern side stones are missing, excavation revealed that these had been removed before the cairn was engulfed by the peat, so the robbing must have occurred in prehistory.  We noticed that both the first, and particularly the second, chambers were asymmetric with respect to the gallery axis, both chambers were noticeably wider on their western sides.
The cairn seems to have been height graded towards the court and the remaining chamber construction shows that their heights followed this trend. The chambers were roofed with corbelled slabs, all of which had fallen before excavation, they probably had a top covering of smaller stones giving the intact cairn a height in the region of 2-3m. 

The gallery opens to the SE and we measured its orientation as 133 deg 52', this is a very significant bearing as in 3500BC the midwinter sun rose at 133 deg 8' in this location. Given 1-2 degrees either side for gallery width and a slightly raised horizon, it looks as though the gallery of this cairn was constructed with midwinter sunrise in mind. Midwinter solstice alignments are very rare in Court Cairns, of 165 cairns that we have checked the alignments on, only two were within 2 degrees of a 133 bearing and one of these is a court-less ruin with a single chamber 2m wide. As well as the solstice alignment, the gallery is also aligned on a distinctive "bump" on the horizon, it seems that both orientation and position were taken into account during the construction of this cairn.

Excavation of the tomb revealed cremated bone from a total of 21 people, this is the highest number of individuals ever recorded for a court tomb, the usual count being two or three. The remains were of mixed sex, 7 females, 5 males and 9 of unidentifiable gender, most of the bone was found in chamber one near to the entrance, but some also was recovered from chamber three. The second chamber contained a wealth of grave goods, round-bottomed and shouldered pottery sherds, a flint javelin head, flint knives, arrow heads and scrapers, but most impressively, a fine necklace of 112 stone beads. The rear chamber yielded a leaf-shaped flint arrowhead.  No bone was found in the second chamber, but if the burials in this chamber had been inhumations rather than cremations, the unburnt bone would not have survived the acid soil conditions. Evidence of a fire and a few pieces of cremated bone were discovered outside of the gallery in the centre of the court area. The grave goods indicate a Neolithic timeframe for usage of the tomb and radiocarbon dating of the bone finds confirms this with a figure of around 3500BC. The age spread for the bone samples was about 100 years and this may reflect the span of primary use.

Five and a half thousand years ago when Creggandevesky was built, the climate was much warmer, allowing agriculture in these areas which are over 200m above sea level. Over time the climate changed, temperatures fell, the water table rose and the fields became bog, the local farmers were eventually forced to move away to more favourable areas. With the exodus of its community, Creggandevesky slowly sank beneath the bog to be covered with layers of peat, a concealment that has allowed this wonderful tomb to survive to the present day, escaping damage at the hands of later generations. This is a process that occurred throughout Ireland, and many wonders from prehistory still lie concealed beneath the peat. 

1. Foley, C., "Only a Pile of Old stones" in Pieces of the Past, (Hamlin, A. & Lynn, C.J. eds.) 1988 HMSO.

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