Category Archives: IRELAND

Iron Age Bog Body Found in Northern Ireland

Iron Age Bog Body Found in Northern Ireland

The PSNI say it is a “unique archaeological discovery for Northern Ireland”

Ancient human remains which date back more than 2,000 years have been recovered by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The discovery was made after archaeologists were alerted to human bones on Bellaghy peatland in County Londonderry in October 2023.

It is thought the remains could be those of a teenage boy.

The PSNI said it is a “unique archaeological discovery for Northern Ireland”.

It explained that the remains had been carbon dated to “as old as 2,000-2,500 years”.

Det Insp Nikki Deehan said excavations “first uncovered a tibia and fibula and a humerus, ulna, and radius bone relating to the lower left leg and right arm respectively”.

“Further investigation revealed more bones belonging to the same individual,” the officer added.

The human remains were found at peatland in Bellaghy in October 2023

“About five metres south of the surface remains, the bones of a lower left arm and a left femur, were located protruding from the ground.

“Further examination of the area between the main body and the surface remains located additional finger bones, fingernails, part of the left femur and the breastbone.

“A post mortem was carried out by a certified forensic anthropologist and determined that the individual was possibly a male aged between 13 and 17 years old at the time of death.”

Iron Age Bog Body Found in Northern Ireland
The remains have been carbon dated to more than 2,000 years ago

The senior officer said this is an “extraordinary find on a global scale” due to the body having both bone and skin still intact”.

‘Well preserved’

Initially police believed the remains could have been more recent as the condition of the bones was so good.

Det Insp Deehan said that “little is known so far about the individual’s cause of death” but that, “unlike some other ‘bog bodies’, the individual’s skeleton was well preserved and also had the presence of partial skin, fingernails of the left hand, toenails and possibly a kidney”.

The head of the body is missing – it is not clear if it was removed before or after death.

“The well-preserved nature of the body meant radiocarbon dating could be used to ascertain the time of death,” Det Insp Deehan added.

“The radiocarbon dates have placed the time of death between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago.

“This is the first time radiocarbon dating has been used on a bog body in Northern Ireland and the only one to still exist, making this a truly unique archaeological discovery for Northern Ireland. The radiocarbon dating was conducted at the 14Chrono Centre, which is part of Queen’s University Belfast.

The well-preserved nature of the body meant radiocarbon dating could be used to ascertain the time of death

Dr Alastair Ruffell from the university said it conducted two phases of high-resolution, ground-penetrating radar survey at the site.

“The remains were discovered at approximately one metre below the current land surface which matches the radiocarbon estimates,” he added.

“In addition, they were amongst a cluster of fossil tree remains suggesting that the body may have died or been buried in a copse or stand of trees, or washed in.”

Dr Alastair Ruffell says the discovery is truly fascinating and one that is important to study

“This is not only significant because it’s Iron Age, but also because of the landscape situation”, Dr Ruffell said.

“We are in a series of boglands north of Lough Neagh which are very interesting from where they occur because of how the glaciers moved through here and how humans then arrived.”

Dr Ruffell also said the location of the find may also have been of huge interest to one of the island of Ireland’s greatest ever poets and playwrights who lived not too far from the discovery.

“We are in Heaney country, after all,” he said.

Dr Ruffell said the Seamus Heaney had a real fascination with boglands, writing extensively on the topic and also working in turf cutting for a time.

“He would’ve just been amazed that a few miles up the road from his home that actual remains which he was so fascinated about were coming out of the ground,” he said.

A kidney was among the remains recovered

John Joe O’Boyle, chief executive of Forest Service in NI, said the ancient bog body was discovered on land owned by the Department of Agriculture and it was now working with National Museums NI to transfer it to them so that they can continue with further examination and preservation of the remains.

“I hope, in due course, the find will help us all understand better something of our very early history,” he added.

“It certainly adds an important chapter to the historical and cultural significance of this hinterland and archaeological discoveries of bog bodies across Europe.”

