Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
The massive dolmen at Malin More.
The massive Dolmen Number 1 of a series of six at Malin More in County Donegal.
Photograph by William A. Green © NMNI.

The Malin More dolmens

This, the westernmost of the seven megalithic tombs in this townland, is 900 meters southwest of the last ( Donegal 90 ). It stands in pasture reclaimed from the bog on the floor of the valley opening onto the north end of Malin Bay, which is 500 meters to the west.

There is a good outlook from the site to the west and north out to sea and to the east along the valley floor, but steeply rising ground nearby, the lowermost slopes below Leahan Mountain, restrict the view to the south and south-east.

The monument consists of a row of six megalithic chambers ( DG089-008 / 001 / 002 / 003 / 004 /0 05- ) standing at irregular intervals over a distance of 100 meters. They are in two separate fields, three in each, just south of a narrow road and are here numbered 1 to 6 from west to east. The four intermediate chambers are in a line, running more or less east to west, c. 5 meters north of and parallel to a line linking the larger terminal chambers. Chamber Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 6 are portal tomb chambers; No. 5, though very ruined, seems also to have been one, but the original design of No. 4 is uncertain.

The orientations of the four portal tomb chambers are as follows: No. 1 faces east-northeast; No. 2 faces south-southeast; No. 3 faces north; and No. 6 faces east. The orientation of No. 4 is uncertain, but in its present state it seems to have faced east. If, as suggested, the remains at No. 5 are those of a portal tomb chamber, it would have faced either east or west when intact.

The distances between the chambers from west to east are 12 meters, 16 meters, 9 meters, 14 meters and 30 meters. The comparatively large gap between Nos. 5 and 6 suggests there may have been a further chamber between them. If there was such a chamber it may have fallen victim to the construction of the road adjacent to the complex.

Thomas Fagan ( 1845-8 ), who visited the site in 1847, refers to the existence of seven chambers but provides details of only those numbered 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 here. He claimed that the chambers had stood in one long cairn that he estimated originally measured 100 yards ( c. 91 meters ) east to west and 20 yards ( c. 18 meters ) north to south.

However, it was 'defaced' and 'partly under tillage and fences' when he saw it. A small, low, stony mound, referred to below, survives alongside the easternmost chamber ( No. 6 ) and appears to be the remnant of a cairn. Apart from this, there is a light scatter of partly buried stones over much of the eastern half of the site, but excavation would be required to determine whether these represent an ancient cairn.

The Board of Works carried out work at this site toward the end of the 19th century, but the annual reports of that body provide little information about its nature and extent. Borlase's ( 1897, 244-8 ) charge that major alterations were made to the two larger chambers ( Nos. 1 and 6 ) is considered below.

The Malinmore dolmen.
Dolmen Number 1 in the series of six at Malin More in County Donegal. Photograph by Robert Welch © NMNI.

The chambers

No. 1:— The entrance to this chamber, at the east-northeast, is flanked by two longitudinally set portal-stones, in front of each of which is a set stone. The stone in front of the southern portal-stone is a tall pillar-like one, and the one in front of the northern portal-stone is very low and may be just the stump of a taller stone. The southern portal-stone, also tall, is intact. However, the northern one is broken, and only the stump remains in place. The detached part of this stone lies prostrate immediately to the north of the stump.

A single sidestone forms the north side of the chamber. There are two side-stones on the south side: a small stone beside the portal-stone and a large one to the west of it. Outside the adjacent ends of the southern portal-stone and the small sidestone beside it is a low stone, 0.4 meters high. It is not clear whether this is a structural stone.

The chamber is closed by an inward-leaning backstone set between the sidestones. A large pad-stone or corbel in a sloping position rests against the south end of the backstone, and another lies above its north end. A subsidiary roofstone covers that part of the chamber behind the portal-stones.

