Rathlackan Court Tomb

Rathlacken Court Tomb
Chris-from-mayo, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Rathlackan, County Mayo

Rathlackan Court Tomb or Court Cairn is a very impressive, well-preserved court tomb within a peat bog half a mile from Rathlackan in north Mayo.

The tomb was excavated during 1990.  The court with chambers may be viewed approximately one hundred & fifty metres on a north running track at a by road.  The roof stones had been moved from the Gallery, now rested against the cairns sides.  This Megalithic monument has a six metre gong gallery that consists of three distinct chambers separated by two pairs of large jambs  One rare feature of this tomb is the thin doorstone visible in the site (see right image) that had been moved to the left of the gallery entrance.  An image (on left) shows the orthostats that formed the northern half of the court tomb from the southern side.  Several other Megalithic sites may be viewed within this vicinity.  Discovery OS map 24: G 1656 3876.  Coordinates are longitude 9 16 53 W, latitude 54 17 27.   Images by Jim Dempsey from April 2004 feature on this page.[i]

No bones survived

This Rathlackan site is part of a prehistoric landscape of dwelling houses also Megalithic tombs within a countryside of stone-walled fields that were preserved beneath bogland constructed prior to five thousand, three hundred years ago.  Rathlackan court tomb is one of the finest examples within the country: it provides an insight into how the constructions of monuments occurred.  Major Aldridge  discovered this court tomb during the 1950’s.  Excavations were undertaken between 1990-1997 funded by Grants from Dúchas,  The heritage service with the permission of the sites owners Coillte.  An exceptionally well preserved court tomb with three chambers constructed from massive upright stones also included a circular court in front.   A large capstone weighed a few tons had once collapsed into the front chamber but was removed with the method of Stone Age techniques of wooden levers with ropes..  No bones survived but remains of possible cremation deposits were discovered in one chamber.  Several pieces of pottery of various styles also stone implements were discovered on the site.  Constructed onto the side of the court tomb was a stone walled enclosure that surrounded a very small dwelling house with a low stone wall, a threshold stone at the doorway, & a hearthstone in the centre covered by a mass of charcoal from the last fire on it which had burned approximately four thousand, six hundred years ago.  The tomb was re used circa four thousand years ago by Bronze Age people for Burials.  The extensive field systems & several house sites within the area were surveyed then mapped out by Greta Byrne. [ii]

Preserved within the peat bog

Rathlackan court tomb in Co. Mayo is situated just south of a conifer-plantation less than two hundred  metres to the west of a by-road.  It is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a court tomb preserved within a  peat bog.  The court tomb has retained its roofstones but no door stone has survived.  The Standing Stones are not very tall.  Recently discovered  were what was believed to be a standing-stone was in fact a tilted roofstone.  Four men also three women lifted the slab with wooden poles & ropes then replaced it in within an hour!  Several images are featured on this page by various photographers.  Map ref: G165388.  Discovery map number: D24.  Coordinates are latitude: 54.291184N,  longitude: 9.283036W. [iii]

The Rathlackan court tomb trail begins & ends at a  picnic area close to Lackan Church.  Features rich in historical history may be viewed along the trail dated from the Neolithic Era through Medieval times to recent centuries.  Visible are ancient stone walls, cairns, standing stones, Megalithic tombs & house structures dated back to approximately five thousand, five hundred years ago.  The Rathlackan Court tomb is adjacent to the trail.  Archaeologist Gretta Byrne discovered an integrated system of field walls that are equal to the Ceide Fields within the area. [iv]

The tomb’s interior is now water-logged

Nearest town to Rathlackan court tomb is Ballycastle in north Mayo.  The tomb is within a walled enclosure.  The virtually intact court has a gallery subdivided into three linear chambers.  Each chamber is defined by large protruding jamb stones.  Resting atop of the chamber orthostats are courses of original drystone.  Capstones have been moved to one side.  The tomb’s interior is now waterlogged.  Several images by Gladman (31st January 2011) also one by Charles Coughlan feature on this page.  OS ref (IE): G166388 / sheet: 24.  Coordinates are latitude 54 17 27.87 N, longitude  9 16 51.32 W. [v]

A five week excavation was undertaken at this site funded by the Office of Public Works on recommendation of the National Committee for Archaeology of the Royal Irish Academy.  The excavated site is part of a complex of seventeen ‘house sites’ of various shapes & sizes also eleven Megalithic Tombs scattered throughout a pre-bog stone-walled field system in an area of four square miles.  Coordinates are 54.291200, -9.281500.  (Gretta Byrne[vi]