This excavation is one of many investigations carried out by the dedicated Body Recovery Team within the PSNI.

The team has previously assisted in recovering and examining human remains, including recovering those of missing persons up to almost three decades after the individuals went missing.

‘Lost’ 4,000-year-old wedge tomb rediscovered in Ireland

‘Lost’ 4,000-year-old wedge tomb rediscovered in Ireland

‘Lost’ 4,000-year-old wedge tomb rediscovered in Ireland

A “lost” 4,000-year-old wedge tomb has been rediscovered in County Kerry, in the peninsular southwest region of Ireland.

The megalithic tomb, known locally as Altóir na Gréine (the sun altar), was believed to have been destroyed in the 1840s, with its stones broken and carried away for use as building material.

Lady Georgiana Chatterton, an English aristocrat and traveler, sketched the monument when she visited the site in 1838. She described the site as a “curious piece of antiquity,” suggesting it was used for Sun sacrifices.

However, when the antiquarian Richard Hitchcock came to West Kerry to inspect the tomb in 1852 he found the monument no longer existed, “the stones which composed it having been broken and carried away for building purposes as if there were no others in the neighborhood”.

Although a 19th-century record of a burial tomb was found close to Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, the precise location of the monument has been lost. But now the tomb has been rediscovered, dating back about 4,000 years.

However, the 180-year-old mystery has now been solved by folklorist Billy Mag Fhloinn.

The folklorist has not only found the prehistoric site, but he has also discovered some of the large stones, which had been believed to have been removed, still in situ.

Mr Mag Fhloinn had long been fascinated by Ms Chatterton’s sketch and Altóir na Gréine’s association with the sun in local folklore and he set about searching for the “lost” tomb on the slopes of Cruach Mhárthain.

The only known visual representation of the intact monument was captured in a sketch by Lady Chatterton in 1838

Local folklorist Billy Mag Fhloinn first recognized stones on a hill’s crest as part of a recent archaeological mapping project, and he later compared this hill with the one Lady Chatterton drew.

Several large upright orthostats and a capstone were discovered during Fhloinn’s primary research, refuting local legends that the tomb was completely destroyed in the middle of the 19th century.

Archaeologist Caimin O’Brien, the National Monuments Service in Dublin, confirmed that the stones represented about a quarter of the original Bronze Age wedge tomb, dating between 2500 BC and 2000 BC. Wedge-tombs are the most numerous megalithic burial structures found on the Dingle Peninsula.

Folklorist Mag Fhloinn believes “the taboo” surrounding the destruction of such tombs is related to 19th-century beliefs “in bad luck or disaster associated with their demise”.

“They are usually positioned on high ground, but not the highest point. There’s often certain alignments associated with them. Quite often the opening tends to look towards the west, or the south, or the southwest,” said Mr Mag Fhloinn.

“Usually you will find cremated remains of people inside and they probably represent the burial place of a significant family or community group.

“But they could have been used for other things as well, ceremonies and rituals for example. They may have cosmological and astronomical significance in the case where they are facing the setting sun in the west and southwest.”

“For the first time in over 180 years archaeologists know where the tomb is situated and it will enhance our understanding of wedge-tomb distribution,” said Caimin O’Brien, an archaeologist with the National Monument Service.

The rediscovered tomb of Altóir na Gréine will also form part of a deep-mapping project being carried out on the peninsula by Sacred Heart University.

Early Bronze Age Tomb Rediscovered in Ireland

Early Bronze Age Tomb Rediscovered in Ireland

Early Bronze Age Tomb Rediscovered in Ireland
Billy Mag Fhloinn with the remnants of the tomb.

The remnants of a Bronze Age tomb once thought to have been destroyed and lost to history have been discovered in County Kerry on the Atlantic coast of Ireland.

The tomb, known locally as Altóir na Gréine – the sun altar – stood for approximately 4,000 years on a hill outside the village of Ballyferriter on the Dingle peninsula before vanishing in the mid-19th century.

1838 sketch drawing of wedge tomb by Lady Chatterton.

