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Poulnabrone dolmen, County Clare.
Probably Ireland's best known portal dolmen, Poulnabrone is found halfway between Kilfenora and Ballyvaughan, at the top of Corkscrew Hill at the centre of the Burren.


The Poulnabrone dolmen is probably the most photographed megalithic monument in Ireland. It is certainly one of the most beautiful and graceful of the Irish portal dolmens, with it's elegant soaring capstone. It has often been compared to a bird in flight. The name, Poulnabrone translates as Hole of the Sorrows, and may come from a folk memory of the myth of Diarmuid and Grainne. This pair of mythical lovers were hunted around Ireland for sixteen years by Fionn Mac Cumhail, and many dolmens are named after them, as they had a habit of sleeping in megalithic structures to hide from Fionn.

The dolmen is easy enough to find, about halfway along the road between Ballyvaughan and Kilfenora, which appears to overlay an ancient routeway. Now located on a bus route, there is a large paved carpark with information displayed.

The Poulnabrone dolmen
The Poulnabrone dolmen.

The dolmen is the remaining portion of a chamber which once probably stood within a low cairn, traces of which can still be seen around the monument. In the mid 1980's, a badly cracked side slab looked about to give way, and the site was excavated by Ann Lynch.

During the dig, the bones of 21 people - 16 adults and 5 childern were found, pushed into the grykes at the bottom of the chamber. The adults included a man with a flint arrow embedded in his hip. None of the adults were over 40 years of age, and many showed signs of arthritis.

This type of monument generally date to around 4000 BC; the bones excavated at Poulnabrone were dated from between 3800 and 3200 BC. Finds included fragments of pottery mixed in with the human bones and the bones of several types of animals, thought to indicate feasting. A number of stone tools were found: a small polished stone axe head, several flint arrowheads, flint scrapers, some stone beads and the head of a bone pin. Two small pieces of clear rock crystal were found, which is interesting, as it is more usual to find chunks of milky white quartz in megalithic monuments.

There are many, many more monuments in this area. You should really have the Discovery Series OS map No. 51 with you if you are planning to visit here. The Glinisheen wedge monument is quite close by, as is Poulawack Cairn.

Another view of the dolmen showing the displaced backstone of the chamber.
Another view of the dolmen showing the displaced backstone of the chamber. The monument was once covered by a cairn of stone, with the capstone left exposed.