Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.

Early reports of Listoghil - Borlase

LXIII. No. 51. Situated E. of LXII, and out in the N.E, portion of the oval area surrounded by the chain of circles (cairn, with covered dolmen), called Listoghil.

"This is the most important monument of the entire series, and evidently, both from its magnitude and central situation, marks the sepulchre of the most distinguished person entombed in this great cemetery.

In its present state of dilapidation it is impossible to describe its original proportions with certainty, but enough remains to enable us to approximate to the truth. In some respects, indeed, its partial destruction, by exposing its interior, has furnished facts which could not otherwise have been acquired.

The situation is more elevated than that of any of the monuments by which it is surrounded, and its circumference is considerably greater, the diameter being about 150 feet.

Like many of the other monuments, it consisted originally of two concentric circles with a cromleac, or kist-vaen in the centre, but the space enclosed by the outer circle was covered by a cairn, or heap of stones, originally, it is probable, not less than 40 or 50 feet in height.

The cairn having been used as a quarry for many years past by the neighbouring inhabitants has diminished its altitude so much as to expose the tomb within it. It (the tomb) is composed of stones of great magnitude, and built with an unusual degree of regularity of form.

The covering stone is 10 feet square, and 2 feet thick, and, unlike those in all the other tombs, is not of granite but of limestone, and so also are some of its supporters.

The persons who first opened it assert that they found nothing within it but burnt wood and human bones. The half-calcined bones of horses and other animals were, and still are, found in the cairn in great quantity.

The stones which formed the outer circle were of large size, but most of them have been carried away, and we can only form now a conjecture as to their number, which, allowing a breadth of three feet to each, would be one hundred and fifty." - Petrie.

A wide platform was constructed before the cairn at Listoghil. Early reports mention a circle of small standing stones set on this bank in a similar manner to Newgrange.

This cairn is in view both of the cairn on the summit of Knocknarea, and of the two situated on Carns Hill, overlooking Lough Gill. Eighteen stones remain of the inner circle, and only four of the outer circle.

Appearances point to the probability of the cairn not having covered more than the space marked out by the inner circle. The stones in the chamber are set in position with an unusual degree of regularity, the crevices being carefully "spalled," or filled in. The clay in the interior was carefully turned out and sifted.

Listoghil by Wakeman.
Listoghil by Wakeman.

The bones, few in number, were found principally in crevices and pockets.

'It was a very miscellaneous assortment, consisting of numerous small bones of the hand and foot, portions of ribs, vertebrae, fragments of the long bones, also of the skull, pelvis, jaw, etc. There were undoubtedly several interments, judging from the variety of the bones, none of which, however, present any very special characteristic.'

This report of them was given by Dr. E, MacDowel, M .D. Petrie was informed that "a large spearhead formed of stone" had been found here by Mr. Walker.

The Knocknarea North passage tomb.
The Knocknarea North passage tomb.

A Flint Javelin

This is, I suppose, the "javelin, or lance-head, formed of flint" (No. 103, in Wilde's Catalogue of the Museum of the R.IA.), which Col. Wood-Martin says (R.S.M., p I7) "can be conclusively proved to have been found in the cairn of Listoghil." - Wood Martin.

The flint javelin found in the chamber of Listoghil.
The flint javelin found in the chamber of Listoghil.

A flint, which Col. Wood-Martin calls "a beautifully formed flint knife," rewarded his exploration of this chamber. I doubt not that it was artificially formed, nor that, as Mr. J. W. Knowles stated, it bears evidence of secondary dressing. I would, however, prefer to regard it as a "strike-a-light," such as was found in X and others found by myself with calcined bones, and sometimes in cinerary urns in Cornwall.

"This cairn," says Petrie,"is called Listoghil, or Rye-fort, but this name is obviously not its original one, being founded on the erroneous supposition that the monument was a 'Lis,' or 'Fort."*

The dolmen in this cairn consists of six side-stones and one roofing-stone. It measures internally 8 feet long by 5 feet broad, contracting at one end, however, to 3 feet 6 ins. The three stones which compose this narrower end average from 2 feet 6 ins. to 3 feet long, and 2 feet to 1 foot 6 ins. broad.

The large slab which composes the further end measures 8 feet long by 1 foot broad. One of the side stones adjoining it at right angles is 6 feet 6 ins. long by 1 foot 6 ins. broad, the one opposite it is 5 feet 9 ins. long, by 1 foot 6 ins. broad.

I have not the direction of the long axis of this chamber. If denuded of its cairn it would resemble the flag-dolmens of Clare. MS. "Letters," loc. cit.; R.S.M., pp. 71-74, and p. 17.

*In this opinion I know not whether to agree, since in the Romances the sidhe, or central caves in the tumuli, were fabled to be palaces, that is to say, lisses in that sense, where dwelt the spirits of the dead, and in which reigned the mythical kings of the race. In this sense a tomb, might be called a 'lis.'

If Dr. Joyce's opinion be correct, that in toghil we have the surname Tuathail (gen. of Tuathal), as in Listowel in Kerry, which in the Annals of the Four Masters is called "Lios Tuathall," we may have in this name an evidence of the existence of a tradition that this tumulus contained the fairy-palace, i.e. sidhe, or tomb, of a king called Tuathal, an idea which the other name, Rye Fort, if we might regard it as a corruption of righ, ("a king," and fert, "a grave," might help to justify.

Tuathal, as the name not only of historic personages who occupied the position of chieftains or petty kings, but of one of the half-mythical monarchs who, throughout the Middle Ages, occupied the border-land between tradition and myth, meets us continually in Irish history and romance.

The view from Listoghil to the summit of Sliabh da Eán.
The view from Listoghil to the summit of Sliabh da Eán.

Tuathal Techtmar (Tectumaros) was the conqueror of the Aitheach-Tuatha - the villain tribes who had risen in rebellion and killed their king - the man of Germanic name who put to route the allophylian barbarians, just as Lug conquered the Fomorian Balor at the battle of Moytirra. He is represented as a great conqueror defeating in turn the men of all the four provinces of Ireland, as an equally great administrator establishing the Convention of Tara, and as a tyrant in imposing on Leinster the tribute called Boromean. A fitting name his for legend or tradition to associate with the principal sepulchre in all this constellation of tombs, although it would be folly to suppose that any tradition of the real name of an occupant of any of them could have reached our day.


Failing such an explanation, which is based rather on fancy than fact, we may have in Listoghil merely the name "elevated lis, or fort," alluding to its high position, or to the materials of the cairn thrown up to such a height, just as in Clochtogal, the name of a dolmen in Fermanagh, we have simply "the raised, or elevated, stone," alluding to the position of the cap-stone, from tóghaim, "I raise."

Listoghil, looking into the centre of the cairn during excavation in 2000. In the foreground are three of the gneiss kerbstones.