Poulnabrone Portal Tomb, Co. Clare
Location: From Ennis, take N 85 north to R 476. Travel through Corofin and turn right onto R 480 at
Leamaneh Castle. Signposted, Poulnabrone is approximately 9 kilometers up this road on the right. Visible from the road.
Dimensions: : The burial chamber was 25 cm deep. The dolmen, which is also called a portal tomb, is made up
of a large single capstone that rests on two portal stones, two more orthostats, and an end stone. The portal stones
are each 1.8 m tall. The entrance of the dolmen faces to the North. A sill stone crosses the front of the entrance,
and might have extended all the way up to the cap stone, thus sealing the tomb. The capstone is 12 ft by 7 ft and
angles from the portals down to the rear. The chamber was 8 ft by 4 ft in size. The dolmen was always a prominent
feature above the limestone bedrock. A portico was formed in front of the tomb by three upright limestone stones.
The portico was then backfilled with loose dirt and gravel. The tomb lies in the center of the cairn. The cairn is
in the shape of an oval. The cairn is made up of large limestone slabs extending about 3m from the tomb and laid
against the side of the chamber. The cairn has been stripped down from its original depth, but it has been theorized
that it was only 55 cm deep at the time Poulnabrone was built. The cairn, even though it was not very tall, helped
prop up the side stones.
Features: Poulnabrone is probably one of the most photographed ancient monuments in Ireland. It rises
prominently above the limestone pavement of clints (blocks) and grykes (crevices) resulting from eons of
water erosion through the limestone.
Comments: The dolmen sits about 100 meters back from the road. Be aware that the natural limestone karst
landscape is very uneven and can be tricky to navigate, particularly when it is wet. Tour buses stop regularly
all year round but do not stay long. Early morning and off season are the best times to view this elegant
History: This tomb was in use during the Neolithic and radiocarbon dates place its use between 3,800 - 3,600 BC.
The first excavation of Poulnabrone Dolmen was in 1986 and then again in 1988 by Ann Lynch.
During this excavation, one portal stone was replaced, and the team excavated the chamber, portico, and cairn.
The remains of up to 22 individuals from the Neolithic were found. Sixteen adults, six children,
and one newborn (from the Bronze Age) were among the remains. Their bodies were not cremated. Only one adult was
over the age of 40 while most died before they reached 30. Most of the children were between the ages of five and
fifteen. The skeletal remains show evidence of arthritis. The tip of a flint or chert projectile point was found
embedded in the hip of one individual. Two other healed fractures, one skull and one rib, were also found. Dental
wear analysis shows evidence for the consumption of stone-grounded cereals. Also
found in the burial chamber was a polished stone axe, 2 stone beads, a decorated bone pendant, a fragment of a
mushroom-headed bone pin, 2 quartz crystals, several sherds of coarse pottery, and a number of arrowheads and
scrapers. Grykes are crevices in the limestone that were then filled with remains. Chamber and
grykes also were filled with the bones of various large and small animals.
Other Items of Interest: While here, wander around with an eye to the grykes (crevices between the pavement-like
blocks of limestone). The Burren boasts a diversity of flora representing over 70% of Ireland's 900 native species in
less than 0.5% of its area. No matter what time of year, there always seems to be something wonderful growing in these
little unexpected areas.