Georgiana Chatterton, an English aristocrat and traveller, had visited the site and sketched the monument in 1838, but 14 years later an antiquarian named Richard Hitchcock reported that it had been broken up and carried away, presumably for building purposes.

The tomb raiders, it turns out, were not so thorough.

Billy Mag Fhloinn, a folklorist who is part of an archaeological mapping project, recently visited and filmed the site. When converting the video into a 3D scan he noticed that a stone in the undergrowth resembled one from Lady Chatterton’s Victorian-era sketch.

He sent the material to the National Monuments Service in Dublin, which dispatched archaeologist Caimin O’Brien, who confirmed it belonged to a so-called wedge tomb dating from the early bronze age between 2500BC and 2000 BC.

There is a capstone and several large upright stones called orthostats, comprising about a quarter of the original tomb, Mag Fhloinn said on Thursday. “People had assumed it was all destroyed.”

The tomb will now be added to the database of national monuments.

Ireland has several hundred wedge tombs, used by bronze age peoples to inter bodies and for ceremonies.

“Most point west or south-west towards the setting sun, so they may be tied into their broader cosmological understanding of the world,” said Mag Fhloinn.

It remains unclear who broke up the tomb, or why. “In the 19th century, there was quite a taboo about the destruction of these sites – it was said it would bring bad luck or disaster,” said Mag Fhloinn.

He is part of a tomb-mapping project run by Sacred Heart University, a US institution with a campus in Dingle.

“The significance of the rediscovery of the wedge tomb is to bring it back into the archaeological record so that the archaeological community can study it,” O’Brien told RTÉ, which first reported the discovery.

“For the first time in over 180 years, archaeologists know where the tomb is situated and it will enhance our understanding of wedge tomb distribution.”

Tony Bergin, president of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society, said it was an exciting discovery.

“There is a theory that this specific type of tomb links into a people who carried out copper mining,” he said. “There is also a comparison to similar-type tombs found in Brittany in France.”

A skeleton of a Viking child uncovered during Dublin archaeological dig

A skeleton of a Viking child uncovered during Dublin archaeological dig

A child’s skeleton dating to the Viking age has been discovered in Ireland. The unearthing of the 9th or 10th century AD skeleton of an almost complete child is a significant one, but it is also mysterious. What makes this finding interesting is that the infant might have suffered a violent death. Archaeologists may have discovered a murder victim over 1000 years ago.

The Viking-era child’s skeleton was uncovered during construction work near Dublin Castle.

In the Irish capital, Dublin, a mysterious child’s skeleton was unearthed. During construction work near Dublin Castle in the heart of the city, it was discovered. The remains were found at the location where the River Poddle entered Dubh Linn, or the ‘black pool,’ during historic times.

This black tidal pool was where the River Poddle entered the River Liffey and is now covered over by Dublin Castle . “The name Dublin comes from the Irish word Dubhlinn, from dub meaning ‘black, dark’, and lind ‘pool’, referring to the blackish tidal pool,” reports Dublin Live .

The site at Dubh Linn was where the original Viking settlement or Longphort at Dublin was established approximately 840 AD.

A Child Tossed into the River

The child’s skeleton was found largely intact and probably dates to the 9th or 10th century AD. It appears that the body had once lain in mud in the bottom of what was once the River Poodle and as a result, it was preserved. RTE reports that ‘After it was excavated it was discovered to be that of a child aged between 10 and 12 years of age – most likely a boy’.

A skeleton of a Viking child uncovered during Dublin archaeological dig
The skeleton was discovered to be that of a child aged between 10 and 12 years of age – most likely a boy.

An iron buckle was found, and this could indicate that the child had been wrapped in a shroud. The shoulders of the skeleton were found hunched towards each other.

It appears that the child had been thrown into the River Poddle. This was most unusual because a proper burial would have been considered most important at this time by the Vikings and the native Gaelic Irish.

Alan Hayden from the UCD, who led the excavation, stated that “the fact that it was not given a proper burial and was dumped in this manner could suggest an act of violence,” reports Head Topics .

