Banner: Knocknarea sunset
The  Kilclooney dolmen.
The Kilclooney dolmen and it's smaller counterpart up in the bog near Ardara in County Donegal. This monument has a fantastically large capstone.

The Kilclooney Megaliths

This very impressive portal dolmen is located up the boggy fields behind the church in the small village of Kilclooney, north of Ardara in County Donegal. It is easy to find: there is a track that leads up the bog from the left side of the church.

Dolmens are thought to have been built to mark boundries of tribal territories in the neolithic period and are often found in valleys near streams. The monument was probably much larger, and would have had a long cairn trailing back from the massive capstone. The second smaller dolmen is likely to have been a secondary smaller chamber within the cairn of stones.


Description: This monument is 500m E of the last (Dg. 69), on a gently undulating expanse of bog broken by occurrences of outcropping rock, and lies 2.6km NE of the inner end of Loughros More Bay. The monument consists of the remains of two portal tomb chambers, one just over 9m behind the other, in the slight remains of a long mound aligned NNE-SSW.

One chamber, orientated NE-SW, stands 5m from the NNE end of the mound. The other, a very small one, is 5.5m from the SSW end of the mound, the orientation of which it shares. The circle of stones that Borlase (1897, 240) claimed surrounded the larger chamber is not apparent. The mound, trapezoidal in outline, measures 26m NE-SW, narrows from c. 17m at the NE to c. 8m at the SW and is c. 0.8m in overall height.

A modern field wall runs NW-SE across the mound between the two chambers.

The north-eastern chamber

The north-eastern chamber is well preserved. It is c. 2m long and 1.4m wide internally. Its present floor is up to 0.4m below the surface of the surrounding mound.

A dramatic photo of the winter solstice sunset shining through the Kilclooney dolmen.
A dramatic photo of the winter solstice sunset shining through the Kilclooney dolmen. © Leo Regan.

The entrance to the chamber, at the NE, is formed by two longitudinally set portal-stones with an intervening sillstone. A single stone, more or less in line with the adjoining portal-stone, forms each side of the chamber. A tall stone at the SW and a lesser stone beside it mark the back of the chamber. The sidestones overlap the outer end of each. On the ground immediately outside the southern end of the western sidestone is a large wedge-shaped slab, perhaps a slipped corbel. Originally it may have rested on the sidestone.

A massive roofstone covers the chamber. It rests on a pad-stone on top of the backstone and on the two portal-stones. The two portal-stones are well-matched slabs. The gap between them is 0.7m wide at their outer ends and increases to lm toward the interior. The eastern one, a more or less flat-topped stone, is 1.8m high.

The portals at Kilclooney.
The portals at Kilclooney.

The western one, the top half of which slopes down toward the back of the chamber, is also 1.8m high. Both rise c. 1.lm above the largely flat-topped sillstone. This stone is 0.6m high except over the easternmost one-quarter of its length, which is 0.1m lower than the rest.

The eastern sidestone, the top of which is lm below that of the adjacent portal-stone, is 0.7m high at its inner face. The western sidestone decreases in height from 1.2m at its outer end to 0.9m at its inner end. The possible slipped corbel outside the end of this measures 1.6m by 0.9m and varies from 0.1m to 0.4m thick. The small orthostat between the western sidestone and the backstone is 1.1m high at its inner face.

The backstone, lozenge shaped in plan, is 1.3m high. The pad-stone on the backstone measures 0.35m by 0.3m and is 0.15m thick. The portal-stones rise 0.3m above the top of the pad-stone, thus causing the roof stone to slope down from front to rear. The roofstone is 4.2m in overall length. It is 3.7m wide at the front and for just over the initial one-third of its length is not less than 3.5m wide. It narrows steadily beyond this and is c. lm wide at the back. It is 0.7m thick at the front, increases to a maximum of 0.9m above the portal-stones and decreases steadily beyond that to 0.3m at the back.

The two supposed cupmarks on the upper surface of this stone (Borlase 1897, 239; Crozier 1957, 66) are not convincing and may be natural. Small sherds of plain Neolithic pottery—three in all according to A.T. Lucas (1960, 18), five according to Herity (1964, 138; 1982, 319)—picked from the floor of this chamber were acquired by the National Museum in 1958.

Illustration from Borlase, Dolmens of Ireland, 1895.
Illustration from Borlase, Dolmens of Ireland, 1895.

The south-western chamber

The smaller chamber is 1.5m long and lm wide internally. A fill of loose stones on the floor of the chamber obscures the lowermost 0.2-0.3m of the stones shown on the sectional profile. The entrance to the chamber consists of two well-matched, longitudinally set portal-stones with a sillstone between their inner ends.

A single stone forms each side of the chamber, the eastern one in line with the portal-stone beside it, and the western set outside the line of the other portal-stone. The chamber is closed by an inward-leaning backstone.

The backstone is set beyond the end of the eastern sidestone and leans against it. It also leans against the inner face of the western sidestone, which disappears into the ground beside the backstone and may extend beyond it.

A lintel rests on the portal-stones and supports the front of a roofstone, the back of which rests on the backstone. The roofstone has slipped sideways and now rests on the W end of the lintel. Its western edge dips groundward and at the rear rests against a long narrow stone, apparently a corbel, lying on and largely concealing the western sidestone.

The smaller of the two dolmens.
The smaller of the two dolmens.

A displaced slab in the chamber now leans against the eastern sidestone and rises considerably above it. The original role of this stone is unclear. The well-matched portal-stones are 0.75m apart. Both are lm high. They rise c. 0.6m above the sillstone, which is c. 0.4m high. The top of this stone slopes evenly from W to E so that the W end is c. 0.1m higher than the E.

The lintel above the portal-stones measures 0.9m by 0.45m and is up to 0.25m thick. The eastern sidestone is 0.5m high. Only the inner face of the western sidestone is visible. Its top is 0.3m below that of the backstone, which would stand c. 0.6m high if upright. The corbel above the western sidestone measures 2.25m by 0.45m by 0.4m thick. The displaced slab in the chamber measures 1.5m by 0.9m by 0.2m thick. The roofstone is 1.9m long and narrows from 1.4m wide at the front to c. 0.5m at the back. It decreases from 0.4m thick at the front to 0.25m at the back. A watercolour of this monument (RIA MS 3 C 33) is reproduced here.

Dated 1799, it is based on an older original drawing (see Introduction). It shows that the roofstone of the smaller tomb was then in place above the chamber. However, it had become 'partly dislodged' by 1847, when Thomas Fagan (1845-8) visited the monument. Whether it had attained its present position at this date is not known.

© Ordnance Survey Ireland; © Government of Ireland.

The most impressive aspect of this monument is the massive size of the capstone, which looks far too big to be supported by the orthostats. The stones are of Donegal granite, a very hard stone and well able to bear the huge weight.

The wedge tomb at Kilclooney.
The wedge tomb at Kilclooney.

There are two other megalithic chambers nearby. One, a fine court cairn of which the massive chamber survives, is shown below. The other monument is a smaller unclassified structure, possibly the remains of a wedge.

The court cairn at  Kilclooney.
The court cairn at Kilclooney is about 700 meters from the dolmen.

These three monuments belong to a pre-bog neolithic landscape when the land was more fertile and suited to cattle farming. All the monuments are easy to access, and close to the road, and are well worth a visit in you are in the area.

The Kilclooney dolmens.
The Kilclooney dolmens from the rear. A stone fence runs through the site now, but the two chambers were most likely connected by a stone cairn, since robbed for field walls. The larger monument seems to be oriented to a distant hill.