Brownshill Portal Tomb, Co. Carlow

Brownshill portal tomb carlow

Dating from the Early Neolithic period (4000-3000 BC), Brownshill dolmen in Co. Carlow is one of the most impressive megalithic monuments in Ireland. The capstone is truly massive and has to be seen in person to be really appreciated. It is estimated to weigh in excess of 150 tonnes and is believed to be one of the heaviest capstones in Europe. It is still not certain how it was raised up, but it may have involved a combination of wooden rollers, ropes and man/animal power, aided by ramps of earth or stone.

Brownshill dolmen

The Brownshill dolmen is classified as a portal tomb by archaeologists and there are approximately 174 of these  monuments in the country. The tombs generally consist of two large portal-stones defining the entrance and a back-stone, all of which support the cap-stone.  Although Brownshill has never been excavated, finds are known from other portal tombs. These include burnt and unburnt human bone, pottery and flint artefacts as well as personal items such as bone pins and beads.

One of the very few portal tombs that has been investigated by archaeologists is Poulnabrone in Co. Clare (Lynch 2014). At this site the remains of twenty two people were uncovered inside the tomb, including sixteen adults and six children. Of these bodies only eight could be sexed and these were equally split between males and females. The bones were found in a largely disarticulated state and this suggests that the human remains had undergone a complex burial ritual. It appears that the dead were initially placed in the tomb as complete bodies and allowed to decompose. Then at a later date certain body parts were removed, in particular the skulls and long bones.  The reasoning behind this is uncertain, although it may have been related to some form of ancestor worship, where the dead, via their skeletal remains, continued to play a role in the daily lives of their descendants.Dolmen carlow

A truly ancient monument, Brownshill portal tomb is located just outside the town of Carlow and is easily accessible, with a small car park present and path leading up to the monument. If you are ever in the area you should definitely visit!


Further Reading

Lynch, A (2014) Poulnabrone: An Early Neolithic Portal Tomb in Ireland Volume 9 of Archaeological monograph series. Stationary Office, Dublin


2 thoughts on “Brownshill Portal Tomb, Co. Carlow

  1. My wife, being Irish knows how to create such a dolman! Or so she reckons! She would lay the tomb articles, surround with the smaller erect stones then build a mound of considerable area size with a nice gradient over which to roll the larger stone to the centre. Then extract the earth from under , using water maybe, until the weight of the large stone causes it to sink onto the smaller uprights. Then fill over the total causing there to be a nice mound of significant size in order that the person buried will have a goodly memorial!!!

    Best regards,

    Howard Wright (husband of Joan Maher of Our Lady’s Isle)

  2. that stone came from miles away how did they get it to site 5000 years ago and even that date is not certain theory their is a spring flowing under it explain that.. no machinery then you know. caoimhain o callig carlow…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.