Court Tombs - County Leitrim

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NE Cairn Pics

SW Cairn Pics

NE Tomb G 89932 36971 (GPS 21min), gallery. Visited June 2002
SW Tomb G 89910 36944 (GPS 12min), gallery.

On the face of it, Tullyskeherny should be a spectacular site, two separate Court Tombs set back to back only 5m apart, each tomb with its own mound and subsidiary chambers. The reality, however, is a little different. The cairns and chambers of the tombs are all constructed of the local limestone that lies exposed all around the site and it is very difficult to differentiate the structural elements of the tombs from cairn material or natural outcrops. In addition to the confused state of the monuments, the entire western side of one tomb has been quarried away to construct the road that runs past the site. The net result is almost totally confusing, without a site map visitors may find that visualising the original form of the tombs is nearly impossible.

In addition to the confusing nature of the site, we had constant heavy rain and dark overcast during our visit. The poor light and low contrast have taken their toll on our photos, and the downpour prevented the taking of infrared shots or panoramas :-(

The two tombs have their long axes roughly aligned along a line running NE-SW, we will describe each tomb separately.

The NE tomb.

This is a long cairn originally about 39m in length and 15m wide, the western side has been quarried away, reducing the width by about 5m. In the northern end of the cairn there are the remains of an elongated, narrow court which was probably about 8m long, and 5m wide. A reasonable arc of court stones struggles to peep above the surface on the eastern side, the stones of the western side are either still buried in the cairn, or have fallen victim to the quarrying.

The entrance to the gallery is via a tiny antechamber which is less than 1m deep, the western jamb of the entrance to this chamber is well exposed, itís eastern counterpart is still largely buried in the cairn material. A second pair of jambs flanked the entrance to the first chamber of the gallery, again the western stone is most exposed, but it now leans to the north, almost resting on the nearby antechamber jamb. The front chamber is about 1.7m long and was separated form the rear chamber by doubled jamb stones, the eastern pair still stand, but the outer western stone has fallen. The rear chamber is about 2.5m long, and itís eastern side slab is still standing, although the back slab has fallen. All of the chambers have lost their western side structure as a result of the quarrying operations.

Behind the gallery are the remains of at least six subsidiary chambers, three on each side of the cairn. We felt that only three of these chambers are readily distinguishable from the cairn debris, two at the west, and one at the east.

The mid-western chamber (A, in our diagram), is the most prominent and the best preserved of all, itís interior measures 1.9m by 1.7m and has been largely emptied of cairn debris. There is a large back stone, two side slabs, two jamb stones set inside the line of the side stones, and a septal, or closing slab between the jambs. The southern side slab of this chamber has a large perforation in itís centre, we could not tell if this was natural or worked.

The south western chamber (C, in our diagram), is 2.2m long and 0.8m wide, it has a similar structure to the mid-west chamber, itís jamb stones standing inside the line of itís side stones.

The fronts of the western chambers are situated 3m or so back from the original cairn edge, so it is likely that there was some kind of approach structure associated with them, but quarrying has removed any traces of this.

The mid-eastern chamber (B, in our diagram), is another box-like structure with a septal stone flanked by jamb stones, but this time the northern jamb is in line with the side slab. This chamber is about 2.4m long and about 1m wide, it looked as though there were traces of the original corbelling on the northern side.

The SW Tomb.

This is a large oval cairn 24m long and 18m wide, with the court remains set in itís southern end. All of the court and chamber remains are deeply buried in cairn material and can be difficult to make out.

We found the court remains hardest to spot, there are some exposed upright slabs on the western side of the cairn but their layout looks a little strange, and the eastern side is littered with mostly buried stones in a seemingly meaningless jumble. In consequence, we could not get a clear idea of  the original layout of the court.

The gallery structure is much easier to make out, there are two chambers, both 2.5m wide, the front 3m long and the rear 2m long, although obvious, most of their structural elements are barely peeping above the turf. The most prominent gallery components are the western side slab and the back stone, but these are actually more exposed on their outer faces than the interior. We could not make out any jamb stones, this is not really surprising as the front chamber is completely filled with cairn material, and the back chamber is not much better, so the jambs could well be buried out of sight. Ironically the remains of the gallery in the SW tomb, whilst visually less impressive than those of the NW tomb, may be much more intact in their buried state.

To the rear of the gallery back stone a small subsidiary chamber protrudes from the cairn. Little can be made out of this structure as it is still mostly buried, but we could see a back slab and two side stones beneath the covering roof slab. The entrance of this chamber was probably on the western side of the cairn.

Tullyskeherny will be of interest to the megalithic fan who likes a puzzle, but we would recommend a day with much better weather than we had!

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