Armchair Archaeology: the hidden gem of Fourknocks

Welcome to the fifth edition of Armchair Archaeology! In this series we look at the famous and the less well-known sites in the Boyne Valley. Since the current restrictions mean we cannot go out and explore in person, let Boyne Valley Tourism take you on a virtual tour of some of our favourite sites. Today we'll be looking at the hidden gem that is Fourknocks passage tomb in south east Meath, a 5,000-year-old marvel. (All modern photography courtesy of Anthony Murphy, Mythical Ireland)

 

The great passage tombs of the Boyne Valley (Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth) are famous around the world. Loughcrew is known to many for its equinox alignments. Yet not as many people are aware of a small but beautifully crafted passage tomb near the village of Naul on the border between counties Meath and Dublin.

 

Fourknocks (in Irish Fuair Cnoic 'The Cold Hills' but also perhaps ‘Four Knocks/Hills’) remained a series of low hillocks in the landscape for thousands of years until the mid-20th century, when archaeologist P.J. Hartnett was alerted to their location. Locals showed Hartnett the much-overgrown mound and he soon discovered on a stone sticking out of the mound the unmistakable carvings of megalithic art.

(Fourknocks under excavation. Photo: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy)

Hartnett carried out a series of excavations in the 1950s on the three mounds on the ridge, publishing his findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. The main mound, Fourknocks I has been subsequently reconstructed and access is granted by borrowing a key from a nearby house (details below).


During the excavations Hartnett uncovered many carved stones bearing megalithic artwork, but unlike the tombs of Loughcrew or Brú na Bóinne, Fourknocks’ artwork is mostly angular; with zig-zag chevrons and diamond-shaped lozenge patterns.

 

Like other passage tombs Fourknocks is cross-shaped (cruciform) with three recesses off the main chamber. The passage is quite short when compared to Newgrange or Knowth but the chamber is much much larger, in fact this small mound has the largest interior chamber in all of Ireland! As in the other tombs the remains of cremated stone age people were found, mostly in the recesses and at the entranceway.

 

(Plan of Fourknocks I. Photo: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy)

In the middle of the chamber a post-hole was unearthed; this might have held up a timber roof to the tomb, which had subsequently fallen in. There is no evidence of a stone corbelled roof, like at Newgrange or Loughcrew. Many beautiful artefacts were discovered in the excavations including flint scraper tools and bone pins and a red deer antler pin.

(Bone and antler pins. Photo: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy)

 Like the Mound of the Hostages Neolithic passage tomb at the Hill of Tara, later Bronze Age burials were inserted into the mound at Fourknocks.

A little to the east is Fourknocks II. This monument is not accessible or rebuilt, but when Hartnett explored it he discovered that it was originally a cremation site (perhaps for the burials subsequently placed in the main Fourknocks tomb?) and a later passage tomb was built over this open-air site.

 

Fourknocks in Irish mythology

Watch the video below (skip to 12:00 to get to the start of the report) to hear author Antony Murphy of Mythical Ireland discussing how Fourknocks fits within Irish mythology.

Visiting Fourknocks

Google Maps link

The key for the entrance door to Fourknocks Passage Tomb can be obtained from Mr. Fintan White (+353 (0) 1 8354722) before 6pm who lives over a mile from the Tomb . Directions are signposted from Fourknocks. His house (Eircode A42 FN40) is found west of the tomb - turn left at the Y-junction with the white and green house then keep going straight up the narrow track where the main road turns to the left. The Whites' house is some distance up here - the 5th on the right.
A cash deposit must be given which is refundable on the safe return of the key. The key should be returned before 6pm.

Please bear in mind due to Covid-19 access is not currently available; ring ahead to confirm if access has returned.

The beautiful south eastern Boyne Valley

When in the area why not call by the The Lime Kiln Gastropub in Julianstown or brave the rollarcoasters of Tayto Park. For rest and recovery why not try Dunboyne Castle Hotel or Ashbourne's Aisling Guesthouse, or sample the hospitality of Dublin House Bar (Lawless’ Bar) and Peter’s Pub, both in Dunshaughlin.

We hope you've enjoyed this article on Fourknocks. Stay tuned for many more, and in the meantime stay home and stay safe.

 

Further Reading

  • Cooney, Gabriel, “Fourknocks, Co. Meath— inside a Neolithic World.” Archaeology Ireland Heritage Guide No. 30, 2005.
  • Hartnett, P. J. “Excavation of a Passage Grave at Fourknocks, Co. Meath.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. 58, 1956, pp. 197–277.
  • Hartnett, P. J., and W. O'Sullivan. “The Excavation of Two Tumuli at Fourknocks (Sites II and III), Co. Meath.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. 71, 1971, pp. 35–89.