Knockroe Passage Tomb

Jack Lynch

Today I am going to talk about Knockroe near Windgap in County Kilkenny.

Knockroe is remarkable for its Megalithic monument, a Passage tomb that was built before 3000 BCE or more than 5000 years ago. People from the Neolithic Period constructed this Passage tomb, which in Ireland was around 4000BCE to 2500BCE. Neolithic or New Stone age people were the first farmers in Ireland and grew a type of emmer wheat and other grains and raised cows, sheep and goats which they had brought into the country. The pollen records show extensive forest clearing at this time. They had pottery vessels, porcellanite axes and flint tools. They built megalithic tombs; megalithic means large stone, and there are four main types of these tombs found in Ireland. Court tombs, portal tombs, passage tombs and wedge tombs. Knockroe is a passage tomb.

These passage tombs normally occur in a line from Meath to Sligo with the complex at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth on the River Boyne the most notable, A passage tomb consists of a passage made from large upright stones over which was placed a large circular earthen mound. These mounds are usually eroded away leaving only the orthostats or upright stones. The cremated remains of people were placed at the end of the passage and are often found with pottery and grave goods, which were placed there at the time of internment.

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The Knockroe Passage tomb lies over the Lingaun River, which is the border between Kilkenny and Tipperary, Leinster and Munster and is at the conjunction of the Dioceses of Ossory, Cashel and Waterford. So it seems that Knockroe has always been an important and sacred place.

The placing of the tomb in its position was very important to the builders. The site seems to have been sacred to them with a significance that we don’t understand. It looks across the Lingaun Valley to a Neolithic cairn on the top of Slievenamon about ten kilometres away. The tomb is built on a large clay rampart, which levels the sloping site. This was a great feat of engineering using only wooden tools. The tomb has two separate passages or chambers, which is an unusual feature. One passage faces southeast while the other one faces southwest. The setting sun enters the southwestern passage on the shortest day of the year December the 21st. This was a very important day for farming people as it indicated that while the worst of the weather was still to come the day would be lengthening from then on. They were able to calculate how much of their com they could eat before the sowing season began. This ensured that they didn’t eat into their reserves of seed com. Some animals were butchered at this time, to avoid
feeding them with scarce resources over the winter. It is thought that this would have been a time for feasting, a forerunner of our Christian feast of Christmas.

About thirty of the stones have artwork or rock art carved into them using stone and flint tools. These are curves, spirals and cup marks. The meaning of these marks is not understood but if you view them you might come up with some ideas. Knockroe is a complex site as it also contained later Bronze Age burials. This tomb shows similarities with Knowth in the Boyne Valley and Gavrinis in Brittany, Northern France.

Knockroe seems to have been forgotten by academics as the first mention in the literature is by Canon Carrigan in his four volumes; The History and Antiquities o f the Diocese of Ossory published in 1905 and the next mention is in the 1980’s but the locals always called it the Coshel. The modem excavation began in 1990 lead by Professor Muiris O’Sullivan of UCD who has published an excellent article on Knockroe in The Old Kilkenny Review in 1995. This review is a publication of our own Kilkenny Archaeological Society.

The Office of Public Works is in charge of the site and has two excellent explanatory picture and storyboards beside the tomb. Absolutely great work has been performed by various local organisations that are to be commended. Kilkenny County Council has widened the road leading to the site giving ample parking and erected signposts.
Knockroe is very near Windgap Village, which is well worth visit on the way to the site. Beautiful loop walks around a lake; an ornate grotto and a Land League house are among the attractions. Within walking distance of the megalithic tomb are the High Crosses of Ahenny, which are probably 9th century in date. These crosses are part of the Western Ossory group that also includes Kilkieran, Killamery and Kilree. Also in the area are the Slate Quarries and Delaney’s Pub.

So Knockroe is well worth a visit to see this megalithic building of our ancestors. These ancestors of ours were farmers, hunters, astronomers, engineers, builders, stoneworkers and artists who were reverential towards their own forebears.