The main roofstone of the chamber lies displaced in front of the portal-stones. Measured as it stands, it is c. 3.3 meters long and 3 meters high. What appears to have been the front end of the roofstone when in place above the chamber now rests directly on the ground. This, the heavier end of the stone, is c. 1.2 meters thick. It lessens to c. 0.8m at the opposite, now the skyward, end.

The chamber, measured from the backstone to the outer ends of the portal-stones, is 3.2 meters long. It is c. 2 meters wide immediately behind the portal-stones and narrows to 1.7 meters at the back. It should be noted that rising ground level to the south of the chamber obscures the lower levels of the structure on the main sectional drawing.

The stone in front of the southern portal-stone leans southward slightly. It is set transversely to the long axis of the portal- stone and is 2.4 meters high. The low stone in front of the northern portal-stone is set slightly askew to it and is 0.5 meters long, 0.1 meters thick and 0.2 meters high. The two portal-stones are 1.15 meters apart at their outer ends. The southern one, which is slightly overlapped by the small sidestone behind it, is 2.4 meters high.

The stump of the northern portal-stone, set inside the line of the sidestone behind it, is 0.5 meters high. A pecked line on the plan indicates a vertical split in this stone. The detached part of this stone is 2.6 meters long. Thus, when intact, this portal-stone would have been c. 3 meters high.

The northern sidestone decreases in height from 2 meters at its outer end to c. l meter at its inner end. It leans against the edge of the backstone. This inward lean is accentuated by the slight concavity of its inner face. The outer one of the two sidestones on the south side of the chamber is 0.5 meters long, 0.1 meter thick and 0.4 meters high measured at its inner face.

The inner sidestone at this side leans inward. It is clear that a piece, size unknown, has been broken from the top of this stone. It is 0.3 meters high at its outer end, rising to 0.5 meters at its inner end. The backstone is gabled in outline and 1.15 meters high.

The corbel or pad-stone leaning against the southern edge of the last also leans against the adjacent sidestone. The base of the corbel is on the ground, and it rises just above the top of the backstone. The corbel measures 1.4 meters by 1.1 meter and is 0.3 meters thick. The corbel or pad-stone above the north end of the backstone rests in a more or less horizontal position on the southern corbel and on the northern sidestone. It measures 1.2 meters by lm by 0.1 meter thick.

The subsidiary roofstone is 2.85 meters long east to west, narrows from 2.1 meters wide at the front to 1.4 meters near its opposite end, and is 0.3 meters thick. It rests on the northern sidestone and on both corbels and slopes down from front to back.

A small stone is wedged between the northern end of the backstone and the northern sidestone. This is shown on the cross-section accompanying the plan. Another small stone wedged between the top of the broken sidestone at the south and the southern end of the backstone is also shown on the sectional drawing. A third small stone, not on plan or section, is wedged between the roofstone and the northern edge of the northern corbel. This measures 0.2 meters by 0.15 meter by 0.1 meter thick.

Borlase ( 1897, 245 ) claimed that the Board of Works constructed the roofed part of the chamber behind the portal-stones. This claim may have had its origins in his reliance on a brief and imprecise earlier account of the monument ( N. Moore 1872, 521-2 ), which seems to have led him to the erroneous belief that the roofstone now in place behind the portal-stones had originally rested on the tall stones at the front ( east end ) of the structure.

Fagan's account of the monument, the earliest available, describes it as 10 feet ( c. 3.05 meters ) long, 4-51/2 feet ( c. 1.2-1.7 meters ) wide and 2-4 feet ( c. 0.6-1.2 meters ) high. It is clear from his account that the front of the monument was then as it is now. Of that part of the monument behind the portal-stones, he observed that the 'western part of the grave is covered by a flag 10 feet ( c. 3.05 meters ) long, 6-7 feet ( c. 1.8-2.15m ) broad and l-11/2 feet ( c. 0.3-0.45 meters ) thick', measurements that accord well with those of the subsidiary roofstone.

