Creggandveskey Court Tomb

Creggandveskey Court Tomb is one of the best preserved and most complete examples of a court tomb in Ireland. The tomb is located 2.5 miles north-east of Carrickmore, County Tyrone, situated on a hillock which overlooks Lough Mallon, with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside on a clear day.

Creggandveskey Court Tomb.

Also known as horned cairns, court graves, chamber tombs and tombs of the Clyde Carlingford Culture, these megalithic (Greek megas - large - and lithos - stone) tombs were constructed by Neolithic communities, the first farmers in Ireland c. 5,000 years ago.

Creggandveskey Court Tomb lay protected for centuries under a layer of peat, until its excavation - prompted when the site was threatened by a land reclamation scheme - 1979-82. The warmer climate 5,500 years ago permitted agriculture at a much higher altitude, but when the climate deteriorated, bog covered the farms and fields, compelling the early inhabitants to abandon their homes for more favourable surroundings. When excavations began, no one imagined that an entire court tomb lay concealed.

Creggandveskey, in keeping with the general architectural style of court tombs, comprises of a trapezoidal stone cairn over 18 metres long, 13 metres wide at the front and 6.5 metres wide at the back. The sides are revetted with dry stone walling and various modes of construction can be distinguished, thus indicating that several different teams of builders may have been involved in the construction. The height of the cairn remains as it was found at excavation, 1.75 metres, but could have originally stood much higher, at 2-3 metres.

Access to the tomb was gained via the semi-circular forecourt - from whence the name court tomb is derived. While the entrance of court tombs generally have an eastern orientation, Creggandveskey faces south-east. At the centre, a portal covered by a huge capstone gave access to a triple chambered burial gallery, divided by pairs of jamb stones, with the burial chambers decreasing in width and height from front to back. The roof of the tomb had collapsed long before excavation, but had at a time consisted of corbelled slabs - overlapping stones. Finally the tomb would have been roofed with smaller stones.

Cremated bone remains were found in several areas of the tomb. While the average number of burials for court tombs is between two and three burials, Creggandveskey divulged the cremated remains of twenty one individuals, 5 males, 7 females, 1 adolescent, and eight others, unidentifiable. While cremation may have been the most common form of burial, the acidic soil may have destroyed any inhumations - unburnt bones. Thus, the number of burials may be an underestimation. From dating the cremated remains it is estimated that this tomb was in use for over one hundred years, around 3,500 BC.

Much of the cremated remains were found at the tombs entrance, perhaps resulting from tidying the burial gallery. However, traces of what was once thought to be a fire, along with some cremated bones, was found in the centre of the forecourt. As tombs never involved the full formal burial of all members of the community, they may also have served as shrines. The court area was possibly a ritual area where various ceremonies may have taken place, as well as inside the tomb.

Grave goods - objects deposited with the deceased - consisting of a necklace of 112 stone beads, fragmentary round bottomed, shouldered pottery, flint arrow heads, knives, a javelin head and scrapers were found in the second burial chamber. Such items may have been intended for use in the after-life. No cremated remains were found in the second chamber but it is possible that any inhumations were also placed here. The grave goods retrieved also indicate that the tomb was used by early Neolithic people. There are indications that the site continued to be used during the Bronze Age.

Bibliography

Donnelly, Colm J. 1997, Living Places. Belfast, The Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen’s University of Belfast.

Hamlin, Ann & Lynn, Chris. (Eds). 1988, Pieces of the Past. Belfast, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Harbison, Peter. 1992, Guide to National and Historic Monuments of Ireland. Dublin, Gill and Mcamillian.

Historic monuments of Northern Ireland. 1983. Belfast, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.