Hanging out at the Hag’s Bed

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.

Labbacallee, Co. Cork- 'The Hag's Bed'

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).

Information board at the entrance to the site

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.

View from the rear of the monument

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!

View inside the chamber

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.

View from the neighbouring field- watch out for the electric fence!

2 Comments

Filed under Know Thy Monument, Know Thy Place

2 responses to “Hanging out at the Hag’s Bed

  1. Clem

    Hi Colm. Thanks for your very interesting article. I know this area well and am fascinated with the tomb. Did you notice on the two signs at the site, only a couple of meters apart, that one says that there were human remains excavated and the other says there were none found when excavated! Pity that such a feat of architecture and history should have such conflicting information. I’m sure that tourists and natives alike leave the site somewhat bewildered!!

  2. Hi Clem,
    Both myself and Colm have visited the site on a few occasions, I have missed the conflicting signage, but your right that is pretty poor! A lot of our monuments around the country could do with an upgrade in the signage and information that they provide I think, hopefully something can be done along those lines in the future.

    Kind Regards,

    Damian.

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