Ballymacdermot Court Cairn


Craigavon, Ireland

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Artist's Description

Ballymacdermot – Bhaile Mhic Dhiannada, McDermot’s town land -is a low mountain to the east of Slieve Gullion. Located on a level terrace on the southeastern slopes of the mountain is a well-preserved court tomb known as Ballymacdermot Cairn. From this site panoramic views over the plain ofMeigh, Slieve Gullion and the ring dyke hills to the south can be enjoyed, a phenomenon that surely did not escape the early farming communities who built it over 6,000 years ago. Locally known as ‘The Cashla’, it is also spoken of as ‘The Graves’, and ‘The Fairy Ring’, and is reputed to be haunted.

A wedge-shaped cairn encloses the tomb, which is entered through a semicircular forecourt and a small antechamber. The tomb contains two stone-lined burial chambers which were once covered by ‘large roofing stones’, some of which still survive. Traces of the perimeter kerb are visible at the back and sides of the monument, but only rock outcrops to the front. Ballymacdermot Cairn has been investigated at various times in its history. In the nii1eteenth century it was opened by treasure-seekers, including John Bell of Killevy Castle, who unearthed an urn containing pulverised bone in one of the chambers. Mr Bell, writing in The Newry Magazjne in 18 I 6, described the chambered cairn of Ballymacdermot as a tamlachta or cairn.

More recently, during the Second Wotld War, some of the facade stones were thrown down and broken by the American Army on tank manoeuvres. In 1962 the cairn was excavated and sherds of pottery and worked flints were recovered, but owing to the acidic nature of the soil, only a few fragments of cremated bone were found. After excavation the site was conserved, with fallen stones re-erected and broken ones repaired.

Folklorist George Paterson recorded the following story about a man who tried to destroy the tomb: Sur’ he saw no hurt in the breakin’ of it. But he never lived till finish it. For hundreds of years it has been there -maybe indeed since the beginning of time. I always remember it. Sure, it was there that I saw the first wee people.

Ancient Ballymacdermot was the property of the O’Hanlon family, but during the Plantation of Ulster (1593 -1603) it was granted by Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Marmaduke Whitechurch, who died in May 1635. His granddaughter, Eleanor Symonds, carried this townland into the Seaver family through her marriage to Nicholas Seaver of Ballyaghy, Co Armagh. Nicholas was the great-grandfather of Jonathan Seaver, one of the larger landlords in the area – known locally as ‘Seaver of the Bog’. Ballymacdermot Cairn has seen many changes of land ownership and survived frequent attacks from greedy treasure-seekers. Against all the odds, it still stands today, watching over this unique landscap

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