It appears from this that structurally the monument is now much as it was before the Board of Works attended to the site. We can only surmise on the nature of the work that was undertaken by the Board. That it may have proved necessary to stabilise the roofed part of the structure is suggested by the presence of small wedge stones mentioned above. One of these is wedged against the broken top of the western sidestone, so it at least seems to be a late feature.

According to Fagan ( 1845-8 ), a large slab lay prostrate on some small stones just beyond the west end of the chamber. Just north of this was another, which supported a smaller one. Fagan considered the two large slabs to be tombstones. He seems to have regarded them as one burial monument, hence, it appears, his claim that there were seven structures at this site. There is no trace of the slabs referred to by Fagan.

He also noted that there was a slab on top of the prone upper part of the northern portal-stone. This too is now gone. Norman Moore ( 1872, 521 ) observed that earth and small stones hid part of the west end of the structure. This is no longer the case, and it may be that the Board of Works removed them and perhaps some of the large slabs noted by Fagan.

No. 2:— The entrance to this small chamber is at the south-southeast between two portal-stones. The western portal-stone is broken, and only its stump remains. The sides of the chamber are formed by single stones set outside the lines of the portal-stones. It is closed by a stone set between the ends of the sidestones.

A roofstone has slipped westward and now rests on a slab, possibly a piece detached from its underside, which itself rests on the western sidestone. The portal-stones are 0.65 meters apart. The stump of the western one is 0.15 meters high. The intact eastern one is 1.2 meters high. This rises 0.5 meters above the outer end of the eastern sidestone, which leans against it. This sidestone is 0.7 meters high at its outer end, from where it declines to 0.15 meters at the inner end.

The western sidestone slightly overlaps the stump of the adjacent portal-stone but does not touch it. It does, however, lean against the backstone. It is 0.3 meters high. The upright backstone, measured at its inner face, increases in height from 0.2 meters at its eastern edge to 0.35 meters at the western. The appearance of this stone suggests that a piece may have been detached from its top. Ground level outside the backstone is 0.2 meters below that in the chamber.

The displaced roofstone measures 1.8 meters by 1.4 meters by 0.3 meters thick. The slab between it and the top of the western sidestone measures 1.7 meters by at least 0.6 meters and is 0.15 meters in maximum thickness. A stone, 0.7 meters by 0.5 meters by 0.4 meters ( not on plan ), which does not appear to have formed part of the structure, lies between the portal-stones.

In addition some small stones lie in the chamber. This chamber, when intact, would have been just under 2 meters long. It narrows slightly from 1.05 meters just inside the portal-stones to 0.9 meters at the back.

The largest of the Malinmore dolmens photographed by Robert Welch.
The largest of the Malin More dolmens, Number 1 of a series of six.
Photograph by Robert Welch © NMNI.

The Smaller Dolmens

No. 3:— The eastern portal-stone marks the entrance of this north-facing chamber. The western portal-stone has fallen and lies prostrate beneath a displaced roofstone. Single stones form the sides, the eastern one set outside the line of the adjacent portal-stone. The backstone, slightly askew to the main axis of the chamber, is set between the ends of the sidestones. There is a layer of peat in the chamber.

The original chamber length would have been less than 2.5 meters, and it narrows slightly from 1.25 meters just inside the portal-stones to 1.15 meters at the backstone. The eastern portal-stone is 1.4 meters high. The prostrate western portal-stone measures 1.3 meters by at least 1.4 meters and is at least 0.25 meters thick. When upright it would have stood at least as high as the eastern one.

The intact portal-stone rises 0.45 meters above the top of the eastern sidestone. The sidestone, which leans against the backstone, decreases in height from 0.65 meters at the front to c. 0.2 meters at the back. The western sidestone, which also leans against the backstone, is 0.6 meters high at its outer end. This, too, decreases in height toward its inner end but less markedly than the other sidestone.

