A Very Unusual Place! Exploring Ireland’s Only Inter-Tidal Portal Tomb

Know Thy Place Director Colm Moloney describes his recent family adventure, as he set out to find some of his local archaeology highlighted in his Know Thy Place Chart.

On a recent excursion with the kids in East Cork using my Know Thy Place Explorer Roll, I came across an amazing archaeological site which is a bit difficult to find but definitely worth the hassle of searching for. A portal tomb is a stunning prehistoric archaeological monument when in a normal terrestrial setting, but is simply breathtaking when set in the inter-tidal zone.  The Rostellan Dolmen in Co. Cork is only accessible at low tide, and even then can only be visited with caution. There are no signs to bring you to the site so you need an Ordnance Survey map, a compass and lots of will power!

The expedition sets out: In search of the Rostellan Dolmen

Portal tombs (sometimes referred to as dolmens) are megalithic monuments which take their name from the two large upright stones which form an entrance or ‘portal’ to the chamber of the tomb. The monuments are generally of a simple rectangular plan with a chamber formed by upright stones and the two portals. The chamber is covered by a capstone which in some cases can be massive. It is believed that portal tombs were once an integral part of a large cairn or mound. These monuments are thought to date to the Neolithic period, and from the available evidence it would appear that they served as communal graves.

Success! Our first glimpse of the Dolmen in its magnificent surroundings

The Rostellan Dolmen is located on the shoreline of Poulnalibe creek in Cork Harbour on the edge of Rostellan woods. The capstone is balanced precariously on the two portals and is no longer supported by the backstone. From the tidal marks on the stones it would appear that the monument is about two-thirds submerged at high tide. It is an unusual example of its type, and may even be a fake! It is definitely worth a visit though as it is just so weird to see it poking out of the sea.

It is a fantastic place to bring your kids if you are in the East Cork area. Some friends asked me to put directions up here:

Park at Rostellan woods. Follow the track north until you hit the shore. Follow the coast east for about 100m and you should reach the Dolmen. If you are visiting the site, check the tides and bring a good pair of wellington boots!

My kids believe it to be the resting place of an ancient warrior king and who knows, they might just be right!

Colm and the kids pose for the camera beside the 'Warrior King's' Tomb


Filed under Know Thy Monument, Know Thy Place

3 responses to “A Very Unusual Place! Exploring Ireland’s Only Inter-Tidal Portal Tomb

  1. Colm, thanks for a most informative post. While we have some wonderful dolmens here in Co. Waterford, it is great to learn about this Inter-Tidal tomb. Undoubtedly a place to visit!

    • colmmoloney

      Thank you. Its hard enough to find. We are thinking about returning at high tide by kayak when the dolmen is half submerged!

  2. Joe Sullivan

    I wonder was it recorded in Borlases’s massive work on Portal tombs in Ireland. I ‘l check it Joe Sullivan

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