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Rathlackan court cairn.
Rathlackan court cairn, a well preserved example of this type of monument.


The Rathlackan monuments, three court cairns and a collapsed wedge, are found on the north coast of Mayo with fine views over Lackan strand and Killala Bay. The main site is a well preserved court cairn set within its own enclosure within a system of neolithic field walls similar to the nearby Ceide Fields. This monument is in such good condition because it was completely buried in the bog. About 20 years ago the huge capstone slipped and tipped upright and so the site was rediscovered. Rathlackan is a beautiful site, like some kind of neolithic garden in the bog, and is well worth a visit.

The fine chamber at Rathlackan.
The fine chamber at Rathlackan.

The Rathlackan monument has a fine court built from drystone chunks of limestone. A pair of well matched jambs lead into a fine chamber of three compartments. The enormous roofing flags have been lifted off the chamber and lie close by. The ground is very wet and spongy: the chamber is full of sphagnum moss. The site was excavated by Gretta Byrne, who is the head guide at the Ceide Fields.

The monuments at Rathlackan.
The monuments at Rathlackan are positioned with fine views to the east, where Knocknarea in County Sligo stands out on the horizon. The modern plantation of pine trees are beginning to obscure the view.

On several of my visits to Rathlackan I searched for the other two monuments marked on the map as being in the bog nearby, but without success. I managed to find them both on my last trip. Both are thought to be the remains of court cairns, but they are in poor condition.

Rathlackan court cairn
The gallery of the second court cairn at Rathlackan, not long after a bog fire had scorched the stones.

The monument in the photo above appears to be the gallery of a court cairn. I had never managed to find it because of the surrounding wynne bushes. The gallery or chamber is about 6 meters long by 2 wide. The large flag at the end is a displaced capstone which has slid from its position. The structure was caught up in a bogfire at Easter that scorched the stones.

Destroyed monument at Rathlackan.
The third court monument is largely destroyed, but has a fine view to Nephin Mor, the mountain on the horizon.

The third monument is hard to find because it is so ruined: only a few stumps of stones remain of what looks like the gallery of another court cairn. This megalith is right beside a rough bog track which cuts across the monument beside the chamber. There is a fine view to Nephin Mor which has a neolithic cairn on its summit. There are also the remains of several neolithic hut sites around these three monuments.

A collection of large flags, the Rathlackan wedge has collapsed.
A collection of large flags, the Rathlackan wedge has collapsed.

The fourth monument at Rathlackan is a collection of huge limestone flags, most likely the collapsed chamber of a wedge. It is found about 3 km north of the court cairns, at a much lower altitude and closer to the shore. Wedges generally date to a thousand or so years after the other kinds of megalithic structures.

Looking east from the court cairn at Rathlackan. Two large flagstones from the roof of the chamber can be seen on the left. The Ox Mountains can be seen in the distance. The view to Knocknarea has been obscured by the plantation of pine trees.