In Ireland, there are about 174 Neolithic tombs dotting the countryside. One of the best known, and often photographed, is the portal tomb called Poulnabrone Dolmen located in the County Clare Burren National Park.
There is no denying the special phenomenal allure of ancient objects. Even more potent is being in the exact same place where our Stone Age ancestors stood in the year 12,500 BC. Walking around the portal tomb I felt transported back in time as I wondered how these enormous stones were hewn, moved and shaped to create monuments. And why?
Portal tombs are a common Neolithic Age construction with a chamber of upright stones with large flat capstones for a roof. And while they are called ‘tombs’ many do not contain human remains so it’s up for debate if they were built to be formal burial vaults.
The Poulnabrone portal tomb was excavated in the 1980s after a crack developed in one of the stones (and that stone was replaced to avoid collapse). Bones from 33 adults and children were found buried with crystals, pottery, jewelry and some weapons. However, since no complete skeletons were found, it is assumed these bones were buried after decomposition, or even cremation, and over a period of 600 years or more. There was even a newborn buried outside the north entrance during the Bronze Age leading experts to believe this tomb was also a center for ancestor rituals, and possibly even a territory marker. With only bones from 33 people over a period of about 600 years, it’s also speculated that only certain individuals were privileged enough to have their bones deposited here.
All in all, I easily spend a worthwhile hour and a half at the portal tomb, as well as walking further out on the Burren (from the Irish word Boíreann meaning a rocky place) with its broken limestone canvas hiding rare geo-diverse flowers and plants.
Well sign posted with a large car park, the tomb is on the R480 south of Ballyvaughan. Try to get there early in the morning before the crowds arrive.
Tip: I noticed most people came, took a photo and were gone within 15 minutes. It was easy to get gaps where I was the only visitor and I found that made the experience more deeply felt. Take your time, not just the selfie.