The backstone leans inward slightly and narrows toward the top. It is 0.25 meters in exposed height at its inner face and 0.5 meters at its outer face. The displaced roofstone lies in a sloping position, rising from west to east, across the front of the chamber. It now rests on the outer end of the western sidestone and against the top of the inner face of the eastern portal-stone. This substantial slab measures 2.5 meters by 1.4 meters and is 0.5-0.7 meters thick.

A rough sketch of the front of this chamber by Thomas Fagan ( 1845-8 ) shows both portal-stones in place and the roofstone resting on them. Norman Moore ( 1872, 522, D III ) saw this chamber in 1871. His description, with sketch plan, is not clear about the state of the chamber, but it seems that the roofstone had fallen by that date. When Borlase ( 1897, 246-7 ) saw it in 1888 it was in its present state. 

Dolmen Number 3 in the series at Malin More.
Dolmen Number 3 in the series at Malin More.
Photograph by William A. Green © NMNI.

No. 4:— The original design of this structure is uncertain. Five orthostats and a slightly displaced roofstone remain of what seems to have been a small low chamber c. 1.5 meters across, now open to the east. A sixth orthostat, just beyond the open end, is of uncertain function but may be part of an entrance feature or perhaps an indication that the original structure was more extensive than it now appears.

A single orthostat, 0.7 meters in maximum height, forms the west end, possibly the original back, of the structure. The north side, represented by two orthostats, and the south side, represented by a single orthostat, converge on the western stone. The western one of the two stones at the north is 0.35 meters high, and the eastern is 0.3 meters high.

The single stone at the south is 0.6 meters high. A lone stone 0.5 meters high stands at the open east end of the structure. The roofstone, from the southern edge of which a piece may have been broken, covers the greater part of the space described by the five orthostats.

One end rests on the western orthostat, and the other end has slipped from the top of the lone orthostat at the east and now rests on the ground. It measures 1.9 meters by 1.5 meters and is 0.2 - 0.3 meters thick.

The sixth orthostat, 0.25 meters beyond the roofed element, is 0.85 meters high. There is a grass-grown mound of uncertain age, apparently of stone, to the south of the structure. This measures 2.5 meters by 2.5 meters and is 0.7 meters high.

Old cultivation ridges adjoin the southern side of the mound. A Board of Works report claimed there were two chambers here, each 4 feet by 4 feet ( c. 1.2 meters by c. 1.2 meters ), then filled with rubbish. It was proposed 'to examine carefully the debris around the structures, taking care not to disturb the stones', but the results of this examination, if it took place, are not known. Like Norman Moore's account ( 1872, 522 ), the Board of Works report noted what may have been cairn remains between this and the next chamber ( No. 5 ).

Accounts of the structure by Fagan ( 1845-8 ), Norman Moore ( 1872, 522 ) and Borlase ( 1897, 247 ) are all brief and imprecise, but there is nothing in any of them to support the claim in the Board of Works report that there were two chambers here. A purported sketch of the structure that accompanies the Board of Works report sheds no light on the matter.

Dolmen Number 5 in the series at Malin More.
Dolmen Number 5 in the series at Malin More.
Photograph by William A. Green © NMNI.

No. 5:— This structure is very ruined, and its northern end is incorporated in the roadside wall. A large slab, apparently a displaced roofstone, one end of which is on the ground and overlain by the roadside wall, rests in a leaning position against the north face of an orthostat that is orientated east to west. Just 0.7 meters south of this orthostat is another, parallel to it. Although this is now slightly loose in the ground, it seems to be a structural stone. Both orthostats lean slightly to the north.

The apparent roofstone measures 3.1 meters by at least 2.2 meters and is 0.2-0.3 meters thick. The stone supporting it is 1.5 meters high. The stone parallel to this is lm high. This may be the remnant of a taller stone, as the appearance of its top suggests that it has been broken.

