Dooey's Cairn - Neolithic Court Grave

Ireland's only ancient cremation chamber raises many questions

Court Cairns or graves are communal burial monuments and are almost always aligned north - south. Dooey’s Cairn features a cremation chamber and is the only one of its kind found in Ireland. It was built and used by people from the Neolithic period of history (4000-5000 years ago).

It is situated in the townland of Ballymacaldrick, on the east side of Long Mountain in Co Antrim, where at least eighteen other court graves are located. Other examples are ‘Ossian’s Grave.’ found one mile north of Cushendall village on the A2 and ‘The Broad Stone’ at Craigs on the western slopes of Long Mountain.

Polished stone axe heads found at Dooey's Cairn
The basic layout of Dooey’s comprises a forecourt area which is a semicircle of eleven upright basalt slabs. From this forecourt two portal stones mark the entrance into a small chamber. Polished stone axes were unearthed between these portal stones in 1935 and have been called the ’magic guardians’ of the passage. Flint arrowheads, pottery remnants and a bead were found on the floor of this small chamber.

Mist at McDooey's
Two more portal stones lead into a feature not found in any other court tomb in Ireland - the cremation passage. It is six metres long, and was originally timber roofed, with boulder walls, a cobbled floor and three substantial pits. The third pit at the end of the passage was full of charcoal and cremated human bones, the remains of five or six adults, male and female. It is thought that these bodies were cremated inside the passage and they were estimated, by radio carbon dating techniques, to be about 4000 years old.

Plan of Dooey's Cairn
Many questions arise about this site. What kind of rituals were carried out at the site? Why was a cremation chamber constructed here  but not in many other parts of the country? Was cremation the ‘trend’ of the time for disposing of the dead? Where did the people who constructed Dooey’s cremation chamber bring the idea from? Were the five or six people who were cremated at Dooey’s important tribal chieftains or perhaps a King and his family?

Dooey’s Cairn is named after the family who generously placed the monument into state care in 1976. Each year there is a Dooey’s Cairn Music Festival.
Supported by the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation