1990:076 - THE CAISEAL, Knockroe, Kilkenny

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kilkenny Site name: THE CAISEAL, Knockroe

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number:

Author: Muiris O'Sullivan, Dept. of Archaeology, University College Dublin

Site type: Megalithic tomb - passage tomb

Period/Dating: Prehistoric (12700 BC-AD 400)

ITM: E 640741m, N 631248m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.431206, -7.400891

This site was excavated during the period 5 June–6 July. It was funded by the OPW on the recommendation of the Royal Irish Academy. The construction company SIAC generously provided some of the equipment for the excavation. The team of archaeologists, student volunteers and local helpers enjoyed wonderful goodwill and support from the local community, including Mr Tom Morrissey on whose land the monument occurs.

Lying in a valley near the Kilkenny–Tipperary border, the megalithic tomb at Knockroe was known locally as the 'Caiseal' and it came to prominence after local historian, Mr Johnny Meagher showed it to Mr Con Manning of the OPW. An account of the site by Dr Séan Ó Nualláin and Mr Eamonn Cody appeared in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (volume 117). It is one of a small scatter of sites which are known at the southern edge of the passage tomb distribution in Ireland. The cairn on top of Slievenaman is visible to the west and another anomalous structure, Baunfree, lies near the summit of another hill to the south-east. The cairn at Knockroe seems to be built on a platform but it is difficult to investigate this on the surface because about 60% of the structure lies under a 19th-century laneway. Knockroe is one of a small number of decorated sites outside of County Meath, and in the overall context of Irish passage tombs its megalithic art is very important. Only a few of the kerbstones are visible but they bear a profusion of kerb ornament which is matched only at the three great tumuli in the Boyne Valley. One of the decorated stones in the western chamber bears a remarkable likeness to the designs at Gavrinis in Brittany, France.

During the excavation season an L-shaped cutting was made extending from the southern wall of the laneway across the kerb and down off the platform onto the surface of the modern field. This provided a preliminary understanding of the manner in which the platform was constructed on the southern side and it revealed some interesting features in the construction of the cairn. It showed that a large pit had been sunk outside kerbstone 23 at some time in the past, which suggested that an effort had been made to shift this stone and thus accounted for the strange angle at which it lies. A small convex scraper made of flint was found amongst the cairn material near the edge of the platform. When the cairn material was removed in front of kerbstone 23, further megalithic art came to light on the stone. During the excavation, observation under various light revealed decoration on another two stones on which no megalithic art had previously been recorded.

The plan is to continue investigating the cairn in the next season and to subsequently examine the chambers.