Mayday In Tyrone 2008

An Exploration of Some of the Antiquities of South Tyrone

I took advantage of the beautiful sunny weather on May Bank Holiday Monday to search for some of the antiquities in South Tyrone, particularly the Clogher Valley. As usual journeys to and from an area of study provide sites of interest which cannot be ignored.

About 2km SW of Benburb, Co Tyrone and near a side road running NE from B115 is Eglish Graveyard, Co Armagh, (H806502). Here there are remains of a rectangular church reduced to foundation level for the most part except for the west wall which stands to full height with fragments of the N and S walls. It was built in 1720 as a chapel-of-ease and replaced in 1821 by the new church at Drumsallan. In the graveyard there are fragments of two ring-headed crosses. Of the S cross only a portion of the head remains. It is mounted on a plinth. At the centre of each face is a small bullaun. This is an unusual feature for a High Cross and is considered by some to be a later modification. There is some moulding at the edges of the cross. This is clearer on the S face than on the N, although both faces are greatly weathered. At first glance the N cross appears to be intact. However closer inspection shows that only a portion of the head is original. The shaft, W arm and top of the cross are clever modern replacements. This cross is in better condition than its S neighbour. It is a similar unpierced ring-headed cross with good roll-moulding at the edges. At the centre of the S face there is a cluster of nine mini-bosses set within a raised disc. The N face of the cross is greatly weathered and the nature of the decoration is not clear. At the centre is a large boss which seems to be covered with a curvilinear pattern similar to the N cross at Monasterboice, Co Louth, or the E face of both the crosses at Clogher, Co Tyrone. There are few gravestones in the churchyard. Some of these date from the 18th century but the inscriptions are hardly legible.

About 7km NNW of the graveyard is
Eglish, Co Tyrone. In the car park of the church, in Roan townland, (H782565) is a strange boulder. It is roughly pyramidal or conical in shape, being about 1.3m high and 1m wide at the base. The hollow in the top of the stone appears, at first glance to be a bullaun. Closer examination shows that it is rectangular, rather than circular, and it may be the socket for a cross. It measures approximately 30cm by 20cm and 13cm deep. Elsewhere, within the graveyard, is a smaller stone with a circular bullaun about 20cm diameter and 10cm deep. The stone is roughly octagonal. The antiquity of this stone is not clear. It may be an old bullaun stone which has been trimmed for a more modern purpose. Within the graveyard there are many 18th century gravestones with good clear inscriptions but very little artwork.

About 2km SW of the church, and after several false alarms and some local enquiries, the sweat house at Cadian (H768557) was finally located. It sits at the extreme corner of a small rough, and extremely muddy field. It is tight against the field boundary at the edge of a small stream. I visited this sweat house in 1983. At that time I was much slimmer and more supple than I am now. I did not attempt to enter the structure on this occasion. The entrance is about 75cm high and I know from my previous visit that the floor of the sweat house is covered with rubble, including broken glass. There was no way that I was going to crawl through that. I am an older and wiser person now. Apart from that, the landowner has placed a barbed wire fence close to the entrance making access to the structure extremely difficult. In the same townland, about 2km SSW, is a former roadside forge with a fine horseshoe-shaped doorway (H760540).

I then drove briskly beyond Aughnacloy in an effort to find Favor Royal Bawn. It lies about 13km E of the last site (H632538). However I was not able to examine it closely. It lies a short distance E of an extremely twisty road. There was no suitable place to park and no convenient bridge over the river was evident. The structure appears to be a square bawn with flanking towers. However it is greatly dilapidated and overgrown. More planning is needed before a repeat visit.

After a short late-morning snack Clogher Hillfort (H539514) was explored. This is a complex structure which may have been started in the Late Bronze Age. It covers an area of about 2 hectares and consists mainly of a large mound with some defensive ramparts, particularly on the north side. The original structure may have been a simple bank with an external fosse. The other defences may have been added when a ringfort was built over the structure in the 7th century. Clogher is considered to be a royal site of the Airgialla, who were originally a subject tribe of the Ulaid. They later changed allegiance to the Ui Neill and by the beginning of the 9th century they ruled over large portions of the north midlands. Just to the south of the main structure is a small triangular mound which is thought to be an inauguration mound. Beyond this is a small ring barrow. Excavation in the 1970s revealed several items of decorative metalwork as well as shards of Mediterranean wine amphora. The occurrence of such rich artefacts reinforce the idea that Clogher was a royal site. St MacCartan founded a church, probably on the neighbouring hilltop, where the present Church of Ireland cathedral stands. This building dates mainly from the 18th century. Just outside the east doorway are several portions of High Crosses. They represent at least two crosses which have unpierced rings and some good panels of interlace. There is also a bullaun stone.

