November 23, 2008

County Wicklow: Fourknocks

Our final day in Ireland was spent touring the area north of Dublin. We booked a tour with Over the Top Tours, a very reputable company. The first stop that morning was at a neolithic passage tomb, Fourknocks. There are many explanations for the many things we would see there; I am going to tell you what our tour guide told us.

First off, the name Fourknocks comes from the Irish Fuair Cnocs, which means cold hills. It was indeed chilly there that morning. There are three tombs there, but only one is excavated and open for the public. The passage tombs are older than the pyramids in Egypt, if that helps you with the time frame. Each passage tomb is for one specific part of life, as believed in way back when. One is for before life, one is for during life, and one is for after life. If I recall correctly (as written in my trusty notebook), the before life tomb was where cremated remains were placed, the during life tomb is where people were buried originally, and the after life tomb is where items were placed for use in the next life (swords, etc.).

The excavated tomb is aligned with the winter solstice sunrise. What this means is that at the winter solstice, the sun would shine directly into the entrance and light up the inside of the tomb. Fourknocks is the largest of the passage tombs in the area, and because of this it did not have a solid stone roof like the others. Instead, there is a post hole in the center of the floor which indicates that the roof was constructed with timbers. By the time the tomb was found, the roof was gone, so there is no way to know if this is true.

There are many carvings at Fourknocks. They all have specific meanings. Again, I am recounting what our guide told us; there are others who believe differently, just as there are those who point out that there is no way to be sure of anything. See that stone towards the top left of the entrance in the photo above? Those are zigzags, which are very prevalent at Fourknocks. That stone used to sit over the entrance tunnel; I imagine it was moved for safety reasons.

Below you can see the lintel stone that sits above the main grave. The most important people were buried here; this recess (one of three) is the one that would be lit up by the sun at the winter solstice. There are four diamonds carved there, with many zigzags over and below them. We were told these represent the four seasons.

The other two recesses have lintel stones as well. The western one has this stone with smaller diamonds. We were told that these represent the months...although they either only had ten of them or part of the stone is missing since there aren't twelve diamonds there.

Also in the tomb is the rock pictured below with two spheres carved into it. Spheres were another common shape in passage tombs. According to our guide, these two happen to be at an eleven degree angle to one another, which is the relation of the sun to the earth. No, I haven't checked to see if that is in fact true. Feel free to do so yourself.

One of the more interesting stories was that of the "face" which is carved on a stone to the right of the entrance (if you are inside and facing it). I have attempted to show you a good photo of it below. The left eye (as you look at it) is open and the right eye is closed. In the center is a nose diamond and below that is the mouth, etc.

We were told that this represented "Bayrhon"; he has one good eye and one bad eye. Obviously. Apparently, if your enemy were to look into his bad eye, he or she would die. I suppose therefore that this carving is meant as a deterrent to those who would have disturbed the graves. Protect away, mister!

We were told some other interesting habits/common occurrences of the time period. As I mentioned, they have one tomb reserved for after life, so much like the Egyptians, they must have believed in reincarnation. One story is that if a woman was widowed by way of her husband dying in battle, then a young child would be given to her to keep her company. At age seven, this child would be killed. This was thought to give him a good start in his new life.


Our next stop is another religious site, but one more aligned with current known beliefs: Mellifont Abbey.

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