A further 1.6 meters to the south is another upright slab which is of uncertain status and measures 0.8 meters long, 0.25 meters thick and 0.55 meters high. This stands at the northeast corner of a low grass-grown heap of stones, measuring 1.1 meters north to south by 3 meters east to west by 0.3 meters high. The original form of this structure is unclear. However, if the southern one of the two hatched stones on plan was originally taller, as may have been the case, it and the northern one could have served as the portal-stones of a chamber the only other remnant of which is a displaced roofstone. In this scenario the chamber would have lain either east or west of the supposed portal-stones.

Fagan's account ( 1845-8 ) indicates that the structure is now as it was in 1847. In 1871 Norman Moore ( 1872, 522 ) noted 'numbers of loose stones' around it. The Board of Works report claimed that in addition to the dislodged roofstone there were five upright stones here, but a purported sketch of the structure shows three upright stones with what appears to be a large slab leaning against one of them.

No. 6:— This partially collapsed portal tomb chamber faces east. Its main roofstone has fallen eastward and now rests, one end on the ground, at the east end of the monument. It lies in a sloping position against the outer ends of the two portal-stones, both of which have collapsed northward. The portal-stones now rest in leaning positions, the southern one on the northern one.

Three stones remain in situ: the single orthostats forming each side of the chamber and an inset gabled backstone. A large slab outside and leaning against the northwest corner of the chamber appears to be the displaced subsidiary roofstone. This seems to have covered the west end of the chamber, i.e. that part of it behind the portal-stones.

The east chamber of Farranmacbride.
The east chamber, Number 6 of the series at Malin More. The monument had been remodelled for use as a Fowl House at the time of Green's visit. Photograph by William A. Green © NMNI.

There is a displaced pillar-like stone to the west of the subsidiary roofstone. When intact the chamber seems to have been c. 2-3 meters long and narrowed from c. 2.5 meters wide immediately behind the portal-stones to 1.4 meters at the back.

A modern field wall adjoins the east end of the displaced main roofstone. Another field wall runs northward from the northern sidestone. A space between the underside of the main roofstone and the leaning northern portal-stone has been blocked by mortared stone, as has a space at ground level between the same portal-stone and the northern sidestone. The main roofstone measures 3.1 meters by 2.5 meters and is 0.9 meters thick.

The southern portal-stone, which is flat topped, would stand 2.5 meters high if upright. The northern portal-stone, somewhat pointed on top, would stand 2.6 meters high if upright. The southern sidestone leans inward quite markedly and rests against the edge of the backstone, above which it rises 0.5 meters. It would stand 1.5 meters high if upright.

The northern sidestone leans inward slightly and also rests against the backstone. It is 1.35 meters high. The backstone, close to lozenge shaped in plan, is 0.8 meters high. The displaced subsidiary roof stone measures 3.4 meters by 1.75 meters and is 0.4 meters thick. The prostrate pillar-like stone beside it measures 3 meters by 0.7 meters by 0.6 meters. Its original function is not clear.

The small mound alongside this chamber has been referred to above. It adjoins the structure at the southwest, occupies a long, relatively narrow space measuring 11.3 meters E-W by 5 meters N-S and is up to 0.5 meters high. When Thomas Fagan saw this structure in 1847 the main roofstone had already fallen eastward, although he suggests that the portal-stones were then upright.

Norman Moore ( 1872, 522 ) noted that the chamber formed one side of a byre. Borlase ( 1897, 247-8 ) claimed that under the Board of Works 'the process of overhauling and renovating has been carried on here almost as vigorously' as at the western chamber, but he provided no details. The remains can satisfactorily be interpreted as those of a collapsed portal tomb chamber, and, despite Borlase's claim, there is no evidence that the Board of Works carried out any significant structural alterations here.

        first station of the Glencolumbkille turas.
The Boyle dolmen at Malin More close to Glencolumbkille in County Donegal.
Photograph by William A. Green © NMNI.