Know Thy Place Director Colm Moloney continues his journeys around the monuments in his local area, and brings us news of an impressive prehistoric megalith.
As research for KnowThyPlace, I have recently been visiting sites within a half hours drive of my home in Midleton. This weekend I visited the area around Glanworth and one site really took my breath away. Labbacallee, which translates as ‘The Hags Bed’, is one of the largest Wedge Tombs in the country and is very accessible for the archaeo-tourist (signposted off the main road from Fermoy to Glanworth).
The tomb is constructed of massive stones (the largest weighs about 10 tonnes) and the monument stretches for an impressive 14 m. The interior of the chamber was excavated in the 1930s. Both human and animal bone was recovered and radiocarbon dating of the human remains indicated that the site had functioned as a burial site from about 2400 BC to around 1750 BC. Fragments of a decorated pottery vessel were also recovered. The earliest burial which was identified at a small end chamber consisted of a headless skeleton which was radiocarbon dated to 2456 – 2138 BC.
Wedge tombs are part of the megalithic cult that developed across Europe with the introduction of agriculture and continued into the Bronze Age, where burial chambers began to be constructed using massive stones. With the introduction of agriculture population levels increased and people had more time and resources available for undertaking such massive projects as the construction of Labbacallee. Wedge tombs dominate at the end of the megalithic tradition and are believed to be tribal burial sites which may also have had relevance to territorial boundaries. The possibility has been raised that they served as repositories for ancestral bones and served as ceremonial centers for local populations. At Labbacallee the monument is aligned with the setting sun on the equinox (22nd March and 24thof September) when a beam of light shines into the chamber – no doubt significant dates for early agriculturists!
Megalithic tombs are very durable and as such tend to survive well in the landscape. The superstitious nature of the rural population in Ireland up until recent decades has also helped to protect monuments from destruction. It is not surprising that these massive monuments attracted folk traditions over the millennium that were handed down by story tellers from generation to generation – surely they were the work of giants or magic? The local tradition tells that Labbacallee was the bed of the wife of a druid Mogh Ruith. It is common for the pre-Christian goddesses to be referred to as ‘hags’ after the introduction of Christianity. The possibility exists that a local tribal deity had a link to this site which has been preserved in the local oral tradition. Amazingly the site was already 2000 years old by the arrival of Iron Age ‘Celtic’ culture in the locality: a true monument to some of the earliest social organization, religion and engineering on the Island of Ireland.