Is the Child’s Skeleton a Murder Victim or Casualty of War?

It is possible that the child was either murdered or may have been the victim of warfare. Dublin was attacked and seized at least once by the Irish in the 9th century AD and was also the scene of conflict between rival Viking factions.

The Vikings were to rule Dublin for almost three centuries and turned it into a powerful kingdom.

According to RTE, ‘Experts are set to carry out more tests to determine the date of death, gender, and the ethnic origin of the person’. This could help them to understand more about the death of the child.

It should be noted that there is no conclusive evidence yet that the child was murdered. Proving that the child died violently may take some time and could be a complex process.

New Insights into Viking Dublin

During the excavations, archaeologists established that the settlement was much bigger than once thought. According to RTE, the digs have found that the original settlement was ‘double the extent previously established.’

They also established that the Vikings erected earthen backs along the river with gaps that allowed their longboats to be hauled inland.

A large, wooden Viking fort probably once stood in this area. Archaeologists also found that the area around Dubh Linn was occupied even after another Viking settlement was founded about a mile away at Woodquay.

A large, wooden Viking fort probably once stood in this area.

Excavations are continuing at the site and future finds may provide new evidence about the mysterious skeleton.

This find comes at a time when a new genetic atlas based on the DNA of modern Ireland shows that the Vikings intermingled with the native Irish. Indeed, many Irish people have genetic signatures similar to the inhabitants of modern Norway.

Dublin hotel dig unearths 1,000-year-old burial site

Dublin hotel dig unearths 1,000-year-old burial site

Dublin hotel dig unearths 1,000-year-old burial site
A member of the archaeology team examines skeletal remains discovered during preparatory works for a new hotel in central Dublin

About 100 skeletal remains from the Middle Ages have been unearthed during excavations for a Northern Ireland firm’s new hotel in Dublin.  Burial sites dating back more than 1,000 years were found at Capel Street where an abbey, St Mary’s, once stood.

At least two of the remains are believed to date back to the early 11th Century. The excavations have been commissioned by Beannchor, which is building its new Bullitt Dublin hotel on the site.

The abbey used by the Savigniac and Cistercian orders opened in the 12th Century. Carbon dating of one of the discovered graves predates that by 100 years, indicating the presence of a Christian settlement on the site prior to St Mary’s being built.

The archaeological investigations at the site, which formerly housed Boland’s Bakery, also unearthed the foundations of buildings dating back to the 1600s.

Edmond O’Donovan, director of excavations for Courtney Deery Heritage Consultancy (CDHC), at the Capel Street site

The finds were discovered close to a former Presbyterian meeting house dating from 1667. Parts of a domestic house known as the ‘Dutch Billies’ have also been found.

It was constructed in about 1700 by settlers who came to Dublin after William of Orange ascended to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1689.

Incorporated into design

While the skeletal remains will be painstakingly excavated, cleaned and sent for further analysis, before ultimately being given to the National Monuments Services, the other structures found during the examination of the site are set to be incorporated into the design of the new hotel complex.

Beannchor Group, which runs high-profile hotels and bars in Northern Ireland, has undertaken similar restoration of historic buildings in the past, including Belfast’s Merchant Hotel, which was a former bank.

It said the Dublin project is by far its biggest and most complex project to date.

The 17th Century Presbyterian meeting house will be central to the development of a new bar and restaurant concept.

The ‘Dutch Billies’ house will also be preserved while a building with surviving ovens from the Boland’s Bakery dating from 1890 will be renovated and repurposed.

Edmond O’Donovan, director of excavations for Courtney Deery Heritage Consultancy (CDHC, said St Mary’s Abbey was Ireland’s largest and most wealthy medieval abbey in its day.

Archaeologists examine remains at the site of the medieval St Mary’s Abbey

“It was demolished after 1540 when the monastery was disbanded by Henry VIII and was later the site of a 17th Century Presbyterian meeting house.

