Winter 2011 Volume 25 No. 4 Issue No. 98





09 Speculations on a County

Antrim wedge tomb

11 In search of hidden chambers at

Newgrange passage tomb

13 A small equestrian proposal

15 Know Your Monuments:

Rock art

19 Chocolate and community archaeology


24 Digging us out of the downturn

26 Tirnony portal tomb, Co. Derry

31 The sourcing of Irish Bronze

Age gold

33 The hills are alive—with the sound of digging!

36 The unseen Hill of Ward: new insights from LiDAR data




04 News

07 Net news

08 Quote…unquote

41 Events

43 Book news

50 Hindsight



Cover photo: Mound in the grounds of the Cadbury chocolate factory, Coolock, north Dublin (Michael Stanley).

THE FUTURE AND THE ABYSS ‘Staring into the abyss’ is one of those evocative phrases that encapsulates a sense of impending doom or perhaps, more commonly, a profound uncertainty about the future. Throughout Ireland, both north and south, we can witness a sense of instability and uncertainty fostered by gloomy, abysmal forecasts for the money markets, daily threats of competitive austerity, rising unemployment numbers, increasing business failures and the increase in emigration. The unfettered vocabulary of financial journalism speaks in colourful, emotional terms of burnings, zombies and contagion—a daily horror story.

Archaeology has shown us that communities in the past faced their own natural and man-made disasters, plagues, famines and contagions. These disasters were real; people actually suffered and many of them died. The cyclical nature of disaster and recovery is often pointed out, with archaeologists and historians listing in detail the factors that brought about the disaster but usually providing little information on the inevitably slower and less dramatic recipe for recovery.

There is also a sense that archaeology itself in Ireland and Britain has been dealt a severe body blow, not least of all because of its close association with the now moribund property market. Independent companies have had to close, downsize or adjust to the reduced demand for archaeological services. Carefully assembled resources in terms of procedures, equipment and personnel with the appropriate skill sets have had to be put into abeyance, with many expressing reservations about our ability to reassemble such resources when necessary.

In January 1916 Thomas Johnson Westropp delivered his presidential address on ‘The progress of Irish archaeology’ to the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland at the height of the so-called Great War. Without knowing the social and political upheavals that would engulf Ireland in the following decades, Westropp offered hope in the midst of the bleakest of circumstances:

‘It may be well to voice the thoughts that must arise in most of our minds tonight—anxiety for our country, our science, and our Society. The present terrific crisis may by its violence slay itself sooner than we dare to hope, but it must slay many better things. What may be our place in the new age now in its birth agony? A few things seem certain—State grants, never too liberal, must grow rarer, priceless material must get lost to archaeology and history; men’s minds must be unsettled, and research on the continent and communication between the antiquaries of opposing nations must long remain blighted in the wake of the withering tempest. Many a young man, who might have grown to be a prop of our science, may have perished. Yet we are not as those without hope . . . we may hope that in the future men, trained to sterner self-sacrifice than we, without seeking for any great fame, still less for any material reward—may work beside us in the fields of Irish archaeology till we fail, and then take the torch from our hands and carry it on into the darkness, farther than we ever dared to hope that the firm ground of archaeology extended.’

Abysmal indeed! Our heritage and our archaeological legacy are what we have received from the past through the work of archaeologists and antiquarians like Westropp. It is imperative that we hold our nerve, preserve our past, preserve our interest in it and preserve our ability to study it. We must ensure that we hand it on in good physical condition, fit for the appreciation of and study by future generations.

Tom Condit