Clare County Library
Clare Archaeology
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | OS Maps | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan

Part 1: Commentary: Prehistoric and early Christian sites: Cairns and Tumuli

During the course of this thesis, fieldwork located 2 cairns and 1 tumulus in the Barony of Bunratty Lower:

Ballynacragga tumulus (Site catalogue 1.517-520).
Glennagross cairn (Site catalogue 1.583).
Langough cairn (Site catalogue 1.685-8).

Cairns and tumuli may be defined as follows:-
“ A burial mound (chambered or unchambered) is usually referred to in this country as a “tumulus” if built of earth and as a “cairn” if it is of stone…”
O’Riordain, 1979, 130.

As none of the Bunratty Lower cairns/tumuli have been excavated we cannot say if they are chambered or unchamberd, or if in fact a particular example is definitely a cairn or tumulus. Weathering and interference may have altered the site’s visible features. Neither is there local information as to the date of these features. Therefore all information relating to this feature has, again, to be deduced from outside excavated examples.

Excavated cairns and tumuli in Ireland have tended to yield two burial types – short cists (early and middle Bronze Age) and long cists (late Bronze Age to early Christian times).

The short cists usually contained cremations though crouched inhumed burials are also known. The long cists were, as their name suggest, intended for inhumed extended burials, but cremations are known from some excavated examples. Waddell has identified 637 cists, and from his evidence “it would appear that cremation is about twice as frequent as inhumation” (1970, 98).

In relation to finds, pottery vessels have been recorded from 52% of the cists mentioned by Waddell. Though different types of vessels have been recorded the food vessel has dominated, making Waddell suggest that “the cist burial may be described as a food vessel phenomenon” (1970, 97).

Thus, without excavation, we can tentatively suggest that the two cairns and one tumulus in the Barony of Bunratty Lower are possibly of a Bronze Age date.