Rathlackan court tomb circa 3500 BC was excavated during the 1990’s. A six metre long gallery has a narrow entrance that consists of three distinct chambers separated by two pairs of large jambs.  (2nd December 2013)  This site features an image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/catb/11148393156

Further Information

This PDF Archaeological Excavations at Rathlackan (E580) Neolithic and Bronze Age Landscapes of North Mayo by Staurt Rathbone may be downloaded at this site: https://www.academia.edu/31796044/Archaeological_Excavations_at_Rathlackan_E580_Neolithic_and_Bronze_Age_Landscapes_of_North_Mayo

Neolithic and Bronze Age Landscapes of North Mayo: Report 2011  edited by Caulfield Seamus, Byrne Gretta, Dunne Noel, Warren Graeme  UCD (Not for Publication) is referenced at this site: https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/22251098/neolithic-and-bronze-age-landscapes-of-north-mayo-report-2011

PDF of Early Neolithic Agriculture in County Mayo, Republic of Ireland: Geoarchaeology of the Céide Fields, Belderrig, and Rathlackan May 2016  Journal of the North Atlantic 30 (30):1-32.  Authors were Erika Gullmann-Bond, Jennifer Dungart  of Scotland’s Rural College, Ian D. Bull, Richard Evershed of Bristol University also Alexander Douglas Brown Wessex Archaeology, it may be downloaded at this link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303804103_Early_Neolithic_Agriculture_in_County_Mayo_Republic_of_Ireland_Geoarchaeology_of_the_Ceide_Fields_Belderrig_and_Rathlackan

Interesting information & images in Irish lithic landscapes: the macroscopic, petrographic, and geochemical characterisation of chert from archaeological and geological contexts with principal investigator Killian Driscoll, Département d’anthropologie, Université de Montréal also Stefan Bergh, Department of Archaeology, National University of Ireland, Galway Adrian Burke, Département d’anthropologie, Université de Montréal, Gilles Gauthier, Département de chimie, Université de Montréal, Graeme Warren, UCD School of Archaeology, University College Dublin: https://www.lithicsireland.ie/archaeology_projects_irish_lithic_landscapes_chert_provenancing.html

Sustainable change at Rathlackan Court Tomb was recorded by A. Whitefield during 2015: https://aran.library.nuigalway.ie/bitstream/handle/10379/5007/Andrew%20Whitefield%20PhD%20ARAN.pdf?sequence=1

O’Sullivan Muiris & Downey Liam  Court Tombs 2019 Archaeology Ireland vol. 33 no. 1 (pages 35-38)  Wordwell Ltd referenced Rathlacken as a Court Tomb under peat (fig 4) etc at this link; https://www.jstor.org/stable/26844445

Rathlackan Court Tomb is referenced at this link: https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC503WX_rathlacken-court-tomb?guid=fe312ee4-7cd8-4a71-a56b-8138b0f2f309

Examples of Court Tomes may be viewed in Co. Mayo at Rathlackan : http://www.carrowkeel.com/files/courtcairns.html

This site references Rathlackan Court Tomb: https://www.northmayo.ie/lacken-and-lacken-strand/

Map of Rathlackan Court Tomb at OS Discovery 23 / 24 may be viewed at this link: https://walks.mayo.ie/media/Media,20598,en.pdf

Excellent images in black / white of Rathlackan court tomb feature by underexposed dated 29th September 2017 at this link: https://www.tonyoneill.org/2017/09/29/rathlackan-court-tomb/

A YouTube video of Rathlackan Court Tomb from 15th July 2010 may be viewed online.

Tomb at Rathlacken by artist Mary Duffy (Cold Wax & Oil on Board) was based on the tombs at Rathlacken in north county Mayo that had been constructed more than five thousand three hundred years ago.  The site is part of an ancient landscape of tombs & houses preserved beneath bog lands: https://www.maryduffy.ie/workszoom/3602746/tomb-at-rathlacken#/


[i] Rathlackan Court Tomb (http://www.megalithicireland.com/Rathlackan.htm) [Assessed 12th August 2021]

[ii] Rathlackan Court Tomb (https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/lacken/history/rathlacken-court-tomb.html) [Assessed 12th August 2021]

[iii] Lackan Trails (https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=6333329) [Assessed 12th August 2021]

[iv] Rathlackan Court Tomb Trail (https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/things-to-do/outdoor-activities/walking/rathlacken-court-tomb-trails-lacken.html) [Assessed 12th August 2021]

[v] Rathlackan Court Tomb ( https://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/5765/rathlackan.html) [Assessed 12th August 2021]

[vi] 1990:089 (https://excavations.ie/report/1990/Mayo/0001024/) [Assessed 12th August 2021]


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