MEGALITHIC MONUMENTS
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ALTAR WEDGE TOMB
Built from local sandstone slabs, this Wedge Tomb, also known as 'Tuama Dingeach
na hAltóra', is one of a dozen in the area of the Mizen Head, 'Carn Uí Néid', at the
western extremity of the peninsula formerly known as the Ivagha Peninsula or 'Uíbh
Eachach'. It is located on a small level area 30m from the rocky shoreline on the NE
edge of Toormore Bay, just off the R592 from Toormore, 'An Tuar Mor' to Skull, 'An
Scoil' and is marked 'Cromlech' on both the OSI & Historic maps. It was erected at the
end of the late Neolithic - early Bronze Age, around 2,500 BC, with its entrance aligned
ENE - WSW, seemingly with the distant Mizen Peak and it has been suggested that this
was an orientation towards the setting sun at Samhain in early November. The tomb
consists of a fairly well-preserved, simple trapezoidal orthostatic gallery 3.42m in
length, represented by three stones on each side (with those on the northern side
leaning inwards), that is 1.9m in width at west end & 1.25m in width at east end. A
roof-stone, 2.7m in length, is still in position above the eastern end of the gallery and a
second roof-stone, 2.6m in length, rests against the westerly stones at either side of the
gallery. It was excavated in 1989 by Dr. William O'Brien and Madeline Duggan. These
excavations produced cremated bone of a human adult found near the entrance, a
single un-burnt tooth, some charcoal from two pits near the rear of the chamber and
some deposits of shellfish such as periwinkles and limpets. Worked flint, including
scrapers, were found outside chamber. The cremated remains were radiocarbon dated
to about 2,000 BC while those from the pits in the chamber floor returned dates around
1,200 BC, the middle Bronze Age. Later a pit was dug and filled in around 200 AD. A
socket for a back-stone and a low kerb feature were also uncovered during excavations.
No clear evidence of a cairn was recovered. William Copeland Borlase, in his book
“The Dolmens of Ireland” Vol. 1 (1897), gives excellent measurements and description
of the wedge tomb. He wrote: “In the town-land of Altar, close to the edge of the cliff
on the E. side of Toormore Bay, is a dolmen marked Cromlech. The chamber lies E.
and W., and must, when perfect, have been over 12 feet in length by 6 feet 6 ins. broad
internally at the W. end, narrowing to (probably) 3 feet at the E. end. Three stones
compose the N. side, and a similar number the S. side, but probably in both cases there
were others now removed. The structure possesses two cap-stones, that at the W. end
measuring 8 feet 6 ins. broad from N. to S., by 8 feet 2 ins. (on the slope) from E. to W.,
and that at the E. end 10 feet from S.W. to N.E., and 7 feet 3 ins. from N.W. to S.E. The
former of these roofing-stones rests slant-ways against the edges of the side stones at
the W. end, having probably fallen into that position owing to the removal of other side
and end stones. A piece has been broken out of its N.E. corner, which gives it somewhat
the appearance of a painter’s pallet. In the centre of the E. roofing-stone is a small
hollow or cavity, possibly natural, but which would have served as a cup”.
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51 30' 50.24"N...9 38' 37.85"W
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ALTAR WEDGE TOMB, COUNTY CORK