Cavan Burren Park is undoubtedly one of the most exciting archaeological sites in north west Ireland, with over 100 different archaeological and historical features in a relatively small area. Due to its small size the park is perfect to explore on foot and many of the places to visit are clearly signposted. A real treasure for all to enjoy.
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 8 km/5 miles
The characteristic plateau-topped shape of Cuilcagh Mountain can be viewed perfectly from the entrance to Cavan Burren Park. Cuilcagh Mountain is a key area of the Geopark with the border between County Cavan and County Fermanagh bisecting the summit. The mountain is capped with sandstone, the source of many of the large glacial erratic boulders within the park. As well as holding such important geological heritage, the mountain is a breathtaking feature of the landscape.
This circular stone enclosure with two smaller circles of kerbstone within is thought to be a haggard or a ‘hay-yard’ and was in use until approximately 50 years ago. The hay was stacked on a layer of sticks in the two smaller stone circles and each ‘stack’ held about 30 to 40 rucks of hay.
In the Irish language Burren means ‘a rocky place’. True to its name, there are many large boulders dotted across the landscape of the park and most of them can be traced back to the Ice Age. The rocks can be described as glacial erratics and are of significant geological value. Erratic boulders are very often a different rock type from the rocks they are standing on and Cavan Burren Park is no exception, with sandstone glacial erratics sitting on limestone bedrock. These glacial erratics are not only geologically significant, but also played an important part in the development of many of the Geoparks historical and archaeological features.
The Cairn Dolmen is a type of portal tomb and one of the four types of megalithic tomb found in Ireland. Portal tombs are usually made up of three or four standing stones with a horizontal cap stone placed on top. As is the case here, the whole structure was commonly completely covered with much smaller stones to form a cairn. This tomb is thought to date from the Neolithic period, some 4000 to 6000 years ago and was believed to be a doorway to other worlds. A mystical place that is well worth your exploration.
In addition to the many megalithic tombs, Cavan Burren Park also contains numerous ancient field systems and hut sites dating back to Neolithic times, making this route a must see for those fascinated by history. The hut sites are small circular stone enclosures (approximately 1.5m in diameter) often found grouped together. The field systems associated with the hut sites are identified as Neolithic as they are completely different from the very regular field patterns that have been constructed in more recent times.
On your Cavan Burren journey, you’ll have the opportunity to see some prehistoric art. The boulder signposted as ‘rock art’ is covered with markings known as cup and ring marks. This type of prehistoric art takes the form of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across surrounded by a concentric ring or rings. Many refer to this art as “Atlantic Art” as it has also been found in other parts of the European continent, such as Northern England, Scotland, France, Portugal and Spain. This feature is extremely important, and it is truly incredible to experience such impressive archaeological evidence of early human settlement.
At the centre of Cavan Burren Park is an abandoned farmstead that was last functioning around 50 years ago. Although no longer active, it is a great insight into how communities worked and lived in this area up until very recently. The site itself includes a farmhouse (almost completely ruined), a pig cró (or outhouse), a cattle byre and a stone enclosure. Associated with the farmstead is a limekiln used to produce quicklime for farm purposes. It is set away from the farmstead due to the toxic gases given off during the production of quicklime.
The calf house is part of the farmstead and was once used as shelter for cattle when the farm was in use. However, this structure has a much older heritage, as it was originally established as a Neolithic portal tomb. The tomb is similar to that found at Cairn Dolmen, however just not as big in size. The original portal tomb had three standing stones topped with a much larger horizontal capstone. The capstone is still clearly visible but at some time in the past, the tomb partly collapsed and was converted into an animal shelter.
The Boulder Grave is a magnificent glacial erratic found within the Geopark that has been recently identified as a prototype tomb which is the first of its kind found on the island of Ireland. It is described as a “modified glacial erratic” and historians believe it would have been used for funeral purposes. The tomb is considered to be of international significance and is a beautiful example of the historical overlap between natural monuments and those shaped by humans.
The whole structure was raised, levelled and held in place by chock stones, and a burial chamber was carved out of the limestone beneath. It is now thought that the boulder grave is just one part of a very significant, integrated burial site as there are two standing stones downhill from the grave, a well, and further examples of rock art carved into the boulders lying further down the hillside, all of which form a distinct alignment.
The Giant’s Grave is one of the most magnificent sites to enjoy in Cavan Burren Park. It is a wedge tomb located on an elevated site, indicating its significance. The name wedge tomb comes from the shape of the structure as the main chamber decreases in height and width from the front. It is thought to have been constructed during the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age (approximately 4000 years ago). The Giant’s Grave gets its name from local folklore that tells the tale of two young giants, Lugh and Lag. Lugh and Lag fell in love with the same young female giant, and were forced to go head to head for her affections. They challenged one another to jump over a wide chasm, but Lag took the challenge a step too far. He decided to jump backwards, and tragically fell to his death in the chasm below. It is said he was buried in the wedge tomb, beside the chasm. The tale was left incomplete, as we never did find out if Lugh won the female giant’s heart.
Perched on one of the low cliffs within the park is a small promontory fort. The fort is thought to have been constructed during the Iron Age (Celtic times) approximately 2000 years ago. It is 30 metres at its widest point, is triangular in shape with a 20 metre cliff on two sides and on the obvious approach side there is a substantial wall. These structures were generally used as fortified refuges or defended settlements exploiting the natural defensive advantages of the landscapes.
The Giant’s Leap Dry Valley was formed by a small river that has long since disappeared. It is located directly behind the Giants Grave wedge tomb and the two have long been connected in local folklore. Due to the large amount of limestone within the Geopark, dry valleys are quite common. However, Giant’s Leap Dry Valley is unusual with no obvious upland source of water. The valley is part of one of the largest limestone depressions in Ireland and it is thought that the uplands that originally fed this river were removed by the erosive power of ice during the last Ice Age.
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