by Tony Miller B.A. Licensed Archaeologist


The parish of Uibhlaoire has a rich and diverse history stretching back for almost five thousand years to the time of the first farming communities. Evidence for these ancient times have been gathered through archaeological surveys and excavations. We are fortunate that some of these early monuments have survived intact to this day within the parish. They form a visible and accessible part of our heritage and we should continue to appreciate and safeguard them for the benefit of future generations.

I would like to start with the oldest of the monuments found within Uibhlaoire. These are known as megalithic tombs or, more specifically, wedge tombs.

Around 3800BC the new farming economy began to replace the old way of life which had involved hunting and gathering wild food. As only the pig had a wild ancestor in this country, the necessary cereal seed and domesticated animals had to be imported, carried across the widening seas by boat. It now even appears that red deer might also have been introduced for hunting.

Cupmarks on Cloghboula wedge tomb.

Photo Tony Miller

This was a period of great change throughout Europe, allowing communities to become more settled. Along the lands bordering the Atlantic a new tradition emerged of the building of megalithic (Greek for ‘big stones’) tombs, used for communal burials. In Ireland there were four main types of these tombs, namely passage, court, portal and, finally, wedge tombs. It is this last type that the Parish and indeed much of the South west, have a significant number of.

A wedge tomb, as the name implies, has a distinctive shape which is wider and higher at the entrance than at the back of the tomb. It is constructed of side walls, made up of a gallery of upright stones supporting large roof slabs, thus creating a chamber open at one end. This entranceway always points to the south-western or western horizon where the sun sets each day. For example the wedge tomb on Pipe Hill, in the town land of Lackabaun, appears to be orientated on the setting sun of the Equinox, when the days and nights are of equal length. Furthermore, the sun sets directly over the top of Douce Mountain, just visible on the horizon.

Most of the wedge tombs in the parish are on the smaller end of the scale, just a few meters in length. The largest one in the country, at an impressive 14m in length, is Labbacallee which is just off the road between Fermoy and Glanworth and well worth a visit.

Originally each wedge tomb was covered with a stone or earthen mound which was often contained by a sizeable stone kerb. This cairn might also have facilitated the placing of the capstones on top of the uprights during construction. Occasionally the capstones were also decorated with cup marks, such as the ones at Clogher and Cloghboola.

The wedge tombs that have been excavated have revealed that cremation burials were deposited within them, along with other offerings such as pottery vessels. It appears that the tombs were used for burials over a long period of time. Built of stone, while the houses of the period were built of timber, they would have probably formed a stable centre for an extended community, much as our churches are today. Thus they would have provided an important marker for a territorial unit.

Carbon 14 dating has indicated the date range for wedge tombs extending from the Late Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age, that is from c.2500BC to c.1900BC. Ireland and the southwest in particular, were at the heart of extensive trading networks which covered much of northwest Europe at this time. This trade was centered on the search for metal ores, especially copper, tin and gold. West Cork was rich in copper ore and these prehistoric copper mines can still be seen, in particular on Mount Gabriel to the of north of Schull. Copper was mixed with tin, probably coming all the way from Cornwall, to produce bronze, the great technological advance of the time. Bronze was cast into useful tools to help in such tasks as woodworking and hunting, tools that would have been well known to the builders of the wedge tombs.

During the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, about 4000 years ago, the country’s climate was warmer and drier than today and much of the land would have been covered in trees. The distribution of the wedge tombs reflects a focus on more upland areas, where the soils would have been lighter and easier to farm. A sparser tree cover in the hills made the grazing of cattle and sheep much easier. If we look at the maps covering the parish (OS Discovery Sheets 85, 86 and 79) we can see a concentration of these monuments between Douce and Shehy and as far east as Johnstown, where there is a very fine example at Inchinkurka. A further collection of these monuments also occurs in the area extending from Gougane (especially Keamcorravooly) to the east towards Reanaree.

I hope this article gives an impression of these early monuments that can be found within Uibh Laorie Parish. Visiting such sites can add interest to a day out. I would encourage everybody to visit them, where possible, using the Discovery maps as a guide. Another great resource for finding archaeological sites can be found at www.archaeology.ie This is the National Monuments website containing the Archaeological Survey of Ireland which can be browsed by townland, county or monument type.

2013-15 Uibh Laoire Parish