“One of the things that was intriguing and exciting about the excavation is that we found an early burial or at least a number of burials that we suspect to be quite early.

“We have one that’s carbon dated to the 11th Century and we have a second burial that was found with a diagnostic stick pin from the 11th Century.

“And that suggests that there was an earlier Christian and potentially monastic foundation here which predates the Savigniac and Cistercian Abbey.”

Bill Wolsey, managing director of Beannchor, said it was impossible to have foreseen what the project would entail at its outset in 2017.

“As time went on, we began to understand just how complex this project may be,” he said.

Skeletal remains unearthed at the site of a new hotel being developed by Belfast-based Beannchor Group in Dublin

“Great care has been taken to preserve and incorporate elements of these early surviving buildings into the new development, on what we now know is one of the most significant heritage sites in the city.”

The new Bullitt Dublin hotel is expected to open in 2025.

The Newgrange of Ireland is older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge

The Newgrange of Ireland is older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge

The Newgrange of Ireland is older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge
The Newgrange tomb in County Meath, Ireland, just north of Dublin.

Newgrange is a 5,200-year-old ancient tomb located in the Boyne Valley in Ireland’s Ancient East. Archaeologists have classified Newgrange as a passage tomb, but Newgrange is now considered to be much more than a passage tomb.

Newgrange was built about 5,200 years ago (3,200 BC). While the name is not as unheard of as they are, that makes it older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza.

The mound is 85m (279ft) in diameter and 13m (43ft) high, an area of about 1 acre. A passage measuring 19m (62ft) leads into a chamber with 3 alcoves. The passage and chamber are aligned with the rising sun on the mornings around the Winter Solstice.

Newgrange is surrounded by 97 large stones called kerbstones some of which are engraved with megalithic art; the most striking is the entrance stone.

Newgrange was founded by a farming community that thrived in the Boyne Valley’s fertile soils. Knowth and Dowth are two comparable mounds that, along with Newgrange, have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The engraved stone at the entrance to Newgrange.
William Frederick Wakeman’s map of the burial chambers inside the tomb

An ancient temple is a more appropriate description, a location of astrological, spiritual, religious, and ceremonial importance, similar to how modern cathedrals are sites of prestige and reverence where dignitaries might be put to rest.

Newgrange is a massive kidney-shaped mound that spans over an acre and is held together at the base by 97 kerbstones, some of which are highly adorned with megalithic art.

The inner corridor is 19m long and leads to a cruciform room with a corbelled ceiling. The amount of time and labor put into Newgrange’s development shows a well-organized society with specialized organizations in charge of various parts of the building.

Newgrange is part of the Brú na Bóinne group of monuments erected around a bend of the Boyne River. Knowth (the biggest) and Dowth are the other two major monuments, though there are up to 35 lesser mounds scattered around the region.

Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun.
A young girl stands in front of the entrance to Newgrange in about 1905

Winter Solstice

Newgrange is well renowned for the winter solstice sun’s lighting of its corridor and chamber.

A roof-box is an aperture above the entrance to the route at Newgrange. This baffling orifice held a great surprise for those who unearthed it. Its aim is to allow sunlight into the chamber on the shortest days of the year, which occur around December 21st, the winter solstice.

As the sun rises higher in the sky, the beam within the chamber expands, illuminating the entire space significantly. This event lasts 17 minutes and starts at about 9 a.m. When one considers that Newgrange was created 500 years before the Great Pyramids and almost 1,000 years before Stonehenge, its precision as a time-telling device is amazing.

The intent of the Stone Age farmers who build Newgrange was undoubtedly to mark the beginning of the new year. In addition, it may have served as a powerful symbol of the victory of life over death.

Every year, the winter solstice celebration in Newgrange draws a lot of attention.

Many people assemble at the old tomb to await daybreak, just as they did 5,000 years ago.  So great is the demand to be one of the few inside the chamber during the solstice that there is a free annual lottery (application forms are available at the Visitor Centre)

‘Extraordinary’ 800-year-old chain mail discovered in Co Longford shed

‘Extraordinary’ 800-year-old chain mail discovered in Co Longford shed

A vest of chain mail, which is more than 800 years old, has been handed into the Knights and Conquests Heritage Centre in Granard, Co Longford.

