Ballykeel Dolmen
Portal Tomb With Long Cairn And Cist
North of Mullaghbane
Grid Reference H9950 2132

Ballykeel - Baile Caol, the narrow farmstead -is a small river valley at the western foot of Slieve Gullion Mountain, Ballykeel Dolmen. a well-preserved Neolithic monument over 5,000 years old, stands on the edge of a level terrace overlooking a tributary of the Forkill River and is known locally as 'The Hag's Chair'.

The tomb is of the tripod form, with two upright portal stones and one backstone supporting the large capstone, similar to Legananny Dolmen in Co Down. In the past portal tombs were often covered by stone cairns or earthen mounds. Very few of these survive, but at Ballykeel the remains of a stone cairn are found in association with the tomb. The dolmen is sited at the southern end of the cairn which is O.75m high, 28.5m long and 9m wide. In 1963 Ballykeel Dolmen was excavated and the stone tomb, which had partly collapsed, was restored to its present condition, with the supporting closing slab pulled into place, the split backs tone repaired and the huge capstone reinstated.

During the excavations the remains of a stone cist at the north end of the cairn were uncovered and large quantities of sherds representing various Neolithic pottery styles were found. Particularly important were the fragments of three highly decorated and elegant vessels found in the dolmen chamber. Owing to the acidity of the soil, no traces of bone survived, but analysis of earth from the chamber revealed a high phosphate content -this led the excavator to suggest that burials had originally been deposited in the tomb. Only a few pieces of worked flint were recovered, most of them finished implements, including a fine javelin head, found in the cist.

Writing about Ballykeel in his last letter on 3 April 1850 to the Belfast Gaelic scholar, Robert McAdam, local poet and scribe Art Bennett said: 'There is more Irish history in the rocks of Ballykeel than ever there was possessed in Belfast. It was cradled and nursed there and more than likely will never waken'. For thousands of years this fine monument has been an element in the area's rich heritage and folklore, its ancient stones inspiring local tales of fairies, witches and hags. Sources: Collins A.E.P., UJA 28, 1965, 47-70; Creggan Journal, 1997-8,131.

 
 

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