Archaeology - The Riches of Clare

Admag, August, 2005

This month we are featuring some of the many other finds from North Clare which are housed in the beautiful Clare Museum in the centre of Ennis. The Riches of Clare is an exhibition on two very large floors in the museum. Access is from Francis Street or from beside the Temple Gate Hotel. The Tourist Office is in the same building.

Dramatically sited on the edge of a ravine, the three-walled stone fort of Cahercommaun is on the south-east edge of the Burren.

The fort was built during the 9th century AD although there is evidence of settlement dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries AD.

Cahercommaun was of considerable importance in the area as is seen by the rich quality of objects excavated, including a silver brooch and a padlock. It is possible that the fort was built by Uí Chormaic, a branch of the Uí Fidgeniti dynasty, which was powerful in the region before the rise of the Dáil Cais in the 9th century AD. A shears, along with others found at Cahercommaun stone fort convey how integral wool processing was to the economy. The many spindle whorls and pin beaters excavated from here provide further evidence of this aspect of the Medieval economy. The shears is a well-preserved example of the type used during this period.

The Poulawack Burial Cairn was used for almost two millenia from the Middle of the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Within the cairn were the remains of sixteen men, women and children. Most of the burials were placed within stone cists (boxes) and some were cremated.

Many artifacts were recovered during excavation and are part of the National Museum of Ireland Irish Antiquities Division collection.

A bone point found buried in the cist grave at Poulawack, County Clare, was probably used to puncture holes in skins during the manufacturing of clothing. It was included with the burial of a young adult female who had been cremated. It dates from the Early Bronze Age.

A broken piece of beaker pottery dating from the Early Bronze Age was also found in the cist grave. This grave was used for almost 2,000 years from the Middle Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age.

Also found together with a hollow flint scraper were the disarticulated bones of an adult male, two adult females an infant, a large boar tusk and two pottery sherds. This type of neolithic scraper is almost unique to Ireland as it is only found outside the country on the Isle of Man, and has a concave or hollow base.

Poulnabrone Portal Tomb on the Burren dates to the Neolothic and a series of radio-carbon dates on bones found there range from 3,800-3,200 BC.

The tomb consists of a single chamber with the entrance flanked by two large portal stones and topped with an enormous captone.

The chamber is encased in a very low cairn, which may not have been any higher in antiquity. The chamber contained the disarticulated bones of at least 21 Neolithic men, women and children as well as bones of cattle, sheep/goat, dog and other smaller animals. Just outside the entrance, the complete skeleton of a Bronze Age newborn baby was found.

Stone Axe mounted on wooden handles were an important tool for clearing forests in the Neolithic. They also appear to have had a symbolic role, and this axe was probably placed in the tomb as part of a ritual.

Quartz crystals and white quartz stones have been found in association with many Megalithic tombs, and probably had some ritual significance for Neolithic people. The white quartz façade on the Newgrange tomb is a spectacular use of quartz.

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