NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Meath Site name: COOLRONAN, CO. MEATH

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR ME035-001 Licence number: E1145


Site type: Graves of indeterminate date

ITM: E 665259m, N 757838m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.566385, -7.014851

In April 1966 human remains were discovered in a sandpit near Ballivor, Co. Meath. Five skeletons were discovered between Tuesday and Saturday, by which time an area measuring 6m by 10m by 2m deep had been exposed. The skeletons were reported to have been arranged in a row, about 0.3m apart, at a depth of approximately 0.46m below ground level. The burials were removed by the workers and the bones gathered at the foot of a thorn tree, which stood to the south of the site. The site was reported to the Garda Síochána and thereafter to the NMI, six days after the initial discovery. The following day the site was investigated by Breandán Ó Ríordáin. The human remains were collected and brought to the Museum, and subsequently analysed by Professor C.A. Erskine.66

Location (Fig. 6.38)
The site is in the townland of Coolronan in south-west County Meath, on the border with County Westmeath.67 It lies on a natural sand-hill (measuring 29m by 18m by 2m high) in a field about 800m north of the Coolronan to Delvin road, and within about 100m of Coolronan bog, at an altitude of c. 60–90m above sea level. The land was in use as a sandpit. The archaeological inventory for County Meath lists two other sites in this townland, an earthwork and a motte and bailey (Moore 1987, 110, 157). In 1952 some human bone, hair, textile and leather found in a bog at Coolronan was handed in to the NMI.68

Fig. 6.38—Location map, Coolronan, Co. Meath.

Unfortunately the exact location of the find is not known (Ó Floinn 1995, 233). A human skull69 found at Coolronan was also acquired in the 1860s by the Royal Irish Academy.

Description of site
As stated above, most of the bones found had been removed from their original positions and placed to the south of the site. The skeletons were said to have been supine, extended in a row, with the arms by the sides and aligned south/north (heads to the south) (Fig. 6.39). The finders had not noted any particular grave features, such as stone lining, nor was there any evidence around the site for such stones. In order to ascertain the nature and extent of the site, Ó Ríordáin carried out a small excavation on each side of the sandpit. No burials were found on the west side, but part of a skeleton was uncovered on the east side; the remainder of the skeleton (pelvis, lower limb bones etc.) had been cut into and uprooted by the shovel of the digger. From the portion of the skeleton remaining it was apparent that it had been deposited in a supine position, with the arms by the sides. It lay at a depth of 0.4m below ground level and was also aligned south/north. No associated objects were discovered.

The skeletal material collected from the site consists of the remains of six individuals—four adults and two children (1935:35). Some animal bones were also included in the assemblage, but these were not analysed. The human remains have not been radiocarbon-dated. In the absence of any associated finds or other dating evidence these burials must be regarded as undated.


The collection (1935:35) contained some complete bones and fragments from six human skeletons—four young adults and two children. All six skeletons appeared to be male.

The two children (skeletons 5 and 6) stood approximately 135cm high.

General features
The muscular markings on the vertebrae, os coxae and long bones were extremely well marked and would suggest powerful individuals. Two of the mandibles were extremely sturdy and one had a very wide ramus. Nevertheless, the other cranial fragments did not exhibit marked muscular attachments.

Fig. 6.39—Plan of site, Coolronan, Co. Meath.

One left femur displayed platymeria with upper end distortion. The Department of Pathology feel that it was caused by an ante-mortem condition, probably a fracture that had healed with improper alignment. One third metacarpal had a hole through it from dorsal to plantar aspect. This was of long standing before death as the bone was well healed around the hole. It could have been caused by penetration of the bone possibly with an instrument and followed by chronic irritation at the site.

Additional bones
A number of animal bones were also included.

The skeletal remains were those of six individuals, four adults and two children. They all appeared to be male and all parts of the skeletons were well represented.

66. As stated above, the bones were removed from their original position before investigation, so the description of the burials is based on a statement from one of the finders to the Gardaí.
67. Parish of Killaconnigan, barony of Lune. SMR ME035-001——. IGR 265322 257817.
68. 1952:10.1–3.
69. R1934.