Proleek Portal Tomb, Legananny Dolmen and Binder’s Cove Souterrain
On our short trip to Northern Ireland we ended up seeing prehistoric and historic sites (as usual) and these are three of them.
The first one is just South of the border in the Republic of Ireland. Proleek (’obscure’) Portal Tomb is a large structure over twice my height, which was likely built by farming communities around 3000 BC and would have had a burial mound around it. The large stones served as an entrance to the tomb.
The second one is called ‘Legananny Dolmen’ and is found in County Down. It is much smaller, but also impressively held up by pointy stone pillars. ‘Dolmen’ probably comes from the Breton word ‘tolmen’, meaning ‘stone table’, which refers to the flat stone on top. Again, built by the same type of people around 2500 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding area derives its name from this dolmen, which means ‘The Pillar Stone of Anya’. Anya is a mythological mother goddess, who the legendary warrior Finn MacCool fell in love with.
Just a few miles from Legananny Dolmen is a souterrain, known as ‘Binder’s Cove’ or locally as ‘Finnis Souterarrain’. This is probably a left-over from early medieval Christian times, when people lived in ring-forts. Souterrains generally ran below or near ring-forts and were likely designed to protect people from raids with a narrow entrance, which could be easily defended. This particular one is likely from the 5th century AD. The main tunnel is 30 meters long and about 1.5 meters high (ducking is essential) with some alcoves branching off, which may occasionally have been used for storage.
Slieve Croob and the surrounding countryside, Northern Ireland
Slieve Croob can be translated to ‘Mountain of the Hoof’ and though it is not very high (534 m), it is apparently over 380 Million years old, even older than the Mourne Mountains, which you can see looming on the other side. This whole area was once shaped by big ice sheets pushing down from Donegal during the Ice Age. On top of Slieve Croob you find the 12 Cairns, which are Neolithic burial chambers (possibly put together from one big one originally). Neolithic farming communities would settle in the fertile valleys below between 4000BC and 2000BC and they have erected many impressive stone structures all around the area. Slieve Croob was also traditionally the place where Lughnasa was celebrated, the festival dedicated to the Celtic sun god Lugh. It was celebrated in August to prolong the period of sunshine into the harvest months. People would pick bilberries (also known as ‘blaeberries’, giving it the name ‘Blaeberry Sunday’) on the way up and then sing, dance and play the fiddle. This was done on Slieve Croob well into the 1950s.
On the way home from St Andrews we stopped in Newport-On-Tay and although it is a small town and we didn’t stay long, I still enjoyed walking along the Firth of Tay and the great view over the Tay Road Bridge and Dundee.
In October 2019 there was a photography festival in St Andrews and since I’m a photographer, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to finally visit this town, which is well-known for its university. We only spent a day there and had a stroll around the town centre and along the pier. First, however, we went into the Holy Trinity Church, where the Protestant reformer John Know held his famous ‘Cleansing of the Temple’ sermon on the 4th of June 1559, which led to the ransacking of St Andrews Cathedral. There is also a castle, where Protestant reformers set up the first Protestant congregation in Scotland in the 1540s, among them John Knox as their religious leader. After being besieged by the Scottish and French army, they eventually had to give up and were exiled and punished. John Knox, however, managed to return to Scotland to finish his reformative task many years later. Overall, St Andrews has a great atmosphere and architecture, which reminds me a little of Edinburgh.
Built in 1158, the cathedral became the centre of the Medieval Catholic Church and seat of the Archdiocese and Archbishop. At a length of 119 meters (390 ft), the ruins suggest that this was the largest church built in Scotland. So what happened to this once magnificent church? On the 4th of June 1559, the preacher John Knox, the central figure of the Scottish Protestant Reformation, held a sermon in the nearby Church of the Holy Trinity, which incited a riotous mob to march on the cathedral and strip its insides of its wealth. As a result of the Reformation, Catholic mass was outlawed during the 16th Century and the church fell into disuse. People would carry off the stones to re-use for new houses and the cathedral quickly turned into a ruin. It is now under the care of Historic Environment Scotland, but most of it can be seen for free.
In the South of Unst we visited the Bordastubble Standing Stone, which was very close to the Underhoull Broch and Viking Longhouse. There are even more sites in the area which we didn’t get to see due to having to catch the ferry back.