Within the graveyard there are several good 18th century gravestones. One of these is inscribed “Here lyeth the body of John McGirr who departed this life January the 19 1770 aged 23 years”. Above the inscription are two winged heads and two cherubs flanking a tree. On the reverse is a coat-of-arms featuring a two-headed eagle. This is surmounted by a small wreath and a mailed arm clasping a sword. The shield bearing the main motif is surrounded by swags of stylised foliage. At the botttom half of the stone is a tree flanked by two figures, possibly Adam and Eve. On the narrow edges and across the top ae small figures dressed in long pleated robes. Simlar stones have been found in other graveyards including Clonfeacle, Co Tyrone, and Donagh, Co Monaghan. At the northern edge of the village is Clogher Railway Station. It is very similar to the station at Fivemiletown, also on the CVR, with a two-storey central block flanked be single-storey sections. There is also a small goods shed with a canopy.

In the country south-east of Clogher village there are at least four megalithic tombs. Two of these, in Ballywholan townland, were investigated. The first, Carnfadrig, is about 3km from Clogher on Shanco Road (H556490). It is a complex and enigmatic structure. It is a cairn about 20m long and 2m high, aligned approximately E-W. At the E end there is a pair of stone about 1.6m high. The N stone leans against the S stone. They seem to form a portal leading to a single chamber. This is composed of a septal stone, two side stones and a back stone. The chamber is more than 1m wide but the stones are less than 1m high. The cairn has been cleared from around the chamber but it can be seen that, at one time, it extended beyond the line of the portal stones. At the west end of the cairn two rectangular chambers have been uncovered. They form a gallery running N-S. The main body of the cairn has not been excavated and there may be other hidden chambers. Carnfadrig combines elements of the portal tomb and the court tomb. Only a complete excavation will uncover it secrets.

The second megalithic tomb is Carnagat, about 2km SE of Carnfadrig, on Corleaghan Road (H570470). This dual court tomb has two two-chambered galleries with semi-circular forecourts, contained within a 20m long cairn. It is aligned approximately NW-SE. The court at the SE end has fairly low stones, being generally less than 1m tall. The exception is a recumbent stone which now lies within the court and is about 1.3m long. One of the stones in the outer portion of the court is of similar size. The gallery is about 5m long and 1.3m wide. There are good jamb stones but no septal stones. The sides of each of the chambers is composed of one long stone and one short stone. The stones are about 1.2m or less high. At the NW end of the monument the court stones are up to 1.8m tall. The gallery is of similar size to the other one but the inner chamber narrows to less than 1m. There is about 1m gap between the two galleries.

Aughentaine Castle (H499515), in Aghintain townland, was the subject of the next visit. It lies about 4km W of Clogher but is accessible only from a side road to the north of the site. Only fragments of this 17th century fortified house remain. It was destroyed in 1641 and never rebuilt. The west wall stands to full height and there are some fireplaces at the higher levels. The building was three storeys high. The main block is aligned E-W and is about 16m by 6m externally. A wing about 6m square projects from the middle of the north wall. In the angle between this wing and the W portion of the main building there is a fine Scottish-type corbel. This carries the remains of a circular stairwell which rises from first floor level. There are several small rectangular windows in the building, as well as some square musket-holes at the lower levels. It had been my intention to search for some of the many megalithic tombs to the north of Carrickmore and Pomeroy. However after an initial lack of success I decided to abandon the attempt. Time was pressing and I really wanted to explore Roughan Castle (H824683). This lies about 1km NE of Newmills and 2km NW of Coalisland. It is in the grounds of Roughan Care Home.

The walls of the castle are aligned with the cardinal points. It is a small square building with four large drum flanking towers. The entrance is trough the tower at the NW corner. This tower also housed the spiral stairway of which there are fragments. At the S wall the flankers are connected by an arch at the top level. This arch has a murder-hole. The building is three storeys high with evidence of a gabled attic storey. There are string courses at second and third floor levels. Inside there were large square rooms at each level of the main building but the floors are now missing. There are fireplaces in the N wall at first and second floors. There were small round or square chambers at each level of the flanking towers except the NW tower which had the stairway. The tower at the SW corner was vaulted above the ground floor room. All the rooms at the lower level had small square musket loops with good splays on the inside. The larger windows at the higher levels do not have mullions but the holes for the glazing bars are evident. Thee is a carved mask on the wall at the second floor level in the SE corner. There is a scar on the outside of the SW flanker indicating that an attached wall once ran westwards from the castle. This is the only evidence of the former presence of a bawn. In the small lake close to the castle there is a crannog.