‘Extraordinary’ 800-year-old chain mail discovered in Co Longford shed
It is understood the chain mail dates back to 1172 shortly after the Normans arrived in Ireland.

At an event last weekend, a member of the public disclosed that they had a hauberk, or coat of chain mail, in their garden shed.

The centre’s general manager Bartle D’Arcy said he was astonished when a member of the public brought in the artefact, which is in excellent condition.

“We had a Norman heritage day as part of [national] heritage week. I was walking around wearing a chain mail coif when people came up to me and said that they had ‘some of that’ in their shed. I said ‘What do you mean you have some of that in your shed?’

“They brought it to me two days ago and it is a full hauberk, 800 years old. They took it out of a drain a few years ago with a digger and just had it in their shed. It is extraordinary.”

Mr D’Arcy brought the chain mail to the National Museum of Ireland on Thursday. Officers there said that they were amazed to see an intact hauberk, having only ever seen fragments of chain mail.

“It is an amazing, extraordinary find. This all happened because of a chance encounter. They didn’t know what it was because it got stuck in the digger bucket. Unless you knew your history you wouldn’t really know what it was.

“It wasn’t discovered in Granard but it was discovered locally, but we are protecting the identity of the person. We are doing everything by the book and have declared it to the museum and so on,” he said.

Plans are afoot to put the chain mail on display in Longford. Mr D’Arcy said the museum would take the chain mail away to carry out some work on it.

Mr D’Arcy said the chain mail was in such good condition because it was in the water for so many years.

“It only rusts if you have water and air and if it’s only in water it survives. When the digger brought it up it was in peat.”

It is understood the chain mail dates back to 1172 shortly after the Normans arrived in Ireland. It will be restored and preserved before it goes on display.

A Mysterious Partially Submerged Structure in Ireland is a Prehistoric Tomb, New Research Finds

A Mysterious Partially Submerged Structure in Ireland is a Prehistoric Tomb, New Research Finds

A Mysterious Partially Submerged Structure in Ireland is a Prehistoric Tomb, New Research Finds
The Carraig á Mhaistin stone structure at Rostellan on the eastern shore of Cork Harbour, Ireland.

The tomb-like Carraig á Mhaistin stone structure, uncovered in Ireland’s Cork Harbour years ago, is now believed to be a megalithic dolmen.

Previously, experts have been unsure whether it was prehistoric or a 19th-century “folly.”

New research conducted by archaeologist Michael Gibbons indicated that the monument is in fact a megalithic dolmen.

A small chamber on the west side of an unknown cairn, a man-made stone stack marking a burial mound, measures 82 feet long by 15 feet wide. The cairn was previously concealed due to rising sea levels.

This is significant, as portal and court tombs “occasionally have intact long cairns which are both intended to provide structural support to the chamber itself, and to enhance visual presence in the landscape”, Gibbons told the Irish Examiner.

He believes that the cairn could extend well below the surface, “partially entombed in estuarine mud”.

It is unclear exactly when sea levels in the area rose, but they are believed to have been stable for the last 2,000 years.

There is only one other intertidal portal tomb on the island, and the Carraig á Mhaistin dolmen is one of three intertidal tombs in the country.

Among Irish folklore, portal tombs or dolmens were often known as Diarmuid and Gráinne’s bed—a final resting place for the fugitive couple who were pursued by Gráinne’s husband Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Many of these structures were built close to the coast; however, due to movement in the Atlantic ocean, many have not survived, including Sherkin Island’s sole megalithic tomb on Slievemore townland.

The Carraig á Mhaistin has not been previously included in the state’s survey of megalithic tombs in Ireland, conducted Ruaidhrí de Valera and Seán Ó Nualláin more than forty years ago, due to doubt surrounding its age.