The dolmens of Ireland
In Ireland, some legends say the ancient dolmens and other stone structures found scattered throughout the country are portals to the realm of faerie – fairy forts. There’s definitely an other-worldly quality to these curious standing stones, especially in Ireland, where the dolmens often lie in areas such as the Burren, a place of mist and legend.
What exactly are dolmens?
No one is quite sure. Studies indicate that the earliest dolmens were found in Western Europe, possibly set in place thousands of years ago. Archaeologists can’t pinpoint how and why the dolmens were created, though some speculate dolmens are burial chambers, hence why they’re also called Portal Tombs. It is thought perhaps at one time the stones were covered in earthen mounds, with the entrance to the tomb unobstructed.
In countries throughout the world, ancient dolmens can be found, though they vary in size and appearance.
In Ireland, a good majority of its dolmens (more than 100) are found along the west coast, primarily in the Burren and Connemara areas. A famous Burren Dolmen is the Poulnabrone Dolmen (hole of the sorrows). In 1986 the area was excavated and the remains of 16-22 adults and children were found, along with numerous artifacts archaeologists speculate date back to 2,500 B.C.
70 tombs and 500 spherical stone structures and forts can also be found in the Burren area.
I had the privilege of visiting the Poulnabrone dolmen a few years back. The day was perfect for strange happenings (foggy, windy, rainy) and standing there staring at the ancient structure on the rocky plains of the Burren, I could easily believe the stone monument turned into a magic portal when the sun went down.
The largest dolmen in all of Europe resides in County Carlow. The Brownshill Dolmen weighs 150 tonnes (roughly 330,693.393 pounds!)
Dating back to pre-historic times and listed as a National Monument, the dolmen is a favorite among historians and tourists alike. There is some speculation the structure marks the burial place of an ancient king, but the area and the dolmen are surrounded with myth (like much of Ireland!).
Whatever they may be – faerie fortresses or sacred burial sites of past civilizations – dolmens are fascinating.