Fourknocks Passage Tomb
This 5000-year-old passage-tomb cemetery and prehistoric complex is located on a hill above the village of Naul, southeast of Newgrange.
“Fourknocks I” is under guardianship of the State and can be entered; the other monuments are on privately owned land. It appears that the individual tombs in the complex were inter-related. Gabriel Clooney describes the gradual “twinning” of Fourknocks I and II over millennia, during which time they were transformed into complementary ritual settings. For example, the passageway in Fourknocks I goes upward, but that in Fourknocks II, 50 m to the east, goes downward.
The passageway of Fourknocks I opens to the northeast. The chambered cairn can be easily entered if you go with a guide, or you can arrange to get the key by following the instructions signposted at the entrance to the path to Fourknocks. When you enter the chamber it seems quite dark until your eyes adjust, there are light vents in the roof and after a few minutes you can clearly see the internal structure including the megalithic art, additional light from a smartphone or torch is helpful.
The site was excavated in the early 1950s and reconstructed with a concrete domed ceiling. It was re-grassed on the outside so that it would look like it had before the excavation. You can climb to the top of the cairn and enjoy the view. The mound is 16 km (10 miles) southeast of the Boyne Valley and 17.7 km (11 miles) east of the Hill of Tara.
The 5 m (17 ft) long passage leads into a large, circular chamber that is 5.5 m (18 ft) by 6.4 m (21 ft). The chamber has three recesses, giving it a kind of bloated cruciform shape. Geometrical patterns decorate five stones, with zigzags predominating. Notice the zigzags over the lintels: were they used to identify different tribes or families? Are they star maps? One of the carved standing stones is said to represent a face.
Bone fragments from approximately 65 individuals were found in the passage and the three side recesses, dating both from Neolithic times and later re-use during the Bronze Age. Cremains and unburned skulls and long bones were discovered, carefully positioned, sometimes with associated small stones. Grave goods including stone and bone pendants and beads, chalk marbles, pins (including a stunning antler pin), flints, and stone balls were also found.
The roof was partially corbelled, probably being closed off by a wooden roof with timber supports. Another theory is that it was left open as a star observatory. Martin Brennan believes the zigzags on some of the stones represent Cassiopeia, the w-shaped constellation, which was visible from Fourknocks during the Neolithic. It is hard to see how a chamber open to the sky would be consistent with the use of the mound as a grave. Obviously, there is much to be discovered.