NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Cork Site name: COURTMACSHERRY, CO. CORK

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR CO136-114 Licence number: E1044


Site type: Iron Age and early medieval graves, c. 300 BC–c. AD 1200

ITM: E 551710m, N 542789m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 51.635489, -8.697622

In May 1966 a lintel grave was discovered during the digging of foundations for a dwelling house near Courtmacsherry, Co. Cork. One of the builders working on the site discovered part of the structure at a depth of approximately 0.42m below the ground surface.10 When the western lintel of the cist was removed the builder noticed part of a human skull. This was removed from the grave but later replaced. Having ascertained the nature of the find, the discovery was reported to the Garda Síochána at Timoleague, who reported the find to the NMI and the coroner, Dr Quigley. The area around the cist was preserved by the builders until it was investigated. A one-day excavation of the grave was carried out by Breandán Ó Ríordáin on 4 May 1966. The human remains were examined by Professor Coakley.

Location (Fig. 4.3)
The site was in Courtmacsherry townland, south-west Co. Cork.11 It was located some 600m from the shoreline on a small headland at Courtmacsherry Harbour in the northern part of a field, at an altitude of under 30m above sea level. On the first edition of the OS 6in. Sheet this site appears as a large field lying directly on the coast, while on the second edition the field is divided in two. No other burials are recorded from the surrounding area, and the burial does not appear to have been associated with any recorded archaeological site.

Description of site
The grave was rectangular, with its long axis aligned west/east. Internally it measured 1.8m long by 0.48m wide by 0.36m high (Fig. 4.4). The walls of the grave were constructed of seven principal edge-set slabs. The ends were closed with a single slab set on edge and the sides were formed of similar long, thin slabs (two on the north side, three on the south) with a maximum thickness of 0.1m.

Fig. 4.3—Location map, Courtmacsherry, Co. Cork.

The south side of the cist comprised a double row of slabs, while the north side was formed of two inner slabs flanked at their junction by three smaller packing stones. The side slabs varied in length from 0.48m to 0.89m. The cist had been covered by eight overlapping capstones, or lintels, resting on the side stones. The lowest lintel, the first to be laid when the grave was being constructed, was at the east end. Seven remained in position; the eighth, near the west end of the cist, had been removed in the course of the discovery. The maximum dimensions of the lintels were 0.8m by 0.7m by 0.06m thick. A short note included in the file states that the cist stones were of grey siliceous grit, typical of the Lower Carboniferous rock of the Cork area.

There was no evidence of stone paving on the floor of the cist. The pit dug to receive the cist was rectangular in plan and measured a maximum of 2.25m long by 1m wide by 0.9m deep. The field in which the cist was located sloped from south to north, resulting in waterlogging of the cist.

The cist contained an extended inhumation of an adult male (1966:38) and there were no accompanying artefacts. Of the skeleton, the vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and major portions of the upper and lower limb bones did not survive. The body appears, however, to have been placed in an extended position with the head to the west and the feet to the east. Apparently the skull was in a reasonable state of preservation when discovered but it had been damaged in the course of its recent removal and re-insertion into the cist. The lower jawbone, which did not appear to have been recently disturbed, was found lying on its side in a position suggesting that the body had been deposited with the skull facing to the south. It is probable that the body had lain in a supine position. Despite the fact that the skeleton was poorly preserved, all arts of the skeleton were apparently well represented and the bones were of ‘average weight and [had] average muscular markings’. Owing to the topography of the field (the slope from south to north), a deposit of silt 0.1m in maximum thickness was noticeable in the cist, suggesting that surface water had lodged in the cist.

Fig. 3.4—Plan and sections of grave, Courtmacsherry, Co. Cork.

p Ó Ríordáin cites this waterlogging as one of the probable causes of the poor state of preservation of the skeleton. A sample of the human remains was submitted for radiocarbon dating and yielded a date of 1445 ± 45 BP, which calibrates to 540–662.12

Owing to the poor survival of the remains, it was not possible to ascertain whether or not the body was wrapped in a shroud or winding-sheet. The grave conforms in most respects to O’Brien’s definition of a lintel grave, and the radiocarbon date also supports her thesis that most lintel graves date from the seventh century.


This collection (1966:38) is the skeletal remains, somewhat fragmented, of one adult human. All parts of the skeleton are well represented and the bones are of average weight and have average muscular markings.

Sex: Probably male.
Stature: Owing to the fragmentation of the long bones it was not possible to estimate stature.
Skull: The skull was fairly complete. All sutures were open.
Teeth: All teeth were erupted and show signs of considerable wear.
Age: Not less than twenty and probably less than 40.

The skeleton is that of an adult human, probably male. It is aged not less than twenty years and probably less than 40 years.

10. The original ground surface had been bulldozed or cleared by mechanical means and the exact depth of the cist below original ground surface is therefore not known: the cist capstones appear to have been about 0.72m below the original ground surface, according to the excavator’s notes.
11. Parish of Lislee, barony of Ibane and Barryroe. SMR CO136-114——. IGR 151749 042720.
12. GrA-24500.